Episode 335: Joe Baratelli, EVP and CCO at RPA
Mrs don't get me started is a conversation about advertising. And here's your host freelance creative director and creative circus department. Head dan balser yes. Welcome back for another episode of the podcast. Thank you for sticking with to show and listening during all this is For a long time as i said i recorded these constantly and published in every two weeks for fourteen years and now i'm sitting at my desk. I'm looking out the window. I'm sitting at the same effing desk at. I've been at for a year and i'm wearing my cova close. I think joe's noticing wearing a hoodie and a t shirt. And i'm like basically just like dealing with the pandemic and so much appreciate Joe's doing this with me today. He's in new york although he's based in la. And i've done that trip and it seems simple to fly from la to new york but like it's kind of exhausting. The other ways ought easier but coming this way so thank you so much for getting up so listeners. This joe burrow tally. As you know he is executive vice president and chief creative officer chief creative officer at rpi in santa monica california. He's been there for thirty six years. It's amazing and i'm gonna let him talk a little bit about the agency but right now the clients include apartments dot com honda arco cedars-sinai farmers insurance. So you have him to thank her blame for farmers. We are farmers jingle Los angeles clippers into it quickbooks lazy boy southwest airlines among others and before we started recording was telling that back when i was a student beginning. My career. ruben post aren't associates which is now. Rpa was was considered one of the top creative shops. And i think that has never slipped from that from that mantle at some point. We'll get through some of these honors and awards but on this list of honors and awards pulling up to camera for him to see the things stand out to me are are among the ken. Lions and the emmy award nomination in one show pencils. There are two or three efi awards and for listeners. it don't know effie awards. are there. The reason we do this business. Those are based on effectiveness where they do sorta hallmark testing pro- pre and post the campaign. And when you can win creative awards and effie awards the same work. It says a lot about where you're Priorities and your focus has an agency lies so joe. Thank you so much. Welcome to The microphones the remote conversation. Thank you so much for doing this. Yeah well thank you for having me. This is this is great. It's a it's an honor to be honest appreciate that so tell the listeners. Who might not be familiar with rpa. I didn't want to just read the summary off of your linked in about the. It's an independent agency right. So tell us about. Your resident expert tells us about the culture and the priorities and sort of tells us a little bit about rpa for people who might not know the agency. yeah we'll Were independent agency. We've been Santa monica or side of los angeles for Going on thirty six years now believe and the the story about the agency's pretty interesting I happened to be there at the time. What happened was there was a big merger and That was kind of the trend back in the eighties any be. Ob and Needham harper which the agency. I was working for at the time merge to form omni cow and when those mergers happened there's conflicts of interests between different accounts and there were a couple of bottom of accounts and play here at honda was one of them so just so listeners. No you can't have an agency with two competing clients okay. Yeah that's that's You know kind of You know the the role of engagement for a long time. And so what. What happened was they felt In their wisdom forming this this big conglomerates or holding company that Honda was gonna be jettison from that from that group. And so Jerry rubin the are and larry stare the p sided that went to the folks and said hey. What if we bought this office. If you will or you know made it made a deal to take over take over the opposite making an independent shop. Well the story goes that they had to go down to honda. Make sure they were comfortable with that before the hundred or so people that were involved in the la office You know they were gonna be be able to stay on so You know what was great. Great story there is jerry. Rubin went down to talk to the president of north america and said. Hey here's what's going on and first reaction will why us why. Why aren't we the ones that You know or are being jettisoned kind of told them the story and but what the the end result was was he asked. If we're going to form this new agency will will the people state insane and that was the guarantee that yes we would all we would all be there still. It would be the same group of people that have been doing over sir award winning work put-on on the map at the time and The greed and that's the agency was formed. So it's it's interesting to me that they would feel like they were being jettisoned that they were the ones being excluded from the big agency but then really does always boil down to the people right. This is a theme. That's coming out on these conversations a lot. I think because buildings mean less and less this year right is that it is all about the the people so it's really just the name on the check zoll different but the relationship and look you look at the record of of our p. a. and honda some really significant incredible beautiful work so to win. Yeah it really was a win for. I think oliver clients at the time and for us especially in we'd better good partner for them and They've been a great client for us back to back back then. You had california yokohama. Tyres miller's outpost los angeles marathon patel hotel disney channel fidelity federal bank right. So