Girl Friday: Katie Brucker
Photography by: Andrea Bricco
Katie Brucker is the brains behind KBPR, a public relations firm dedicated to representing chefs and restaurants in Los Angeles. We were introduced by a mutual friend over dinner at Church and State downtown LA, and the moment I sat across from Katie, I immediately knew I liked her. She’s engaging and charismatic, bright and funny. She and her then-fiance had me rapt in conversation. Being the food nerd that I am, I was captivated by her vast inside knowledge of the culinary world, especially that of all the restaurants currently on my ‘to-go’ list, where of course, she’s already dined. We chatted endlessly through dinner until our party was the last left in the entire restaurant, though the conversation could easily have lasted until the wee hours of the morning. So now, I share my then-unasked questions for Katie with all of you, in hope that you might be as inspired and charmed by her as I was.
Tell us a little about your childhood. Are you from California?
I am a true Southern California girl! I was born on the Central Coast and lived in Ventura through high school. Growing up, I was a really into dance. I started dancing at the age of 3 or 4 and danced well into high school… then became a cheerleader. But ballet was always my favorite. I was always making up dances and shows and plays to perform for my family. I guess you could say I was quite creative. Artistic, not so much. I may have been the only person in my high school to get a B in ceramics!
I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2003, with a degree in public relations and business. I loved going to college in the south. It was the quintessential college experience with football Saturdays and a city centered around the University. I was a Zeta Tau Alpha, and really involved with the sorority. I met some of my best friends in college. We’re all over the map now, but still very close. After graduating from school, I moved straight back to SoCal and have been here ever since. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
You’re a true gourmand. Tell us how you fell in love with cuisine. What are your favorite places to dine/dishes to eat?
Memories of food are some of the earliest I maintain. Both of my grandmothers are wonderful cooks. Every family holiday and get-together was, and still is, centered around food. We dined out a lot when I was a growing up too. My mom always had this saying: “The best thing to make for dinner is reservations,” although she had a few dishes that she made very well. Because of that, I was exposed at a very early age to a variety of global cuisines and interesting foods. In combination, dining in restaurants and watching my grandmothers prepare elaborate meals from scratch, helped develop a strong appreciation for food and flavor. Food has always been a very exciting world to me.
My mom always had this saying: “The best thing to make for dinner is reservations.”
Traveling really opened my eyes to food as well. I remember the first time I tried escargot at a French restaurant called Le Crocodile in Vancouver, BC. I loved it! When I told a few kids at school about it, my story was met with a resounding, “Eeeww!” I knew at that point that I wanted to eat everything I could, from every corner of the world! While studying abroad in Florence during college, I ate everything I could! I loved exploring Italian cuisine by the region. A few years ago, Nick and I went to Paris for nine days, and ate in twenty-three restaurants! Food has just been a major theme in every stage of my life.
Food doesn’t always have to be a fancy production. Actually, I prefer that it not be. I enjoy the essence of a fresh and well-balance dish. You can see the care that goes into even the simplest of dishes, and I appreciate that.
How did you come to work in public relations for restaurants/chefs?
My work has always been in public relations, although not always in the same industry. In college, I figured out that in the PR field, hands-on experience is invaluable, so I took an internship nearly every semester. I worked in the non-profit sector, at the agency level, and took on several business development projects. After graduation, I began freelancing for an agency that I had interned with to handle all of their LA-based clients. It turned out to be an awesome networking opportunity and I found my next position that way. After a brief stint in the entertainment industry, I found a position in the food world that I held for nearly eight years, before I started KBPR Group. The rest is history in the making!
How did you come to the decision to start your own PR firm? What challenges have you encountered as a small business owner? What benefits have you experienced?
Oh boy… Making the decision to start KBPR was certainly a process. I knew that I had found my niche in ‘food PR’ and in working closely with chefs, and I wanted to continue this on an elevated level. When I started thinking about what exactly it was that I could bring to the table, I found that while there were certainly a number of PR firms offering services to chefs and restaurants, no one else was offering the same concentration of service that I offered. I really took my time to ensure that I was laying a strong foundation on which to build not only my company, but the KBPR Group brand.
