Speech: Barri Rafferty, 2015 Agency Honoree

DEBRA FORMAN: My name is Debra Forman, and I am partner and president at Ketchum, running a digital business. I say that because I never thought that I will be saying those words out loud. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey and dreamed of being an artist.

My parents, my first mentors, coached me and empowered me. But then said no way, you’re going to college and earning a real living. And I did all of the above. I’ve had the fortune of having great mentors along the way in my career, but one stands out for me the most.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Barri for 17 years at Ketchum. She has been my boss, my mentor, my compass, my coach, my champion, my sister, and my dear friend. In the communications world words matter. Maybe not so much now because it’s all about Instagram and I am a digital person so words are not as important but they still matter.

I was reminded of this when I sat down to prepare these remarks. Barri shared with me so many words of wisdom over the years. I play them back all the time in my head, and I really don’t even think that she realizes how much I do. Mantras like don’t sweat the small stuff, give more than you receive, be generous and respectful, and always listen without judgment.

Keep it simple, defend your ideas, be fearless, push the boundaries, but know when to shut up.

That’s not easy. And maybe my favorite is breath. So, I thought today, I would share with you as we celebrate Barri and so many in the audience who are mentors every day some words that are meaningful to me about Barri.

The first word is leader. Barri is a tremendous leader in our industry. She exemplifies all the characteristics of a leader who cares truly about mentorship first. She is confident and empowering. She shares credit and council, particularly in those tough situations when there’s no credit to be had. She is compassionate, level-headed, thoughtful patient and always has our back.

Over the past several years, Barri has also become a thriving voice for women in our industry and in our world. She believes in helping the next generation of women in the communication industry. And it’s evident by the time and commitment she has made to all of our daughters.

And as a human and being a humane leader, Barri, you truly are the Southern mentality leader, whose roots shine through with every handwritten anniversary and birthday card you send and they’re all in my shoebox. I was in the Chicago office today visiting before this ceremony, and I walked into so many people’s offices and saw the handwritten anniversary and birthday cards up pinned on the walls, for everybody to read the amazing, amazing thought forwards from Barri.

The second word, she’s a believer. She knows that great talent drives success. But diverse talent leads us into the future. At our firm, at Ketchum, she’s a champion of diversity. She has appointed the first North American director of talent and an inclusion. And drives all of us as leaders beyond tradition and traditional hires.

And takes chances on people who really do make a difference. I am a great example of that. I came through Ketchum doors with no PR experience but from an ad agency world. I was a bit of a fish out of water with no nest. Barri took me under her wing because she saw where the industry was headed, and the importance of bringing in fresh thinking.

At the time I’m dating myself, but it was called unconventional hires.

Creative folks like me. The third word is Barri’s a pioneer. She’s had a tremendous journey, and in the last eight years, she had a great idea, which was she was obsessed with a vision of being a part of the digital world.

And one day we were talking and she said to me, we need to do this. And I said yes. And she said no, Deb, you need to do this. And I said, okay. And we did. We learned a lot. We tried new things. We made quick decisions, got fired, got praised.

Invested a lot, learned a lot, and won some awards. But there she was, right by my side, just keep going you got this. And the final word I’ll share is a sorceress. I know that sounds a little over the top. But Barri has this way about her where she is amazing in a boardroom as much as she is amazing in her living room.

She’s inspirational to all of us at Ketchum and to our many clients. As she is cheering her daughter Morgan at volleyball matches and her son Aiden conquering his sophomore year at college. And David, her husband, as he leads important civic and governmental causes in their hometown. She is a sorceress because I really just don’t know how she does it all.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t ask what would Barri do? I am honored to present this award to Barri, and I’ll shut up now. She made her speech this long, cuz she knew mine would be this long.

On behalf of your Ketchum family, the Rafferty family, the Forman family, we are so proud of you, keep stretching us.


BARRI RAFFERTY: All right, now I have to tell myself to breathe. I had not heard that before and it was quite lovely. And I am truly honored to receive this Milestone in Mentoring Award from The Plank Center tonight. For me, my success truly is measured in how I help others to succeed and thrive in their careers.

And Betsy Plank was a great role model for that. I mentor both men and women daily. But as Debra said, I have taken the mantle to speak out on women’s leadership, since I became the chief executive officer of Ketchum for North America about three years ago. I chose not to shy away from promoting equality and teaching women to be stronger leaders, and a predominately female industry that still struggles with inequality at the top, and inconsistent pay.

I believe for our industry to reach its full potential, we need to attract diverse talent and make sure that everyone has a fair playing field to succeed. Someone toasted me recently saying, you see the crazy in everyone, and still respect them, and bring out their best. Mazel tov, right?

We can all be generous in helping others. And I promise you, you will always receive more in return. My goal is to help people, and a millennial once said this to me, she said, you help me find my genius zone. And if we could do that, it would make a huge difference in any industry we’re in.

I’m committed to championing in both men and women, to make sure that the best talent rises up without bias. Deborah is a great example of my pride as a mentor. Helping someone go from, and I forgot that term, an unconventional hire, but we did use that term in those days, to running.

We brought her in to run a small design group in the office and oversee our graphic designers. And she now runs a $20 million-plus digital unit across North America. And I could not be more proud of her and her success, because to me when people thrive in your organization and can follow their passion and become the best that they can be, you feel the pride yourself as a leader.

I have also had the opportunity today to speak to a lot of the students in the room on a panel this afternoon. And I can tell you their questions, their poise, and their inquisitive spirit made me feel much better about the future of our industry. I think we’re in really good hands.

So I would end by saying make sure your legacy is about the stories that others tell about how you inspired their success. This is a career legacy I hope to leave and I hope it will inspire you to adopt talent, to coach them, to broadly train others so that they thrive and make our business better overall.

Thank you very much.



More from Barri Rafferty: