Raising the BAR
Since 1992, the Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ) has recognized an annual class of Forty under 40. These rising stars, under age 40, have achieved a level of success, achievement or community engagement that stands out among other nominees. A committee of two IBJ editors, the publisher and three former honorees chose this year’s class from more than 200 nominations.
Among the honorees announced in February was Brad Rateike ’02, founding principal of BAR Communications. He directs public relations (PR) strategy and message development for corporate, government and nonprofit clients in the Midwest and Washington, D.C. He also manages public affairs campaigns for Fortune 50 companies, and directs media relations and grassroots outreach for small businesses and startup companies. Since 2010, Rateike has worked primarily in Indianapolis, but added a D.C. office in 2018 following an 18-month stint in the White House Office of Communications, and he enjoys cooking and boating in his spare time. Here is a glimpse of what else we learned about the PR pro …
When you land on an IBJ list it shows the community is taking note of your professional achievements and volunteerism, but what matters to you?
“I think the IBJ has a steady finger on the pulse of what goes on in Central Indiana business so I am flattered to be included among so many smart, talented professionals. My wife, Lawren Mills, made the list several years ago, so being in the same alumni group as she is the true mark of achievement. I would add I am blessed to have been raised by two parents who taught my two siblings and me to do the right things for the right reasons. They never had artificial benchmarks of success, so we were never pressured to pursue accolades. Obviously, recognition feels good, but it is not my primary motivation to work hard, or volunteer.”
You are a poster child for the liberal arts, with your English major, which you have parlayed into a professional communications career. Is giving communications advice what you always thought you would be doing?
“I became an English major because I hoped that if I could learn how to speak, write, read and listen for context, I might be able to convince someone to hire me. While I did build the foundation to my professional skill set in college, I continued to polish those skills in each of my subsequent job roles. Now I use my skills to help clients get the recognition that I believe they have earned, whether it is in the media, from elected officials or in professional circles.”
Which Franklin College faculty members were influential, and why?
“I have never had any better return on investment for my time than sitting in Dr. Lloyd Hunter’s (now a professor emeritus) classes. You could not help but leave class a smarter person. When I lived in D.C., and passed by historical monuments on a daily basis, I would often think of Dr. Hunter who gave me an appreciation for how America was founded and the challenges our country has endured.
“There will never be another professor like Dedaimia Whitney (now retired). The perspective she brought to teaching from her past life and work experiences made our classroom discussions interesting and applicable to life beyond the campus boundaries. She made me feel like if I was engaged in her class and did the work, there was no doubt that it would pay off. What I learned in her Writing in the Professions and Advanced Composition courses has paid dividends for me throughout my career.
“Bonnie Pribush’s (now a professor emerita) development of the Franklin College Leadership Program was tremendously valuable. We had great discussions, heard from impressive speakers and looked beyond the campus boundaries for examples of good and bad leadership. Because of what we studied, we all became better leaders and, maybe more importantly, better followers.
“John Krull ’81, the Pulliam School of Journalism director, was not on staff when I was a student, but I have a great deal of respect for what I have witnessed as an alumnus. John knows his profession and can teach the subject matter in a way which prepares his students for the workforce. And then he helps get his students legitimate opportunities to be successful.”
I understand that Franklin College Trustee Emeritus Bill Brown ’61 is one of your mentors. Tell me a little bit about how he influenced you …
“Bill set an example for many people on how to lead. I watched how he led his life at home and in the office, and how he handled his role as a College trustee. He is an extremely intelligent person who asks good, intuitive questions and can look at an issue from multiple sides. He is candid but kind, and tough but fair. I have kept in touch with Bill for the last 20 years and always appreciate his wisdom and insight. Bill showed me what the Indianapolis business community was, and I have maintained a healthy respect for it ever since.”
What motivated you to apply to the Peace Corps and serve after college?
“My roommate junior year. Matt Worland ’02, and his now wife, Dr. Brooke (Wagoner) ’99, were looking into it for Matt’s post-graduation plans. They sparked the idea, but professor Dedaimia Whitney (now retired) really took an interest in helping me figure out what I wanted to do after college and was willing to spend time with me each week as I looked at different options. I wanted to do ‘something that mattered,’ which I thought Peace Corps had the potential to become, so I pursued that. Ironically, I had never been off the continent until I got on the plane to move to Uzbekistan, so that was a decent leap of faith. My sister, Jill (Rateike) Curry ’03, ultimately pursued the Peace Corps as well so Matt, Brooke and Dedaimia should get partial credit for both of us making that choice.”
How did the Peace Corps experience impact you?
“I think of my Peace Corps time in Uzbekistan every day, even if only for a second. Many of the people I met there were kind, generous and compassionate, but it was a tough place to live. Trying to quickly overcome the language barrier yet teach English-language classes, assimilate to the culture and live on $140 per month in 2004-05 gave me triage training. I learned how to prioritize what was most important each day, and today that enables me to help clients address their communications needs efficiently and effectively.”
You have spent significant time working in politics. What drives your passion there?
“When I started my first job in government/politics, it was not because I had a passion for it. I needed a part-time job, and that is where I found one. I worked for the Johnson County Commissioners when I was in college and did odd jobs around the courthouse in Franklin. I later worked part time for the former mayor of Franklin, Norm Blankenship (now deceased). I learned a lot in both jobs, and I came to realize politics is rarely as glamorous as appears.
