Moving the Needle: What does 20 years of greatness look like?

March 28, 2019

Last Thursday Ketchum was named “Best Agency of the Past 20 Years” at the 20th annual PRWeek Awards, an award that I’m especially proud of because it speaks to a consistency in the caliber of work we’ve created in partnership with our clients over a span of two decades; no small feat.

As PRWeek put it when acknowledging the honor, “It is particularly noteworthy that this consistent success is spread across different clients and categories. It is predicated on big ideas that not only capture the imagination of consumers and create awareness, but also move the needle for clients in terms of real business results.”

best pr agency over the last 20 yewars pr week

To me, the key to our success is our ability to maintain a level of internal disruption (and not the status quo), along with a passion to externally disrupt the industry by continually reinventing our agency offerings and talent profile. However, all this disruption simply couldn’t exist if it weren’t underpinned by a rich legacy, and a strong, collaborative culture that rewards talent and always puts the client first.

Looking back on 20 years, I’m reminded of so many amazing client partnerships forged over two decades. I’m also reminded of the leaders and client counselors who have helped those at the helm steer the ship across both glassy and choppy waters. So, to mark this moment in time, I decided to ask both Ketchum leaders and clients that have been with us for the better part of these last 20 years (some far longer) to answer one simple question: What does 20 years of greatness look like?

Many thanks to our client contributors from Clorox and Wendy’s… and our leaders, the best in the business, for their contributions.

Here are their responses, and here’s to the next 20…

Brad Ferris, Associate Director, Brand Engagement Lead and Public Relations, The Clorox Company:
Congratulations Ketchum for being named Best Agency of the Past 20 Years. The well-deserved recognition is a testament to Ketchum’s leadership and legacy of creating best-in-class communications programs. For more than 20 years, we have been honored to be longstanding partners of Ketchum and wish Ketchum continued success.


Liliana Esposito, Chief Communications Officer, The Wendy’s Company:
I was delighted, but not at all surprised to see Ketchum recognized with this honor. Wendy’s is a client that measures our relationship with Ketchum in decades, so we’ve experienced first-hand what the industry acknowledged with this well-deserved award. Just as any great agency-client relationship should be, ours is built on mutual respect and trust, and honed through years of partnership on everything from award-winning PR campaigns to the most sensitive brand protection challenges. I believe the strength is in the diversity of the Ketchum team, always evolving to the needs of our business and the marketplace. The ability to provide counsel that is sassy and brand-right on our best days, and wise and steady on the more difficult ones is a key reason the Ketchum team has become an extension of our own.


Betsy Quinn, Partner, Global Awards Director at Ketchum:
I credit our greatness to our unrivaled culture. At Ketchum, collaboration and a companywide commitment to exceptional creativity, client service, communications ethics, and innovation thrive. And our supportive awards culture, which places high value on earning recognition for our clients and our people, is second to none. Two decades ago, we were among the first in the public relations profession to fully embrace creative and strategic planning throughout our organization. Today, I see the fruit of that embedded in everything we do. It’s definitely some of the magic behind our creative energy, and often the catalyst behind our campaign-leading ideas, which set the gold standard in awards shows.


Karen Strauss, Partner and Chief Strategy & Creativity Officer at Ketchum:
Doing award-worthy work has been a very consistent rallying cry at Ketchum over two decades of radical industry and agency change and evolution. Our steadfast commitment to a planning process—with analytics, strategy and creativity as unwavering priorities—has paid wonderful dividends for us and our clients. Culturally, we’ve never rested on our laurels and always strive like crazy to deliver outcomes, not just outputs, and ideas that make a difference in society. I’d sum it up by saying 20 years of excellence has been a paradoxical blend of constancy and reinvention.


Ray Kotcher, Chairman Emeritus at Ketchum; Professor of the Practice, Public Relations at the College of Communication, Boston University:
For one, we are never complacent. Never satisfied. I joined the agency in 1982 and have seen the agency successfully navigate every turn.

As the PR agency business again goes through a defining moment, we are fortunate to have Barri in the lead. Never complacent. Never satisfied.

But what are the sustainable advantages for a professional service firm? Those that drive success through thick and thin? As aforementioned, continuous regeneration. Certainly, innovation must run in the firm’s blood, particularly when it comes to product and service offerings. Also, a must is transformative creative and great work. So too are client retention and quality of service, a killer instinct for new business, and, of course, the firm must be well-run business wise.

But most important? None of this can happen without an unambiguous, healthy culture and shared sense of purpose. Certainly that is true of Ketchum, where our deeply held values of mutuality, reciprocity and respect are embodied and infused throughout by our talented colleagues.

Though we have adapted necessarily through the years, these tenets have not changed. They were our heart and soul when we were founded 96 years ago. They remain so today.


Rob Flaherty, Partner and Chairman at Ketchum:
We have consistently been an award-winning agency because we are always evolving our creative product, namely the ideas and the way those ideas are delivered to a changing marketplace. We strive to develop ideas that ride on the newest in popular culture and to use the latest channels to reach the target. Our people also push for the campaign-leading idea, not just a great PR idea. I’m inspired by their ideas now more than ever.

Barri Rafferty is CEO of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communication firms, with offices and affiliates in 130 markets in more than 70 countries.

Outside of Ketchum, she participates in a number of groups including the sustainability task-force for the World Economic Forum and is a member of Arthur W. Page Society Page Up program. Rafferty sits on the board of StepUp, an organization with the mission of empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused and she is also a member of the governing body of OmniWomen, Omnicom’s Leading Women’s Network, for which she holds quarterly panel discussions featuring prominent women. She is the recipient of the Plank Center Milestones in Mentoring Award.

Barri is a graduate of Boston University (M.A) and Tulane University and enjoys watching soccer, volleyball, and dance – especially when her son and daughter are involved! Connect with her on Twitter: @barrirafferty