The Inside is Out, The Outside is In

This post first appeared on BU’s College of Communication COM blog.

Public relations is more important, more valued and more integral to an institution’s success than ever before. Ketchum’s Chairman, Ray Kotcher, worked over the years to drive the increasing centrality of the field-overseeing its evolution from information to strategy, from press releases to reputation building and brand positioning. He recently spoke with COM about Public Relations’ evolving mandates and unchanging fundamentals and about the escalating value of a good idea.

Why do you say Public Relations is more valued today than ever?

First of all, public relations is more involved in brand building – in helping companies actually build their products and their brands – than it ever has been. And second of all, public relations is key to reputation building, which companies today understand is more valuable than it has ever been. So public relations helps organizations on a more integral basis than we ever have in the past.

In an era when everyone can carry their own megaphone, how can public relations guide a company’s reputation?

In today’s environment, a company’s or brand’s actions must support the words that the company uses. If the actions and the behaviors are not there, the words are just not going to have any potency. The way a brand or company behaves is fundamental today, and good public relations professionals are counseling their clients accordingly. The inside is out, and the outside is in – and the two have to be in complete alignment.

What do you mean by “the inside is out, and the outside is in”?

Any kind of marketing or communication that is going to be effective on the outside needs to start on the inside. It needs to start with fundamental actions and behaviors inside the company. And that’s where public relations is important; companies are looking to public relations both from an institutional standpoint as well as from a brand and a service perspective, to take a look at how they can make sure that they’re starting from a consideration of those actions and behaviors, and then building the communications out from there. You can’t do it the other way around.

What are the secrets of your long and successful career?

What I would say is that I’ve been very fortunate to be at an agency like Ketchum where the values of the organization and my values are synchronous. It goes back to what we were talking about before, about aligning the inside and the outside, I’m pretty much the same guy at work as I am at home. The values that I try to live my life by are the values that I bring into work every day. I’ve been really lucky because I’ve been a student of communications since I was very young. When I was a young kid, still in high school, I was reading Marshall McLuhan. I was really fortunate that I was able to move into the graduate program at BU. I think if people pursue their passion, good things will happen. Other things need to happen, but passion is a big part of it.

How do you cultivate that passion and build a mindset where you can be strategic and innovative? What would you advise junior associates today?

I think that today, more than ever, people need to understand how businesses work. You’ve got to be able to take that creative energy and the creative thinking that is so important to any communications effort and develop an understanding of how it can drive business. It is invaluable today for young people to be able to marry those two ways of thinking.

What will a job in Public Relations look like in the future? You’ve identified one growth area as reputation management and culture change. Do you see other areas emerging?

I think it will always be about content creation in the public relations business. People use so many technologies to get their information today, but whether those technologies are visual or audio, online or in print, they are all modalities for communicating an idea. So going forward, from a communications perspective, the more talented you are in creating compelling content across the spectrum of communications modes, the more effective you’re going to be, and the more opportunity you’ll have.