let's talk a little bit about that. Sorry interrupted you. What i think. I cut you off but you an art director at the time right. So what was the feeling going through your mind. Had you already started when the purchase happened and the break apart happened. I mean what's going through your mind at that at that moment as a young creative. Yeah well it was a little different time But yes i was there. I was working for harper worldwide. At the time. So i'd been there about a year and i remember distinctly seeing a little byline in the wall street journal. That's how we got our news from newspapers back then and it was just a couple of words. That was the kind of mentioned that there might have been a rumor that a couple of agencies were thinking of urging and of course as young creative at that point i was probably like i better get my book together because who knows where this is going to lead and you know that that was really all we had to go with until jerry rubin called us in You know to the main kind of gathering area that we had in the building at the time and you know kind of told us what was going on and the plan for us to spinoff so at that point It was it was a sigh of relief on all hundred of us especially me that we were going to be able to stick together the same group of people with the same clients and the if it was good that way but it was a little unnerving in order to hear these rumors Because it's not as What do i wanna say direct. The you know the communication these days is a little faster and a little more direct so all those things there. Top secret are always rumors about these things. You know these are wall street. Decisions and insurance stuff has to be kept quiet. It all worked out so talk to me about this. Then shift gears a little bit back to you so executive vice president chief creative officer. So what is your job day to day. And have you noticed. Changes in your job over the years or have been sort of a seamless progression. So talk a little bit about what you do every day and then we'll talk a little bit about how your career has has because this is a this is a very unique opportunity to talk to someone who's been at the same basically the same agency for i'd say all career so talk a little bit about to start off with like. What do you do these days. You know. I like to think that. I'm you know just kind of encouraging people To be the best they can be Be that you know. Creatively or being a good Understanding our client's business looking for you know when we're developing work. It's all about the end results. The results are helping our businesses. Our clients businesses grow. And you know. So what what i try to be champion of good work that we all think this is going to achieve that and along with that is bringing the talents in and got great people to help me do this to Is to you know by that by that talent and bring oh man and make sure they fit it in with the team and be able to achieve those things so i spent a lot of my time around that you know talking to people looking at work but i'm not the not guy that the puts puts his thumbprint on things. I i have people that help. Guide other people but encourage those people to help guide and You know. I think. I think that's really i think the other part of it is having the You know the reputation or or the authority to you know help help make decisions make decisions for the direction of the agency but also help our clients make decisions. I think we have a long track record of helping our clients and they see the consistency of leadership within the agency. And i think they appreciate bat. So when i might not speak up often but what i do hopefully People hear what. I have to say and take that into consideration as we move things you know. We're we're helping. Big big companies may make big important decisions in their business. And you need to be that trusted partner to be able to do that. So i kind of seeing myself in that role these days you said so much right. There is a couple of things. I want to follow up on that. I i Obviously i would assume given this client list. You're stuck with these agencies. I'm sorry that these clients have stuck with you is and vice versa. because there's a mutual respect and they listen to you. You understand their their problems right. Have you had a situation. We've had a client that that really wasn't as open to sort of being told an or have you found that that some clients are really self aware and some aren't self aware. Because i i remember early on in my career there were moments when even in the middle of my career as a a cd or cd where you can see so clearly what they should do and they don't see it so talk to me a little bit about the ideal client relationship in house. That has sometimes gone wrong. You said it down you know Respect is really at the core of of of that you know when You know of course in the past the clients that have come and gone. You know it might not have been a good fit or it might not might not have seen aieda. I in what the what the ultimate goals are and how to achieve those goals. But you know what we're always talking about is kind of trying to keep a long lasting relationship. I i'm a big believer that obviously stage at the same place for for a long time but having a long-term ability to work with these clients and help them achieve their goals. Everything takes time and things change You know in the marketplace or you know in the world and we have to. They need us. We need them of course but they need us to help them help them get there the more you are a trusted partner. The better off. You're gonna be so you know. Those are the kinds of things. I'm always kind of thinking about To help them do the best they can be too. I think that's businesses. Had reason i'd like to ask