Public Relations Tactics

A Taste for Corporate Communications: Talking With Reace Alvarenga Smith, APR, of Dean Foods

August 4, 2017

“Our busier season is actually back-to-school, when our DairyPure and TruMoo branded milks are produced for schools all over the country,” says Reace Alvarenga Smith, APR. “Ice cream season is busy, especially as we launched Mayfield Creamery ice cream across the Southwest. My new favorite flavor is Lemon Ice Box Pie. Yum!”

Smith is the director of corporate communications for Dean Foods — one of the nation’s largest processors and direct-to-store distributors of fluid milk marketed under more than 50 local and regional dairy brands and private labels, including Mayfield, PET, Meadow Gold and Friendly’s.

Previously, she was manager of employee communications at Dex Media and has worked for travel, technology and retail clients. Prior to this, Smith served as PR manager for Texas Health Resources. She has worked for PR agencies such as FleishmanHillard and Fogarty, Klein, Monroe and was a media relations specialist for Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.

Smith has been active in PRSA since 1998 and has served in several leadership roles for the Dallas Chapter, including president, treasurer, APR chair and secretary. Currently, she is chair-elect for PRSA’s Southwest District Conference.

She graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. There, Smith was the first Hispanic student to be elected student congress president as well as the first student to be elected twice.

Smith serves the community through her church and various volunteer opportunities. She also enjoys reading, cooking and spending time with her family.


How did you first become interested in public relations and get your start?

I recently pulled out a high-school memoir book where I wrote that I would know I’d made it when I was a PR manager. Public relations put together the things that I loved the most: writing, speaking, strategic planning and quick thinking.


What was your dream job as a child?

I wanted to be a doctor but then realized blood was involved.


What are some challenges you face in your day-to-day role at Dean Foods?

Many of our employees are non-networked, making it a challenge to get our message to them directly, as they don’t have access to our intranet or company email. We work with plant leaders to share news with them, but can’t always guarantee they receive it. As these employees work with our products, they’re among the first to know when we have new products, which is always fun to share.


What’s top of mind in the corporate communications sector right now?

We’re all looking for ways to rise above the noise. Whether it’s reaching out to our employees or to consumers, we are overwhelmed with information. We’re looking for the best tips on presentations, social media, emails and anything that can get our message across in a strategic manner. Measurement is also a topic that comes up a lot. How do we know our messages are getting through? And in enough time? Are they resonating?


What are some of the keys to implementing strong, strategic storytelling for a brand?

Knowing who you are, what you do and where you want to be — and being able to articulate these in a way that folks remember — is key.


Are there trends you see for diversity and communications? What are you excited about ahead?

I believe the diversity in populations makes it vital for PR professionals to stay on top of the different communications channels. One thing is constant: change. I’m excited to see what kind of technology and messaging will be used when my kids are adults.


How can we best foster an open and accommodating corporate culture and advance inclusion in the profession?

By its very nature, the phrase “advance inclusion” implies we have a culture of exclusion. As professionals, we need to do more to help the up-and-coming new pros and provide them with guidance in their careers. At the same time, we need to learn from them (reverse mentoring).

Creating a welcoming atmosphere, inviting people to get involved and cheering folks on as they succeed goes a long way toward making professionals feel included and important to the PR community.


What advice do you have for new pros looking to break into communications?

When someone offers you an opportunity to connect with them, you should reach out. Be a connector. If you hear of something that might help someone else, then let them know. Those connections become valuable later in your career.


Describe your leadership style.

I’m a firm believer in consensus-building and delegating. I try not to micromanage and encourage folks to find their own solutions to get to the goal. 


You’re active at the PRSA Chapter and District levels. What inspired you to get involved and why do you volunteer?

I was involved in PRSSA as a college student, which led me to get involved in the Dallas PRSA Chapter. When I started my first job, I emailed the Chapter president, and she immediately got me involved in a committee. From there, I joined the board in various roles and eventually was chosen to lead the Chapter. Later, I was asked to work with the Southwest District through a respected colleague and I took on a couple of roles with the board, leading to chair-elect this year.

I stay involved because I believe in our profession and network. Through PRSA, I’ve met many people who have served as mentors and sources of inspiration or provided general counsel. I love that I can pick up the phone and call someone in my Chapter for advice. Through my PRSA connections, I was recruited for my current job.


Why did you take the APR exam? What are some benefits of Accreditation?

Getting my APR was an early career goal. In addition to reinforcing what I was doing well, it helped me think differently about how I approach a situation. I was able to refine my strategic thinking skills.

Earning the APR renewed my commitment to the profession and showed my dedication to continuous learning. I believe, in a time of “fake news,” my APR emphasizes to hiring managers that they are getting a strategic thinker and someone who believes in an ethical PR practice.


What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your nearly 20-year communications career so far?

Be open to learning something new. Technology changes all the time and it’s easy to get left behind.


What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?

It never hurts to ask for something. The answer is always “no” if you don’t, but it might be “yes” if you do.


What’s the best thing about working at Dean Foods?

My team — I’m blessed to have a great boss and fellow colleagues who are good at what they do. The ice cream tastings are fun too.  


Getting to Know… Reace Alvarenga Smith, APR

Any three dinner guests?

My mom for one last hug, Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards

Favorite movie?

“Love Actually”

Best place to travel?

I would love to go back to Switzerland

Favorite downtime activity?

Reading by the pool or beach

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

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