SOMERS, N.Y. - Ray Kerins is a firm believer in telling the truth.
That philosophy, while not shared by everyone in the public relations business, has served Kerins well. So well, in fact, that at just 46 years old, Kerins is the head of communications for one of the largest companies in the world and was recently inducted into the PR News Hall of Fame.
“There’s no greater responsibility on a communications professional’s shoulders than the protection and enhancement of a brand’s reputation, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a communications pro who can shoulder that burden better than Ray Kerins,” said Steve Goldstein, editorial director of the daily online publication. Kerins was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
A Somers resident for about 10 years, Kerins is the senior vice president of communications, government relations and policy at Bayer in the United States. Essentially, that means Kerins is a company spokesperson for Bayer, a multinational chemical and pharmaceutical company based in Leverkusen, Germany.
“I have had a strategy that I have brought no matter where I have worked. I call it the engage and educate strategy,” Kerins said. “It’s a concept that many organizations around the world could and should embrace.”
The concept, Kerins said, is simple: The more time you spend meeting and speaking with the public, the better off you will be.
“Meet with your supporters, but also engage your detractors,” Kerins said. Doing so, he added, builds “a certain level of respect,” even among a company’s or individual’s biggest critics.
The biggest mistake people embroiled in controversies often make, Kerins said, is issuing a “statement” to the press. Throughout his career, Kerins said he attempts to avoid issuing prepared statements to reporters at all costs, and only does so if there are legal issues involved.
“I would rather build a career on trust and respect than based on a company statement,” Kerins said.
Kerins entered the public relations industry about 25 years ago at the advice of his father, a homicide detective with the New York Police Department. At the time, Kerins was preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps. He had just earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Iona College and had completed internships with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and the Westchester County Police Department.
After graduation, however, Kerins was invited to return to school on a fellowship, which provides financial support to graduate students. The faculty told Kerins he could “take whatever [courses] you’d like.” Seeking his father’s advice, Kerins returned home and handed him a sheet with the school’s areas of concentration.
“I said, ‘Hey, Pop, I have the opportunity to go to grad school and what do you think I should take?’” Kerins recalls.
He reasonably assumed his father would suggest something in the area of legal or public affairs, but his father made a surprise suggestion that changed the course of Kerins’ life.
“Very keenly, he lasered on communications,” Kerins said. “He said, ‘You’re incredibly good with people and I think you should really explore this.’ I checked the box and I sent it in. I didn’t even think twice about it.”
For nine years, Kerins managed crisis communications at GCI Group, working closely with brands such as British Airways and Bridgestone-Firestone. He later moved into the pharmaceutical industry through senior positions at Merck and Pfizer before joining Bayer.
“I’ve loved my career since day one,” said Kerins, who enjoys “building and being a part of great teams. As I stood up on stage accepting this [Hall of Fame] award, I asked members on my team to come with me and I accepted it on their behalf.”
Another value he preaches to his employees is: “family first.” He and his wife, Brenda, met while students at Iona College. They have one boy (13) and two girls (11 and 9) in the Somers Central School District. Kerins said he could not have accomplished what he has without the support of his wife, who gave up her career as vice president of an investment bank on Wall Street to raise their children.
“You want to talk about the smartest person in the room? Come to my house, you’ll meet her,” Kerins said. “We’ve accomplished this together along the way. It’s not just me.”
Kerins, born in the Bronx, lived for several years in North Salem with his wife before moving to New Jersey. After two years there, Kerins moved to Somers. Where ever Kerins has lived, he said it’s been important to be involved in the community.
For 10 years, he served as a volunteer firefighter: seven in Croton Falls, two in New Jersey and one in Somers. He only gave that up, he said, to get more involved in coaching youth sports. He has coached flag football and baseball for the past nine years, and soccer for the past six years. Community service was one aspect of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he said.
“Community involvement is something I want to pass onto my kids,” Kerins said. “It’s all part of being a good professional in your work life.”
Kerins said some of his coaching tactics translate to the professional industry.
“When we build our teams, there are some people who can score and there’s some people who defend,” he said. “Tap into what people are good at and nourish those areas. When those teams can come together, you can go from a group of individuals to high-performing team pretty quickly when there’s enough trust and respect.”
Kerins is also a board member of the United States Chamber of Commerce and has served on the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Council on Global Health Threats.