To be perfectly honest, I was a little intimidated before my meeting with Kurt Bardella. The former Capitol Hill staffer turned business owner has become a household name among Washingtonians ‘in the know’ over the summer, mainly out of notoriety. With that said, whether you love him or hate him, this guy’s resume is damn impressive and after talking to him for an hour I was quite taken by his passion for politics and entrepreneurial spirit.
Bardella first came to Capitol Hill as an impressionable 22-year old staffer in 2006 to work for Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray, where he cut his teeth in politics learning the way Congress and the media operate. After a brief stint working for Senator Olympia Snowe, Bardella made his fame as the press secretary who put the ambitious Republican Congressman Darrell Issa on the map.
After such a meteoric rise came the inevitable fall where Bardella became subject to what he described as the “whims of the political environment.” He went from topping POLITICO’s list of “50 Politicos to Watch” in 2009 to topping the Washington tabloids for inappropriately leaking information to political journalists in February of 2011, and was promptly fired by Issa. Considering this is Washington, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, it wasn’t too long before Bardella was rehired by Issa within six months from his firing.
But after all that aforementioned scandal, I went to speak with Bardella about something much more optimistic: After seven years spent at the Rayburn building from dawn until dusk, Bardella has taken the next step of his self-described “adventure” to start his own strategic communications firm.
Endeavor Strategic Communications is “about having the flexibility and freedom to choose your own adventure,” Bardella said. “I’m building something to work with the people I want to work with. There is nothing like the ability to work with good friends.” Bardella certainly has made the connections necessary for his new venture to be a success, not to mention the talent and skills to back it up. As a Millennial (Bardella turns 30 this month), he has developed a digital savvy just from the day to day social interactions that take place online that have become typical and intrinsic to this generation. Endeavor Strategic Communications is designed to shake up the way traditional PR is done by leveraging big data and digital content to temper their efforts, as well as focusing on social media strategies tailored to promote audience engagement and interaction.
Bardella is the first to admit that the federal government is the slowest to adapt to new technologies, and that the Republican Party, which he worked for on Capitol Hill, is particularly behind the times when it comes to using technology to add value to their message. Just one month out the gate however, Endeavor Strategic Communications has already signed contracts with leaders in the government, media, tech, and advocacy industries. Quite a start for someone with no prior entrepreneurial experience.
Bardella’s plethora of experience working on Capitol Hill as well as his well-connected status in Washington is certainly a big reason for his so far easy success. “Anything worth building takes work and effort, but it’s made easier by availing yourself to the human capital around you,” Bardella said. “Washington is a city of extraordinarily brilliant, talented, and ambitious people compressed in a two mile radius. That’s pretty unique.”
Bardella’s excitement and confidence when talking about Endeavor Strategic Communications were both palpable and incredibly inspiring. The famously energetic talker seemed to have all the optimism in the world that by this time next year, his new venture would be an industry leader in D.C. The only time he took a breath during our talk was when I asked him if he had any fears for the future.
He paused and took a sip of his Coke. “I guess I’m worried about maintaining the ability to grow, and continued upward growth. It won’t always be this easy,” Bardella said. “But I know I can live with myself at the end of the day.”
In many ways, Kurt Bardella is the success story for an entire generation of young politicos who moved to Washington after being raised on the idealism and fast-paced excitement of “The West Wing.” I asked Bardella what advice he would have for other young professionals looking to emulate his quick success in this town. “Keep your options open,” was his response. “You never know when someone will offer you a ride, and you’ll want to take that ride.”
Sagacious advice from a man who, in less than ten years, has gone from inexperienced politico to the owner of what is sure to be one of the most sought after communications firms in Washington.