About Barri Rafferty

Barri Rafferty is CEO of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communication firms, with offices and affiliates in 130 markets in more than 70 countries. Barri leads Ketchum’s Global Leadership Council to guide the strategy, client service and performance of the agency. Outside of Ketchum, she participates in a number of groups including the sustainability task-force for the World Economic Forum and is a member of Arthur W. Page Society Page Up program. Rafferty sits on the board of StepUp, an organization with the mission of empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused and she is also a member of the governing body of OmniWomen, Omnicom’s Leading Women’s Network, for which she holds quarterly panel discussions featuring prominent women. She is the recipient of the Plank Center Milestones in Mentoring Award. Barri is a graduate of Boston University (M.A) and Tulane University and enjoys watching soccer, volleyball, and dance - especially when her son and daughter are involved! Connect with her on Twitter: @barrirafferty

Author Archive | Barri Rafferty

Are manners waning in the workplace?

Do we condone breakups by text, insulting strangers by tweet and even ignoring emails in an ongoing business relationship? I see common courtesy declining, in both our personal and professional lives.

Now granted, I grew up in the South where hand-written thank you notes were a must, and when you shook hands with someone you looked them in the eye. But what has taken the place of what I would simply call good manners? I believe it’s time to give the topic some consideration.  

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Today’s Leadership Demands: A Conversation with the PRSA

I recently had the pleasure of sharing my perspectives on leadership with Ken Jacobs at the PRSA for a column in its Tactics magazine. Topics ranged from my observations in Davos while at the World Economic Forum, to what it’s like to be the first woman to lead a top-five global communications agency. Above all else, it was a candid conversation about what it means to be a leader, my leadership successes and teachable moments, and how others have inspired my thinking throughout my career journey. Here are a few of the highlights from our conversation…

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WEF: The Automation Transformation

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at the World Economic Forum.

If you’ve read this blog before, you will have heard me talk about the impact of A.I. Unsurprisingly, A.I. remains one of the biggest topics of conversation at the World Economic Forum this year. But what has struck me is a recurring theme of transformation. A.I. is no longer something for the tech industry to consider – it is infiltrating our entire way of life, from self-driving vehicles, to healthcare, to the analytics tools we count on for developing influencer marketing programs. It is transforming the very nature of industries, and we all need to learn to adapt as A.I. takes its rightful place in the mainstream.

This week in Davos I have been intrigued by this theme of transformation – in sessions as diverse as healthcare technology, economic issues and the future of work. Here are a few key takeaways…

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WEF: Creating a Culture of Care

With the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Annual Meeting now in full swing, I noticed a common thread emerge through a number of meetings and sessions: a focus on building inclusive work environments that foster a caring culture. I had the pleasure of serving on a panel on that very topic at the Equality Lounge with a group of smart, successful female leaders from Google, Deloitte, Panorama, and Quartz.

I was proud to discuss some of the programs Ketchum has put into place that sets it culture apart, from our unconscious bias training to our efforts to reward and recognize collaborative behavior. I was equally inspired to hear a wealth of ideas for attracting and retaining talent from my fellow panelists. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this panel was that the idea of inclusivity wasn’t perceived as solely an HR responsibility. The panelists run major P&Ls, but also share a personal passion for employee growth and development.

I heard smart strategies for creating compassionate, caring cultures at events like the opening plenary session with the Annual Meeting’s seven female co-chairs and a breakfast discussion hosted by Mercer.

Here are some of my top WEF-inspired takeaways on the topic…

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Why WEF Matters: In Your Own Words

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, begins tomorrow. Davos is an intense week, with seemingly more events and discussions taking place this year than ever before, on the most important business, political, environmental, and societal issues impacting the world today.

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What an African Safari Can Teach You About Client Service

I began the year thinking a lot about client service, but little did I know that a safari in Tanzania would further reinforce and expand upon those beliefs. I can’t say that I’ve ever taken a trip, personal or professional, that has made me reflect on what turns out to be innumerable parallels between providing platinum service to clients and differentiated hospitality to guests.

When traveling in this environment specifically, you are fully reliant on the expertise of others to get from place to place, maintain your safety and find your next meal. While the examples may differ, my experience taught me that the key tenets of client service in practice can be transferred from the hospitality business to the consulting business. Here are a few ways how…

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How will we better serve each other in 2018?

