what's happening at BG


HONOLULU (February 8, 2018) – Bennet Group Strategic Communications, one of Hawaii’s top public relations agencies, has promoted Kalli Abernathy to account manager and hired Hilary Denison as account coordinator.

“Our firm has experienced steady growth and success, which allows us to bring on fresh talent while retaining and promoting seasoned staff members,” says Joan Bennet, president and CEO of Bennet Group. “Kalli Abernathy has shown tremendous advancement in her strategic abilities and rightfully earns a position in our management team. Hilary Denison brings fresh perspective and insights to an ever-changing industry, positioning her as an exemplary new team member.”

Kalli Abernathy was promoted from senior account executive to account manager, where she will oversee and continue to develop the firm’s growing travel/tourism and hospitality practice. Kalli’s ability to think 360 degrees allows her to strategize effective client solutions in Hawaii’s unique travel/tourism industry. Kalli has been with the firm for more than two years and is dedicated to giving back to the community and to advancing the public relations profession. She currently volunteers with Hawaii Literacy and serves as the communications co-chair for the Public Relations Society of America, Hawaii Chapter.

Hilary Denison majored in Communications at Chaminade University of Honolulu and is passionate about public affairs, social media communications and real estate and development. She brings to the team a great understanding and appreciation for Hawaii as well as a serious dedication to its progression through communications.

Bennet Group, which proudly celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2017, continues to be thoughtful, forward-thinking, creative communications partners for its clients.


About Bennet Group Strategic Communications

Bennet Group Strategic Communications provides full-service public relations and strategic communications counsel to a variety of businesses in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. The firm provides corporate communications, public affairs and public policy, media training, crisis communications, social media, integrated marketing and issues management, among other services. More information is available on its website or Facebook at


HONOLULU (August 28, 2017) – Bennet Group Strategic Communications, one of Hawaiʻi’s top public relations agencies, has hired Shayreen Lum, senior account executive and Taryn Pascua, account coordinator, to join the dynamic communications team. Born and raised in Hawai‘i, both Lum and Pascua bring a wealth of knowledge for the culture and history of our islands.

“We’re proud to have these two young professionals join our team,” says Joan Bennet, president and CEO of Bennet Group. “Their local knowledge, coupled with their insights in the latest communication trends and technologies, adds real value for our clients.”

Having worked in Washington, D.C. for the past four years, Lum has gained a tremendous amount of experience in our nation’s capital. Most recently, Lum worked for a hospitality PR firm where she developed communication plans for restaurants, hotels and several country embassies. She worked closely with the ambassador of Chile to form their communication strategy on how to promote Chilean products to the US market. Lum is a Kamehameha Schools alumna and graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a B.A. in journalism and media studies and a minor in communications. Lum is grateful to be back in Hawai‘i and looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends.

Taryn Pascua received her bachelor of arts in multimedia communications from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. During her studies, she interned at a national level with NBC Universal and at a local level with KITV4. An ‘Iolani School alumna, Taryn was born and raised on O‘ahu and merges her diversified multimedia experience with her intimate understanding of the community.


Bennet Group turns 20 this year and to commemorate this event, we asked a few of
our top clients – all of them respected, accomplished leaders in Hawai’i — to tell us what they liked about working with our team. Their answers and insights left us feeling deeply humbled, incredibly proud and profoundly grateful.

We cannot express our thanks for the opportunity to represent these amazing individuals and their respective organizations who, every day, work tirelessly to make Hawai’i a better place.

Providing strategic communications counsel to Hawai’i’s leading organizations is a privilege and a responsibility that we take seriously.

Mahalo to all of our clients for allowing Bennet Group to be part of your journey.

christine joan sig
Christine & Joan

A Malama Honua Worldwide Story

A constant joy – and occasional source of chaos – over the past three years has been our privileged role as Hōkūleʻa’s PR team for the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Among the many gifts Hōkūleʻa gave me while leading our PR efforts are a few key lessons I’ll never forget.

