Kei Baritugo is one of the most sincere, authentic individuals I've had the pleasure of meeting in the past few years. Her quick wit and passion for social justice make her a force to be reckoned with. As both the brains and brawn behind the public relations company she founded seven years ago, BoldLove, she is just that; a boldly compassionate risk taker, and one you'd be lucky to have in your corner. Since bringing Fuckup Nights to Vancouver, — evenings dedicated to brave individuals sharing their failures on stage with the sole purpose of helping others learn from their mistakes — Kei has successfully kick-started the real talk movement that Vancouver has been so desperately in need of.
The Landscape of PR
'It occurred to me that if I work for myself, I would have complete control over my time and my own success. It was a huge turning point for me when I realized I could be fully in charge of my path and my career. I decided to jump in with both feet. Looking back, it was a pretty ballsy move because I had no previous agency experience, which meant I faced a very steep learning curve. The upside was that I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how things ought be, as far as running a PR agency goes, which gave me the freedom to forge my own way of doing things and be creative.
PR looks very glamorous from the outside but in reality, it’s not. You have to earn your keep, the hours are long and, for the most part, it’s a thankless job. It’s hard work and there are tons of egotistical personalities and difficult situations to deal with. Some clients have unrealistic expectations and you somehow need to figure out a way to make it work by constantly educating them on how PR works, what it is and why it’s important for them to follow your lead. Managing client expectations is a huge skill and mastering it is an ongoing endeavor for me. As an industry, PR is morphing so quickly and the best way to stay on top of your game is to learn from really successful campaigns and by staying abreast with best practices.
I have deep activist roots so maintaining integrity in my work matters a great deal to me. At BoldLove, we only work with clients who share our beliefs; clients we feel passionate about. By contrast, if I worked for another PR agency, I would have no control over what clients or accounts I’d be responsible for—which meant I could end up working on projects that are diametrically opposed to my values. Some people are okay with that but I can’t do it, not in good conscience. There are plenty of PR agencies that just chase after the money. We’re not like that. We measure our success on a triple bottom line model: people, environment and profit. It’s all about the ethical hustle. We care about how we can make a difference by sharing stories that spark hope. We love working with visionaries who wrestle audacious goals that positively impact their communities and the world.
Just Say Yes
I think when you lead with your values, there are many incredible opportunities that open up and the key is intelligent risk-taking. Starting my own business was a risk, even saying yes to my first PR job was a risk. My first ever gig was the Juno’s closing party, where I worked directly with Dr. David Suzuki. He was my first client ever (laughs). I think there’s a certain magic that happens when you say yes to things. Obviously, you have to do the work and deliver, but there’s magic to be had when you just say yes. Saying yes leads to adventure and doing so has brought me plenty of omfg-is-this-for-real moments like walking several red carpet premieres at the Cannes Film Festival; having deep, philosophical conversations with artists that I’ve adored for years… it’s very surreal. All too often we get embroiled in self-sabotage and it’s easy to start telling yourself, “You’re not good enough to do this.” Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t but how will you find out if you don’t try? As long as you hustle hard to deliver outstanding work, you’ll be okay. Learn from the experience. Don’t stop yourself before you begin.
Vancouver needs a dose of real talk because I think that as a city we are unhealthily obsessed with prestige. The I’m-totally-perfect-I-woke-up-like-this facade is utter bullshit because it stunts progress and growth. And I kind of get where the aversion is coming from because growth is an uncomfortable process; it involves mistakes and pain. However, as a community, we need to honour each other’s wisdom and the things we learned the hard way—the fuck ups—and frankly talk about mistakes, without the baggage of shame. Because failure is just a pit stop on the road to success, and the sooner we realize that failure is an opportunity to pivot and evolve, the better off we are. That’s why I brought Fuckup Nights to Vancouver. It’s massively humanizing and cathartic to talk about one’s failures in a public setting. It takes an enormous amount of courage and vulnerability, which creates an intimate feeling of camaraderie in the room. It’s an opportunity to learn from each other and discuss big ideas. Each edition has been special in it’s own way because of the participating speakers’ hilarious tales and heart-wrenching confessions. All of our events have been sold-out so I think that’s a really strong indication that others share my sentiments.
One does not achieve success in isolation and it’s imperative to recognize what you’re willing to suffer through and for. A lot of people say, “I want to be successful” as they pine over big, lofty dreams. That’s okay. And you can go through the motions of creating a plan and executing it but at some point you have to ask yourself, what are you willing to suffer for? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to make it happen? How much blood, sweat and tears are you willing to pour out and for how long? Because it’s brutal. And there will be moments, especially in entrepreneurship, where you’ll be in what Tim Ferris refers to as “the pit of despair.” You know, those moments when you lay awake in the middle of the night asking, “Why the fuck am I doing this to myself? Why am I putting myself through this?” Some days, the odds are just stacked against you. And if you don’t feel passionate about what you’re doing, if you’re not truly committed to it, you will crumble under the pressure. The only way out of it is if you have a reason that’s bigger than yourself, a reason that surpasses the affectations and trappings of material possessions or fame. You need to have a reason that will anchor you.'