“After I graduated college, I was hired onto a Congressional campaign in Indianapolis at the recommendation of Cam Savage ’99 (now principal at Limestone Strategies). I was the sidekick-scheduler-driver for the candidate, and I learned on the job. I also made mistakes on the job, but I always learned. We were beaten by a large margin in the campaign, but the relationships I developed and lessons I learned are still important.
“Later, when I was in the Peace Corps, my mom began sending me articles about Mitch Daniels, then a gubernatorial candidate riding around in an RV talking about what needed to be done to make Indiana a better place. I was fascinated, and loved his creative approach to running for office.
“Coincidentally, I had met one of the senior campaign aides, Eric Holcomb (now Ind. Gov.), just prior to leaving for the Peace Corps. We stayed in touch, and he later found a position for me in Governor Daniels’ office, on the communications team, because he liked my writing.
“In that role, I learned about media relations from my direct boss during the day, and I learned about public outreach in the evenings and on the weekends from Eric, as we traveled across the state and talked to supporters, surrogates and third-party groups. When I saw Mitch deliver a powerful message, again, and again, and again, it got me excited about politics. I joke that I do not possess the piece of DNA that I think makes someone want to run for elected office, but I have many friends who do. I have always appreciated the people who understand the need for timing and preparation to align in politics.”
What is the meaning of your business name, BAR Communications?
“I was offered a communications contract while I was already employed so when I left my job to take the contract and start a business, I needed an official name for the paperwork. My ‘creativity’ was inspired by a monogrammed item in my apartment which corresponded with an available URL. It works for now.”
When is your work most challenging?
“When I am trying to develop messaging that is much more complex than the intended audience cares to know. The challenge is to find a common denominator that explains the message, and why it matters. I have worked on some public-policy issues which mattered significantly but did not sound or appear ‘sexy’ so they did not receive the attention they deserved. My work can also be very challenging when a client is in a crisis situation. Those situations are complicated, time-sensitive and require me to ask my client direct and pointed questions to quickly put together an accurate and concise account of what happened so I can give them the best advice.”
Here we are in a pandemic. Basically, every business is communicating to the general public about the ways they are adapting to continue doing what is right for their customers. Which companies do you think have communicated exceedingly well, and why?
“Most of the major retailers have done a nice job of adapting. Obviously, they had much to gain and a lot to lose, but it does not mean they adapted by accident. A few restaurants I know have gotten incredibly creative on how to promote themselves and how to execute carryout or delivery. I am really rooting for those places.”
What should all businesses, small and large, do in the foreseeable future to be better prepared to communicate during a crisis?
“Take a big-picture approach toward your business. Plan for the situations you hope actually never happen, because it is critical. Also, always keep business development on your weekly calendar. Make a list of companies, organizations and individuals you want to get business from in the near future, and dedicate time to working, reevaluating and growing that list every week.”
What is something any business could do today to improve their PR exposure?
“Have a message. Make a list of reasons you are most proud of your organization. Rank those reasons, then push them as messages to one or more papers. The best PR strategy is simply to do the work. Period.”
What did I overlook asking that you want people to know about you, your business or PR?
“We all engage in PR on a daily basis, though many of us do not give much consideration to the everyday opportunities that can help build or damage our reputations. Every impression we make on someone else impacts their opinion of us and can have a long-term impact. Try to carefully cultivate allies and avoid making permanent enemies. Also, try not to leave opportunities on the table. Make sure those in your professional network know about some of the work you are doing, and why it is relevant. Your professional reputation will not grow in value if no one knows of your efforts or the outcomes.”
Tell me about your volunteerism.
“I volunteer as a communications adviser to the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation My brother is a U.S. Marine helicopter pilot in his 14th year of service, so I feel a natural connection to the organization and its mission. To think that there will one day be a permanent memorial in Washington, D.C., and I will be able to drive by it and say, ‘I remember when that project was in its infancy’ is a great feeling.
“I also have a standing offer with the journalism, political science and English departments that I will do whatever is in my power to help Franklin College students land internships, or help recent graduates get jobs. On top of great academic preparation, they need a professional network to help them make contacts and to gain a better understanding of the range of jobs, even beyond their conceivable dream job, that is available or coming down the pipeline. I always emphasize to them the importance of ‘being hungry’ for opportunity.”
What impresses you most about the Franklin College students you meet today?
“I am really impressed by the students I meet today through their work at The Statehouse File. (Stories are researched and written for this publication by Pulliam School of Journalism students and editors with commentary from community leaders.) The Indiana Statehouse is a high-profile, high-pressure environment, and the students who learn to navigate it gain very valuable transferrable skills that will benefit them the rest of their lives and careers.”
What’s the one piece of advice you would give every young person about to graduate from college?
“Your ability to get a job is rarely based solely on what you know. It is often also based on whom you know. But the deciding factor is how well you sell yourself. Give serious thought to your strengths and what makes you stand out from other job candidates. Develop your elevator speech and practice it on anyone who will listen. And send thank-you notes as often as you can.”
POSTED Nov 18, 2020