that as you know. I spend my day to day with with people during the craft at school. Right and i think a lot of listeners of this podcast for young in the industry and may not really understand or might have their head around how critical that relationship is doing great work because our students don't have clients. They have a blank piece of paper in every. Everything's a thought exercise. So what would you do without any limitations and it's not always limitations is it. Sometimes you know they can crack. Open a box that you never would have even noticed. A client can bring your problem. That is just a fertile insight that you never would have even considered so those situations can be incredible One other thing. You said earlier that that was really interesting. Was that you're in a position now where you bring your your authority to the picture. But you don't want to put your thumbprint on the work. How is the adjustment. Just shifting out of being an art director to crave director when you started supervising juniors or supervising people under you. Was it easy for you to stay stand back and enable them or did you feel like you wanted to put your your sort of spend on the work talk a little bit about your adjustment from an art director to a creative director. Yeah yeah no i. I never really had a big issue with that I'm maybe i'm i've got less of an ego or baby. I'm i'm just i. I never considered myself the smartest guy in the room. I think it's a it's a team effort. And you know one of the things that that i always think about is you know how would i want to be treated in that situation. You know you work very hard to come up with an idea. You think it's right for various reasons. Now we can all see everything that's why we have supervisors and creative directors to help us. See the things that we might not see. and i think You know. Larry pasta air. You know to give him credit. Was that way to it was either. Hey he's not necessarily kind of taking something and and just twisting it to make it his own. He's looking at it and saying this is this is this is a good idea for these reasons and this one might not be a good idea for these these other reasons so i i always you know looked at it when i when i was in that role to to you know. Take into account the people's work they put into it and but give them an understanding of why it might not be right. You know the same thing goes for for talent general to is you know. Sometimes you know people want to have a certain They might have a certain style or things that they're into but in reality. That style might not be right for the problem. We're trying to solve right. So that's the other thing of boys. Encouraging is to broaden your view of things we're problem solvers. That's our clients are asking us to do is help them solve problems. There's always a different way to solve it. There's never one answer absolutely. Yeah that's really important distinction So who do you ultimately answer to work for. Who do you feel like. You're when you wake up in the morning and you dear job who is the ultimate sort of authority or who do you answer to. Yeah it's our clients. I would say that you know unequivocally. But what what i want to say as a distinction in that answer is that it's our clients as business entities not necessarily as individuals. You know. of course we gotta deal with i gotta deal with personal biases or you know what they think is right or dot right but we need to convince some that hey through our experience or through data through research that hey this is a viable solution to your business problem and so you know i mean ultimately a. I'm not the owner of the agency. I'm working. I still have bosses just like everybody else. There's always a man we have to answer to but on the bigger thing. I think it's our. It's our clients businesses because tried to help them grow. I david lou. Bars was the first. And i think maybe the only the one that has answered that exact answer. When asked that question when you get to that position where you can see the the forest from google world sort of the google earth view. You see well wait a second. We're here because we work for this service industry. I think it is interesting that you said that. Also this should be another word right. The word client means different things in advertising. It's confusing because client. Is the person you work with it. It's also the company they were for. That's a weird thing ever meeting with the client today. The client is is billy all right so thought he just just a riff on that for a second. 'cause we we we talk a lot about that the agency because we've talked about us being first agency and if you think about clients and what we do there were all those people are all distracting to help help each other out so we try to talk about our clients. Sorry as individuals with their real names. Like okay who meeting with. Who were you talking to them. You know who you're talking with. And what were you talking with. What are you talking about so those kinds of things are important. Semantics are important so when we talk about clients usually are trying to say this is our big business entity and then when we're talking about the clients as individuals we try to call him by name that that's important distinction are so we said this a couple of times you've been there for a long time. It is extremely unusual advertising. Obviously so does does that say about you or about our pa. And how have you managed to the same place. I think it says a lot about the agency We've got a lot of people have been there a long time or or chief officer was there before i got there One of our cheap client officers have several has been that was there before i got there So that there's long standing continuity there I think we as it