David Finn: Hall of Fame 2015

Co-founder and chairman, Ruder Finn

Answers provided by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO, Ruder Finn, and daughter of David Finn

Do you remember the moment you told your father you had decided that PR was to be your career?
When I first started my career path at Ruder Finn, I worked part time while earning my doctorate. My father was a cheerleader for me and he always encouraged me to push myself and Ruder Finn to new frontiers.

So when I asked for the opportunity to launch our China office and healthcare practice, my father was extremely supportive. He gave me enough independence to achieve what I felt I could, but always challenged me to go further, making me smarter and more successful than I would have ever been.

What golden rule of comms handed down from your father has served you well?
My father would never take an assignment he didn’t believe in and he instilled the highest ethical standards at Ruder Finn: This is the basis on which we run the agency today.

He always said that you have to be factual in how you approach client challenges and always encouraged us all to take a step back and look at each scenario from multiple angles. He always valued multiple vantage points, which is increasingly important in an era of constant change and disruption. He is immensely creative. He made us all think differently and search for excellence in everything we do.

Does your father have any favorite sayings he often uses?
He always says time is elastic. What he means is that you can always do more, but you must prioritize the things that are most important to you. As I’ve led the agency, this has really stuck with me, and I continue to instill this thinking into the core of our business.

When we are inspired to act on something, we will always find the time and energy to dive into a project that comes along. That inspiration and drive is how my father started Ruder Finn and it is how we continue to infuse passion and creativity into our culture today.

As a proud daughter and colleague could you talk about a situation where you saw your father take control, inspire the room, and turn a difficult situation around?
One instance was around our work with a client who was accused of improperly recycling, therefore harming the environment. My father always counseled top management on the best way forward, and in this case he worked to make them recognize the critical imperative of environmental responsibility.

I am always proud of him for following through on his instincts and sticking up for what he believed to be the right thing to do, whether it’s the environment, health threats, or responsibilities of local governments to bring on new initiatives. He encouraged clients to face criticism head on and take genuine measures that were not only constructive, but meaningful and supporting to the necessary parties.

I feel extremely fortune to have worked side by side with him for so many years, he is my greatest teacher and inspiration.

David Finn is one of the pioneers of the PR industry, having founded his eponymous Ruder Finn agency (originally called Ruder & Finn) in 1948 with business partner Bill Ruder.

Along with Harold Burson, Daniel Edelman, and Al Golin, Finn helped establish the model for the modern PR agency. He numbers John D. Rockefeller III and President John F. Kennedy as former clients.

He started his agency in the linen closet of the Lombardi Hotel on East 56th St in New York City, only steps away from the firm’s current 57th St HQ. Ruder Finn’s first client was singer Perry Como, who thanked the pair with a full-page ad in Billboard magazine - corporations, associations, non-profits, and governments quickly followed.

Finn developed the concept of a PR network early in his agency’s existence, creating a field network of affiliates in about 50 cities.

Ruder Finn alumni read like a who’s who of the PR industry, including legendary names such as Gershon Kekst and Dick Weiner, as well as more modern faces including Bonin Bough.

Its clients ranged from the US government - President Kennedy hired the firm to rally public support for the 1960 nuclear test ban treaty - to the Academy Awards, and Ruder Finn was the largest PR firm in the world by the late 1960s.

Like Daniel Edelman, Finn was resolute in his ambition for the agency to remain independent and he also committed early to comprehensive policies on ethics in PR.

Ruder Finn grew into a $78 million agency at its height, before the firm split into two parts, each led by one of Finn’s children: Kathy Bloomgarden retained the Ruder Finn name; Peter Finn now operates as Finn Partners. Another child, Amy Binder, had already split off from the host agency in 2001 to form RF|Binder.

Finn has also had an outstanding career as a widely published and exhibited artist, writer, and photographer. He is known as a leading photographer of sculpture, and his books have been devoted to works from different periods of history, including ancient Egypt, classical Greece, and western art from the 12th-20th centuries.

Finn has written or contributed his photographs to more than 70 books, served as an adjunct professor of PR at New York University, exhibited his paintings and photographs at one-man shows in the US and Europe, and became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Advisory Council for the National Endowment for the Humanities.