It’s been quite a decade for Kalee Kreider! After serving as SVP at Fenton from 2002-2006, she signed on to be Vice President Al Gore’s Communications Director and Environmental Advisor—a gig that took her to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway, to the Oscars and Emmys, and to major climate change meetings across the world. She also managed to find the time to home-can hundreds of jams and jellies…and she even met her future husband in the process! Now, Kalee is returning to Fenton’s DC office as Managing Director, and we couldn’t be happier to have her back.
Welcome back, Kalee! What are you most looking forward to about your return to Fenton?
For me, Fenton is a great marriage of two things. The first is public interest communications—the opportunity to help clients in both the nonprofit and for-profit world who want to do something to change the world. The second is that Fenton as a company is committed to doing things to change the world. It’s a great two-fer for a person like me.
At the DC office, our team is particularly excited about continuing to build our digital practice. In DC, I think you often find that while there’s a strong interest in using new technology, government can be a little bit behind in being first adopters. For me, to bring some of what I know from Silicon Valley to Washington is exciting.
You’ve been back at Fenton for a couple months now. How have things changed since 2006?
Fenton’s a lot bigger than it was the last time I was here! We offer more services, we’ve built a strong digital practice, we have more people and offices, and we’re global. We also have Fenton Studios—a new ability to help people tell stories. I really learned the power of narrative working on An Inconvenient Truth. What made that film powerful was not just Vice President Gore’s slideshow, but also the narrative that it created around his life and the issue. Communications at its core is about storytelling, and because of the way the human brain is wired, the power of video to tell a story is tremendous. That’s why I’m so excited about Fenton Studios.
Your six years with Vice President Gore were jam-packed with projects, events, and campaigns. What was one of your favorite things that you worked on?
I loved my job, and a huge part of that was because of Vice President Gore and his family. They’re just the best people you’ll ever meet. It’s tough to pick one thing out of the richness of that experience, but I guess it would have to be working on the book and the movie An Inconvenient Truth, because it served as a central organizing principle for several years.
An Inconvenient Truth helped spur so much awareness about climate change, and I think what people don’t realize is that it wasn’t just a movie. Vice President Gore went out and spoke to media owners, editorial boards, business leaders—it really was a broad campaign. The movie was the vehicle, but there were a lot of other things going on around it. For me, it was also wonderful to see that Vice President Gore was getting acknowledged for 30-40 years of work on an issue he cares so much about. That he stuck with it after so much time is really incredible given the odds that we’re up against in trying to solve the problem. It’s pretty inspiring.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about Vice President Gore?
I think they’d be surprised to know that he knows and loves sports. He was my sports person. We really enjoyed talking football in our quieter moments. He’s lived in Tennessee for many years, and I’m a University of Florida fan, so we had a bit of a rivalry going on!
What about you? Any hidden talents you can share?
I live on a working farm in Tennessee, where I love making jams and jellies and spaghetti sauces. I have a whole closet full of items that I’ve home-canned—pickles, picked okra, peaches, salsa. I’ve been a big-time canner for many years. It’s how I met my husband. I went out to a farm that he and his family owned to get fruit to make jam, and there he was! It goes to show that you can meet your partner anywhere.
You’ve worked on the global warming issue for over 20 years. When it comes to climate change and our future, are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Ultimately I feel optimistic, because I think Americans tend to rise to a challenge. It’s frustrating because so far, I think that the industry has done a pretty good job of muddling the issue. It’s from an old playbook—we’ve seen it with tobacco, we’ve seen it with certain dangerous chemicals. There’s some historical precedence with this happening on other issues, but in each of these instances, there’s come a time when the façade has been brought down and then change has taken place.
While right now it appears like nothing is going to happen on the issue for a while, I don’t really believe the anti-science position is really that tenable. We’ve relied on the National Academy of Sciences to tell us that HIV causes AIDS and smoking causes cancer; they’ve now weighed in on climate change, and it’s really just a matter of time before we take action. I think people of good conscious have a responsibility to try to make that time sooner rather than later—not just to ourselves, but to our children and grandchildren. I’m optimistic that we’re going to take action; I just feel a sense of urgency that it be sooner rather than later.