Dr. Kara Alaimo is a global public relations consultant and author who has worked in the administrations of a U.S. president, a New York City mayor, and a United Nations Secretary General. Her teaching and research focus on promoting diversity in public relations scholarship and identifying how public relations can be used to advance social causes.
"I want to teach my students to be creative, strategic public relations professionals, but if that’s all I do, I will have failed them," she says. “I also want to encourage them to think about their place in the wider world. This happens both inside and outside of the classroom."
At the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication's Department of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations, Dr. Alaimo teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in subjects including global PR and international media theory, risk management and crisis communication, advocacy for non-profits, and cognitive science and PR, all while overseeing students’ internships, independent study, and graduate capstone projects.
Her interest in public relations as a tool for social change began with her first job at the United Nations, where she worked on a campaign to end global poverty. "One of the things I quickly realized is that poverty is an advocacy problem – not a scientific one. The world has all the resources we need to eradicate extreme poverty; it's about convincing governments and people to do it," Dr. Alaimo says. "I believe that the fundamental problems of our time – from combatting Islamic extremism to forcing action on climate change – must be solved by changing minds. That's what PR people do."
Dr. Alaimo carried that experience in her second position at the UN, where she served as head of communications for a panel of global leaders convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which was responsible for recommending the world's next plan for eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development. She also brought it with her to Hofstra, where in 2015 she developed and taught an Honors seminar on global poverty that challenged students to craft their own strategies for how the U.N. can build international support for such plans.
In 2016, she published a study in the prestigious International Journal of Communication, that found that governments make greater efforts to combat human trafficking (which spills across international borders) than violence against women (which often happens behind closed doors) – suggesting that countries make claims about upholding women's rights primarily to improve their global reputations. "I think it's an important conversation to have because it raises big questions about what states will do when they think the world isn't watching," she says.
Her research assistant on that study, Rachael Durant, a 2016 public relations and psychology graduate, says Dr. Alaimo was a constant support as she considered career planning and internship opportunities.
"Through the two years we worked together, Dr. Alaimo helped me grow as a professional by always offering sound advice and encouraging me to pursue my dreams," says Durant. "Every student I have talked to that has had her as a teacher has expressed awe at her ability to help students zone in on their passion and figure out how to get where they want to go. Due to Dr. Alaimo's guidance and mentorship, I was able to secure a job I love before graduating."
"Students like her are why I do what I do," said Dr. Alaimo. "It's thrilling to watch them succeed."
In August 2011, Dr. Alaimo was appointed by President Obama to serve as the spokesperson for international affairs in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a highlight of her career. "I had so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences in that job, from top secret security briefings to meetings in the White House Situation Room and flying around the world on military planes," she says. "I attended meetings with heads of state and Saudi princes, but also with people around the world who the U.S. was trying to help with development assistance, such as destitute mangrove farmers in Togo, West Africa. I was also in Tunisia on an official mission on the day that the U.S. embassy was attacked in 2012. In that job, I felt that I saw humanity at its best and its worst."
During her time in Washington and in New York City, where she was dubbed "Five Alarm Alaimo" in the Bloomberg administration for her ability to put out fires, she honed her skills in crisis communication, one of her favorite facets of public relations. "When I graduated from college, PR was media relations. Today it is about storytelling, solving problems and managing relationships through many channels including social media and events. It's fun to experiment with all of this in my classes," she says.
Dr. Alaimo wrote her first book, Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication (Routledge, 2016), after she was struck by how differently people of various cultures communicated during her many years of travel abroad. The book explains how to practice global public relations on behalf of corporations, non-profit organizations and governments and how to customize communication strategies for different cultures around the world. It has been adopted for courses at Hofstra University, Columbia University, and New York University.
Most recently, she was named the 2017 Titan of the Future by the World Communication Forum in Geneva, Switzerland in recognition of her creativity, commitment and influence in the industry -- and what she calls her "mission to use public relations to make a positive impact on the world."
In addition to teaching fulltime at Hofstra, Dr. Alaimo consults on global PR campaigns and designs customized employee training programs for companies. She continues to be widely published in both professional journals and popular media on topics ranging from political activism during the 2011 Egyptian revolution and Facebook's potential impact on China to the Trump administration's social media problems and the Oscars backlash after the wrong film was announced as best picture. She's also traveled to more than 60 countries for both work and fun. So what remains on her bucket list?
Dr. Alaimo and her students on a trip to the United Nations.
"The fundamental problems of our time – from combatting Islamic extremism to forcing action on climate change – must be solved by changing minds. That’s what PR people do."
Dr. Alaimo with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, December 2012.
"When I graduated from college, PR was media relations. Today it is about storytelling, solving problems and managing relationships through many channels including social media and events. It’s fun to experiment with all of this in my classes."
Dr. Alaimo discusses the September 2016 presidential debate with BBC World Service, from the campus studios of WRHU.
Kara Alaimo in the News