  • Know what not to plan for. We can always build another contingency, but sometimes it’s more rewarding to focus flawless execution and detailed PR muscle when we can shape what’s on the horizon.  Sharing crew outreach stories at that surprise bad-weather port stop? Do not plan. Press event with thousands of Maori children singing Hokulea onto the beach? Plan.
  • Stay nimble. When everything about the client is weather-dependent, one learns to be flexible. Building great relationships with partners and journalists and being willing to turn on a dime means we get the story out – with quotes and b-roll – in time for the 5:00 p.m. deadline every single day.
  • Laugh. When we chuck the plan out the window and a high-profile event threatens to collapse two continents away, a belly laugh with dear friends and colleagues is a necessary release valve.  That, and rum from a certain port in the caribbean.
  • Prioritize the team. None of the marquee communications achievements would have been possible without the deep trust and mutual respect on this communications team – at PVS, at ‘Ōiwi TV and here at Bennet Group. We learned to back one another, bolster successes and share big dreams.

Bennet Group was deeply privileged to be selected as PVS’s communications partner for the Worldwide Voyage, and proud to donate nearly $90,000 in pro-bono professional fees above and beyond our contract to ensure we were there, every port stop and every crew call, to help tell this incredible story. Our commitment to PVS continues, and we are ever grateful to be part of the voyaging ‘ohana in our small way.

Bennet Group sweeps the PRSA Koa Anvil Awards

Thanks to great clients and great projects, Bennet Group celebrates a record-breaking twenty wins at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Hawai‘i Chapter’s Koa Anvil Awards held July 28, 2017. These awards, which honor the best and brightest strategic public relations and communications programs, campaigns and tactics, bring together the entire industry and highlight the most creative and strategic leaders in the field. Bennet Group was honored to win the most awards out of every agency or company represented.

We toast our 20th anniversary with 20 Koa Anvil wins and extend a warm congratulations to our amazing clients, who allow us to be strategic thought partners for Hawai‘i’s top issues and brands.

Please see below for a full list of awards:

  • Maunakea Scholars – Issue Management
  • Ward Village Hosts “Footprints of Life” – Community Relations
  • Aulani Resort’s Fifth Anniversary – Community Relations
  • Hawaii Pacific University – Reputation/Brand Management
  • Ward Village Opens South Shore Market – Marketing Consumer Products
  • #ItsOnVerizon Food Truck Pop-Up – Technology
  • Kama‘āina Observatory Experience Launch – Marketing Consumer Services
  • Hokulea Opens World Oceans Day at the United Nations – Global Communications
  • Kama‘āina Observatory Experience – Issue Management
  • The East-West Center’s East West Sustainability Summit – Multicultural Public Relations
  • Hokulea Sails to New York for World Oceans Day – Multicultural Public Relations
  • Ward Village Opens South Shore Market – Integrated Communications
  • Maunakea Observatories – Reputation/Brand Management
  • Aulani Resort’s Fifth Anniversary – Reputation/Brand Management
  • Ward Village Hosts “Footprints of Life” – Events and Observances
  • The East-West Center’s East West Sustainability Summit – Public Service
  • Kama‘āina Observatory Experience – Public Service
  • Hokulea World Oceans Day B-roll – B-roll
  • Aloha United Way Annual Campaign – Media Relations
  • Aulani Resort’s Fifth Anniversary News Release


“Recent crises in the news have us wondering: is our company prepared to handle an emergency to the best of our ability?”

Crisis can be anticipated, such as a hurricane, or unexpected, such as a sudden, unfortunate accident. Regardless, crises often happen when we least expect them and can be extremely challenging to address. Here are a few of essential steps to prevent crisis mismanagement and to retain the trust of and transparency with the people who mean the most to you:

  • Pull together a crisis team and suite of communications toolsthat make roles, responsibilities and immediate actions explicit so you can address concerns quickly and strategically. Your team should include your company leadership, legal counsel, communications partner and security (if applicable). Your communications tools should include customizable statements for the media and direct messages to your stakeholders that follow the CAP rule.
  • CAP: Concern, Action, Perspective. A thoughtful messaging plan is essential, especially during an emergency. All materials should follow the CAP rule and show genuine concern and sensitivity for those affected by the crisis, demonstrate immediate action to address any damage and provide perspective on the greater impact and implications of the situation.
  • Refresh your company’s crisis communications planat least once a year. Be sure to update your emergency contact sheet, designate and train a company spokesperson and plan for potential crisis scenarios closely related your business. Think through what concerns your customers most and draft plans that manage those crises to the best of your ability and to the satisfaction of your audience. There’s no better way to maintain confidence in your company than by exceeding expectations. Proactive planning gives you the opportunity to do just that.