agency trying to treat people. Well i think There's a consistency that is important a continuity. That's important. you know the fact that you know. listen. I'm not dog at honda every day meetings. You know but they know that there is someone that has a history And understanding of their business were they ban where they're going what they're trying to achieve how they operate those kinds of things. I think that's a that's an important distinction that you know we talk a lot about when we're talking to new clients stability stability building relationship back to trust you know. Have you had moments. Have you had moments over the decades. Where it's like i really I really should try some different place. Or has a job shifted to feel like different jobs or both. That's the thing for me personally. The job is always shifted. It's always something new is always Either a new client or You know some new project or the media landscape has changed so much over the years so it's always kept me interested and and there's always something new challenge for me personally art so you've written a piece about emotional intelligence we're shifting gears a little bit. Can you talk a little bit about How important emotional intelligence is now having been through this pandemic and getting out of your own ways a leader in and just sort of being able to understand communication on a more sort of granular personal level. Yeah yeah well you know again. I think it comes down to kind of putting yourself in other people's shoes and these days especially I really believe it's a it's a team effort To achieve the things some of the stuff that we do as as marketers. These days are so complex. There's so many nuanced parts to it that you have to have the support of other people around you and to be able to work well With other people you have to have an understanding of what they're dealing with. You know what an account person has to deal with says finding for a it has to be able to Figure out or at least have an understanding of where they are. and so. that's what i try to do is having understanding of of people situations and try to help foster that kind of that that kind of thinking within within the agency within the department. But you know wh one thing that we've done. And i might be getting off track here a little bit. But we formed what we call ownership teams. These ownership teams aren't just creative teams there there. There are teams that involve account research Production and try to get those people to work well together Kinda form a little platoon for for different clients and you know they're kind of They go into battle together right and so the things we talk about our show collaboration in and you know that that support so when i talk about emotional intelligence it's also about being able to read read people having an understanding of what what their needs wants are card now. Though right it is it's it's more difficult But but at the same time. It's funny. Because i probably have more check ins now than i did in person Sometimes weekly sometimes biweekly. I'm able to drop it on meetings and just kind of see how things were going progressing. without having to be like. Oh my gosh that offer. The chief is in the room. you know what i think people appreciate that like. I said i'm not You know everybody has their own style people to communicate a lot. Some people like to communicate a little. My my thing is. I might not communicate as often as maybe people Other people might. But hopefully what i do. I'm present in our listening. I like to think that you know that's kind of one on. Why one of my things. That i i like to say is i think i'm a good listener. And i think. I i try to understand where people are coming from and a lot of times listening just hearing the words. It's it's reading between the lines and trying to understand what the true meaning is or you know the expression to emotions that are coming through. When you're talking with people and i think that goes back to you know working with the individuals that are that are our clients to you know it's the stuff that we talk about. Sometimes it's hard to express and you have to be able to interpret what what the end goal is not. Just take take into account what what they might be solving for the moment. Take into account what we're trying to achieve together isn't it. Isn't it so much more natural now. The experience i have now being able to listen and understand and contextualized conversations and contexts relies people's mode understand people's motives mitt. They're not even expressing. I think just comes from years of having these conversations in years of having these sort of situations come up that it also have less emotion attached to it so to me. it's almost like decoding puzzle times and it's actually really fun. So i think. And i think that these conversations i've been recording for fourteen years also taught me acutely how to listen to try to get out of my own f And just kind of let someone go. And if i have to write something down like if i practice this my whole life. I think i'd probably be have been happier more wealthy person if i just patiently right down things instead of just reacting in the moment like this one so you said something about you have these teams that work across disciplinary teams by second agency in new york was called anderson and lemke and every account had its own core team. It was the same setup and we the great thing about that was. We all felt that we had ownership of that relationship. Those problems in those solutions and it was a really empowering setup difficult for juniors. I think i think it's something that's probably better for people with little time under their belt to kind of come in and do those but That was a great worked. Really well