By Samia El-Harake and Brian Wright
It was at least five years ago. Mike Doyle, President and CEO of Ketchum, was running the New York office and a woman who ran facilities reported a series of racial and homophobic slurs found in the men’s bathroom. By the time the news reached his office, they had already painted over it, literally and figuratively covering it up. At that moment, he was horrified at the content and had two thoughts:
“Who could have written this? It must have been someone from the outside, a guest or delivery person.” and “I really hope no one saw this.” Then he went about his day.
By the afternoon, the head of facilities came back and said, “I don’t know how many people necessarily saw it, but it’s made its way around the community. And you, Mike, are getting accused of covering it up and not talking about what happened on the bathroom stall.”
The lesson is as follows: one, they had mistakenly covered it up. Unintentionally communicating to each minority group attacked by the hateful messages, that when things like this happen, it’s better left unaddressed. It was time to bring it up and out in the open.
Secondly, through self-reflection over the years, Doyle became more aware of his own bias when making decisions. At the time, he paid a disproportion amount of attention to the slur about the LGBTQ+ community to which he belonged, rather than stopping to think about what impact this might have on other marginalized communities. Additionally, he assumed it came outside the walls of Ketchum. Through this experience, Doyle learned the importance of reducing in-group bias through self-awareness and inclusive leadership.
“It’s my job as a leader at this firm to never forget that day because there are days we literally and figuratively ‘cover it up’ without realizing. And it’s my role to make sure that never happens.” Over the years, Doyle has continuously voiced his support for the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, with features on PRWeek Pride in PR to serving on Ketchum’s DE&I advisory board.
Today, Ketchum’s North American leadership has re-imagined how to bring together local market communities in their operating offices across the United States. From DE&I council meetings that provide safe spaces for employees and colleagues of color to voice concerns, to increasing efforts toward recruiting diverse voices into leadership positions, Ketchum has improved the diversity of their US employee base in a measurably significant way.
Doyle takes Ketchum’s diversity initiatives a step further saying, “It’s one thing to attract and recruit colleagues of diverse backgrounds. It’s another thing to make sure that the employee experience is rich and fulfilling. […] One of our visions for the agency is to be a community of talented individuals who reflect the kind of diverse stakeholders and audiences we’re helping our clients try to reach.”
Through a Global Lens
At a global level, Doyle says Ketchum believes, “regardless of where you live, or where you wake up every day, we are fundamentally supporters of human rights. Human dignity. Human decency. Human kindness. Human generosity. They are the human values that guide us.”
While leading with a global strategy that is about making space for each other and making progress in that pursuit of human decency and inclusion, implementing the programming, work, and KPIs must happen on the local and regional level. Every Ketchum community around the world is at a different point in that evolution. This means the incredibly nuanced regional interpretations of inclusion have to be respected, appreciated, and understood in order to make any kind of advancement.
“Empathy + Intelligence is not just our tagline. It’s our operating philosophy,” says Doyle. In order to provide the most informed insights and powerful creative ideas to advance a clients business strategy, everything starts with a deep understanding of the audiences that the client is trying to reach. As Doyle states, “inside each of us is that need to be heard and understood, and it is that type of empathy that sets Ketchum apart as an agency in our ability to show up for clients.”
At Ketchum, the culture welcomes feedback from colleagues regardless of what level they’re at, as employees “train for active empathetic listening.” This means, for instance, being self-aware enough to ask others for feedback on your behavior in a meeting.
Practical ways of applying empathy at Ketchum includes a combination of:
- Behavioral training: Listening and asking tough questions to clients that lead to great insights.
- New Data and Analytics tools: Technologies that allow for a deeper understanding of audiences and how they’re made up.
Advice to Young Professionals
In his advice to those just starting out in their careers, Doyle states, “it’s impossible to mess up this early in your career. Everything you do will add to this amazing tapestry that you are just beginning to create.” Often young people are so terrified to make the wrong move, but every experience is a chance to learn and inform your next move.
As a final note to remember, “Don’t fear opportunity, just embrace it.”
Samia El-Harake is a graduate student in PR and Advertising at DePaul University. She currently works as the Graduate Assistant for the PRAD program. Upon graduating in the summer of 2022, Samia plans to explore opportunities across the PR and music industry.
Brian Wright is a undergraduate senior graduating from DePaul University in 2022 with a degree in Public Relations/Advertising. Brian will join FleishmanHillard Chicago this spring as a PR intern for the Gatorade brand.