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Publicist Rockstars: “Very few careers are linear” with Josh Rattray

I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Rattray from Matchbook Creative, an agency in Indianapolis. He’s worked in various agency settings, has written for many online publications and hosts a sports PR podcast called Media Overflow. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? When I was in […]

I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Rattray from Matchbook Creative, an agency in Indianapolis. He’s worked in various agency settings, has written for many online publications and hosts a sports PR podcast called Media Overflow.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in school at Butler University, I studied to be a sports broadcaster. And working within that industry led me to meet a lot of great publicists — versatile, well-rounded people who I felt more closely aligned with my skills and interests. During the last part of college, I transitioned into that line of work. After 10 years in sports, I wanted to learn new skills and work with a variety of people and industries, so I went the agency route.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

At Matchbook, probably the most interesting story is one stemming for our project for a client who was hosting an event at the Indy 500. We took on a project for a financial advisor in the sports and entertainment field, running his event for his celebrity guests at the race. The influencers and sports figures in attendance made the day interesting, as did managing that client and finding workarounds for all of the social media regulations that exist in the financial services industry. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing can be the Greatest Spectacle in PR!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I emailed a blogger — moderate audience, certainly not famous — on behalf of a cosmetics client we have. I had some samples but she made some unreasonable product requests. I sent her the samples, thinking ‘free stuff is free stuff.’ She angrily emailed me, telling me thanks for nothing for “a bag of nothingness.” I was surprised but had to laugh. She’s a blogger from Missouri, not Beyonce. Her name was Greta Brinkley, so yeah, I learned not to work with her when I had more substantial campaigns.

How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.

Matchbook Creative was founded in 2007 by two awesome and inspiring women, Donna Gray and Christy Gormal. Their story is excellent. They met in graduate school and turned a class project into a company with 20 employees and offices in Indy, Chicago, and Toledo. The company, which started with three people, has grown by an average of 15% year-over-year.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We just finished a really successful campaign with a chocolate company, and we’ve engaged with some local cities in Central Indiana to help them reach their goals. Matchbook is also undergoing an agency rebranding effort that will be very exciting and differentiate our shop in our market.

Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?

I always start by encouraging others to read. It’s hard to branch out and read “for work”, but reading leads to greater media literacy and opens up opportunities internally and for clients. There are so many different types of writing now, nobody can read enough.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

I’d hardly say that! But I would like people to consider the value they add in a professional relationship. I always am looking for that small value add to help a colleague. I get a big charge out of finding a connection or resource for someone.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I’ve found value in everything that breaks me out of my silo. Malcolm Gladwell’s work does that for me and is not only entertaining but I find it informative. Recently, I’ve listened to Without Fail, a Gimlet podcast with entrepreneurs, because it gives a great background on exactly how successful people navigate failures to get to where they are.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’ve contributed to causes for which I’m passionate, but if I could help all children live a healthy live into adulthood, I’d ask a genie for that.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. There are some things in jobs that have value — don’t undervalue them.
    Salary isn’t the end all, be all. Think about the things you like about your position and try to assign a value to them. I learned I undervalued the moderate pace of summers while working in college sports.
  2. Overcommunicate.
    This is something I am continually trying to work on. Don’t keep your cards too close. If you’re debating about putting someone on the email, lean toward yes.
  3. Decide between well-rounded and specializing.
    I take pride in being versatile and well-rounded, but I often question whether that’s the best route. Many people underestimate the value of being excellent and known for one thing. Being well-rounded is impressive, but having a superior talent at something others need is foolproof. Neither is the wrong way to be, but I wish I had considered that balance earlier.
  4. Quantify your work.
    I spend a lot of time thinking about my results and my output in order to tell my story. It annoyed me as a younger person but has come in handy as data has become more important across all industries. I’d advise young people to find a way to meaningfully measure their work in order to explain their impact.
  5. Very few careers are linear.
    While we’d all like to move up and up in perpetuity — and some are lucky enough to do that — things happen. Life happens. It’s nice to have goals but it’s good to keep an understanding that careers have detours sometimes. Stay flexible, open-minded and always learning!
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