With piercing blue eyes, an Annie Hall-style hat and arms full of tattoos, Kat Formidoni Butler is not necessarily what you picture when you envision a successful business owner, but she’s that – and more. Kat Formidoni Butler is the founder and owner of Blast PR, the leading PR firm in the ad tech/mar-tech space. Blast’s enviable client list includes dozens of companies the agency has led to happy endings that include IPOs, successful acquisitions by larger tech players or significant funding.
With a degree in zoology and botany (with a focus in ornithology) she landed her first industry job while working at an animal shelter. She later found herself in a marketing manager position and had a chance meeting with an entrepreneur at a coffee shop. That chance meeting and their shared love of birding, (discovered when she accurately identified his startup Accipiter as a bird of prey), turned into the springboard for her storied career. Butler, with only a little bit of marketing experience under her belt, was hired to head up PR. Within two years, the ad-serving company grew from 19 to nearly 100 and was sold to CMGI Engage, a larger player in the same space. Those were exciting days in the industry. “It was the second half of the 90s and still pre-boom,” says Butler. “We actually gathered around a computer and watched the very first ad go live!”
In year two, problems – and layoffs – began as the dot com bubble burst. Butler found herself nearly alone in her department and getting a rapid-fire, hands-on education in corporate PR. With her company moving operations to Boston, Butler took the time to step back and reassess the next steps in her career.
“I got a phone call asking me if I could consult for this former executive. And then I got another call, and another – and suddenly I had three clients in one week,” Butler recounts. “It just took off from there.” Before she knew it, she had more clients than she could manage single-handedly. “At that point, my biggest problem was scalability, and I knew it was time to start hiring.”
Today, Butler’s staff has grown to nearly 20 employees making Blast a thriving boutique agency. She now resides in California, and her team is spread out across the country. If you ask her what her secret to success is, she has a few answers. The first is that she’s had remarkable staff retention. Blast’s early hires were interns that she trained herself and promoted over the years. Many of those early, home-grown hires are still with her and now hold senior positions within the company.
But there’s more to it than just training, of course. “It’s important that we treat our team with incredible respect. These are human beings who are coming in every single day and doing so much more than punching a clock. This is their life, their job here, and we appreciate it because they’re our life force.” Butler adds that despite the team being scattered across the country, their closeness is important to both the company culture and its productivity. “We all look and lean to each other like we’re family. This does feel like a big family – and of course, it is.”
Blast’s customer retention has also been admirable – particularly given how volatile the ad tech industry is. “The key,” she says, “is excellent customer service and our really smart, breakout strategic planning.” She also credits her team’s unparalleled outbound pitching and media relationships. Having been in the space “longer than most reporters,” Blast has become a trusted resource for many publications and analysts.
When asked to reflect on her past, she contends that she has no regrets. “I just don’t operate from a place of regret,” she says. “Over the 20 years I’ve been running the business, I’ve definitely learned from the good, but sometimes you learn even more from the bad.”
Her advice to other women considering entrepreneurship? “Be fearless,” she says. “When I look back, I’m amazed at how brave I was! It was brave to make the decisions I did, and it took courage to go out there on a limb with no parachute. I didn’t have a big severance package. I didn’t have any experience running a company,” Butler says. “I just believed.” And maybe that’s the real secret to Blast PR’s success right there.
Kathleen ‘Kat’ Butler founded Blast in 2000, and has been providing solid strategic counsel and creative direction across the client base ever since. Previous to founding Blast, she was an early entrant to the internet and is considered an internet oldtimer. She was with Engage when they went public in the late 90’s and used it as a jumping point to found the agency in Raleigh NC. Kat graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.S. in Zoology. She makes her home in the mountains of Santa Ynez CA. She owns and operates an animal rescue ranch and has saved countless horses, chickens, and dogs.