After meeting Kevin Foley, one could allow him a slight case of sibling rivalry.
After meeting Kevin Foley, one could allow him a slight case of
After all, one of his brothers is noted Hollywood auteur James Foley
(’Glengarry Glen Ross’ and the ’Twin Peaks’ TV series), while his other
younger brother Jerry is David Letterman’s director. Meanwhile, eldest
son Kevin ploughs his share in the slightly less glamorous world of
insurance, as VP of media and PR at MetLife.
But it will be Kevin taking center stage in upcoming months - in front
of 37 million customers no less - as he directs the communications
campaign behind the company’s much-publicized IPO. Not only does he have
to handle concerns from rural policyholders to Fortune 100 firms like GM
and IBM, but Foley has to bring together MetLife’s various business
units and ensure that they stay on message with their constituencies.
And you thought handling temperamental actors was tough. If all goes as
planned, MetLife will distribute somewhere in the neighborhood of
dollars 14 billion to 12 million shareholders, six times more than any
public company today. Talk about a blockbuster premiere.
Reporter in pajamas
Foley’s story begins on 62nd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 49 years
ago. Raised on Staten Island, Foley was bitten by the journalism bug
early in life - he fondly remembers ’covering’ the 1964 Republican
convention in his pajamas. His father, a lawyer for insurance firm Chubb
and an avid reader of newspapers, fostered the young Foley’s nascent
love of the written word and also of politics. He worked on various
publications throughout high school and college, and seemed destined for
a career in journalism.
A self-confessed ’troublemaker’ in school, Foley was active in
demonstrations against the changing nature of Fordham University’s
downtown campus, where the administration was trying to tone down its
radical reputation. Fed up, Foley made an abrupt decision to leave
school and see the country at age 19, via Greyhound bus. Foley’s
Kerouac-esque summer voyage of discovery brought him in contact with
plenty of unique people, some of whom are probably MetLife customers
today. ’It was a different era then, a lot more people were on the
Upon returning to New York, Foley enrolled at Richmond College and
studied political science. He also worked as a counselor at a children’s
home on Staten Island.
The experience was also Foley’s first brush with PR, although not in the
way anyone could foresee. The home became a target of a journalistic
investigation, and although Foley was not in charge of PR, it was a
sobering lesson in the importance of crisis communications.
Foley then got involved in politics, working for various local
Democratic candidates - ’sometimes I was paid, sometimes I wasn’t’ - and
ended up volunteering for Mario Cuomo’s mayoral campaign in 1977. While
the campaign itself was forgettable, it was a watershed moment. When
Cuomo ran for governor in 1982 Foley was again part of the candidate’s
press staff. This time, ’something startling happened - he won.’
Foley’s share of the spoils was a position heading up the PR department
at the NY State Insurance Department - not exactly a high-profile role:
’My immediate reaction was I thought I was getting punished.’ The 1980s,
however, were an exciting period in the insurance industry, particularly
in New York. Foley rose to become deputy superintendent. All the while
he was in charge of PR, handling crises like how the industry should
handle the growing menace of AIDS.
During his 11-year tenure with the Cuomo administration, Foley still
found a release for his passion for journalism. Along with a friend, he
started a biweekly newspaper, the Northshore Citizen, which served
Foley’s ego more than it served Staten Island residents. ’I probably
spent more time paying off the debts than I did publishing the
newspaper,’ he admits.
Foley was a bit surprised that the governor won a third term, and was
prepared to leave whether or not Cuomo was successful in his bid for a
fourth term. ’There’s a burnout factor, and at a certain point you want
to take a breather.’ Cuomo lost, and Foley moved on to start his own PR
consulting firm but soon found out that he wasn’t suited to running his
own business. ’I knew how to get things done in a bureaucracy - I didn’t
know how to get things done in an office by myself.’ The experiment
ended after one year, but client New York Life invited him to come on
board full-time to handle government relations. He settled into NY
Life’s headquarters, only a stone’s throw away from where he now works,
but soon realized that ’being lobbied is a lot more fun than lobbying.’
Foley was ready to restart his own practice when he heard that the top
PR job at Met Life was open.
Bringing cohesion to MetLife
In the months before Foley’s arrival in February 1998, MetLife had
garnered more than its share of bad press for its sales practices. ’The
company historically had not been the target of extreme negative
publicity, but it had become so,’ Foley says. What’s more, the company’s
PR, advertising and marketing efforts were in many ways separate islands
at the time, with different messages coming from each. Although he
couldn’t find the bathroom at MetLife’s massive Madison Avenue
headquarters on his first day, he’s had less difficulty bringing
cohesion to the communications efforts of the dollars 27 billion
operation. While not revolutionary, Foley’s approach to PR was the right
remedy for a firm struggling to redefine itself in a changing financial
market. ’I wanted to emphasize the role that PR plays in promoting the
company’s products and services. It’s not that no one had ever heard of
that before, but I didn’t find that we were doing that in a systematic
way. I still think we have a ways to go.’
And with Foley in the director’s chair, MetLife’s future PR efforts will
no doubt draw rave reviews.
Vice President, Media & PR, MetLife
Counselor, St. Michael’s Home for Children. Rose to become director of
Local newspaper reporter, political campaign consultant
Head of PR, deputy superintendent, New York State Insurance
Self-employed PR consultant
VP of Government Affairs, NY Life
VP of Media and PR, MetLife.