This story was co-written by Stephanie Schiff.
In today’s corporate environment, it’s rare that employees have visibility to the CEO. Most leaders are busy steering the ship and avoiding icebergs, so it can be challenging for employees to get to know their captains (aka, CEOs) on a more intimate level. However, at rbb, we are lucky that our CEO remains accessible to every employee, no matter their position on the totem pole.
While we all know rbb’s CEO and unicorn, Christine Barney, is a Christmas fanatic and have heard about some of her funny experiences working with Bruce Rubin, we wanted to take advantage of her open-door policy for a deeper dive into her background, passions and career expertise.
Read on for our next installment of our rbb “Behind the Scenes” series, as we sat down to chat with Christine to learn more about the multi-faceted entrepreneur herself and her unique traits that make her shine.
1. How’d you get started in the industry?
I am an accidental communications professional. After beginning my career in radio and television in upstate New York, I quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit. I met with a headhunter to explore my career options and landed an opportunity at Burson-Marsteller in NYC. That’s when I realized I had the perfect mix of attributes to succeed in a long-term PR career (presentation, writing and strategic thinking skills).
2. How’d you get started at rbb?
Another accident. When I was 26-years-old, my husband got a job in Miami, and it was my turn to move. My boss at Burson-Marsteller knew Bruce from PRSA Counselors Academy and said that Bruce Rubin Associates (rbb’s original name) was the only shop that worked like a NY firm – so that’s where I set my sights.
3. Can you share an uncomfortable or embarrassing experience from when you were first starting out?
During the phone interview, Bruce told me to meet at his hotel in NYC at 7 (I assumed 7 p.m. because what type of lunatic meets for an interview at 7 a.m.?). I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a stranger at a hotel in the evening, so I brought my husband along. However, when I showed up, Bruce had already long been checked out! It turns out, he indeed meant 7 a.m. and I missed the interview. We still argue about that to this day.
4. In business, what are you known for?
My public speaking and presentation strategy. I’m a highly effective communicator who can tell it like it is, in a way that’s easy to understand.
5. What are three trends we can expect to see in communications in 2019?
- Everything will be faster. People expect instant gratification, are multitasking constantly and lose interest quickly.
- Marketing will be more niche and targeted toward making emotional connections with consumers.
- “PR” alone is no longer enough; integrated communications strategies will be the key to success.
6. How do you approach networking events?
The number one thing to make networking more efficient is to prepare. If available, look at the list of attendees in advance and research them. Have a plan of who you want to speak with.
Also, networking is a long-term process. I take notes (in a pad or back of the biz card) about who I spoke with to help me remember details of our conversations. I always upload these notes to my vCards in Outlook and use them when I follow up with the contact to make a deeper connection and continue the dialog. For example, I might note, the person just sent off their first child to college and in my next conversation might say how is X liking school or how are you managing being an empty nester?
7. What’s your greatest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?
When we started rbb (after buying it back from Weber Shandwick) in 2001, we made the decision to always compete in a higher weight class. I mean, we had seven employees and created an intranet! But we did that because we knew someday, we would have more employees and that it’s harder to go back and put procedures in place after the fact.
It was a challenge finding a balance between having the mentality of a big agency but offering the flexibility and freedom of an entrepreneurial firm. By thinking big, we were able to overcome bumps in the road, and created the firm we wanted, the way we wanted. We even were named “Boutique PR Agency of the Year” by PR WEEK in 2005, just four years after establishing our independence.
8. What is your one piece of advice you’d give to a young professional entering the industry?
It’s all about adding value. What are you famous for? How can you stand out? Identify the skills that you do best and make sure people see how you can benefit the firm, its clients and the team.
9. Bookworm or TV addict?
10. Shark diving, bungee jumping, or sky diving?
None of the above; I am a first-class chicken.
11. What kind of traveler are you and what are your top travel tips?
I never really traveled until I was 40 years old, but as my kids got older, I had an epiphany that we should travel as a family and now I take at least 3-4 trips a year.
My secret to traveling efficiently is I never check a bag- even when going skiing or leaving the country for weeks. I can’t tell you the number of times that taking just a carry-on piece of luggage has made my travel experience easier!
Other travel tips:
- Get TSA pre-check and global entry- time is money.
- Ship large souvenirs instead of bringing them back with you; they are less likely to break if properly packed rather than stuffed in a suitcase.
- Limit color scheme to two or three so all your clothes can be mixed and matched.
- No more than two pairs of shoes, one in the bag and one on your feet (flip flops don’t count since you can squeeze them in an outer suitcase pouch).
- Bring crushable clothes or use tissue paper in between clothing that is likely to wrinkle.
12. Name one food you absolutely despise.
Peanut Butter. I’m not allergic but I hate the smell.
13. Best concert you’ve ever been to?
Prince. I went in the late 1990s with my step daughter and embarrassed her because went in a purple tube dress!
14. Morning person or night owl?
Morning person. I haven’t had to set an alarm in 20 years- I just naturally wake in the morning and am ready to go.
15. Sushi or Italian?
I’m half Italian but I must admit, I love sushi more.
16. Do you have any phobias?
While I’m not afraid of heights, I have a fear of falling.
17. If your name was an acronym, what would it stand for?
C– Christmas lover
H– Half full, not empty
R– Renaissance women
S– Speed reader (reads two books a week)
I – I love family
N– Nester (I’m a homebody)
18. What are hobbies are you passionate about?
I enjoy sewing and embroidering. I have mastered DIY projects, as anyone who saw my unicorn Halloween costume can attest.
I am also obsessed with Christmas and have an extensive compilation of Christmas collector items, as you can see in this video of all of my decorated Christmas trees. I do all the decorating myself, unless I can force a family member to help. I am a member of the Hallmark Ornament Club, and start picking out ornaments in July. Everywhere I travel, I find a Christmas store to add an ornament to my unique collection.
19. If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day, who would it be?
Jeff Bezos. Not only do I love Amazon and use it almost daily, (yes, I’ve even ordered toothpaste online to avoid shopping at a store), but I think Bezos is an interesting person who has built the world’s most useful company. I liked him even more when he bought the Washington Post. I would love to spend a day in his shoes and I’m sure he’d enjoy coming back to Florida for a day.
20. Most importantly, white or red wine?
Neither. I’d prefer prosecco. I’ve been told I’m a cheap date 😊.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know our fearless (except for her fear of falling) leader with these 20 questions. Interested in learning more? Comment your questions below and Christine will respond!