Kelley Dearing Smith has done something pretty amazing: she has made water sexy. As the Communications and Government Relations Director of the Louisville Water Company, this ex-TV news producer is often seen on the other end of the microphone now. Whenever there is breaking news about water or a promotion about Louisville’s pure tap®, she’s on TV. She’s got a great product to market, as Louisville’s tap water is some of the best in the nation. After all, there’s a reason they make bourbon from our water, right? Today, we welcome Kelley as our FACES of Louisville feature.
You’re an ex-newsie, who left WHAS to work at the water company. What led you to make that big career change?
It was a family and a gut decision. I was at a point where someone else was feeding my young daughter breakfast, lunch and dinner. While I loved the business, I didn’t love what it was doing to my personal life. I was determined to have a successful career and be the mom I envisioned. I started a journalism career to tell stories and discover the “wow” factor. I wasn’t happy with the direction of the business, so my gut told me to open a new chapter. Now, I use my journalism skills more than ever. My career at Louisville Water has allowed me to manage large projects, author a book, write a documentary and tell amazing stories about a product that touches everyone and everything.
How do you make water sexy? Or how do you market something we take for granted?
You have to bring it to the surface; give it a personality. Traditionally, utilities are conservative in their messaging. We’ve changed that at Louisville Water. We have a product that’s a necessity—and we have a brand. Louisville Water was the first—and to this date the only—utility to trademark tap water, Louisville pure tap®. The fun part of my job is connecting that brand to the community, and the opportunities are endless.
Louisville has great tap water. Why is that?
It’s a secret recipe! Louisville Water has a rich history of research and innovation, and part of that research involves the taste of the water. You can have water that’s safe to drink, but doesn’t taste good. That perception creates concern and a lack of confidence in a consumer’s mind. Taste tests are part of the 200 experiments we do daily on the drinking water. I’m always amazed and proud of the comments we get on our water supply; people even tweet about how good the water tastes!
People see you a lot when there is bad news, such as a water main break or flooding. But you do so many positive things around town, too. What are you working on this year to market Louisville Water and Louisville pure tap®?
My team is focused on the value of water, and I’m not just talking money. Louisville Water is a good deal, but safe water is a lifeline to a community. Water is an economic driver, the key to public health and safety, and a recreational outlet. I’m especially excited about community partnerships we’re building on getting “back to the tap,” serving Louisville pure tap® instead of bottled water. Louisville Water is also becoming a regional water supplier. We’re currently laying a large pipeline to send water to Hardin County; it’s a great engineering story.
Tell us a nutshell history lesson about the Louisville Water Tower and all the new things it has to offer now.
The Louisville Water Tower was part of the company’s original operations in 1860 and is one of the most recognized landmarks in the city. In 2014, Louisville Water completed restoring the inside of the original pumping station that’s behind the tower and opened the WaterWorks Museum and assumed public rentals of the facility. I love this venue, and what better place to talk about the value of water? The museum and the guided tour of our facilities are not just for water geeks—it’s really a timeline of the city’s history and an architectural gem.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
At the core, my job is to be a face for Louisville Water, and if I’m sitting at a desk all week, I’m not doing it well. Each day starts with social media and a peek at news channels and industry feeds. I do lots of public speaking for tours, civic groups and individual customers. I meet with my team weekly; it’s a diverse group focused on education programs, marketing, the WaterWorks Museum, media and, of course, the Louisville pure tap® program. I work with our Executive Leadership Team on projects and ideas that need a communications plan or a creative touch. And, of course, I’m working with the media—I always have a couple of changes of clothes with me for a sit-down interview or a water main break. Plus, I’m the mom and wife I envisioned. I end my days at lacrosse or cross country events or catching up with my family.
Who are your mentors, and what advice do you treasure?
My parents set the bar for hard work and perseverance. I grew up on a farm in rural Kentucky, and my appreciation for hard work started in a dairy barn. My parents drove hundreds of miles to give me opportunities, and that started my personal drive for excellence. I have lots of women who are my “go-to” group: strong, powerful females who can relate to a crazy work and personal balancing act. Best advice? Listen, pause and then speak. Whether it’s in a newsroom, a media scene or with your children or friends, I’ve learned the value of listening first and then opening your mouth.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my:
Louisville pure tap® bottle and my lip gloss
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
I love the NuLu area and Crescent Hill.
What’s your bucket list travel destination?
Napa Valley, Austria and Ireland
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Local festivals. I love the St. James Art Fair.
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that “quiet time”?
Definitely a night owl, which is probably a bad habit because I love the quiet of the early morning. Quiet time—reading a magazine or just sitting by my pool. The water is therapeutic.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Lightning round! Give us your:
▪ Candy or junk food splurge: Dark chocolate or a Mr. Goodbar
▪ Guilty pleasure song: “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
▪ Standby nail polish color: Teal Steel or Tough Luck by Sally Hansen
▪ Favorite cocktail: I enjoy wine. Pinot grigio, especially Cellar No. 8
▪ Cartoon alter-ego: Jane Jetson—I want a robot maid!
Thanks, Kelley, for the work you do on behalf of the Louisville community. And thank you to KentuckyOne Health, our underwriter for FACES of Louisville.
As always, much gratitude to our FACES photographer, Adele Reding, for her fantastic work. Visit her website at adeleredingphotography.com.