“I still get nervous every time I have to speak in front of a camera or a crowd. What are some go-to tips to tackle these nerves and give the best performance possible?”

Fear around public speaking is among the most relatable in our culture. Yet did you know there is little physiological difference between feeling nervous and feeling excited? Our bodies respond in nearly identical ways: our hearts race, our bodies release hormones, and our senses become heightened as we prepare for the unknown. Oftentimes, if you reframe your symptoms as excitement, it will take the edge off and remove the cloud that blocks your memory. So, have a laugh, take a deep breath, a sip of room temperature water, and walk out with a smile reminding yourself that you have an exciting message to share.

  • Exercise before a video shoot or presentation. Physical exertion increases blood circulation, oxygen and endorphins while relaxing muscles so you feel calmer and happier. Simple movements like yoga or “power-posing” will do the trick – and possibly give you the laugh you need to remember you’re excited, not nervous.
  • Eat ahead of speaking. Avoid caffeine and simple sugars which can make you feel jittery, and have a snack that contains healthy fats and tryptophan, such as dates and cashews. These choices will stabilize your blood sugar and give your brain the nutrients it needs to focus.
  • Rehearse. Rehearse. The idea is to know the sequence of your content so well, you don’t need to think about it, and it rolls off your tongue like you’ve said it a thousand times. If you sound rehearsed, it’s actually a signal you haven’t yet rehearsed enough. A couple ways we rehearse clients we coach for public speaking are to:
    • Practice with a voice recorder. Listen to what you’ve said, upgrade your written messages to more closely mimic the way you actually speak, and record again. This repetitive process improves your comfort with your message, the authenticity of your message, and commits it to memory.
    • Enlist a friend or your coach to make surprise phone calls to you in the days leading up to your engagement. Have them ask a question that will be used in your interview or for a section of your presentation. This non-face-to-face approach creates memories of delivering your content in lower-pressure situations and surely produces funny moments you can call upon to remind yourself this is exciting, not nerve-racking, work.

Lastly, the easiest way to ensure a confident delivery is to stick to three strategic messages. Conventional wisdom suggests a person needs to hear something ten times before they will remember it. When you keep it simple, not only do you reduce the burden on yourself, but you increase impact. Bennet Group can help you plan your content smartly so you get the ROI you need from a speaking engagement – audience action. And nothing reduces nerves quite like knowing you will be effective.


On Sunday, September 18, 2016, Bennet Group team members and clients joined forces to compete against several other companies in a rousing game of knockerball. Knockerball is a version of the traditional game of soccer, where players are in a large plastic ball. The muddy game, hosted by Aloha United Way’s Society of Young Leaders, raised over $4,000 for the community. Over 100 young professionals came together to raise money for some of our state’s most pressing issues. Bennet Group was happy to welcome special guests such as Tyler Dos-Santos Tam, executive director of Hawaii Construction Alliance; Nikki Moreno, public affairs director of Aulani Resort; and Nicole Velasco, executive director, office of economic development, City and County of Honolulu.

knockerball1    kalli


There isn’t a challenge too intimidating for Christine Matsuda Smith and its part of the reason why her personal philosophy is “say yes.” As vice president for Bennet Group Strategic Communications, she has her sights set on taking the company to new heights and creating a healthier, more informed island community for Hawai‘i.

A local girl, Christine was raised in Kaimuki by her father, a music teacher at Kamehameha Schools, and her mother, an artist and advisor at the University of Hawai‘i. She garners much of her daily inspiration from her mother, who spearheaded UH’s academics for athletics program to prioritize academic achievement for athletes. “The older I get, the more I realize that I am exactly like her. I’m compelled to take the hard assignment, see how much I can help and how far we can push.”

