Reflections on Retirement After 32 Years

Gratitude, amazement, pride and excitement — these are the feelings I have as I announce my retirement after nearly 32 years at Ketchum and a career that spans more than 40 years. My last day of regular work is June 15. As that day approaches, I’m feeling a mix of emotions.

Reflections on Retirement After 32 years - photo of Rob Flaherty

Gratitude

I cannot overstate how much of a privilege it was to serve as director of our agency’s New York headquarters office, leader of our Global Practices, and a combined 13 years as President, CEO and Chairman.

I so fully appreciate the many meaningful friendships made along the way, and the hard work and dedication our people contributed to Ketchum’s success over the years. I appreciate the hundreds of clients who have entrusted us with important assignments and with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working over the years.

I’m appreciative of all the people that I learned from every day. I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors over the years — some I reported to, others reported to me. Some were at Ketchum, some were at Omnicom, and several were very smart clients. Others were young colleagues just starting their careers. I learned from them all.

I appreciate all the fun we had along the way. There was a lot of hard work, but I think some of my most enduring memories will be of the good humor and positive energy of my friends and colleagues all over the world, and the many laughs we have shared together.

I am deeply appreciative of the support and encouragement I received from my wife Tammy throughout a very intense career. I also appreciate the sacrifices Tammy and my children, Erin and Ryan, made when it came to my time spent away from them. I’ve joked that on every business trip I ever took I carried two bags: my luggage and a bag of guilt. Funny but true. Of course, now that I’m not traveling, my wife has pointed out…the benefits of occasional separation.

Amazement

I’m amazed at the resiliency of this firm. I always thought of an agency as a fragile ecosystem in which there are hundreds of variables that, if mismanaged, can turn it into a collapsing house of cards. I’ve seen it happen at more than a few top firms. Yet Ketchum is much stronger and more resilient than I would have even thought. I’m amazed at how our firm has responded over the last year and how quickly we were able to return to growth through a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic.

We are so often self-critical at Ketchum, and maybe that’s what keeps us so good. But I want to take a moment to appreciate the creative, effective, purposeful work we do for clients all over the world. There’s a reason we have won more Cannes Lions, PRWeek Awards, Silver Anvils and SABRE Awards than any other firm in history, and why we were named PRWeek’s Best Agency of the Past 20 Years: The work we create for our clients is extraordinary.

I’m amazed at the growth and global expansion of our company. In my time at this agency, we’ve grown more than 1,000% and we’ve gone from being a U.S.-focused company with a budding European presence to a top-five global agency that touches all corners of the world.

I am amazed at how fast 32 years went by. It’s striking how long days can add up to very short years.

Pride 

I am so proud of the decency and compassion of Ketchum people and the clients we attract. Our culture isn’t perfect; none ever is. But our culture places a higher premium on respect and decency than most. Despite how much we win, we are not a “win at all costs” company, and many companies are.

I am proud of our new business record over the years. Our agency is made better by the stiff competition in our field. The other top agencies — in PR, advertising and digital marketing — are very good. Yet we have a very strong win rate in head-to-head pitches. I think that’s a measure of our talent, skill and culture at any given moment, and our ability to be valued counselors for our clients and prospective clients.

I’m proud of our industry-leading progress in gender equality over the past decade and, as we work on making overdue progress in racial diversity, equity and inclusion, this too will be a growing source of pride for all of us.

I am proud that Ketchum is the longest-thriving PR firm in the world, having been first incorporated as Ketchum Publicity in 1919 and as Ketchum and MacLeod in 1923. We led our company into its second century — no one else in our field can say that.

I’m very proud of the leadership team now running the agency. I’ve always felt that a leader’s legacy isn’t just about his or her tenure as a leader. It’s also about the team appointed during their tenure to take the organization into the future. Our future is bright with our CEO Mike Doyle and the rest of our leadership team. They have all the talent, empathy and intelligence needed to lead us.

Excitement

It’s an exciting time. As they say, I’m not retiring from life, just full-time work. I’m looking forward to lots of leisure travel that doesn’t include business suits and red-eye flights back to attend a critical meeting.

I like the financial planning ad that says, “Shouldn’t retirement be paying yourself to do what you love?” I’m excited to be able to help others and give back. I plan to develop narratives for non-profit organizations. I’ll continue to proudly serve on the board of the Page Society and the LAGRANT Foundation. And we’ve included an art studio in our new home so that I can expand on all those years of doodling in meetings.

I’ve always thought of Ketchum not so much as a physical place but as an idea and a culture that stays with you long after you walk out the door. As the Eagles song goes, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” I will take the Ketchum culture and countless memories with me wherever I go.

So thank you to everyone at Ketchum, as well as our clients and friends in the industry, for all you have done for me over the years. I am indebted to you, and I look forward to years of friendship well into the future.

Rob Flaherty is Chairman of Ketchum, the global communications consultancy with 130 offices and affiliates worldwide. He is on the board of the Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations and the advisory board of Room to Read, which focuses on literacy and girls education in developing nations. Follow Rob on Twitter at @flahertyrob.