Jerry Voros passed away this week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he had lived for more than 50 years. To both commemorate and celebrate his life, here’s a look back at the tremendous impact Jerry had on me, Ketchum, and the world of Public Relations.
He began his career as an account executive in the public relations division of Ketchum, MacLeod and Grove (KM&G), a leading ad firm in those days, and eventually became CEO and chairman of the company. While he had a significant role in shaping the global communications consultancy Ketchum is today, many people within the Ketchum network and public relations industry around the world have probably never heard of Jerry. Consistent with Jerry’s private nature, there aren’t any awards acknowledging his achievements, no conference room plaques baring his namesake. But Ketchum is the global powerhouse it is today because of his leadership, vision and belief in the importance of public relations in our society.
Jerry was my boss, mentor, and friend for more than 40 years. He hired me as an account executive in the Pittsburgh public relations department. He was a mentor in the truest meaning of the word. For years, he put goals in front of me and let me figure out how to achieve them. But he was always there for me as a trusted adviser, imparting guidance, wisdom and experience along the way.
Soon after, he sent me to the San Francisco public relations division and supervised me closely for ten years. His frequent visits to the Bay Area were always good learning experiences for me and our staff as he went from cubicle to cubicle offering encouragement and telling great stories—”management by walking around” he called it.
It was Jerry who determined that our relatively small public relations department in a large ad agency needed to be a bigger name and brand in the public relations world. And so, he decided to make us known.
He became a leader in the Public Relations Society of America, which was the major trade organization dominated by the most influential leaders in corporate and agency public relations. He helped put the Ketchum Public Relations’ name on the map by hosting what was considered the biggest and best party at the PRSA’s annual convention. Everyone may have come for the huge shrimp, but they left talking about Ketchum. He encouraged us to enter the PRSA Silver Anvil awards competitions and, when we started winning, clients and competitors took notice.
It was Jerry who in 1981 moved Paul Alvarez from Pittsburgh as CEO and me from San Francisco as COO to New York City to establish the new headquarters for a fledgling public relations division that consisted of operations in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a small New York presence. Progress was made, but now, as a New York – headquartered public relations firm, we were still way down on the list.
It was Jerry who convinced the KM&G Board, populated mainly by advertising executives, to invest in public relations by acquiring firms in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Atlanta—and then London, Paris, Munich, and Madrid.
Jerry was honest, ethical and devoted to his family, KM&G and the causes he supported. He encouraged us not only to join these organizations, but to get involved and take leadership roles in professional and community projects. In addition to his contributions to the PRSA, he went on to become chairman of the international committee of the Boy Scouts of America and board member of numerous organizations throughout the city of Pittsburgh.
He was always focused on our being responsive and providing high value to our clients. As a young account executive, I was told to read our clients’ annual reports, roam their hallways to get to know people and use their products when applicable.
Jerry believed in transparency before it was way popular to talk about. He was very focused on inculcating in us that while public relations is a profession, it is also a business for those of us in public relations firms. As a communications student, they never taught me how to read and understand balance sheets. When I came to Ketchum I knew how to write a speech and a press release, but I had no understanding of how we contributed to KM&G’s bottom line. I learned that from Jerry.
Those of us who knew him have treasured memories that will stay with us forever. So, wherever you are in the Ketchum world today, please know that you are there because of the foundation he created for us. I am so grateful.