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South African native Ryan O’Keeffe launched his business career at UBS Investment Bank in South Africa before moving to London and working on the M&A and leveraged finance teams. He embarked on his public relations career in 2006, joining corporate and financial specialist Finsbury. He later moved to the firm’s New York office, spending three years there, including the 2011 merger with US-based sister firm Roninson Lerer & Montgomery.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
The most fun I’ve had in PR, where my work always had a direct impact on business outcomes, was in M&A transactions. But without question the most significant moment for PR impacting a business during my career was watching the collapse of Bear Stearns. That a whole investment bank could disappear over one weekend, due primarily to a lack of confidence, was one of my first and biggest lessons of the importance of public relations to a business.
What are the comms industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
Delivering impact and cut-through in an increasingly crowded comms landscape, where competition for share of mind is getting hotter each year.
What have you most admired about this industry in 2020?
Keeping a cool head and navigating an unprecedented situation in a way that has made it look almost like business-as-usual.
What has most disappointed you about this industry in 2020?
Some of the leading PR agencies, those that created the industry in many ways, failing to evolve and adapt fast enough to the new world order.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
I’ve used commuting time for a morning run instead. And we made a break for it and flew to Greece a few weeks back and had an amazing week in the sunshine. My work phone was locked in the hotel room safe! But calls and emails have gone up during lockdown, so switching off has been a challenge.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
Spotify and Netflix have come into their own! Tools and Weapons by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne, about Microsoft’s corporate affairs journey, was a really enjoyable and useful read.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
... a teacher. What better way to have a positive impact in the world than to play a role in shaping 15-20 young people placed under your responsibility every year?
Sum up 2020 in one word.
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