Soon Mee Kim is EVP and Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader for Porter Novelli, an international public relations agency and part of Omnicom Group. Soon Mee is responsible for evaluating, implementing and developing policies, practices and programs that promote diversity and inclusion and accelerate innovation at Porter Novelli. She joined Porter Novelli in 2005 to head the Atlanta Technology Practice and has served as a client relationship leader for major global brands, built high-performing teams, managed local offices, and engaged multi-cultural audiences. Previously, she held senior positions at Blanc & Otus/Hill & Knowlton, which acquired Socket PR, where Soon Mee was one of four principals of the regionally based PR agency. She also worked with Ketchum and Alexander Communications after beginning her public relations career at Apple.
Where are you based?
I’m based in Atlanta, Georgia -- with a great airport, I can get almost anywhere.
Tell us about your background?
I’ve really been an agency person my entire career. Originally, I thought I would build a great PR foundation in an agency for about five years and then transition to a corporate setting, but I’ve always been drawn to the collaborative, fast-paced, always-on, apprenticeship nature of PR agency life. I’ve worked with the most amazing people in my career. Agency life has given me the entrepreneurial freedom to create new products and services and personal/professional flexibility to be remake my roles at various points in my life. As a result, I’ve gained experience in managing teams, operations, offices and culture with the added benefit of working on a variety of clients and industries. The learning is never done. It also led to my transition to my current role leading diversity and inclusion.
Take us through a “typical” work day – what does it look like? What are you engaged in?
I don’t think there is a typical work day in agency life, but here goes: Since I report to our CEO and sit on our Executive Committee, I’m involved in various leadership meetings focused on moving our organization forward. As my role requires a great deal of collaboration, I work closely with our global talent team, learning & development, marketing or account teams and I’m often connecting in with our diversity champions across the network. At other times, I’m collaborating with leaders across the PR industry and within Omnicom on initiatives focused diversity and inclusion. I’m often meeting with partners and community leaders, as well as clients and client teams to support their needs whether it’s a crisis or reputation management issue or ongoing account work. That’s a sampling of some of the areas where I’m focused.
What does your media diet consist of?
I wake up and go to sleep to Twitter and check it throughout the day whenever there’s a lull. Twitter usually alerts me to themost pressing stories and a variety of media sources. As I’m getting ready for work, I’ll check out local news and GMA. Mymorning commute typically consists of The Daily podcast and NPR. When I get to the office, I quickly peruse Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other email newsletters. I’ll go through New York Times and WSJ digital. My commute back home is mostly NPR. In the evening, I try to catch up CNN, Fox and MSNBC to get a recap of the day’s news. And weekends are for other podcasts, HBR, and other periodicals as they catch my fancy.
What is your office/work setup like?
I had my own awesome office for years filled with inspirational quotes and images. People loved it. I loved it. However, we just moved to an open office concept within the past few months. Despite the obvious downsides, I LOVE this, too! While I definitely miss having privacy during calls and it’s not easy to find a conference room, the relational part of me really enjoys being around so many colleagues and the funny, casual conversations we have throughout the day. One thing that I still have from my office is a big stash of writing implements. I have all kinds of colored pens, pencils and washi tape nearby. My views of the city and greenspace are pretty great, too.
What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed?
My favorite campaign is actually taking place now within Porter Novelli. “PN Perspectives: We Stand For Love” was developed as an internal communications campaign to overcome the hateful content we anticipated seeing with the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville white-supremacist march. Our aim was to create a wave of positive stories of overcoming hate with love. During August and September, our colleagues shared deeply personal and meaningful stories of overcoming hate with love. Our staff tackled racism, police brutality, sexism, implicit bias, Asian invisibility and much more. We conducted other field trips, staff conversations and implicit bias trainings to supplement the program. To combine word and deed, we also challenged our colleagues to commit acts of kindness on the XOCIAL.com competitive kindness platform. The campaign has been transformative for our culture and has instilled immense pride amongst our staff. I encourage you to check out some of our stories posted on our Porter Novelli blog.
How do you recharge?
I spend time with the people I love. I have great conversations with interesting people. I go walking with my husband. I go to church. I pray. I read. I discover different kinds of food. I listen to soulful podcasts of different perspectives. I enjoy shows featuring under-represented populations. I also sleep in and have totally unproductive mind-candy time, too.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
I’d point to the Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. And always do your best.
What are you reading or what would you recommend?
I’m usually reading several books at a time. I’m currently reading: Fearless Dialogues by Gregory Ellison, The Late Homecomerfrom Kao Kalia Yang, and Redefining Realness by Janet Mock plus a stack of other partially read books.
What tools or technologies can’t you live without?
My smartphone, laptop, Internet access, WiFi, portable charger.
What is next for public relations? What emerging trends do you see?
What I hope is next for public relations is a real commitment to true diversity and inclusion throughout our industry that leads to much greater representation across the board. There is a lot of talk about diversity and it’s certainly trendy, but I see a very tokenized strategy and experience at play. Listening sessions with women of color reveal that things aren’t really changing. Diversity and inclusion, however you define it, is multiple generations away. From both a moral and business perspective, we can’t wait that long. I’m concerned that if we don’t address the extreme lack of diversity in our industry as the crisis that it is, the quality of our thinking, our ability to innovate and, really, the state of our industry is at stake. I’d really like to see us all come together urgently to create change.