How a College Student Caught the Attention of Ketchum’s CEO

This blog was contributed by Nicole Spears, a junior Strategic Communications major at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

There was an overarching theme of boldness at October’s PRSA and PRSSA conferences. Public relations professionals and students from across the country gathered in San Francisco to share, to learn and to make connections. Unexpectedly, I added my own stroke of boldness to the latter.

A keynote address at the PRSSA National Conference brought living legends of public relations to the stage. Over 1,000 aspiring PR professionals sat listening as the speakers touched on the importance of making a lasting impression as you attempt to climb the career ladder.

One tale of a PR intern particularly resonated with the audience: A leader at a communications agency received a thank you note from an intern who was finishing his work with the company. Receiving this note was the first contact he had with the intern, who worked in the very same office. A personalized thank you note is a nice touch, but a lack of face-to-face communication is a missed opportunity. The speaker encouraged students in the room to be bold; to get to know the people who can make a difference in their careers.

Following suit, Biz Stone, CEO of Twitter, told many interesting tales of his seemingly miraculous entrepreneurial feats as he delivered the opening keynote speech later in the weekend at the PRSA International Convention.  One particular tip given by Stone cohered with the ongoing discourse on boldness: to succeed spectacularly, be ready to fail spectacularly.

Hearing this bit of advice negated any hesitations I was having about the audacious networking move I had previously made. So the story goes…

Ever since visiting the Ketchum Chicago office on a networking trip with my PRSSA chapter as a sophomore, my sights have been set on the agency. It was a goal of mine to leave the PR conference in San Francisco having made at least one solid connection. I resorted to the Twittersphere:

One tweet led to another as PRSSA members flocked to the PRSA International Convention. While thousands of students and professionals chatted in their seats waiting for Stone to take the stage, I contemplated the comical advice received in a Twitter reply from Bill Zucker, Midwest Director of Ketchum:

In a room full of highly qualified, incredibly ambitious aspiring PR professionals, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get noticed. With one scribbled sign, and the encouragement of my fellow Scripps PRSSA chapter members, I made my way to the front row seats boasting “Ketchum?” on my yellow legal pad.

Many inquisitive glances, but no one took the bait. I turned on my heel to head to another section and nearly walked into a man that I imagined was about to kick me out. A quick glance at a highly decorated nametag notified me otherwise. In other words, the first time I met Rob Flaherty, Ketchum CEO, I thought he was a security guard (feel free to laugh). Instead, I was about to exchange cards with one of the biggest industry influencers in the room.

I imagined that my bold move would result in a few stares, and perhaps even in a swift invite to leave the event. Instead, I had the rare opportunity to speak with the CEO of one of the largest global communications firms in the world.

Five minutes before the kick-off to a conference that hosted many of today’s most influential leaders in PR, where Ketchum Senior Partner and Chairman Ray Kotcher would soon receive the PRSA Gold Anvil Award, Rob Flaherty took the time to hear out an eager PR student from Athens, Ohio.

Innovation can play out in many ways. From the intricacies of award-winning campaigns, to the basics of networking, bold and creative tactics guarantee a lasting impression. Go bold, or go unknown.

This blog was contributed by Nicole Spears, a junior Strategic Communications major at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Her interests in public relations, business, and anthropology draw her to pursue a wide array of learning experiences as an aspiring PR professional. She uses her global and creative background to contribute to her current work as executive board member with the Scripps PRSSA chapter and a Student Communications Assistant with the Ohio University College of Business. Always looking to learn from peers and professionals, Spears stresses the importance of lasting impressions.