Maryann Watson: 40 Under 40 2015

President, RFI Studios, Ruder Finn

When it comes to building integrated strategies, Maryann Watson always thinks big. She oversees a global network of 85 creative strategists as the president of Ruder Finn’s digital practice, RFI Studios, spearheading high-impact work for clients including Samsung, McDonald’s, Nokia, MetLife, and Pfizer.

Her work on McDonald’s includes its global brand initiative, imlovinit24: a series of 24 public events in 24 cities in 24 hours. This marked the first time McDonald’s aligned its regional marketing, digital, and PR teams in a large-scale corporate-led campaign. She also supports the company’s chief digital officer with thought leadership, influencer outreach, and partnership strategy.

Watson’s influence is felt throughout Ruder Finn as she champions the use of advanced technologies, including reactive screens and new social analytics applications. She formalized RFI Labs, which focuses on tech immersion and allows the company to experiment with new platforms beyond client work.

"Maryann has always demonstrated exceptional leadership, strategic insights, and out-
of-the-box thinking that helps keep the agency at the forefront of the industry," notes Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn. "She constantly challenges her teams to push beyond the norm and think more creatively."

Watson started her career at the agency 15 years ago as the second employee in the newly established corporate branding practice. She rose to SVP and group director, managing financial operations, new business development, and client services.

She was credited with growing group revenue by 120% and more than 50 employees while leading campaigns for multinationals such as Genentech, Gerber, and Novartis. Watson spent three years at PepsiCo as a director of corporate reputation and then director of global strategy and planning before returning to take RFI’s top post.

Throughout her career, her work has earned her more than 25 industry awards, including two internal honors while at PepsiCo.

Watson has been recognized for her hard work outside the industry too. The Partnership for New York City’s David Rockefeller Fellows program selected her as one of 19 executives in 2009 to take a peek at the inner workings of New York City in an effort to encourage public-private partnerships.

"People like Maryann are the future of our industry," concludes a colleague.

- She is a recently nominated and approved member of Page Up, an Arthur W. Page Society program connecting future communications leaders

- Watson volunteered for 20-plus years with GMHC AIDS Walk New York but also lends her time to New York Cares, Habitat for Humanity, and others

- The Hofstra University alum regularly connects with and guides current undergrads and serves on the school of communications’ advisory board

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