Interviews with Rob Flaherty & Fred Cook

21 Sep,2017



Social media is god’s gift to the corp comm function: Rob Flaherty

Rob Flaherty is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communications firms, with offices and affiliates in 130 markets in more than 70 countries. Flaherty was named Global PR Leader of the Year in 2016 by the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO). Flaherty leads Ketchum’s 19-member Global Leadership Council to guide the strategy, client service and performance of the agency. Ketchum was named Agency of the Year in 2012 by PR WEEK and is a finalist for 2017 Global Agency of the Year.

Since joining Ketchum in 1989, Flaherty has been involved in all aspects of the firm’s business, including having successfully led its largest office, one of its global practices and several of its largest client engagements. As a client counsellor, Rob specializes in corporate positioning and issues management. He has helped companies prepare for and respond to challenging situations ranging from product liability and airline accidents to data breaches and antitrust litigation. He also has played a lead role in growing the firm’s client base. Flaherty became President of the agency in 2008, CEO in 2012 and today is one of the industry’s most sought-after client counsellors.

In an exclusive interview with MxMIndia on the sidelines of Praxis 2017, Flaherty tells Rahul Chandawarkar on how social media has changed the communication paradigm completely.


How has social media impacted the functioning of PR companies worldwide?

Social media is god’s gift to the corporate communication function.  It has quickly expanded the methods of communication and simultaneously created challenges for our clients to break through. It has changed our linear way of functioning.

PR companies have to relook at their talent pools. For a long time, we have had journalists in our team guide our communication strategies with traditional mediums like newspapers and print media. Today, social media is reaching out to consumers directly. We now need PR people who can employ more creativity, analytical skills and also understand the different fragmented channels. PR companies have a training challenge on their hands.


And how would you say has Ketchum Sampark accepted this challenge in India?

KetchumSampark has accepted this challenge positively. Sampark has always been a strong, entrepreneurial company. They have huge respect for journalists, mass media and emerging trends.


Does crisis management still remain the main strength of top-line PR companies?

My entire career has revolved around crisis management. I have spent  30 years doing just this. Crisis management has aspects of speed, severity and risk in a very short period of time.  However, longer term marketing communication challenges are equally interesting and intellectually challenging. PR firms around the world tend to super specialise in either corporate communications or marketing communications. I am proud that Ketchum is a  combination of both.


In a social media scenario, PR firms have several specialists working on an account. How does one convert all this energy into one unified strategy?

Flaherty: This is an on-going challenge. It is not easy. There is constant tension when specialists work in silos. Everybody gets possessive about their own ideas. We almost become like a team of rivals fighting on our own turf.

However, there are lessons to learn from film companies like  Pixar and leading advertising agencies who seem to have devised methods to channelise the collective creative energies of their teams. We need to learn from them.

Creative teams in advertising even fight about their creative ideas with their own clients. We need to reach that level of maturity.



Brands worldwide are losing their trust quotient: Fred Cook

Fred Cook is Chairman of Golin, one of the world’s largest public relations firms, with 50 offices around the globe. For the last thirty years, he has been providing marketing advice and crisis counsel to blue-chip companies like Nintendo, McDonald’s and Toyota. He has also worked personally with Jeff Bezos, Herb Kelleher and Steve Jobs. 

Under his leadership, Golin has been voted agency of the year more than a dozen times and Cook has been named one of the most powerful people in PR. Four years ago, he replaced Golin’s traditional hierarchical structure with a radical new model called g4, where communities of specialists deliver insights, ideas, engagement and integration to their clients.

In an exclusive interview with MxMIndia on the sidelines of PRAXIS 2017 in Jaipur, Cook tells Rahul Chandawarkar why brands worldwide are losing their trust quotient.


Why do you think brands worldwide are losing their trust quotient? What has gone wrong?

People worldwide have become sceptical about brands. This is because brands  have acted in self-interest.

Social media has made everything so transparent. People have become more aware and brands are open to more scrutiny nowadays. It is a fact that brands have been behaving badly with the environment and with their customers.

Take the example of United Airlines in the US recently. When they took a customer off the plane, it created outrage on social media. Something like this would have probably gone unnoticed 20 years ago.


You used the term: ‘Talkability Trumps Trust’ in your presentation. Would you like to explain this please?

Basically, there is a lot of information out there. In a social media driven environment, brands are keen to achieve high levels of buzz. They want people to share news and they want everybody to talk about their brands. However, though brands might achieve talkability, they could lose out on trust.


Real news versus paid news. Why are the lines getting so blurred?

Lack of advertising revenues has prompted many media brands to introduce paid advertorials. You therefore have branded content. You can buy your way into any media outlet because of this media business model. Today, there is very little difference between advertising and public relations. Over a period of time, consumers will not be able to make out the difference between the two and the lines will disappear completely.


It is clear that you were inspired by your mentor, the Late Ed Golin. What has been your biggest learning from him?

Ed and I were a lot like each other. We were both from the mid-west USA. I  grew up in Indiana and he in Chicago. Ed had many great qualities. But humility was his greatest virtue. It made him stand out. He helped start McDonalds. He had a million achievements and a million awards, but this never affected his judgement. There is a singular lack of humility in society today. We are not kind to each other anymore. Everybody has become so competitive. Everybody is out to outdo the other. Ed was a good guy. We need more good people, both men and women in our industry.


What is the way forward for PR professionals?

Very simply, we need to become more courageous. We need more balls. We are in a very competitive environment. We have talented and creative people in every agency. Our people have the ability to lead and we need to seize the moment. There are great opportunities for the PR industry, but we need to make it happen. It is not going to happen automatically.

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