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How’d You Get In: Joe Baratelli

Posted on May 10, 2012 and read 2,146 times

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Joe Baratelli, Executive Vice President and Executive Creative Director of RPA, knows cars as well as he knows advertising. Joe grew up with Ford World Headquarters in his backyard, and the connections to the automobile industry have followed him ever since. To his benefit, however, given that Joe’s first job offer in the business was to work on an automobile account. Today Joe oversees the national and regional advertising for Honda automobiles and the company’s “Power of Dreams” corporate campaign in the U.S. Joe’s varied experience has allowed him to work with clients in the financial sector (Comerica Bank, Home Federal Bank, American Century Investments, Fidelity Federal Bank) to those in entertainment (VH1’s “Behind the Music,” Pioneer Electronics, Activision) to retail (La-Z-Boy, ampm, the Disney Store, SOYJOY), and of course, much experience in automobiles. In addition to Honda, Joe has helped to develop campaigns for Lincoln-Mercury, Acura, ARCO and Yokohama tires. This broad portfolio has filled up the hardware shelf, earning Joe ANDYs, Effies and Beldings, along with Graphis and “Communications Arts” awards. He has been a DGA member since 2000 and has been with RPA since 1986. That is true commitment to a company, nearly unheard of in the business today. But what brought him to RPA and how did Joe Baratelli get in?

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jbaratelli press122 Howd You Get In: Joe BaratelliLooking back, it seems fate had something to do with why I ended up in L.A., in advertising, spending more than 25 years working on Honda. I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, in the shadow of Ford World Headquarters. My mom went to Ringling School of Art in Florida, and my grandfather was an executive at Ford. Art and autos.

Serendipity may be a better word.

From an early age, I seemed to have a knack for art encouraged by my mother. Colorings showing up on the fridge.

High school found me at the only public school I know of, Edsel Ford, that taught humanities as a requirement. Art and music for all. Serendipity again. My class curriculums were composed of atypical segments in art history, painting, wood making – industrial design. I had the opportunity to learn about typesetting, offset printing – publishing our own newspaper, ads and all.

This, in conjunction with a fortuitous visit to downtown Detroit with my mom’s good friend, the business relations manager at the ad agency for Chrysler, showed me there was a living to be made in the world of advertising.

Like my mother, I decided art school was the collegiate path I wanted to pursue. As I found out, an expensive proposition for sure. But there just so happened to be one of the best design schools in the country in downtown Detroit: College for Creative Studies.

With my high-school portfolio in hand, I found myself in an interview with the admissions dean. After a quick glance at my book, she looked at me and said, “I see you as a graphic communications major.”

The College for Creative Studies, besides having professors who were working professionals, also had a great visiting artist program. I was able to meet the likes of Milton Glaser, Donald Judd and John Updike. My junior year led me to a semester abroad in Florence, Italy, where I studied Italian design and took a film course on Federico Fellini. My professor in the course had an infectious ability to bring out the story–telling in all of us. Which may have planted the seeds for my passion for directing.

Art school also steered me to an internship at Young & Rubicam, my first stint in agency life. Living in the paste-up room and cutting mats, with an opportunity now and then to lay out newspaper ads for local car dealers.

After Y&R, I took a job with a small design firm having visions of becoming the next Saul Bass, still exploring the choice of either design or advertising in my head.

As a graduation gift, my father gave me a free airline ticket to wherever I wanted to go. New York? California? California was the better deal. I flew to San Diego, where a family friend had become the account supervisor on the local McDonald’s business at Needham Harper Worldwide. He arranged for me to meet with the creative director of the Los Angeles office, Larry Postaer (the “P” in RPA).

After quite a wait in the lobby, I entered a smoke-filled corner office where the shades were drawn. Lucky for me I had all my work on slides with a portable light box. “Nice stuff” was the extent of the conversation.

Days later back in Detroit, I found that Larry had left a message with an offer.

I asked Larry, “Can I have a few days to think about it?”

“What do you need to do? Consult the Ouija board?” was his reply.

You see, the next day I had an interview at the GM design studio. I told them about Larry’s offer. “California? Honda? You’ve got to take it.” Needless to say, I took it.

Fate? Serendipity? Who knows?






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