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Employee Spotlight: Ken MacFadyen

March 30, 2020
By: Ken MacFadyen
What really interests me about financial services is how it has evolved and continues to transform as capital flows into different areas, as technology advances, as investors recognize and appreciate the importance of sustainability, and as marketing strategies evolve amid all of this change. What remains constant, though, is the need to think creatively to differentiate your brand in a competitive market.

What’s your favorite part about working in Communications?

There’s a lot to like about BackBay, but the best part is really our clients. Coming into agency life, I think the biggest unknown was the nature of these relationships. I spent most of my career as a journalist and editor. From this perspective, I could get a sense of the potential challenges. When a PR representative would press for an unreasonable request, for instance, I usually understood it wasn’t coming from them but from the firms or people they were representing. In between my work as an editor and joining BackBay, I also spent some time in communications at two Fortune 500 companies. And I’m quite certain, in either case, that we weren’t the easiest or favorite client of our vendors.

But what I discovered at BackBay was that the culture of our firm and the culture of our clients, almost universally, are aligned. Our clients certainly come in with high expectations. They’re also very collaborative, open to our counsel and new ideas, and appreciative of the perspectives we bring. (It helps that we pride ourselves on our ability to execute, which allows us to prove out the avenues we suggest and build trust in the process.)

This mirrors BackBay’s culture, as we’re a flat, collaborative organization in which everyone contributes and brings to bear their own unique views and skillsets. So, I think there’s something of a self-selection that occurs and influences our client relationships. This makes our work engaging and rewarding, day in and day out.

Describe your time at BackBay in three words.

Engaging. Dynamic. Rewarding.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a baseball player. If I spent as much time working on my knuckle ball as I did on my signature, who knows?

I also wanted to be an author. In high school, books like Catch-22 and Heart of Darkness really captured my imagination; in college it was A Confederacy of Dunces or anything by James Kelman and Russell Banks. More recently I’ve been trying to work my way through the canon (books I should’ve read when they were first assigned during school). Looking back, though, I probably got into journalism because Hunter S. Thompson made it seem like such a great career choice, although neither Buyouts Magazine nor Mergers & Acquisitions Journal really lend themselves to that kind of gonzo journalism.

What topics are you currently interested in?

I’ve been in financial services ever since I graduated from college. My first job, actually, was at NDB.com, an online brokerage, where I’d write their newsletters and client communications. Some may remember National Discount Brokers for our automated phone system that gave users the option to “press seven, to hear a duck quack.” It was a viral hit long before social media was even a thing.

The point, though, is that I’ve been in the industry for two decades now. So, what really interests me is how it has evolved and continues to transform as capital flows into different areas, as technology advances, as investors recognize and appreciate the importance of sustainability, and as marketing strategies advance amid all this change. What remains constant, though, is the need to think creatively to differentiate your brand in a competitive market.

What do you like to do when you’re not in the office?

When I’m not in the office, I’m usually spending time with family. I’ve got two girls that make me laugh every day and I love just watching them experience the world and grow up in it.

I’m also still trying to live out my earlier dreams of a sports career, playing “old man” softball, golf, pick-up basketball or soccer, or anything competitive, really.

If you could give a piece of advice for new Communications professionals, what would it be?

Hustle. There are somewhere around six or seven PR professionals for every journalist in the U.S., so if you think you can get results from a press release and a mass mailing, you’re going to be disappointed.

PR today is about thinking creatively to solve “unsolvable” problems or trying something new that may not work, and then iterating until it does. You need to be creative in everything you do. Sometimes that means pushing back to help clients understand why a particular tactic may or may not work and other times it’s about finding new ways to build relationships with journalists, so they recognize you – among the hundreds of other PR professionals — as a resource. All of this, of course, demands hustle.

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