Today is my first day as CEO of Ketchum, and I’m incredibly excited to take on this role. It’s an honor to lead Ketchum. It’s a special agency and a place I have chosen to work for more than 20 years. Our talent continually drives me to be the best leader I can be, and to find ways to better serve our clients and my colleagues.  Their passion and dedication to servicing our clients always comes through at the top of our employee surveys.

Before leaving on a long-scheduled “bucket list” family vacation to start the year, I reached out to our network of colleagues to share a few words of advice on how they can cultivate their own talent, some of which I will share with you here so you can learn a little bit more about me, and what I believe is most important…

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From Politics to Retail, Diversity to Harassment, Sleep to Power: In 48 Hours, Fortune MPW Covers It All

Fortune’s annual Most Powerful Women Summit is both thought provoking and motivational. The networking is unparalleled but, the truth is, the broad range of topics is what keeps me coming back each year. The conference alternates locations between California and Washington, D.C. each year, and being in our capital gave it a different vibe. Senator Amy Klobuchar kicked us off by reminding attendees how women have to go where it is uncomfortable to go to make true progress, and that collaboration among our elected officials can make a difference.

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My Travels Reveal Six Communications Trends

In recent months, I’ve spent a lot of time with an array of clients in various parts of the world. We talked in detail about the state of their business, the business world at large and the evolution of the communications function. Our conversations revealed six communications trends vital for today’s business climate.

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Prepare to Launch: Meet the Next Generation of PR Leaders


Our industry has been facing a diversity crisis. In recent years, there have been countless panel discussions, debates and articles chronicling the challenges we face in ensuring our agencies and our in-house teams are reflective of the consumers with which we are engaging. This means diversity of all types: gender, ethnicity, age, religious background, sexual orientation. Employing a diverse workforce is critically important, and I imagine these conversations will continue to dominate until our industry makes significant shifts in the right direction.

While gender and ethnic diversity must remain our industry’s biggest priority, it also is critical to consider types of diversity that are less easy to see, like diversity of thought, diversity of ideas and diversity of experience. Just a few weeks ago, in Cannes, Ketchum and Fast Company released the results of a study on creativity, in which a diversity of life and work experience rose to the top of factors impacting the creation and selection of ideas. This insight reinforces the need to take a more holistic look at diversity and inclusion as we strive to be a model for other industries and for society at large. Diversity – of all types – is not just a nice-to-have but a must-have to ensure we’re not operating in a creative echo chamber.

This is why I am tremendously proud to see that our latest class of summer fellows – who are now about halfway through their internship program with us – come from such diverse backgrounds. And their ideas show it.

Now, I am a firm believer that diversity doesn’t just happen by accident – it requires a concerted effort to break out of deep-rooted, yet antiquated, recruitment practices. Due to unconscious bias, companies are unwittingly narrowing their talent pools, leading them to hire people who have similar backgrounds, skills and even personalities, instead of finding candidates with unique qualifications that challenge the status quo.

So our by-design method for hiring summer fellows, LaunchPad, seeks to remove unconscious bias from the equation by inviting applicants to join an interactive online game and showcase their creative prowess without providing any identifying information. Not only is it an immersive experience for fellows candidates, which gives them a look into agency life, but because it is a “blind audition,” it gives us a chance to look beyond their résumés, their field of study and their demographics to evaluate them on their ideas.

As a result, LaunchPad led to a 17 percent increase in ethnic diversity of our summer fellows year-over-year, and of this year’s class of talented fellows across North America, 25 percent are considered non-traditional hires – as in, they don’t have any previous PR internship experience. Additionally, 15 percent are studying fields outside of the traditional PR and communications sphere – including majors like information science, psychology, marketing, business analytics, sociology, international relations, entrepreneurship, political science and economics. With such a diverse range of backgrounds, we are able to offer our clients added skills beyond what they’d expect of a PR firm – and our fellows gain important experience in the communications field that they will apply in the next phase of their careers, whether that be heading back to school, into a new field or a full-time role at Ketchum.

The one thing this group is missing, however, is a high enough percentage of men. As an industry, I strongly believe we will be minimized if we become what many deem a “pink-collar” job, and I hope the next iteration of our LaunchPad program and other efforts we undertake can help us attract more men to the field.

I’m incredibly optimistic about the possibilities LaunchPad provides for Ketchum as it strives to become more diverse – in every aspect of the word. As an avid proponent of reverse mentoring, I also look forward to learning from our summer fellows and seeing how they apply their unique backgrounds in our business.

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