yeah. Empowerment is big is a big thing. I think giving people a responsibility to Have that ownership is important. I think that's why we ended up with the ownership. Names has gone through different dating of job corps teams whatever but the the idea of ownership teams important. But you know a big part of that. At least the goal is that you have a full range of people when i say range Experience so we have juniors mid levels a cd's creative directors creative directors but they are part of those those ownership teams depending on the number of clients and the the amount of work but it each one we have that that kind of depth of experience and so the goal is for those people to work together to encourage juniors to give them opportunities to expand so usually what happens. Is assignments come in. And if they're said these days the Complicated a campaign has so many bits and pieces and moving parts that you need a lot of people to pull it off and if if if we go in with the right Attitude and support for each other those those people a they get the experience of of working it. They also have the opportunity to come up with the main idea. We might hope everything you so It's worth it works out great. And i think it's playing well with clients in new business and you know that kind of thing you know Telling her story to New business prospects is half the battle and this gives us something to to really talk about and show how successful it's span for our longstanding fi. Yeah that's great so they agency sizes what around six hundred. Yeah yeah these days it fluctuates. You know before pandemic were you even a little larger but You know things come and go but yeah it's It's pretty big place. all right. So how do you define success for yourself for the agencies. What does success look like. Well i think it's back to our clients excess if our if our clients succeeding succeeding and That that that's the short. Answer within that would i truly believe is support solving business problems and we're using creativity to do that. Then we'll have. We'll have great success. We'll have long standing relationships with these with folks and he's companies. So i i always from the beginning. I've always thought this Which is solved the problem with creativity right and everything else will come. The awards will calm. The recognition will come the Hopefully the financial gains will come to you for sure. I'm getting homesick right now. Hearing that siren. I missed new york. all right shifting gears. I think we have just a couple of questions so if you were to teach a class to run a seminar for young creatives people about to come into the industry. What's the one thing you would want them to learn. What you think's important for them to know coming out of school now and school now. That's that's good. i. I really think it's an understanding of other other things like which we. Yes you have to know your craft and they know understand how how things are built. But i really believe what were were problem solving it. So your your problem solving in a business world your problem solving communication world and so having an understanding of how things beyond your world operate. I think our is most important so culture or do you mean media like what do you mean. Well i mean the business side of this kind of what. I'm leaning into. But when i say that i also you also have an understanding of how that fits into the culture to the communication landscape to your your customer so i guess what i'm saying is it's like don't just get caught up in your own world of of what you're good at but think about the bigger problem you're trying to solve and ultimately going to put it into one word it's the it's the business the business side of things right. It's like if you're working on honda. I just saw an article. One of my feeds talked about this new advanced. A battery storage technology. Whatever like geeking out in the category. It's not about being a writer and art director about like going deep into like the world that your clients live in reading their trade magazines and those kind of things just to be articulate and partner to them That's a super important and i. I've always been kind of a research junkie and you know. Maybe that's why i've been able to easily on the old days. It would be like. Hey i'm going to be gone for a half day. Here excited to get to the library bro or i need. I didn't start subscribing to these other magazines. Now you've got the whole world at your fingertips All the information that she can find is right there. Right here So it it makes it a lot easier that way but it also can you can go down rabbit holes but having an understanding of all that stuff i think is really important caring about it like it's a lot easier. I mean all that information is one tab next much cooler stuff so you've got to think that is cool stuff all right. So what personal trait of yours. You think has been your most valuable so far in your career. What is it about you that has been sort of your secret weapon. Well we talked about being able to listen. I think that's a big a big part of it I think also not not having an ego. i don't. I don't pretend to be the smartest guy in the room I don't i don't i don't need to be. I think i. I need to have the support and have the trust of people around me especially as you know. We talked about age a little bit. you know the world's moving fast and there's a whole generation or two that are thinking about things differently or Taking in things differently how they consume stuff where they are where they're fighting their entertainment. How they wanna be entertained. What that entertainment looks like. And so i have to lean on on other people for for that. I only have so much vision. I need a broader vision. And and you know