Thursday, May 30, 2013

Happy 90th Birthday, Ketchum

Ketchum is celebrating its 90th birthday this year with a flurry of activity.  I was with the firm for ten of those years.

When I started, Ketchum was ranked among the top ten U.S. PR firms. When I left, it had a global presence, was part of the Omnicom Media Group, and was always on the short list of candidates to work for some of the world’s leading companies and brands.  That’s the business summary.

As with anything, the thing I remember most are the people I worked with and for during that time.  Because Ketchum Communications was headquartered in Pittsburgh for much of the time, and because my niche was in corporate communications, and crisis and issues management, I had the chance to do many things that mattered, at least to me.

I had the chance to work directly with agency leadership on agency initiatives.  As the company newsletter editor, I became the default archivist for the company, so as I see some of the 90th birthday celebration activities now, I recognize photos, events and other developments that I chronicled during my time at Ketchum.

My kids were young then, so every time I went to a new city on business, I bought a snow globe with the skyline of that city to bring home as a souvenir.  Those were among the most accessible souvenirs to find at airports.  By the time I left Ketchum, my sons’ bookshelf was full of those snow globes.

Clients I had the chance to serve included the Pittsburgh Pirates, the American Iron & Steel Institute, H.J. Heinz, FedEx, law firms, accounting firms, steel companies and others.  I had the chance to do a lot of pro bono work for charities that Ketchum supported, and the firm encouraged all of us to get involved in the community on our own, which we did.

Ketchum made a commitment to its employees by investing in professional development, the pinnacle of which was Camp Ketchum, a management training boot camp in Long Boat Key, Florida.  While it was a pretty intense program, it was the most fun week I had while at the firm.

One of the things I respected about the firm was that in its mission statement, and in its core values, there was language about doing things the right way, and doing the right thing.  While the language wasn’t very flowery, it was genuine.  The firm backed it up.  I saw this first-hand throughout my time there, whether the decisions were large or small.

And that brings me back to those people.  From the newest assistant account executive to the most senior member of agency management, there was an expectation.  Generally speaking, Ketchum was positive, smart, proactive, ego-less, and dedicated to client service.  Ketchum people were more likely to be optimists than pessimists.  They knew how to laugh and when to ease the stress.  And they knew when to get down to business. 

I met some great, life-long friends while at the agency.  Some were coworkers, some were vendors, and some were clients.  I hesitate to name names here because I’m sure to leave out people who have been extremely important, but I have to mention three of Ketchum’s most visible leaders while I was there.

Larry Werner ran the Pittsburgh office.  No one was more committed to providing quality work for clients, doing things ethically, and treating people with respect.  He is one of the finest people I’ve known in the business.  He set the tone for the Pittsburgh office and had a strong influence on the national culture of the agency.   I’m only one of many in Larry’s fan club.

Jerry Voros (see the video below) was the president of Ketchum Communications, the PR  and advertising firms’ parent.  A Korean war veteran and an ex-Marine, he was one of the toughest clients I had.  I worked with him on the Ketchum News, the company newsletter.  But as tough as he was on making sure we met the highest standards of quality in the office, he was equally compassionate and caring when it came to community causes and people. 

David Drobis (again, see the video below), was the Ketchum Public Relations president.  I worked with him on several projects.  He led the agency through a period of major growth and change.  David had this unique ability to take people from many diverse backgrounds, geographic locations and even at different levels in the company and get them to work together to create something that was nothing less than great. 

I could go on about the people who I worked most closely with - those of us in the trenches - account people, administrative people, everyone.  The people made going to work every day a pleasure.  Just thinking about them brings a smile.

When I left Ketchum to manage a corporate communications function, I took the Ketchum approach to communications with me.  And since I started O’Brien Communications, not a day has gone by that I haven’t tapped the Ketchum way to meet client expectations and business objectives.

So it is with the utmost sincerity that I’d like to wish Ketchum a very Happy 90th birthday and many more.

Click HERE for the Ketchum video.

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