How a “Geek Beyond Measure” Became CEO of Ketchum Europe

As Seen In… PRMoment

“I was a geek beyond measure as a teenager (this may be chronic).” This is the confession of David Gallagher, CEO Europe of PR firm Ketchum, as he describes how he has changed (or not) since his earliest years growing up in the US. “Over the course of a year, I sat on our sofa and read volumes of an encyclopaedia, and my interests jumped from volume to volume – this was pre-digital. At different times I wanted to be, in alphabetical order: an astronomer, a historian (specializing in Native American tribes), a paleontologist and a zoologist. I actually went to university with the intent of studying astronomy, but the mathematics required quickly shattered that delusion. I drifted to advertising and ultimately to journalism.”

Gallagher says he believes his teenage self would be pleased to find out that he has found a job doing something he loves with people he respects, although his younger self, having grown up in semi-rural central Texas, would also be shocked to find that he would end up commuting to work each day in urban central London, not to mention traveling to all the places beyond: “I had never been on an airplane before the age of 21”, Gallagher explains.

Describing his first move from home, Gallagher says he left recession-ridden Texas for recession-proof Washington, DC on a one-way ticket: “After a few temporary jobs, I answered a job posting in the Washington Post for a position as science writer for a mental-health charity. It paid nothing, but offered great experience, and I’m grateful to this day for that opportunity.”

This job helped Gallagher to find his passion: “I loved journalism and the notion of sharing news about the world. But as a writer for an advocacy organization, I really liked the idea of using journalism to influence the world, not just describe it. I still love that idea.”

After journalism came a move to PR, but bigger moves were to come – to a completely different continent. “The move to the UK was a lucky accident. I told my boss at Ketchum at the time that I loved the agency, but was interested in new opportunities. I’m not sure what I had in mind, but I was not expecting a few days later to be offered an opportunity to transfer to London. That was a two-year commitment. In the year 2000.”

Looking back at his career, Gallagher is pleased with how things panned out: “I don’t really believe in wrong turns, just new chapters. I’m sure I missed a few opportunities, or spent a little too much time and energy on the wrong things, but overall I have no complaints about the opportunities my career has afforded me.”

Gallagher has advice for others who also want to make a success out of working in PR (click to tweet). He says: “If you’re going to work in PR, you need to literally relate to the public… read what interests others, not just yourself. Write for others to read (LinkedIn now makes this easy, if blogging is not your thing). Create for others to see (Instagram and SnapChat can make us all visual storytellers). Engage (always happy to connect – Twitter makes it easy @TBoneGallagher). And most importantly, find ways to say ‘yes’.”