There’s Something About Marni

December 1, 2016

As you go through a career, you find yourself picking up trophies along the way. Mine include a number of awards for industry service from PR News and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). But this year, the trophy I am most proud of went to a member of my team. Marni Zapakin, senior project manager, won AMEC’s Young Professional of the Year.

There comes a point in your career where it’s less about your “wins” and more about those you’ve worked with. So, as career advice to junior and mid-level staff, I thought we’d use this column to ask Marni a few questions:

What do you do at Ketchum?

Through research, I help companies determine who they should be targeting and how, when and where they should be communicating to these targets. My focus is in helping clients understand their reputation versus competitors, and then showing them how they can use communications to improve their reputation.

For example, I have the pleasure of working with the Cleveland Clinic. Our research helps guide their communications planning and actions, and we see the implementation of those research findings in the press. When all those dots connect, it is why I enjoy this job so much.

What do you think helped you win the AMEC award?

I work with smart folks at Ketchum, from statisticians who are experts in predictive analytics, to social/digital measurement specialists, to planning and insights gurus. Collaborating with them to conduct

innovative research for clients, as well as expand my own knowledge, played an integral part. So, while I appreciate the award, it is a result of working in a highly collaborative, team environment. My name may be on the plaque, but it is reflective of the input and support of many. Being a lone star in this profession is not how you move ahead.

Are you just being modest?

Nearly all of it is attributed to team achievement. By nature, I’m not one to take individual credit for most things. Those I work with at Ketchum and even outside Ketchum have taught me so much and upped my game. I constantly look to others to learn more about the profession and where it is going. They challenge me to explore new research techniques, conduct integrated research, provide better counsel for clients and get out of my comfort zone.

However, I was asked to jump in and help manage and lead AMEC’s nonprofit group, which includes UNICEF, Gates Foundation, Cleveland Clinic and others. It provided me with both a growth opportunity as well as an opportunity to give back to the profession overall and to organizations that do a great deal of good around the world. I’ve loved the opportunity to work with these amazing organizations that are trying to measure not just sales or revenue, but their actual impact on society. Perhaps this award is in part attributable to going that extra mile.

What advice do you have for people entering the profession? 

Three things come to mind:

1. Don’t be a needy millennial. We each make our own careers; they are not made for us. Build on what your managers can support you with, but don’t make your growth their reponsibility.

2. It is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, my CEO says. Being willing to take risks and go out on a limb is critical to career development. Of course, you have to have a forgiving boss. But when you make an error, you have to have a plan to fix it, take responsibility for it and learn from it. Going to a senior manager with a problem and no solution is not going to cut it.

3. Don’t treat PR like it is ER. The same applies to research. We rarely, if ever, have a real “emergency,” so acting like the world is collapsing is counterproductive. There are more important things in life; keeping perspective and focus is key.

This year, this space has featured editorials from a number of my staff. It was well received, and thanks to their continued volunteerism, we’ll do the same in 2017.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D., retired as CEO of KGRA in 2017, but continues as part-time chairman. He and his wife, Sarah Dutton, who recently retired from CBS News, have also started their own research and consulting firm to work with Ketchum and other clients at


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