K is for Kindness

For the past seven years, Kelly Krause’s job has been to get to know people, first as the publicity maven and now as the chief content creator for the South By Southwest Conference and Festivals. However, her more recent unofficial job has been to cultivate the life-changing lesson she taught herself nearly four years ago.

By Emily C. Laskowski, Photos By Annie Ray

Kelly Krause flew from Los Angeles to Austin on her 28th birthday in March 2010. As an independent film publicist at the time, she was sent to represent her clients at the South By Southwest Film Festival. The Nebraska native had stepped foot on Texas soil only once before, partaking in a very un-Nebraskan—but quite Texan—rite of adolescent passage by sinking her bare feet into the sometimes questionable and wet-T-shirt-laden beaches of South Padre Island for a college spring-break trip. 

Her second foray to the Lone Star State proved a different passage altogether. Considerably more inland, she encountered the charms of a budding metropolitan area still nesting comfortably below a population of 2 million, one that had yet to become the first North American destination for Formula 1 or the short-lived hometown of the X Games. It was before the two-weekend expansion of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and pre-Mopacolypse. 

It was also only a matter of time before this Midwestern daughter discovered that, if she simply reached out, she could grasp the rapidly evolving world of Austin, Texas, spinning before her fingertips.

Krause was born in the small, Eastern Nebraska town of Columbus that comprised fewer than 20,000 people when she was growing up. Raised by Mom and Dad, and best friends with her younger sister, she describes her family as the typical nucleus and herself as “a full-on Midwestern kid.” She played all the sports, participated in all the activities and graduated from high school. Then, she began expanding her world. 

First, she went south to Lincoln, the Nebraska state capital and home to Nebraska Wesleyan University, a private liberal-arts college where Krause earned her undergraduate degree, a bachelor of science in communication studies with a minor in Spanish and an emphasis on public relations.

“The very first class that I took at the university was Women in Indie Film, and it very much had a feminist slant,” Krause remembers. “You dissected all of these movies and women’s roles in films. I had never approached anything with that kind of mindset. I loved that it opened my mind up to an entirely new way of thinking and going against the grain, and I feel like that was the catalyst to my curiosity with my career and everything.”

Next, she traveled eastbound to Washington, D.C., for an internship at CNN. She arrived in the nation’s capital interested in television journalism and departed with a categorically different opinion.

“I…realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I hate the sound of my voice. I don’t want to be on TV. I don’t want to do any of that,’ ” Krause recalls.

She tracked back to Lincoln, Neb., this time to earn her graduate degree at the University of Nebraska, 10 minutes across town from her alma mater, in what area of study, she hadn’t quite decided. She treaded in one discipline only to change course at the semester’s end. By the end of her first year, she had rerouted her trajectory completely.

“Halfway through that, I got pretty burnt out,” Krause says. “I was an editor at a wedding magazine, of all places, a PR intern at this global utility company. I was working full time at a makeup counter and going to graduate school full time. I was super burnt out, and through a bit of serendipity, [I overheard] somebody in the computer lab one evening [talk] about this internship they had in LA. I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m moving to LA. I’m going to intern in the entertainment industry.’ So random, it had never been on my radar before. I applied for an internship with the E! Entertainment and Style Network and got it, and three months later, I was in LA.”

Krause didn’t return to Lincoln to complete her graduate degree. Instead, in the beaming Los Angeles sunshine out West, Krause planted new roots. 

“I landed at an agency where a lot of people in the entertainment industry get their start—in publicity, anyway—and started working with tech clients. … It was technology that I didn’t really understand,” she says, laughing because she knows now how advantageous, despite her limited interest, that exposure to the technological world was for her. 

“I ended up volunteering for all of the film premieres and film screenings,” she adds. “The film department was like, ‘Hey, I think you’re a natural fit. Why don’t you come work in our department?’ So, I ended up working with independent film, which is a crazy parallel to my college years and that very first experience that I had.”

For the next six years, Krause immersed herself in every aspect of the job. 

“We worked on Jimmy Kimmel Live and America’s Next Top Model, and loved it. I thought it was so much fun,” says Krause, whose days and nights started overflowing with the nonstop grind of representing independent films, building a client list, working premieres and attending film festivals. “In LA, work was my life. My time on the weekends was spent working press junkets, which I loved, but after awhile, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to continue doing, and I valued my weekends and my time with friends and family so much more than the job. It just wasn’t paying off in a way that I wanted to continue with. … I feel like I paid my dues.”

Then, she hopped on her first-ever flight to Austin.

