Part 2 of Our Interview With Ketchum’s Ray Kotcher

It's (still) not "Happy Trails." More like "On the Road Again."

Ray KotcherYesterday, we shared Part 1 of our interview with ICCO Hall-of-Famer and transitioning Ketchum Chairman Ray Kotcher.

Today, in Part Two, Ray discusses universal truths in the industry, shares advice for the next generation of PR pros, tells us what’s next for him, and shares a little PR fortune telling for us all.

BTW, if you want to kiss up a little believe you have a departing, transitioning, or growing member of your agency’s executive team, we’re open to interviews whenever. Holler at us. Happy to holler back.

On with the show…

From MENA to China, the U.S. to the U.K. to Brazil, you have seen many facets of public relations both evolve and erode. What are some of the universal truths in PR that resonate regardless of location?

I think there are a few universal truths that span time and geography. First, at its core, public relations is about relationships. The tools and technologies will change how these relationships are built, but relationships are still what it is all about. Next, there is a global move away from “push” towards “pull” – consumers are “pulling” what they are interested in, what is meaningful.

Following that, in almost every part of the world, gone are the days where media outlets determine what constitutes news – now consumers are generating their own content, curating what is important to them, and distributing to their own social networks.

To quote my longtime colleague and Ketchum’s CEO, Rob Flaherty, “the new definition of news is ‘something important enough to find me.’” And finally, regardless of geography or point in time, the fundamental truth about PR is that transparency and authenticity matter. I say so every chance I get.

Over the span of a 30+ year career, you managed to stay connected with teams across the Ketchum world. You are known as a leader who could be reached and who listened, which is especially important to young PR practitioners – to feel connected to agency leadership.

How did you do it? And, as a follow up, how has that connection to the next generation of PR pros shaped your path ahead?

For as long as I have been at Ketchum and well before, Ketchum has always had an open-door policy, making leadership easily accessible. I was fortunate to be able to build on that during my tenure. It was important to me to involve young talent –   in addition to more experienced talent – in decision-making. I have always been mindful to make time to listen to those around me, so I think that was a major part of how I stayed connected to the agency and its great people.

In addition, mentoring the next generation of practitioners has always been a passion of mine. I have made a point to encourage my colleagues to find a mentor and to be a mentor, regardless of how established they are in their careers. Ketchum’s chairman emeritus Dave Drobis was a mentor to me early in my Ketchum career – as was Paul Alvarez, Dave’s predecessor. I remain in touch with them to this day.

Also as a former high school English teacher, I have an appreciation for how important learning is and the role that education can play to help further public relations as a career destination of choice for students. And so, as I transition to the non-executive chairman role, I am very excited to be in final discussions to become professor of the practice at Boston University’s College of Communication.

It is really fulfilling to open the world of PR and communications to the next generation, and I particularly look forward to helping the students prepare for and move into to the professional world. That’s why my new PRSA board position is equally exciting, as one of the things I will be focusing on is helping the student members of the PRSSA as they cross the bridge from student to professional. They are our future.

What advice would you give to the next generation of PR professionals?

Our future leaders are entering the field right now, and it is a very exciting time for them to be doing that. The advice I would give to them to help them take their careers and the practice into the future is:

  • Embrace your passions
  • Remain uncommonly curious, open to fresh ideas, media and technologies, and social trends
  • Build a global sensitivity
  • Serve the common good
  • Respect others
  • Live your life and do your work with the utmost integrity

Lastly, pretend you are a PR fortune cookie. Someone from every level in any agency goes to dinner together discussing media relations, client service, and public outreach. Following the spring rolls and roasted duck, they all reach for the cookie.

What’s the fortune you would love them to see so that they walk out of the restaurant better than when they arrived?

Maybe two cookies each?

  • One cookie says, “PR is a business built on trust.”
  • The second one says, “This is a now or never moment.”

And then leave a good tip.

As he transitions to a non-executive chairman role, Ray plans to remain connected to Ketchum and Omnicom’s DAS Group of Companies, consulting to both beginning Jan. 16.

He will continue to be active in industry and professional organizations, in fact it was announced last this week that he will join the PRSA National Board ex-officio, and serve as a senior counselor.

In addition, he is in final discussions with Boston University’s College of Communication to join the faculty as professor of the practice, combining his passion for the PR industry with his love of mentoring and teaching.