Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal

“Our business is all about change, so if you are not changing you are not moving a service firm of any kind forward. I think a good service firm develops a percentage of their services as new services every year.” Rob Flaherty, a senior partner and CEO of Ketchum, said those words. This is his philosophy on how to manage a PR agency. When he presented his “Think Big About Your Career In Communications” speech to the students of the S. I. Newhouse School of Communications, to me, creativity was the one word that was the best interpretation of his “change.”

His presentation is the most creative one I have attended at Newhouse. It was just like a successful media briefing or press conference, and he is a good spokesperson. No doubt, most of the PR practitioners will conduct or manage such activities for different companies thousands of times in their future professional life.  And Flaherty has given us an excellent example of how to create a well-prepared, engaging and meaningful event for its target audience and how to present his main idea straight to the point and impressively.  As he said, “create content towards genuine human truths, stay relevant. Don’t make it about you, make it about them.” When I recall his speech and all the feedback from the student audience on social media, it was quite clear that he did what he believed.

Though the communications trends and case studies of Gillette, ConAgra Food, Cheetos and Ecovidrio Flaherty showed us were arresting and refreshing – particularly the “KISS: Keep It Smooth Shave” campaign for Gillette – I found he, as a head of a large PR agency and a leader in this highly competitive industry, is still a PR practitioner worthy to be praised. It would have been valuable if he told us more about his development experience in the PR field, and shared any challenges he has faced and overcome in different stages of his career. From a perspective of a PR professional, I know he is also an expert on issue management and knows very well about client management.  If I had a chance to ask him, I would be eager to solve something I have been confused about: as a client counselor at a PR agency, when your client has a crisis you don’t have the ownership to control the client’s final decision, which sometimes you don’t think is right, and it may lead to an ineffective result. How do you settle this problem with yourself and your client?

the coulisses

(Picture credit:

Same as the name of this speech, I believe thinking big is a prominent professional character to a PR practitioner. However, he also used his time to tell us we cannot forget what’s behind the big scene and those can prepare us to turn “big idea” into reality. What I learned from Rob Flaherty is being prudent, well prepared and always put your feet in your audiences’ shoes. As he believes, “life is not a dress rehearsal.” Every time we do our jobs, we should always be prepared to present the company’s brand and client’s brand but also your brand. We are brands ourselves, and we should always be on top of our game.

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