Krause bounces into Josephine House on the 
first brisk morning of December sheathed in black workout gear from head to toe. The fanciful Clarksville eatery, known as much for its charming blue-cottage exterior as for its decadent lemon-ricotta pancakes, is undoubtedly her spot. Though the 9 a.m. breakfast crowd consists of a mere three patrons, Krause and this reporter included, it’s her presence that draws unseen staff members out from behind counters and corners, peeking their heads out to nod, wave, mouth hello to her as she cruises to the corner table by the window. 

It’s been more than six years since Krause moved to Central Texas from California, and this March will mark her seventh SXSW. Last year, Hugh Forrest (Chief Programming Officer and Krause’s boss) promoted her to SXSW Conference programming manager, essentially making her the curator and creator behind every keynote and every featured speaker, in addition to SXSW Style. 

Krause recounts coming to Austin for the first time in 2010. 

“The second I landed in Austin, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh. This city is so cool. There’s so much going on. … This feels so good. This feels like my kind of city.’ There weren’t a lot of chain restaurants; it was a lot of mom-and-pop shops. I picked up on the vibes immediately,” she says. “The Austin vibes are just cool, but progressive and forward-thinking, and really nice people. I basically went back to LA and was like, ‘All right. I’m getting to Austin one way or another. I don’t know what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, 
but I’m getting out of here.’ ”

After her initial Austin visit, Krause returned to LA and promptly reached out to a woman she had worked with once on a film who now worked for South By Southwest.

“We spent 15 minutes together in LA working on this film, and I reached back out to her blindly over Facebook [and said], ‘You probably don’t remember me. We worked on this film together. Is South By hiring? I’d love to move to Austin, and I’m planning on moving soon.’ [The woman said,] ‘We’re actually not hiring in the film department, but our interactive publicist just left. Do you have any tech experience?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I totally do.’ … She’s like, ‘Great. Let me put you in touch with the old publicist, and she’ll set you up with an interview.’ ” 

Krause moved to Austin, landed the job and started handling publicity for the rising star, SXSW Interactive, which saw badge sales for 2011 surpass badge sales for the SXSW Music Festival portion for the first time. 

“This is why I always say never burn a bridge because you never know when you’re going to circle back with someone, and everything ends up coming full circle. It’s wild,” Krause expounds. “The same people that I worked with in LA are now clients at South By Southwest, so everything comes full circle. I fully believe that.”

Krause credits those who came before her and the entire SXSW team for laying the groundwork upon which she started to find success. By 2012, nearly two years into her tenure at SXSW, she had mastered her publicity duties, but wanted to do more. She started developing content on her own and securing the partnerships and speakers that would deliver that content. 

“I started meeting with all these publications, and they wanted to get involved in the event, and not necessarily from the sales component. They wanted to help work on programming too. It was mutually beneficial for them,” Krause explains. “I was meeting with Time and Marie Claire and Vanity Fair and Vogue and all of these awesome companies, and I really started to pour my heart into that.”

Eventually, Krause’s role transitioned from publicist to planner. In 2014, on top of her publicity duties (not to mention being named to Marie Claire magazine’s second annual list entitled The New Guard: The 50 Most Connected Women in America), she helped launch SXSW Style, which meant working around the clock to curate, give or take, 30 sessions, traveling throughout the country for meetings with the Council of Fashion Designers of America  and companies like Refinery29, and working across multiple SXSW departments to coordinate corresponding dinners and parties and events. 

“It takes a lot of people to do all of this,” emphasizes Krause, who has been part of an extraordinary, almost unprecedented, team of organized yet visionary individuals responsible for recruiting such notable SXSW keynotes and featured speakers as Edward Snowden, Tesla and SpaceX Founder Elon Musk, author Malcolm Gladwell, celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and, in 2016, President Barack Obama. 

However, in the midst of all this remarkable work, which, Krause admits was fun, the best kind of work and fulfilling, she had forgotten about one thing: herself.

May 5, 2013, Krause posted the following caption to her Instagram account: “Progress in 35 days. Anything is possible.” The accompanying picture was an outdoor photo of a flight of stone steps that she overlaid with the text “Sunday Zen,” and “Week 4, -24 lbs.”

Amid Krause’s ascension to connect with the world, give more than 110 percent, influence national conversations about technology and fashion, all in the name of her all-or-nothing passion for SXSW, she neglected connecting to herself, giving herself more than 110 percent and influencing her own conversations. 

