NEW YORK — Barri Rafferty is stepping down from her role as global CEO at Ketchum to join Wells Fargo as head of corporate communications.

Rafferty, who joins Wells Fargo at the start of July, is replaced by Mike Doyle, previously North American president at the Omnicom PR Group firm. Doyle becomes global president and CEO of Ketchum effective immediately, following a relationship with Ketchum that stretches back to 1995.

Rafferty, like Doyle, also joined Ketchum in 1995 — rising through the ranks in various leadership roles before being named as one of the first women to lead a global PR firm in 2017. By Ketchum's standards, her tenure is relatively short —  just two and a half years, compared to her five-year predecessor Rob Flaherty, who himself took over after Ray Kotcher held the top position for 12 years.

"We’re sad to see Barri leave," said Flaherty, Ketchum's current chairman. "She was a terrific CEO and she was doing a very good job. We have a lot of talent inside the firm that’s invested their careers with Ketchum, which now allows us to turn to Mike for his leadership."

Under Rafferty, Ketchum restructured its model to notable effect around industry sectors and virtual teams, while also parting ways with a number of senior executives and making several rounds of layoffs, the most recent of which came after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Doyle noted that the restructuring leaves Ketchum in good shape to respond to the changing business demands that 2020 has brought. 

"I was pleased to be a part of building and developing the strategy and equally pleased now to be executing it," he told PRovoke.  

Doyle added that the North America CEO role will not be filled "for the moment," and that other executive changes are not immediately planned. "I’m incredibly lucky we have a terrific roster of leaders in the US region. I’m going to rely on them even more in the next several months." There are no changes planned for Ketchum's regional operations around the world either, he said.

At Wells Fargo, Rafferty will report to vice chairman of public affairs Bill Daley, who joined the fourth-largest US bank late last year. Daley followed Wells Fargo CEO appointment Charles Scharf — as part of a new team that aims to help the company rebuild its reputation after it was revealed that the bank opened potentially millions of unauthorized accounts.

A string of changes in the bank’s communications department after the crisis included corporate comms head Oscar Suris leaving the job after nine years. He has since joined Zeno.

"It’s had its reputation challenges for years," admitted Rafferty. "I feel confident joining because of the new operating committee, the new CEO. I felt very confident through the interview process that they were willing to do the hard work to create a new narrative, a new culture and redefine what the company stands for in the future."

Rafferty added that the Wells Fargo opportunity was a rare one "to take an iconic American brand and help it shift its culture and reputation."

"It’s a true opportunity to do something totally different at this point in my career," she said. "One of the things I’ve realised is I love a good transformation. I just felt like this chance to help Wells Fargo with its transformation was pretty exciting."

Like many of the major publicly-held PR firms, Ketchum has struggled to grow in recent years, declining by an estimated 2% in 2019 according to PRovoke's Global Rankings. That has been accompanied by increasing agency consolidation, which — at Omnicom PR Group (OPRG) — has seen Ketchum, Fleishman and Porter Novelli merge in multiple markets around the world. There are no more consolidations involving Ketchum planned at this time, Doyle said.

Doyle said he is optimistic that 2020 will ultimately be a good year for Ketchum, despite the financial blows of the pandemic.

"We saw real organic growth in Q1 before the pandemic hit, which gives me great confidence that our strategy is working. Ketchum is not immune to the challenges that all companies are facing right now as a result of Covide-19, but we are seeing momentum in areas that are in high demand, including our technology and health and health services industries, and with specialty services such as analytics, influencer marketing, employee engagement, corporate reputation, and issues and crisis management. As we enter the rebound phase and move to the new normal, we are lucky to have adapted well to this new environment because our consultancy model plays well to a virtual workplace and the strength of our culture," he said.

Rafferty's exit comes after OPRG CEO Karen van Bergen stepped down at the end of 2019 to become dean of Omnicom University. The role is currently being held on an interim basis by John Doolittle, to whom Doyle now reports.

“Mike has prepared for this role over his long Ketchum career, having led major global client engagements in multiple offices, overseeing one of the firm’s complementary businesses, and very successfully leading its North American operations," said Doolittle. "He also is a leader in driving for diversity and inclusion, and that is very important to us at Omnicom. We are excited to see all that he will accomplish in this global role."

Doyle is supported by global chief financial and chief operating officer Alan Banner, who joined Ketchum last year, and a leadership team that includes international president Esty Pujadas, global marketing president Hilary Hanson McKean, Europe chief Mark Hume, client experience head Michael O’Brien, and chief strategy officer Craig Mersky.

Doyle joined Ketchum in its Washington DC office, before relocating to New York. After a decade with the firm, he left to join NBC Universal as VP of communications, digital and international, before returning to the firm to launch Ketchum’s Emanate brand. In 2009, Doyle returned to Ketchum and was named director of the New York office in 2012 before being promoted to North American president in April 2017.
 
In particular, Doyle was instrumental in forming Ketchum’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board and is the co-chairman of OPEN Pride, Omnicom’s network that fuels the inclusion and success of its LGBTQ+ community. In March he was named to the national board of GLAAD, the world’s leading organization dedicated to accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community.

Additional reporting by Diana Marszalek.