I feel like I see the benefits in being a business owner every day, simply because I love what I do
As a business owner, I have been fortunate that I have had a fantastic group of people whom I trust to go to if I need guidance. The best decision that I made was hiring a great accountant who taught me how to structure the finances of a small business, which can get quite tricky. Not to be too sentimental, but I feel like I see the benefits in being a business owner every day, simply because I love what I do. I am truly passionate about my work, and treat each of my clients as partners and their businesses as they are my own. I have a huge sense of pride in their work and seeing them succeed makes me happy.
What’s been one of the greatest challenges or rewards you’ve experienced while in the PR field?
Because I have been so blessed to work with a group of clients who I care so deeply about, the rewards have been plentiful! Seeing a restaurant full of diners, watching an interview flow effortlessly, reading an excellent review, celebrating an award nomination are all things that make me very proud. It makes me really happy to see my clients happy, to hear the excitement in their voice when they get a great press hit. That’s the coolest thing for me.
That being said, there is no reward that comes without a great amount of effort. Being good at this job requires me to have my finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing industry–at all times. My clients work hard and they trust me to advise them in a way that has their best interest in mind. I take that very seriously.
The PR field has changed drastically over the last decade as a result of social media. Now, we can reach the consumer directly, news is instantaneous, therefore feedback is too. It’s more of a conversation now. It’s great! It can be challenging though because there is a lot to keep up with not only with new trends in social media, but also in managing the ‘conversation’ in which you must be an active participant. And, you must be ready to hear what your audience has to say: the good, the bad and the ugly! Of course, traditional media is still so rich as well, and I see so much lasting value in that, but the ability to have direct contact with the audience provides valuable perspective in a totally new and different way.
Keeping up on media trends is only one tiny piece of the puzzle. In this field, you have to keep up on what’s happening in culinary trends as well. Sometimes trends fade quickly, and sometimes someone brings something to the table that creates a major wave in the industry, and an impact on how we eat as a whole. I work with my clients and members of the media to share news that not only fits current trends, but to forecast what the next trends may be. Maintaining strong and honest relationships with the media is so important. They’re the ones who are going to hear your ideas and give you feedback, place your stories and essentially embrace your clients and their goals. Right now, there is an outstanding group of people writing about food. It’s a very exciting time in the food world!
You are a brand-new newlywed! Congrats on your wedding last weekend! With the extremely busy schedules that you and your fiancée lead, how do you make time for each other?
Thank you! Nick and I are both very busy, but as strange as it sounds, it never feels like we need to work to make time for each other. We enjoy doing the same things, and really enjoy just hanging out with each other. Some nights that means getting dressed up and going out to dinner or meeting up with friends and some nights it means staying in and watching a movie or putting on our sweats and reading on our iPads next to each other on the couch. Either way, we talk a lot about a lot of things, and make sure that we talk about other things outside of work.
Planning a wedding is incredibly time consuming. How did you manage to make all those tedious decisions?
We must be really lucky with our planning, because aside from a few little bumps in the beginning of our planning, it’s all went very smoothly. Nick and I figured out what our “vision” was for our wedding day very early on, and just stuck with that. I see how it could be so easy to get carried away and go way over-the-top, but in the end, we know that it’s about our marriage and our day should be a reflection of us.
It may be because planning events is a very large part of what I do, but I was very conscious of our timeline and made decisions accordingly. We worked with a lot of people who we trust – the coordinators at Vibiana, the chef preparing our meal, our photographer, our florist, and that’s made a huge difference too. I worked with a planner who has been a partner of mine on several event projects before. She was my saving grace in the final stretch, and certainly day-of!
How has your relationship with top-rated chefs influenced the choices for your wedding menu? We’re dying to know what you served. Tell us, please!
