October 3, 2012

Wow – where did 14 years go? I don’t feel 14 years older but according to my driver’s license I am. And about my team…I feel like Wooderson in Dazed and Confused when he said to Dawson “I get older, they stay the same age.”  It has truly been a great ride and I want to recognize all the people who’ve contributed to making Barokas Communications what it is today; the unquestionably most talented, NO BS, kick-ass, bureaucracy free, zero self promotional (except this post) coolest, smartest, and arguably the best looking technology PR firm in the Pacific Northwest. Yeah I said it – it’s our birthday and we have a lot to be proud of.

On September 28, 1998 I along with BPR employee number one, Andrew Cullen, set up shop in a 100-year old building at First and Cherry in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. Andrew graduated from the U of O about a year prior and I brought him on as an intern while at Imagio PR, where we worked before starting the agency. BPR occupied 800 square feet, and Andrew and I each had our own offices connected via a barn-door, and two Packard Bell PC’s with monitors that weighed 90 pounds each. We had @speakeasy.com email addresses and really expensive, really slow Internet access. It was awesome. We started with one client, ShopNow.com – a “virtual shopping mall online.” Great idea -but try convincing people to use their credit card on the Internet in 1998!

Soon after we started word spread about our no-nonsense approach and the phone began to ring –  companies wanted to hire us! Before we knew it we had 5 employees, 3 clients and were running out of space. Karli Overmier was employee #4 and somehow I’ve convinced her to grow old with me; she’s just about to celebrate her 14th year with BPR.  My dear friend and former client Frances Bigley has been by my side for nearly 11 years helping to make the very complicated – very simple. Finally I can’t imagine the business without the man who has counted the BPR Beans since day one, our awesome accountant Gary Grayson. But, I digress.

By 2001 we were working with Cisco Systems and had more work coming at us than we could possibly handle. Venture money was still flowing and opportunity was abundant.  We made the decision to grow, but grow carefully. We saw what happened at other PR firms and had no interest in duplicating the model of taking on a lot of clients, doing uninspired work, losing clients, laying-off staff, and repeating the cycle. We vowed that our only source of new biz would be referral, we’d pitch nothing proactively, and we’d never waste our time on the brain-dead work of PR Agency Awards – because really – who cares about that stuff? In the following few years the dot.com world crumbled and we witnessed a lot of agencies shrink or disappear. As if tucked safely into a bomb shelter, the BPR team was unharmed by the turmoil at the beginning of this century and for that I credit the team and our approach; do great work, don’t bullshit your clients, the media, or each other, and charge a reasonable rate.

As the first decade of the 21st century came to a close we had some of the biggest names in technology as clients and friends (they tend to go together in our world). We worked with companies including Opsware/HP, Redback/Ericsson, RealNetworks, Concur, Classmates.com, and many more. We worked with fascinating people like Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Steve Singh, Sunny Gupta, Michael Schutzler, Martin Tobias and others. We challenged the norm – and proved that not all PR people suck. We had a great time and the business thrived.

As I glance in the rear-view mirror I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and for all the companies we’ve helped grow. Sure there have been some bumps along the way including clients that ran out of money, employees who wanted to zig when I wanted to zag, and some really weird shit in 2003 – y’all know who you are.  But through it all the agency continues to grow – busting out of our tweens and heading deeper into our teens. While the faces have changed (some, not all) and the address has changed (totally cool space) the principles of BPR have remained the same. We’ve grown 100% organically – we don’t have a new business department – we maintain honest and direct relationships with our clients (which means we tell them things they don’t want to hear sometimes), we spend absolutely zero time promoting the agency, and we embrace the belief that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  There it is – the BPR secret sauce. I know we must be doing something right because it seems not a week goes by without someone from Edelman, Porter Novelli, Weber, and others trying to recruit my teammates.  You big, fancy, silly people. 

I know it’s so cliche to say “we’re just getting started” but ya know what? We are just getting started. At 24 strong and with clients in the Northwest, Silicon Valley, and Europe BPR is poised for fantastic growth. We’re the largest (and more important the best) mid-sized technology firm in the Northwest and, while the companies we represent are on the cutting edge, our approach is old-school: do great work, take care of your clients, have fun, do more. Thanks so much to all the people in the BPR family; teammates, clients, and all those who play a supporting role in our cast of characters. Thank you to our former clients and employees, for without whom we’d be different than we are today.  Thank you all who’ve stuck by my side through the partly cloudy days and helped the agency be the best it can. And of course thank you Mom and Dad Barokas for all the support over the years – even though you still have no idea what we do at BPR.

I’d be remiss if it didn’t wrap this with a line from my favorite song (Two Step) from my favorite artist (Dave Matthews):

Celebrate we will 
Because life is short but 
Sweet for certain 
We’re climbing two by two 
To be sure these days continue 

Happy Birthday BPR!


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