Five Questions with Kim Palmese

Kim Palmese shares a special Thanksgiving memory with President Bush and says what she is most grateful for this year.

Kim Palmese joins us this month to share a special Thanksgiving memory with President Bush and to pull the curtain back on the life of an advance professional.  Kim, who worked both Bush-Cheney campaigns and served all eight years in the administration, says this year she is most grateful for the lasting friendships she made during her time traveling the world with President and Mrs. Bush and cabinet secretaries at State, DHS and Education. 

Can you tell us what you are doing these days?

I am now living out in Northern California and working for BlackBerry in corporate marketing on the global events team. Yes, BlackBerry is still around.  While we do not make phones, we make software to secure the “Internet of Things” devices that organizations use, the products they make, the data they share and their communications.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted your work and what adjustments have you made?

As 2020 began, the work of the global events team was going as planned and I was doing what I really like to do. We had just finished our sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach and the RSA Conference, a major annual security trade show, had just taken place in San Francisco.  We were gearing up for our yearly analyst summit and our global security summits in London and New York when COVID-19 hit.

As the pandemic spread and Blackberry, as well as all others around the globe, made the decision to halt travel and attending in-person events, our team was tasked with the unprecedented job of figuring out what the virtual event space was all about. As a company, our business objective did not change. We still needed to reach customers, educate organizations and people on our products and services, and ultimately drive sales.

Because of this, our team had to make a major pivot as we brought everything virtual. It was a learning curve not only for us as event planners, but for everyone who participates in an event. We had to learn to balance the mandatory working from home and what it would mean to put on a new “normal” event.  Learning the best way to get our message out to customers and prospects –  while keeping in mind that people’s time and attention spans were being tried – became our new criteria to host events.

To date we have held our analyst summit, a partner conference and our annual global security summit all virtually, while participating as a sponsor in Black Hat’s virtual event. It has been an interesting time to be involved with producing/planning events and one that we all hope goes back to what we have done in the past.

You were regarded as one of the top advance pros in the administration.  How would you explain the job to an outsider, and what qualities are shared by the great advance reps? 

I’ll begin by stating that advance is not like planning a wedding. Here’s how I explain it: When assigned a trip, you will arrive a week or more ahead of the President, First Lady or cabinet secretary to plan all aspects of the trip. Serving as the lead for many of the trips I was on meant working with White House press, U.S. Secret Service (USSS) and the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) – the joint service military unit responsible for providing information services and secure communications infrastructure support to the president.

Each of my counterparts in those groups led their teams as I oversaw the “logistics team,” as I liked to call us, to ensure every detail was coordinated and secure. This meant that we would literally walk through each event location from arrival to departure, diagraming the best and most secure routes, ensuring all guests arriving entered through a location different from the principal and that the USSS could screen all guests.

After all logistics came the event details, including but not limited to what the room(s), stage, etc. would look like from backdrops to table set-ups and shots the press would be able to capture.

Also not to be missed was coordinating the arrival and departure of Air Force One and the motorcade vehicles and drivers. This was coordination to and from the airport to whatever the event venue was…how long a drive, where helicopters were needed on the trip, how many vehicles were needed for the motorcade and more.

I like to say advance is like planning your family trip…when you are leaving, where you are going, how you are getting there, who will you meet, and everything you will need to do all this, then multiply it by 10 and throw in security and secure communications and you have an Advance trip covered.

The best quality most advance people I’ve worked with have is logistical thinking. In addition, they can figure how to get from point A to B quickly and without hesitation. They can think outside the box and are willing to go the extra mile to accomplish what needs to be done.  Maybe most importantly, they know how to think on the fly, since you just never knew when things will change on any trip. You need to be flexible.

Do you have a favorite advance story from either the campaign or your time in the Administration?

Wow, that’s a good question. I did both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns and spent eight years in the administration at several departments, so I have many stories to tell. But I think my favorite one, especially at this time of the year, was the trip in 2007 to Charles City, Virginia where President Bush made Thanksgiving remarks at the Berkeley Plantation. During one of our calls back to the White House to discuss the minute-by-minute rundown, I mentioned the tour guides would be wearing period clothes, including women in pinafores. Someone on the call didn’t know what a pinafore was so I told them I would be wearing it for the president’s arrival. So when Marine One landed, I was wearing a pinafore to greet the president. When he departed the helo, he stopped, looked at me and asked if I was a mushroom, to which I replied, “No sir. I am a pilgrim.” Our photo from that moment has been my yearly Thanksgiving profile picture. It is one that truly makes me smile and grateful for my time working for President and Mrs. Bush.

It’s been such a challenging year for everyone. What are you grateful for this year?

During this turbulent and uncertain year, the one thing I am most grateful for is the friends I made during my time in the Bush administration. They truly are my family and my happy place. The times we spent together doing advance and traveling the world makes for bonds like no other job. So, I am grateful for all the Zoom calls, text messages and good old fashioned phone calls we have been doing since we cannot travel. I think these last few months have made many of my friendships even stronger, as we have had to do things that we as advance people don’t normally do, which is staying in one place instead of traveling. I wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.