Kris Charles

  • photo of Kris CharlesBA in Speech Communication (Strategic Communication, 1992)
  • Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs at Kellogg Company
  • previously worked in various roles at Edelman PR and Kraft Foods
  • worked with English professor Heidi McKee on a case study about digital and social communications
  • visited Miami's Howe Writing Initiative in March 2018 for the Professional Communication Speaker Series

My Profession

"In my role as senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Kellogg Company, I lead 4 functions: communications, philanthropy, sustainability, and government relations.

"Before getting my degree in communication from Miami in 1992, I interned for credit with Powers and Associates, a public relations firm in Cincinnati. That experience was very instrumental in shaping the direction of my career. Although the overall job market, as many recall, was not great at the time, I ended up getting a full-time job offer at the agency, where I worked for a number of years. It was a great opportunity to get my feet wet and have some real-world experience right out of the gate.

"I'd always wanted to live and work in Chicago, so eventually I secured a job with Edelman Public Relations, the largest independent PR firm in the world, where I worked in their consumer packaged goods and food practice. That was terrific experience. Edelman is a very large, successful firm that was helpful to me in terms of shaping my client service skills that are necessary in this business. I learned how to set fundamentals of good client service and supported clients like Whirlpool, Land O'Lakes, and Kraft Foods, the last of which recruited me to work for them.

"Kraft is a highly professional global company, and working for 7 years in their corporate communications department was a pivotal experience for me, and it was a privilege to work with their robust suite of many household brand names.

"While at Kraft, I had a mentor who told me, 'You've now gotten a number of years of experience under your belt, so I think it's time you expand your horizons and take on some other roles in the department.' I was encouraged to move into global issues management, which expanded my understanding of the other rotations I could do, all of which were instrumental in preparing me for the role I have today at Kellogg Company.

"Kellogg recruited me to join them a little more than 12 years ago, and as it turns out, they're located not far from my hometown in Michigan. Over the years I've been given a series of progressively more responsible roles: leading communications, followed by philanthropy, sustainability, and government relations. All of these disciplines are interrelated and have strong connectivity, and all have taken advantage of my communication degree from Miami. Not many people begin their career in one thing and get to use it for their whole career!"

Best Miami Experiences

"First and foremost, friendships were the most integral part of my being a Miami student. I think Miami is a very special place, and coming back to give a class presentation for professor Heidi McKee and the Howe Writing Initiative has allowed me to see how the campus has evolved and yet in some ways remain the same. I love how you cannot easily discern the new beautiful red brick buildings from those that were here when Miami University was founded.

"As a student, I lived in Dorsey Hall, Flower Hall, and off-campus just off Spring Street. My favorite restaurants, Bruno's, Skippers, and Bagel & Deli, are all still here, and yet there's new things too. Miami has evolved, and I've been very impressed talking to faculty and administrative staff about the ways that they continue to think about evolving all the majors, disciplines, and classes they're offering, along with improving the university's connectivity to the professional world."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"As a student I started in Miami's business program before discovering my love of writing was really better served in communication. My career has taken quite a linear route, more than most, but something that wasn't so linear was my growth into adjacent areas. I think a liberal arts education is important in that regard, because it provides exposure to a wide variety of topics and experiences.

"Whether you're taking philosophy or foreign language classes, for example, you're learning about broader topics and issues that are really important, particularly in the field of communications. The types of things that I'm often asked to have perspective on and to write about is vast — everything from our company's strategic direction and policy matters to societal issues. If you think about the types of things that organizations are having to comment on these days, it's really very broad, and a liberal arts education helps prepare you for that.

"My liberal arts background has also given me the ability to engage in problem-solving for a wide variety of issues and then building functional technical skills that are transferable to the professional world. With my education I could have gone into journalism, nonprofit communications, PR and advertising, broadcast and video production, social and digital media — the possibilities are really quite broad.

"This is one of things I discuss with students about whom I mentor. They often ask me how to go about gaining professional experiences when they're still in school. I tell them that doing a variety of internships can be very helpful. One young man who I've mentored, who's now in a large agency in Chicago, completed 4-5 different  communications-related internships to get a sense of 'Okay, I like this, and I don't like that.' It's hard to know at first, and that can be intimidating, but you should try various things out to see what you like and what you don't."

Advice to Students

"The importance of getting as much practical experience as you can while you're still on campus is something I've been emphasizing with students. Explore the types of things you're interested and passionate about. If you can get a 'two-fer,' such as being student organization president, on top of doing writing or reporting, or even doing some volunteering, there are so many ways to pursue your passion and interests outside of your classes and advance your resume.

"It's smart to demonstrate your passionate energy and leadership before you even get your first job. There's that well-known conundrum of 'I need experience, but I can't get experience,' and sometimes it's hard to know where to start — so start with your passion!

"Networking is also important. Learn how to use LinkedIn to help you get your foot in the door at an organization if you don't know anyone there. Leverage Miami's huge alumni network; the Center for Career Exploration and Success can hook you up with alumni across all areas of job opportunities. Use tools like LinkedIn to reach out and say, 'I know you don't know me, but I see you're a Miami graduate, and you work at such-and-such firm, agency or company, and I'm really interested in learning more. Would you be willing to spend 15 minutes on the phone with me?'

"And once you have that phone conversation, don't lose the opportunity to ask, 'Is there someone else I could also speak to to learn more?' I'm always happy to talk to students when they reach out, but it's surprising sometimes when they're not better prepared. They might say, 'Tell me about what you do,' but a smart student would spend some time doing a bit of research on the company first and demonstrate an interest in it. A little preparation goes a long way.

"I met a young man here on campus yesterday who was part of the first class I met with, and he asked really smart questions. Afterwards, he approached me with more questions and then asked, 'Can I have your card?' It was the first card I'd given out to a student. Until then, no one else had asked. All he did was ask some smart questions, show an interest, and follow up with that request — that's the kind of initiative I encourage students to take. It's not like he was taking some huge risk. He just showed some interest in a sincere way and asked for some help. Most people will say, 'Yes, I'd be happy to help you!'"

[July 2018]