i trust in the people that are part of a team to to you. Know figure that stuff out. And i think that's a big part of it too looking for a diversity of vision two. It's like everyone has a narrow field of vision right so the more diverse people around you are the better. I think that's really really interesting You remind me a lot of another guy. That was on the podcast. Dan wieden who the thing that i think. A lack of ego does is. It creates the space for people to share their truth Present a stupid idea. And i worked really hard. Try to encourage people to present stupid ideas that i think. There's a false value on on on accuracy and correctness in the younger generation. And i think that it's really important to create a space where people can be messy. That's my own commentary on that. No i i. I'm a believer in that too. I think at this stage. Were i am in within the agency. I think people feel like For me personally they need to bring it to me in more of a complete form which is fine. But what i try to do is encourage everybody to You know the the creative directors of you know to have early check ins and have like what what one thing. We're you know. I try to encourage is not having freezing -tations but have check ins so if if if you're a creative director and the no you gotta get something developed to a point to get to a client at a certain date instead of Having hey you're going to have to have this presentation just have four four check ins no matter where you are in the process one team be. Hey we're really far along. We got scripts and storyboards. And all this stuff in another team. I just have a few Loose ideas but those loose ideas might lead to something that that is encouraging so having that kind of cadence to the work is something that i encourage although you know people at goes back to early art art. School days is like i. Don't anybody to see until it's you know to my liking. And so you still right into that. But encouraging the witnessing or being able to see ideas in their infancy. I think it's important that for sure trying to foster that for sure so knowing what you know now if you could go back in time to the day you graduated walked out of college for creative studies. What would you whisper in young joe's ear That's good i think Maybe having an understanding of ood of of business it's funny. I remember when i first became a creative director. Astor's talking to my dad who is like a business consultant and medical companies and He goes maybe you should think of getting your mba. No talking about you know. But in in hindsight. I think that was probably pretty good advice. So not that i have an mba but I think about those things a lot. I read about that kind of stuff. You know Harvard business review or whatever because at the root of it are people. And what you're trying to do is motivate people and what you're trying to do is get people to be the best they can be. And i guess having an understanding of context contacts and how business works and you can apply that to so many things aspire solving solving problems. Creatively for our clients but also being able to solve problems within the organization itself. Though interesting which is something that as you as you grow through With an agency your ass to manage people you're asked to encourage people you're asked to be critical of of ideas and the people and so you know having an understanding of of how business works is really having an understanding of how people operate but i would i would maybe whisper that the other thing i might say is a debate. You know having having the skills to understand your own ideas and being able to defend or talk about why those ideas are worthy. I think is important. I always think that like. I never really enjoyed debate. But in hindsight. That might be another thing. I would encourage people to think about bringing bringing your ideas forward with the logic and not getting defensive. I think it's an important in important trait while the great thing about debate is that you have to strategize by figuring out what the other side's gonna say. Which is it is a tool for learning empathy. Expos thank you so much a couple last question that just out of my own curiosity that has nothing to do with advertising because some one other listener if they're already other listeners is thinking the same thing so where in the mid west did you grow up. I grew up in detroit. Or just outside detroit okay. He has some flat some flat as their side of couldn't figure if it was a clevelander upstate new york or detroit detroit okay detroit and But i don't know. I i still get that you know It's still there. It recognize the mid west accent. But i've been it. I've been in california for thirty years. So maybe it's even a little bit. Maybe maybe and i wanna laura montenegro for introducing us appreciate her staying on top of me because i have a producer i need one. She has become a defacto producer for this conversation. So thank you for that. Yeah she's great she's She's been a big help to me to make sure she keeps me out task for these kinds of things. That's awesome. Thank you so much again listeners. I'm not going to go through all the links and stuff. But i am on instagram at digi. Ms podcasts. i always post pictures of these conversations right after the show so check out instagram And spotify for listening to this on the on the regular feed is also on spotify. you can subscribe. Follow us on spotify. So thank you for that and thanks again so much really appreciate it. Great conversation any final any any final words of wisdom for our listeners. Put you on the spot. Well the be yourself and try to put yourself in other people's shoes baby. How about that. Perfect excellent thank you so much listeners. We'll see you again soon. bye bye bye.