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The inside is out, the outside is in

Public relations is more important, more valued and more integral to an institution’s success than ever before, says Ray Kotcher (’79), senior partner and chairman of Ketchum, one of the world’s largest and most influential communications firms. Kotcher himself has been a prime driver of the increasing centrality of the field – an architect of its evolution from information to strategy, from press releases to reputation building and brand positioning. During his tenure at Ketchum – including 12 years as CEO, prior to assuming the chairmanship in July – the firm has twice been named PRWeek’s Agency of the Year. In 2011, Ketchum and its clients were recognized with PRWeek’s Campaign of the Year for the third consecutive year, an unprecedented run. And Kotcher has grown the firm’s global client-service footprint exponentially. In 2009, he oversaw one of the industry’s largest mergers, when Ketchum combined operations with Pleon, Europe’s largest strategic communications consultancy. He followed that with investments in the Middle East and Russia, and later with acquisitions in China and India. Ketchum now operates in 70 countries and employs approximately 2,500 people around the world.

He 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, 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 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.

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communications, Public Relations, Ray Kotcher

Ray Kotcher

Ray Kotcher ('79) is senior partner and chairman of Ketchum, a unit of Omnicom Group and one of the world's top communications firms.

Ray started at the agency in 1983. Since becoming CEO in 2000, he has overseen the expansion of the firm's global client-service footprint, as well as the broadening and deepening of Ketchum's offerings. In 2009, he led one of the largest mergers in the PR industry when Ketchum and Pleon, Europe's largest strategic communications consultancy, combined operations. In 2010, he continued the firm's global expansion with major investments in the Middle East and Russia, followed by, in 2011, China and India. Ray also has helped the agency grow its range of offerings through the acquisition of five complementary businesses – as well as through the organic creation of five specialized communications businesses – which have strengthened Ketchum's expertise in such areas as change management, sports and entertainment, and word-of-mouth marketing.

Under his leadership, Ketchum has continued its award-winning record of excellence. In March of 2012, PRWeek honored Ketchum as its Agency of the Year for the second time during Ray's tenure as CEO. In 2011, Ketchum and its clients were recognized with PRWeek's Campaign of the Year, marking an unprecedented third consecutive time an agency has won this honor. Ketchum's work with clients has received two PR Cannes Lions and it maintains the record as the firm with the most Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvils (136).

Ray also has numerous personal and industry distinctions. He currently serves on the board of trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society. In 2008 and 2009, Ray was chair of the Council of Public Relations Firms. He is regularly included on PRWeek's Power List, a ranking of the most important leaders in the public relations industry. In 2011, he received one of the Holmes Group's highest individual honors, the SABRE Individual Achievement Award.

Ray has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the State University of New York at Geneseo and serves as a trustee of the Geneseo Foundation board. He has a Master of Science in public relations from Boston University's College of Communication. He delivered the College's 2006 commencement address and has been honored by the University as a distinguished alumnus.

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