Kelly Earnest moved to Memphis almost a decade ago to take a job in public relations that involves constantly spreading the word about “the South’s Grand Hotel.”
She’s also an unofficial evangelist for the city where The Peabody Memphis calls home, which isn’t surprising. The Peabody is a landmark, community asset, gathering spot, host of parties and myriad goings-on – in short, it’s more than “just a hotel,” in Earnest’s words.
“I really like that things are different here every day,” said Earnest, The Peabody’s director of public relations. “If this was just a hotel, I probably wouldn’t be as fulfilled working here as I am. But because it’s also an attraction, we have this amazing history, great restaurants and chefs – there are lots of different stories to tell.
“I also really love a place with a history and a soul, and I don’t think you can find a better place with that than Memphis. There’s so much really great history here, between the music and the civil rights movement and just the river itself. When I first moved here from Florida, I don’t think I’d put that all together in my head yet.”
Hospitality and tourism public relations is what Earnest has focused on for years, even before coming to Memphis. She was formerly the public relations manager for the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau in Tampa, Fla., where she worked for six years.
While at the CVB, Earnest was named to Visit Florida’s public relations committee, where she provided input for the state’s national and international PR efforts. In 2002, she was voted “Best Friend to Travel Writers” by media representatives of the North American Travel Journalists Association and East-West News Bureau.
“I’ve always worked in the hospitality, public relations and tourism field, and my first job out of college actually was PR coordinator at The Peabody hotel in Orlando,” she said. “I was there for one-and-a-half or two years, and I left the company to go work for the CVB in Tampa. And when I found out they were hiring a PR director here, it was sort of coming back to where I started.”
Every day for Earnest is different, because her job entails working on everything from hotel publicity to details of the hotel’s yearly series of rooftop parties to events with the famed Peabody ducks.
“It makes me mad when people dog our city. It’s a really cool place to live. Sure, we’ve got problems, but everybody does. It’s a really great town.”
Director of public relations, The Peabody Memphis hotel
“A lot of people are always surprised to find out the details of the story of the ducks,” Earnest said. “For example, many people will assume that it was created as a kind of attention-grabbing publicity stunt. And when they find out that it was created very organically and became part of our brand as a result, that’s always fun to know – that it wasn’t this contrived kind of thing.
“A lot of people also think the ducks are here and they live here forever. But we actually only have each team of ducks for three months at a time before they’re retired back to the farm and eventually returned to the wild. I think that’s very interesting to people.”
The Peabody ducks march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. The ducks consist of five North American mallards. Visitors might be interested to know duck is not served anywhere at The Peabody, nor has it been seen on the hotel’s menus since its 1981 reopening.
The Peabody also takes the ducks outside the hotel and into the community. The ducks visit roughly three dozen schools, charity organizations and similar entities every year – and the hotel proactively seeks out those opportunities.
The hotel also is a frequent destination for dignitaries and is regularly packed with international tourists who’ve come to Memphis. At the moment, the hotel is in the midst of its latest rooftop party series, which takes place on Thursday nights in the summer. This year’s series runs through mid-August.
Earnest is passionate about those and other aspects of her job – and the city she lives in, too.
“And it makes me mad when people dog our city,” she said. “It’s a really cool place to live. Sure, we’ve got problems, but everybody does. It’s a really great town.”