On a river-rafting trip in Costa Rica, Jane Shivers took a chance, scaling a high rock wall above the turbulent white water. Looking down, she paused to consider her options: ’I said, ’Jane, hold onto your vest, look straight ahead and jump.’’ So goes the life - and career - of the woman who runs Ketchum PR in the South.
On a river-rafting trip in Costa Rica, Jane Shivers took a chance,
scaling a high rock wall above the turbulent white water. Looking down,
she paused to consider her options: ’I said, ’Jane, hold onto your vest,
look straight ahead and jump.’’ So goes the life - and career - of the
woman who runs Ketchum PR in the South.
At first glance, Shivers is the stereotypical Southern woman - petite,
blonde, straight-backed, ladylike - and she speaks with a charming
accent that can at once put you at ease and on guard. However, she’s no
blushing belle. Jane Shivers is a Texan, a self-made woman with a
penchant for high adventure in both her business and personal lives.
Success and resentment
Shivers rose to national PR prominence in 1985 when Ketchum wanted a
Sunbelt shop. At the time, she was operating a successful eponymous
regional firm with just under 15 employees. Today, she’s the gal to beat
on Peachtree Street. Between 1994 and 1999, Ketchum-Atlanta boosted
revenues from dollars 3.3 million to dollars 16.5 million. Along the way
Shivers engineered the acquisition of Crescent Communications in 1997,
riding the tech wave out of Silicon Valley and into Atlanta. This year
Shivers expects a 12% increase to dollars 18.6 million, roughly double
the size of her nearest competitor in the region.
Under her tutelage the 125-person Atlanta office has become the de facto
gateway to South America for all of Ketchum. It is also the headquarters
of eKetchum, the Web services development practice launched last
And Shivers says she is particularly proud of a multi-cultural practice
that originated in her office. In addition, Ketchum’s offices in Dallas
and Miami report to her.
Success often breeds resentment, though. A spate of rumors floating
around town in February suggested that Ketchum had gotten too big and
sloppy to handle a high-profile assignment for the Atlanta Chamber of
It was true that Ketchum had resigned the business in under a year, and
the RFP was reissued. The account was awarded to a rising mid-size
But it was insiders at a competing agency who dished on the supposed
The scuttlebutt was that the Chamber’s point-person, Kathy Doherty, was
exasperated over inefficiencies, miscommunications and missed media
opportunities by Ketchum’s account supervisor. Rumors suggested that the
Chamber asked Ketchum to resign or be fired.
When confronted, Shivers says, ’Well if that was the case I don’t think
Kathy would be working for me right now.’ Touche. In the week between
the Chamber’s assignment and the official press release, Doherty
accepted a position as Shivers’ VP of marketing.
Both women laugh at the insider’s ersatz scoop, calling it ’silly.’
Shivers sighs, ’I don’t know why, but someone always takes pot shots at
us.’ Well, that’s what happens when you’re the the biggest agency in
Given her meteoric success, Shivers weathers such rumors with grace,
knowing they spring from the mid-management ranks of competitors trying
to impress their general managers. Her peers, on the other hand, truly
gush with praise, and the sentiments go beyond Southern niceties.
Kathy Bremer, GM of Porter-Novelli Atlanta, regularly lunches with
Shivers and a group of top female PR chiefs in town. ’One thing I like
about Jane is she’s approachable and easy to talk with, yet at the same
time, she is very astute at sizing up people and opportunities,’ she
According to Ray Kotcher, Ketchum’s senior partner/president, Shivers’
personal skills run deeper than most. ’Jane is extremely compassionate
and sensitive when it comes to the human dimension,’ he says. ’ When
people know that you care - and she does - and people know you’re
interested - and she is - they want to work with her.’
Shivers and Kotcher met right after Ketchum acquired her shop in
She had a lead on some business with document management firm Lanier and
asked the New York office to send in reinforcements. ’It was my first
major pitch for Ketchum, and they sent me some hot shot account
supervisor named Ray Kotcher,’ Shivers teases. The two not only won the
account but formed a winning friendship that has lasted 15 years.
PN’s Bremer adds, ’Before the Web and technology growth trajectory
became apparent, Jane was one of the trendsetters who saw where things
were heading and positioned Ketchum to address convergence in a major
Her gutsy moves into businesses like hi-tech and multicultural marketing
have come under fire by skeptics who hesitate to accept Ketchum as a
tech agency. ’Hanging onto a label like ’hi-tech’ is all about real
estate,’ counters Shivers. ’What is ’hi-tech’ anyway? ’Hi-tech’ business
doesn’t need to communicate with its employees, with the media, with its
customers, with strategic partners? It’s about communicating with
constituents and getting out the story, purely and simply.’
Like mother, like daughter
Shivers’ straight-shooting persona comes from her mother, whom she
credits as a woman of strong will and independent spirit. It’s clear
that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. In the mid-1960s Shivers
moved to San Francisco to care for an ailing sister. After a brief stint
in spot sales for the local ABC affiliate, she found her way back to LA,
where she had earned a degree in film from USC. She had heard about a
Semester at Sea program - sort of an ’Outward Bound’ meets grad school
world tour on board an ocean liner.
Shivers walked into the program office, dead broke and determined to get
a job. No one paid attention to her, so she staged a one-woman sit-in.
’I was going to sit quietly in the hall until someone noticed me,’ she
recalls. And there she sat from 10:30 am until 4:30 in the
When the program director finally got tired of tripping over her, he
called her into his office and quizzed her on a number of skills, of
which she had none. ’He was exasperated with me and asked, ’Well what
can you do?’ I told him, ’Well I wrote press releases in college.’’ He
made her the director of information, and so began her PR voyage.
Shivers says that was when she really ’got global.’ And she says it like
the word really means something; as if the rest of us are just catching
on to the phenomenon. In fact, most of us are.
JANE SHIVERS - General Manager, Ketchum Atlanta
1967: Director of information, Semester at Sea
1970: Editor-in-chief for five California weekly publications
1975: PR staff at the Atlanta Arts Alliance
1980: Founded Shivers Communications
1985: Shivers Communications purchased by Ketchum.