INTERVIEW: Ray Kotcher Discusses His Transition at Ketchum, Legacy in PR

By Shawn Paul Wood Comment

Ray KotcherAs I have shared several times, my career path has provided me a cozy, warm rest stop at Ketchum as a digital PR guy. At my agency, much like yours, I have the opportunity to meet, know, and admire many people whose shoes I couldn’t even shine. In fact, this has happened to me in a couple of spots.

At Burson-Marsteller, Harold Burson impressed upon me the building blocks for agency life. As an entertainment publicist, serving a handful of musical icons, Burson showed me that they are just people who want to offer good memories and great conversation, like everyone else. And now, at Ketchum, I work in the same place as Ray Kotcher, who, you may know:

As Ketchum CEO Rob Flaherty said, “Ray has played a vital role and made an indelible mark on the industry—through his wisdom, thought-leadership, deep-rooted values and passion for the work. He has been a mentor and a valued friend to so many.” (Disclosure, Rob is another leader here I admire.)

Did you know Ray Kotcher is someone who has done so much for this industry that the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO) recently inducted him into its Hall of Fame? Not only that, but Ray has been a trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, a member of the PRSA Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and actively engaged in the Arthur W. Page Society.

So, when news came out that he was transitioning into a new role as non-executive chairman after 30-plus years at Ketchum (12 as CEO, four as chairman), I felt that distant brush of greatness again. And thanks to pulling a few strings, I was able to ask a couple of questions about his path in PR, where this decision is taking him, and what we can all learn from his experiences.

You have been with one company for three decades, which is almost like catching a unicorn at the end of a rainbow in this industry. Share how you were able to carve out more than a niche, but a home at Ketchum for all those years.

You’re right – more than three decades at one place is a long time! And when I joined Ketchum in 1983, I did not think about how long I would be here, or imagine that my future would include being named president, CEO and then chairman. Though I did take a detour early on, I was back at Ketchum after only one year. I guess you could call me a recidivist.

Ketchum is a unique place, and it became clear to me that it is the only place I wanted to be. Its singular culture is defined by its great talent, peerless commitment to its clients, amazing creativity, passion for great work, ethics, and principles of trust in one another, reciprocity, mutuality and integrity. This really resonates with me and during my 32 years here I could live by the same values in the office that I live by at home with my family and friends.

Every day I have experienced something new and exciting – I’ve had outstanding client associations, projects that challenged me to think differently, and great relationships with my colleagues. No matter where I meet them, I feel at home with Ketchum people and I have learned something and grown because of them. And working in close partnership with many of our clients has made my job fun, and also unpredictable – that’s one of the things so many of us love about agency life!

It could be argued that your fireplace mantle is full of tokens you have been honored to receive in PR. Of those exploits, which is your proudest and why?

While I have received individual honors in recent years, Ketchum stands out as the most awarded agency for its client work in the history of our industry, and that makes me incredibly proud. The award that really meant a great deal came to us in 2002, when Ketchum was named Agency of the Year by PRWeek for the first time.

It was just a few months after the 9/11 attacks. All businesses struggled to get their footing. Also, we all were still working through the dot-com bust. Yet Ketchum had experienced one of its biggest growth years at that point. We made strategic investments, thought differently and innovated, and–of course–our brilliant talent and their deep belief in who we are made it all happen.

We’ve grown by about 500 percent since then, but that one moment in time stands out for me. It moved me so. I still remember hearing the announcement and then a room full of applause. I can see the faces of the colleagues and clients who were there that evening. It was really amazing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow where Ray shares some great insight for the next generation of PR professionals.

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