Q&A: Barri Rafferty


The Plank Center is committed to developing the next generation of leaders and advancing the profession. It is our honor to recognize six leaders whose commitment to mentoring generates a powerhouse of influence and accelerates success in our profession.

Our question and answer series introduces the Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.BarriRafferty

Meet Barri Rafferty.
Barri Rafferty leads Ketchum’s nine offices in North America as well as Ketchum Digital and Ketchum Sports and Entertainment (KSE). In addition, she oversees the complementary businesses, Access Communications and Harrison & Shriftman. She is also part of the eight-member Worldwide Executive Committee, which focuses on guiding the strategy, client service and performance of the agency.

Barri is this year’s recipient of The Plank Center’s “Milestones in Mentoring” Agency Award, which recognizes those who have been outstanding mentors in an agency. Barri shares the challenges of being a female CEO and how engaging with others offers an energizing, learning experience.

What does it mean to you to be honored with the “Milestones in Mentoring” Award?

The roster of past “Milestones in Mentoring” award recipients is an illustrious list of PR luminaries and it’s an incredible honor to be included among this year’s recipients. It’s important to me to encourage others to step up and share what they know and the key lessons they have learned along the way, and above all to generate passion for this business. I think the Plank Milestones in Mentoring Awards remind the industry as a whole that investing in the next generation is important to the innovation and evolution of what we do.

When did you first realize you were a mentor and a leader?

I had two younger sisters so being a big sister gave me early training in mentoring. And, throughout high school I lead my youth group chapter and was captain of the drill team all helping to hone leadership skills. However, a key moment for me was when I headed sorority rush for Tulane University my senior year. I remember stepping onto the stage to talk to the freshman girls about rushing a sorority and for the next week navigating questions, issues, and going from house to house. It was a big responsibility and I was energized by the challenge and felt tremendous satisfaction from helping many people navigate the process.

Describe your role as a mentor.

I think my role as a mentor is first and foremost to model the kinds of behaviors that we want to encourage in our future leaders. To me that means always doing the right thing, being open to continuous learning and improvement, and being accessible. I try to be available – in person, by phone or email – to those who look to me for advice and guidance. I am grateful to my own mentors for always taking time to provide feedback to me – constructive as much as congratulatory – and I make time every day to do the same.

What is your biggest mentoring challenge?

As a female CEO, I hear from young women all the time who ask to be mentored or for help finding a woman leader to be a mentor. The challenge for me is that I know I cannot have meaningful mentoring relationships with more than a handful of people at a time; so I look for other ways to help the number of young women looking for career guidance. I use my twitter and LinkedIn feeds as well as speaking engagements and panels as an outlet for sharing leadership tips, important industry views and helping provide perspective. I also encourage them to find a mix of male and female mentors. I am a big believer in the need for both to grow and evolve.

What advice would you share with new mentors?

One piece of advice I have for mentors is be a constant learner, open to evolving our business, and keeping up with the changing world. It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers; it sets a great example. In the same vein, I am a strong advocate of “reverse mentoring.” I seek feedback regularly from those in my network who are not the senior most leaders but who make great contributions in their respective areas – for example I have made strides in my social presence by seeking the advice from less tenured staff in our agency who lead the pack in terms of what they do for our clients every day in the digital sphere.

What is your advice for mentees (young professionals, students, etc.)?

Identify leaders you admire, but don’t emulate them. Always be true to yourself, and be open to feedback and suggestions. Be clear about what you hope to learn from a mentor, and don’t limit yourself to only one mentor. Diverse opinions are always the best way to get a clear picture of your options.

What inspires or motivates you to be a mentor?

It is energizing to help others and whenever I engage with them I learn as much as they do. I also hope that helping to shape the next generation of leaders is a big part of my legacy.

What advice did you receive from your own mentor that you will always pass along to others and why?

I am so fortunate to have an amazing network of mentors (and reverse mentors) who have helped shape me and continue to influence how I make decisions every day. One common theme among all of my mentors has been the importance of giving back. And, I can honestly say that in all my endeavors to give, be it through one-on-one mentoring, work with nonprofits or industry associations, I always get more back than I expect. For that reason I encourage everyone to find time to truly engage in your communities beyond your day job. There is no better way to make an impact, and it’s the right thing to do.

Published: September 2015

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