Dr. Kathy Bloomgarden is CEO of Ruder Finn Inc., one of the world's largest independent public relations agencies, with close to 75 million dollars in revenue. With more than 30 years of experience in communications for multinational companies, including global communications activities for Novartis, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Citigroup, Barclays, McKinsey, Cisco, Nokia, Kering, and Mondelēz International. Under Kathy’s leadership, Ruder Finn opened one of the first global communications offices in China over 25 years ago. The agency now has four offices in China, with several hundred professionals on the ground. Kathy has also overseen the growth of RFI Studios, one of the industry’s largest dedicated digital teams, with expertise in online presence and reputation management, and development of insights and data analytics.
Dr. Bloomgarden is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a board member of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the Partnership for New York City, the China Institute, and sits on the advisory board of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She is the author of Trust: The Secret Weapon of Effective Business Leaders and also writes for Fortune.com on leadership topics. Dr. Bloomgarden holds a B.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University in Political Science, as well as a certificate from the East Asian Institute. She is fluent in French, and has a working knowledge of Chinese, Italian, and basic German and Russian.
How did you get into the PR industry?
My father founded Ruder Finn more than 65 years ago when the industry was just beginning, so I was fortunate to watch him build the business, meet with clients, travel the world and really learn about the industry from its infancy.
I started in Ruder Finn’s research unit and I loved the fact finding and analytical work that helped solve business challenges. I learned very quickly that communications is integral to everything and is truly at the core of every company and institution.
Tell us about Ruder Finn. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Ruder Finn leads by our founding focus on creativity and solving global problems through communications. We work with major multinationals during times of business transformation and help amplify and fuel the changes our clients are driving.
I challenge myself and the entire agency to think about what we can do every day to make sure we’re staying ahead of the curve. The industry is constantly changing and we need to continue to disrupt ourselves and push the envelope for our clients to remain successful.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Ruder Finn's success?
We were early to create a digital arm of our agency, starting RFI Studios in the 1990s, and now have integrated digital into everything we do. This has allowed us to build and implement multifaceted creative campaigns for our clients.
We have a great deal of experience in transformation and with almost every company is experiencing business model shifts, we have a real lead in this area.
We have always been a creative agency, and now that there is more and more competition for people’s attention, businesses need to set themselves apart and breakthrough the clutter. Our deep creativity and ability to emotionally engage people sets us apart.
As an agency, we also prioritized China early and today we’re the only agency that is dual-headquartered in New York and China. I really think this gives us a unique east-west perspective and global understanding of the trends driving business.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Every industry is undergoing some form of transformation, and communications plays a critical role in connecting companies with their key stakeholders both internally and externally around these pivotal periods of change. At Ruder Finn, we partner with a number of clients to support them during critical moments for their company, helping them transform the way they do business, go to market and communicate with the people that matter most.
In addition to business transformation, the industry is evolving to focus on more authentic and engaging content. Brands are shifting from traditional communications outlets to experiential marketing, connecting with consumers on a more personal level.
Companies are also investing more heavily in employee engagement, recognizing that talent recruitment and retention is critical in today’s competitive market.
Time is elastic – this TS Elliott quote is always with me. It reminds me that one can always find time to do the important things and the right things.
Ruder Finn's Motto?
I always say that transformation is our business. I’m proud of the creative team that we have built to pursue some really tremendous projects. We like to say that we are the thought-starters, storytellers, insight-miners, social connectors, boundary pushers and ambitious dreamers who believe that our creative edge is the way to your what’s next.
Your greatest success as CEO of Ruder Finn? Most difficult moment; how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Ruder Finn works today with some of the most important companies in the world in healthcare, in technology, in finance, in consumer goods. I am very proud of the work we do for these clients and the fact that we keep clients for a very long time, averaging over 10 years. To win clients and keep them, it means not doing the same thing day after day, but challenging yourself to innovate, be creative, be 24/7.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Believe that you can do anything you want. Don’t be afraid to take risks and think boldly. Dream big – and then go out there and do it, make it a reality.
How do you motivate your employees?
Ruder Finn has a “challenge culture” that encourages people to explore projects that push them out of their comfort zone, be adventurous and disrupt the status quo to reach their full potential. We strive to offer employees opportunities that they’re truly passionate about and foster a unique nonhierarchical structure that promotes collaboration among all levels, always putting excellence before seniority and encouraging employees to contribute ideas regardless of level.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Strawberries and Champagne!
What literature is on your bed stand?
The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Financial Times – always.
Role model - business and personal?
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF – she is brilliant, professional, elegant, and steered her way through many storms with success and grace.
I’m really into languages. I speak four and still study Chinese every Sunday morning with my Skype teacher who is in Shanghai. This allows me to have a truly global mindset when I approach challenges on behalf of my clients – and I can also get my way around when I’m in China!
Favorite travel destination?
Florence, Italy is my favorite place to visit and I stop there as often as I can when I’m in Europe. I love it there because it’s a walking city, the scenery is so beautiful and the art is spectacular. Florence is really a magical place.
What's next for Ruder Finn?
2014 was our second consecutive year of double-digit growth, and we’re focused on innovating, with a strong creative force that will help us continue to make an impact on the business of our clients. We have some exciting projects in the works, so stay tuned for what’s next!