This month marks the 10-year anniversary of RH Strategic! To commemorate a decade of driving award-winning public relations campaigns for businesses and organizations in markets like technology, security, healthcare, education, gaming and the public sector, we sat down with founders John Raffetto and David Herman to discuss the firm’s creation and evolution.
This interview is Part I of a two-part series and has been edited for content and length. Listen to the full interview below.
How did RH Strategic come to be?
John Raffetto: For us, it’s very simple. When you see something in life that you know can be done better, sometimes you wish that somebody would invent a better way, and sometimes you just do it. David and I were working together at another firm; we were doing great work, we had great clients, but the back-end was a mess. We knew there was a better way, so we hatched a plan and decided to set off on our own.
David Herman: I think there’s also a front-end component to it. We both came up in the PR business in the technology boom. We had this belief that working with innovative tech companies to help change the world, whether it was in healthcare, education, general technology or business, was really exciting.
We wanted to be focused. We thought that a good business was not only run properly, but run with a focus offering. I think those two things together led us to say, “We need to do this differently.”
What would you say was the scariest part of setting out to build your own PR firm?
DH: Initially, the scariest parts were employee-related. First, we needed to have the employees in order to maintain the accounts, start our business with a good book of revenue and give us a big head start. A lot of businesses start with nothing, and that creates a huge disadvantage and stress right at the beginning. Second, we were suddenly taking on complete and full responsibility for the economic well-being of these employees. That’s a lot of responsibility to take on, and it was a big emotional shift to make.
The use of “strategic” in the firm’s name is very deliberate. How you would define what it means to be strategic?
JR: At its core, it’s having a purpose and making decisions to achieve that purpose. It was very intentional for us to put ‘strategic’ in our name because we wanted to convey that it was one of the primary values we were bringing to our clients. I feel it is still one of the number one differentiators for us.
DH: I completely agree. When I think about strategy and setting goals, I think “look forward, think back.” Have a sense of where you want to go—not tomorrow or the next week—but ultimately, years down the line. Then, evaluate the decisions that you’re making in the shorter term and whether or not they’re supportive of that long-term goal.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in the 10 years of running a successful PR firm?
DH: Having a partner in business is more than just the person you’re working with; we share a lot together. We’re economically tied. We spend hours and hours of our lives together. Our families are tied together. With that type of partnership, it’s come with some lessons that we’ve had to learn together. For example, we’ve had to learn how to be able to communicate through conflict and how to work through issues, because two people are not always aligned. We’ve been very lucky in that even though John and I take two different perspectives of the world, they’re still very compatible perspectives.
JR: I think being the owner of a business means being all in. I don’t think I really understood that when we first started, but that’s really what it’s come to be. To me, one of the biggest surprises and lessons that I’ve learned is that in order to really pull it off, you just have to be all in.
When you started the firm, where did you think you’d be in 10 years? How is that different from where you are now?
JR: I don’t know where I thought I’d be in 10 years. I know that in the first year, I just wanted to get through it!
DH: The first year was hard because we started the company, and within months—maybe within days—we lost a couple of big accounts due to this whole apparent “Great Recession” that we didn’t realize was happening at the time. We were trying to set up something strategically; however, we were really making decisions that were based upon the here and now.
When we got to about three years in, it started to feel like we were making some progress. Then, we had a couple of breakthroughs, both with the partnership and the company, and in terms of some new clients. Then it started to feel like, “This is going to be a company that we can really grow and sustain for a much longer period of time.”
JR: We think about the number of people that work here as a big metric on our growth. I love the idea of working with more great people, surrounding ourselves with great people, learning from our employees, developing some additional practice areas and bringing in different skill sets. That’s really cool.
DH: In 10 years, we’re going to be a different firm.
Want to get in on the celebration? Tweet us at @RHStrategic with the hashtag #RHTurns10.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.