Women are making great strides in leadership roles and taking their businesses to new heights. They are bringing much-needed innovation to the workplace through their creativity, problem-solving abilities, and inclusive approach. One such woman is Kathy Bloomgarden, the CEO of Ruder Finn, one of the world’s largest independent global communications and creative agencies.
Kathy holds decades of experience steering the communication needs of Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofit organizations. Using communication as a tool, she is building bridges, solving important global problems, and driving innovation.
We at CIO Look got into conversation with Kathy to learn more about her journey and how she is staying ahead of the curve.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Ruder Finn. What challenges you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
I began working at Ruder Finn in the Research department (a small, back-office part of the agency at the time). My love for data and statistics is what landed me at the company, but I like to believe that it was just the beginning of discovering a greater passion – problem-solving. I became passionate about the idea of helping clients tackle their most pressing reputational and leadership challenges, of brainstorming creative solutions that generate impact beyond just numbers. That was really a life-changing realization that it wasn’t solving linear equations that excited me most; it was being able to view an intangible problem from multiple vantage points and acknowledge that there isn’t just one definitive pathway to a resolution. I’m very grateful to be surrounded by colleagues that hold the same entrepreneurial attitude, and I think that it’s our collective pioneering mentality, and determination to address obstacles with a multi-perspective approach that elevated Ruder Finn to be one of the world’s largest independent global public relations agencies, and which helped build our portfolio of clients to include distinguished Fortune 500 companies such as Sanofi, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, GE, Cisco, Nokia and more.
I think that most leaders would agree that some of the biggest challenges we face are following your intuition, even when the odds are stacked against you, and the fear of failure shadows your every move. I received my masters in Chinese Studies and my doctorate degree in Political Science, topics that seem esoteric to most of my friends and family, who supported me sincerely but cautiously, nevertheless. In choosing to pursue what I loved, I inadvertently ended up preparing to push myself and Ruder Finn to new frontiers. My admiration for Chinese culture, paired with my interest in the business landscape, led me to propose an opportunity that seemed fairly unconventional at the time: to expand our global footprint into China.
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.
At Ruder Finn, we carry the mantra of looking toward “What’s Next” both for our clients and for ourselves, which means always remaining one step ahead of industry trends and leading with a data-driven, digital-first, early-adopter mindset. We aim to move at a pace that matches and gets ahead of our constantly changing environment, which most recently, has involved advancing transformative science and technology breakthroughs – from powerful AI and cloud platforms to sustainable energy options to life-saving vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, to discoveries that aim to cure cancer. Our offices and practices, while specialized, cross-pollinate to bring diverse, global perspectives across several areas of expertise most essential to clients’ reputations today, including stakeholder capitalism, executive thought leadership, multichannel marketing, brand storytelling, and internal communication.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the Public Relations & Communications niche through your expertise in the market.
Most exciting I think has been the rapid transformation of technology in enabling us to reach consumers more strategically than ever before. As an agency, we pride ourselves in being data-driven, which means adopting and investing in tools that help our clients to resonate more deeply with their audiences. Speaking again to our vaccine work as an example, we’ve been able to harness the power of technology to tap into the concerns and hesitancies of consumers, minimize their uncertainties, and in turn, inspire positive behavioral change. It is really remarkable, the impact that communications can have in partnership with the organizations driving public health and safety, especially when you consider that almost 70% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, which is up about 15% since this past June.
What, according to you, could be the next big change in Public Relations & Communications industry? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
The next big change in public relations – and it’s already taking place – is the return of trust in business leaders who have swiftly stepped up through unprecedented times to speak out on important issues, take charge of the safety of their workers, and to innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve to help create a better tomorrow. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example, asked other leaders to join him in delaying any layoffs at the heart of the pandemic, saying “This is the moment where the business has to be the greatest platform for change.”
I believe the best leaders have what we at Ruder Finn call “TDK,” a new style of connected leadership, a combination of Transparency, Dialogue, and Knowledge-Sharing. This stems from the Ruder Finn FutureThink Index, a study launched to measure American optimism toward the future of technology, healthcare, and careers, and to show how business leaders who are well versed in TDK play a deciding role in shaping “FutureThink” attitudes.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for Ruder Finn?
The pandemic also showed us that the world is connected, not just virtually, which we now almost take for granted, but very much physically – look at how fast COVID-19 spread around the world! Borders are less relevant, and it’s not just a virus that can spread quickly, as we have learned that inaccuracies can be diluted into false certainty even faster, and that is why we must be vigilant against misinformation. Another recent launch of Ruder Finn is a digital offering called Truth Vector, which seeks to help companies and brands counter misinformation propagated by a heavily fractured and sometimes intentionally sophisticated array of fallacious sources. Machine learning and AI are employed to uncover and isolate harmful information before it gains traction. Once identified, a series of ‘Truth Vectors’ can neutralize false information and diffuse viral conversations with fact-based narratives and brand-supportive content. Truth vector was put to the test when a client was a target of a growing faction conspiracy. It allowed us to quickly assess the situation and its emerging narrative within hours, develop appropriate messaging, and ultimately mitigate the threat before it caused damage to their business. We can integrate these services as part of the blueprint of our PR plans for even more clients, especially as the demand for predictive analytics and monitoring accelerates.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Public Relations & Communications sector?
One of my cherished life lessons comes from a favorite quote of my father’s, by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Embrace uncertainty with curiosity and an open mind. And similarly, act on that curiosity by showing up every day and remaining fully present. Nothing great is ever accomplished without raising your hand and rolling up your sleeves, and the communications sector is no different than any other in the sense that there is a constant need to renew, rebuild and reinvent.