When Nick and I got engaged, we decided very early on what was most important to us for our wedding day. Aside from being surrounded by the people we love, food was top on the list! Our menu was very seasonally influenced, and very California. We served a market lettuce salad with California citrus and avocado, a fish course of wild salmon with cauliflower puree and a variety of beets, and a meat course with grilled steak and porcini mushrooms with sautéed pea tendrils and asparagus. The very talented pastry chefs, and very good friends of ours,
we decided very early on what was most important to us for our wedding day. aside from being surrounded by the people we love, food was top on the list!
Dahlia Narvaez and Nancy Silverton, made our cake. Nick and I have both worked with them for so many years, and having them make our wedding cake is just such a treat. Earlier in the evening, during cocktail hour, we served handcrafted charcuterie from our friend Chef Chad Colby, and cheese procured from our friend and favorite cheese expert, Laura Werlin. There are just so many people who came together to ensure that our culinary vision was realized; the meal was very special, and very personal to us. We enlisted our very good friend, and client partner of mine, Chef Bryant Ng to create our wedding menu. Nick and I both worked with Bryant in opening Pizzeria Mozza and we are not only huge fans of his vast repertoire of cooking, but of him as a person.
You travel frequently for work. What are some of your travel tips? What are your on-board essentials?
I do! I love to travel in general, but when traveling for work, I take a totally different approach…there is way more planning and organization involved. I always print all of my itineraries and booking confirmations and carry them with me in an envelope. I use that same envelope for all of my travel receipts. It makes organizing expenses so much easier upon return to the office! I also program all of my meetings and dinner reservations into my cell phone calendar including the address, contact name, email and phone number, and any special instructions (anything from extra security requirements to a must-try dish at a specific restaurant). And I always have a point and shoot camera, Tums, Band Aids and a Sharpie. You can never be too prepared! ☺
Even though a coast-to-coast flight can provide hours of uninterrupted work, I highly suggest trying to sleep on the plane. You may never get those 5 hours back on the ground! I always take an inflatable pillow on-board with me. In the event that I don’t sleep, I always have my laptop, iPod, iPad and reading material. And L’Occitane Hand Crème.
How would you describe your style? What role does fashion play in your life?
I would describe my style as more classic. I certainly don’t consider myself ‘trendy.’ I prefer clothes with clean lines. I know what fits, and stick to designers whose clothes fit me well. I swear, I have a few pieces in my wardrobe that I’ve had for fifteen years! I have a tendency to invest in pieces that are well-made and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion, and I add fun pieces in here and there, too.
Do you plan to have children in the future? If so, how do you plan to balance your career and family?
Yes, we definitely want to have children. We love kids! Nick and I both grew up with a very strong sense of family, and family is very important to us. I wish that I had a way to glimpse into the future and tell you exactly how I plan to ‘do it all,’ but at this point, my answer would be SO naïve! I just hope that when our time comes to have a family, we will be able to offer our child (or children) the opportunity to explore their interests and learn and travel and eat in the same way that we were and are able to. All I do know is that our children are going to be surrounded by lots of love.
What advice do you have for younger women following in your footsteps?
Be curious! Read a lot. Taste everything! Talk to people about what they do, even if it’s not industry-related, ask questions. Sometimes a fresh perspective sparks a great idea!
And be kind to people. Be a good friend. Maintaining relationships is so important in this industry, and in life in general. The world becomes very small, very fast, and a lot of people have very long memories.
How do you envision your future?
In the next year, I see Nick and I spending a lot of time with our friends and family. I see myself traveling to some new and exciting places. I see KBPR Group growing and the team expanding. I see sharing successes with my clients.
Beyond that, I hope to continue to make decisions, personally and professionally, that will contribute to a happy and healthy and successful future.
Girl Friday is a phrase more common to the 1940s and 50s, defined as “a female employee who has a wide range of duties,” and is most recognizable from the film His Girl Friday. Here at Move LifeStyle, we’re resurrecting its saucy vibe for the title of our last column of the week which profiles inspiring women in the workforce. If you like this series, click here for more Girl Friday Interviews.