After graduating from Punahou School, Christine accepted a scholarship to the University of Southern California where she took her creative genes and designed her own major around food studies. “I had to be a food writer,” she laughs. She soon scored a part-time position with Bon Appétit Magazine that brought her to an opportunity of a lifetime: assistant to Anne Willan, a renowned French chef. There, she fulfilled every foodie’s dream and immersed herself in recipe development, food photography, cooking demos, and even academic research. On the side, she worked alongside non-profits in the culinary community to help raise money and host events.


Christine discovered her passion for nonprofit development when she accepted a position with Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending child hunger. In her work throughout the western region of the US, she realized something big was happening: families in her home state were left out of the spotlight and weren’t getting the resources they needed. “There was a national movement to stop childhood hunger that wasn’t affecting Hawai‘i and I didn’t understand why.”

So, in 2012 Christine moved back to O‘ahu and accepted a position with Hawai‘i Foodbank assisting with fund development and event coordination. There, she worked alongside key stakeholders to find a solution to this problem and expand the organization’s island-wide efforts. Fast-forward to today and she now leads one of Hawai‘i’s largest public relations firms by revenue in the state.

Her personal mantra? “You are strong enough and in control. It is your choice to be who you are,” Christine shares, holding a smile behind her coffee.

Q: Bennet Group is committed to partnering with companies that are working towards a better future for Hawai‘i. Explain how some of our clients are learning from working with you.

A: Creating long-term progress. I see that they are constantly moving towards something better, whether it’s having a clearer vision or a finding better way to improve people’s lives through community, culture and art.

Q: At the end of the day, what imprint do you hope to have on your clients?

A: I know it’s been a good day when all of us are working in sync, fired up, passionate and inspired just by working with each other. In terms of the work that we are doing, it’s when they feel smarter and better informed. It’s a great feeling when new ideas are introduced that lead towards a positive impact and make our clients feel better understood.

Q: How do you define your shining moment of success as a communications professional?

A: My own way of thinking and who I am as a professional is guided by the idea that magic happens when people come together and form new connections. In our job, crafting relationships is just as important as keeping our clients informed. It’s the same thing. What I find rewarding is identifying novel ways that make that spark occur, whether it’s a simple exchange of ideas or having the opportunity to open their minds to a broader way about thinking about issues affecting our community.

Q: What characteristics of the workplace you feel are most critical in ensuring the prosperity of the overall company?

A: The first thing is trust. I am a big believer that trust is critical throughout our organization and that each and every one of us has each other’s back. The way we create trust is by being transparent, which takes a lot of effort and dedicated attention to maintain.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?

A: In our role, we must constantly be student of society, endlessly evolving, learning, improving and getting smarter. It can be exhausting but I love it.


To kick off the month of September, Bennet Group had the honor of participating in the IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) through two of our clients, the East-West Center and Kupu. Held once every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress helps shape the direction of conservation and sustainable development. 2016 marked the first time that the United States hosted this international event in Hawai‘i.

The East-West Center’s East-West Sustainability Summit convened key global sustainability leaders, including philanthropists, environmental and government leaders to collaboratively address the health and prosperity of people in the Asia Pacific Region and around the world. Participants in the Sustainability Summit brought diverse approaches to solving the world’s toughest sustainability challenges: clean energy, green finance and supply chains, protection of land and sea, innovative business models and government policies that included enhancing public/private partnerships. Our Bennet Group team helped with strategic planning, media relations and event details prior to and during the summit, leading up to the day of IUCN.

Kupu, Hawai‘i’s leading nonprofit for environmental conservation and youth development, played a significant role in the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress. Kupu CEO John Leong served as the chair of the Youth Engagement Working Group, a youth-focused subcommittee of the national host committee in Honolulu. The WCC gave Kupu a mission-aligned world platform to share the organization’s impactful conservation work with the Congress’ 6,000-10,000 participants that included a multitude of influencers from all over the world. Bennet Group worked with Kupu to ensure that events led by the Youth Engagement Working Group were highlighted and recognized by both our media partners and the community.

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