gr-barri-prsany-award-picLast night, I was honored and privileged to receive the John W. Hill award at the annual Big Apple Awards hosted by the New York Chapter of the Public Relation Society of America. It was a humbling experience and a moment to reflect on my career and what is important to me.

My role models at Ketchum, Ray Kotcher, Rob Flaherty, John Paluszek, Ron Culp, and David Drobis, all instilled in me the importance of giving back to the industry.  The latter three were esteemed winners of the John W. Hill award.

When I was named head of Ketchum’s NY office, I took the opportunity to become more engaged in PRSA, knowing I had experience and perspective that I could contribute it seemed like a good opportunity to give back.  I did not expect, however, how much I would receive in return.  I became more aware of the power this industry yields, I better understood the importance of ethics, and that critical lessons can be learned from every type of practitioner at every level.

Grateful for my successes, and heeding my mentors’ advice, I continued to seek ways to give back to the community, and in every instance I have gained more than I have given.

When I became CEO of Ketchum North America, I took on an additional leadership role in our industry working hard to become a role model for women. As a founding member of our organization’s OmniWomen Group, and as a board member of the nonprofit organization Step Up, I have never shied away from promoting equity in a predominantly female industry that still struggles with inequality at the top and inconsistent pay. Even this award underscores the need in our field to pull more women up into leadership roles: only 26% of past John W Hill award winners have been women. And that’s not a criticism of this award! This is actually on par with the percentage of women in leadership roles in public relations.

I believe that in order for our industry to reach its full potential, we need to attract diverse talent and make sure everyone has a fair playing field for success (click to tweet). This is important to me not as a woman, but as a leader. It’s also important to me as a mother. I am committed to leveling the playing field for young women like my daughter so that when they start their careers, gender equity is no longer an issue. And I would ask everyone, both women and men, to be champions of the best talent and to eliminate bias.

Other tenants I use as my guide in how I want to develop my career and live my life have also yielded a cornucopia of opportunities and goodwill, and I encourage everyone to apply these to your own paths:

  • Do the right thing.
  • Be a continuous learner, open to evolving our business to keep up with the changing world.
  • Enhance your resilience (business can get intense).
  • Strive to attract the best talent, and as one millennial in our agency recently told me, “Let them find their genius zone.”
  • Lastly, make friends and have fun along the way.

Barri Rafferty is Ketchum’s former CEO and current head of communications at Wells Fargo.