“The defining moment for me was Easter Sunday 2013,” Krause says. “I was sitting down at this really indulgent spread with my sister, and I just felt naked. I felt heavy, gross. It was hard to breathe. Leading up to that, I could not climb a flight of stairs without being breathless. I couldn’t sit in an airline seat. … I was just tired of feeling that way. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”

Krause was overweight, and it was something she had always battled. She would exercise to no avail, diet to no avail. Nothing had worked. That Easter, she abandoned the indulgent spread, and that night, she made a resolution. 

“Everything that I was doing came down to a bottom line of I wasn’t being good to myself. I wasn’t being kind,” she says. “I need to live kindly. That’s where the mantra kind of developed. I went to bed that night and [thought], ‘You’re just going to be good to yourself.’ ”

For Krause, that meant not looking back, not feeling ashamed. She just had to get started. The next morning, Krause found some stairs and walked up and down them three times. It was April 1, 2013, April Fools’ Day, and she kept it to herself. She didn’t want any jokes. 

“That was my first workout,” Krause says. “Three flights led to four flights, which led to five, and then I kept just building up, and then I started going to spin classes. One class a week led to two a week led to three a week. There was just this snowball effect for me. I started to feel better, and I started to eat better and I didn’t go on any crazy diets. I didn’t really eliminate anything, aside from things that I knew made my stomach upset.”

The key to Krause not looking back is that she looked ahead, focused on her future instead of dwelling in her past.

“Anything that I did was progress from what I did before, so even if I only made it around Town Lake once and I was walking, that was more than I did before,” Krause says. “Everything was just moving forward. That was it. It seems so simple but yet, it was kind of hard because I wasn’t living a lively path.”

After one year of livelier and kinder living, Krause had lost 135 pounds.

“I just started to change my perspective and change the way I thought about myself and everything around me,” she says. “The weight loss was great, but it was becoming less about what I was losing and more about what I was gaining: confidence, a more mindful and kinder approach to people, myself. My relationships all changed. I was more open.”

Krause shared her journey with others. Her initial Instagram post from May 5, 2013 (four weeks after her quiet April Fools’ Day workout) is now archived behind hundreds more that chronicle her steps (often literally) to live kindly. At Krause’s one-year mark, Camille Styles (who had pedaled alongside Krause during classes at Ride, a local indoor cycling studio) invited her to write about this living-kindly philosophy on Styles’ eponymous and influential lifestyle blog.

Krause’s personal journey and renewed perspective elicited a stream of affirmations, positive responses and pledges of support from throughout the country. Styles made Krause a regular contributor, giving her a column that Krause rightly named Living Kindly. Krause still contributes her column on a monthly basis, covering topics from “Are You Choosing the Right Friends” to “What Happened When I Went Vegan for Three Days” to a host of other scenarios with which she has personally struggled or experienced. For the record, Krause isn’t in the clear yet, and she openly discusses her ups and downs.

“I was featured in a bicycling magazine, and I hated the way I looked on the bike. In that moment of seeing myself…I so quickly went to, ‘OK, what can I do to lose more weight?’ versus, ‘This is really amazing. The editor of the bicycling magazine and writers thought that I was good enough to feature in their publication. They saw me as a leader in this industry, and so did the women in the community, and I’m not focusing on that. I’m focusing on something negative.’ I changed my perspective, and I talked about that and I was very honest about it,” Krause says. “I think a lot of people can relate to that in whatever capacity, that they see themselves differently and instead of focusing on the positive, they see the negative.”

People—inspiration seekers or Krause’s own peers and followers—continue to crave her advice. She is now as well known for her galvanizing transformation as she is for her stature within the roaring machine that is SXSW. As for Krause, she continues to crave what’s ahead, whether that means more yoga (“The way my yoga friends talk is so much centered on the universe and mindfulness,” she says.) or more traveling (“Right now, my wanderlust is through the roof,” she adds.) or more challenges (“I’m always thinking about what my future looks like,” she says, “and what new skills I can go after.”)

Luckily, the more Krause grows, the more we know, and the more she knows, the more we grow. Krause possesses that selfless gift of generosity. She imparts wisdom, though she wouldn’t call it that, to anyone who wants it. She faces the challenges that life throws at her, and reports back with unfiltered honesty. In short, Kelly Krause doesn’t just live kindly, she is kind. 

Krause points out that people used to ask her, and many still do, what the secret is to her success. Krause answers that question in earnest. 

“There is no diet. There is no magic formula for any of this. It is just taking care of yourself. I love it,” she says. “It’s not a shake. It is not a pill. It is not a regimented routine. This is what works for me. You do what works for you.


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