Walter W. Wurfel, vice president for corporate communications at Gannett Co. Inc., has been named president of the Washington office of Ruder Finn & Rotman, an international public relations firm. He will assume his new post on May 14.

Wurfel, who joined Gannett in 1979 and was named vice president later that year, established and managed the Gannett Co.'s first corporate communications department.

At Ruder Finn, Wurfel will replace Shirley Kaiden, a New York-based senior vice president who has been heading the Washington office temporarily since July 1983, when James Plumb resigned as president.

Prior to joining Gannett, Wurfel had been deputy press secretary to former president Carter from 1977 to 1979 and field press director of the Carter campaign in 1976.

From 1975 to 1976, he was press secretary to Sen. Richard Stone (D-Fla.).

During a 12-year journalism career, Wurfel was a reporter for The Washington Star, foreign editor of the St. Petersburg Times and general manager of Straus Editors' Report, a weekly newsletter.

He also has been operations director of Straus Broadcasting Group, which operates five New York radio stations; a television news anchor in Puerto Rico; a Central American correspondent with the Christian Science Monitor, and a special assistant to the African bureau of the Agency for International Development.