Corporate communication veteran Tom Smith navigates client repute while inspiring the next generation of communicators.
By Claire Curry
Tom Smith’s first initial public offering as a corporate public relations practitioner involved bananas and pineapples. It was the late 1990s, and he was working with the investor relations agency that helped Fresh Del Monte take its company public.
Not only was it a great learning experience, Smith, CJPA ’93, says, but he also got to explore much of Latin America on the job, traveling to Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica.
“I helped them create their story for the investment community and then took it globally,” he recalls. “It was the first major IPO that I was a part of, and it was successful.”
Fresh Del Monte is one of many memorable projects that comes to mind when Smith reflects on his 30-year career in corporate communication. His resume includes leadership positions at Fleishman-Hillard, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and the global marketing communication agency Allison+Partners where he has served since 2014, first as managing director and most recently as president of its U.S. corporate practice and global board member.
“I watched the corporate practice grow from 10 people when I started to more than 60 people now,” he says. “It’s a team effort. It’s a great culture — great people, tremendous clients.”
Clients include a wide range of organizations, from consumer brands to technology and financial services firms. Smith says the diversity of communication challenges keeps the job interesting from day to day.
“Communications will not solve a business problem, no doubt about it,” he says. “If you have a business problem, you have to solve it. But communications can help tell that solution” to a company’s various audiences.
Putting teams together to help his clients navigate the inevitable challenges — as well as the unexpected, like the COVID-19 pandemic — in an evolving environment that is 24/7, courtesy of social media, is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of his career, Smith says. He has learned plenty over the years, especially how social media has transformed business and how networking transforms careers.
Smith participates in those career transformations by offering networking opportunities for new generations of communication professionals from his alma mater. He recruits interns from Marquette and hosts groups of students on site visits to his firm’s corporate office in New York City.
Smith credits his former communication professor Dr. Claire Badaracco, now professor emerita of public relations, for enlightening him on career opportunities — beyond those in consumer advertising that were popular among his peers — in business and corporate communication.
“That led me into my career today,” he says. “I took that business writing and that degree from Marquette into the field. I became a corporate public relations person, and it’s been a great career path.”