Dan Ratner is the Founder and Managing Director of uberbrand, branding and communications agency that has worked with brands like TAFE NSW, Suncorp, Equifax and more.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
In the 90’s I studied industrial design and was always fascinated by the way humans interacted with objects.
That evolved towards looking at human behaviour and insight to drive outcomes more broadly and this shifted me into communications. I applied this as a creative, but found myself asking ‘why,’ which led to market research and ultimately into strategy.
Common throughout for me was seeing a disconnect between the strategy developed and what was executed and communicated in-market, which drove me to the creation of uberbrand.
The idea around uberbrand was how can we align and deeply integrate the strategic thought and key insight with execution, so we’ve developed processes to connect strategic thinking into tangible outcomes like the creation of brand identities, big ideas, advertising campaigns and communications.
My role covers designing process, ideating, directing, refining and interrogating. It takes the form of thinking, preparing, reviewing, presenting and facilitating.
Though 10 years after founding uberbrand, I’m now much more conscious of using my experience to see our people grow; and now I’m really enjoying watching them build their careers from my strategy-led philosophy.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent work day?
These days, I wake up early and I love to brew coffee. I grind my own coffee beans, it’s a ritual, a moment to take some time to think and read in quiet. I go for a walk to relax and clear my mind, then I’m ready to begin my workday.
Whilst every day is different, I believe Interaction is important, so I make time to be available for people by providing input or sharing guidance wherever I can add value.
Outside of that, these days it’s important I spend time with my family. Previously when uberbrand was a lot younger, I’d find myself working long days, often with no break, but now I value the time I spend with family.
So, I try to get home to be present, and recently I’ve discovered cooking, and I really love that look of appreciation from my kids when I serve up a good meal.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote work here? If so, how does that fit into your life here?
Yes, we’re building flexibility into our work-life at uberbrand. In July we decided to give up our office and move into a coworking space, specifically to encourage flexibility and remote working.
We’ve embraced flexible working to such an extent that we’ve designed the office without enough seats for all the staff that we employ. Everyone hot desks and we welcome our team working from home, remotely or around our shared office space to encourage flexibility.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
We work in a creative and strategic space. You can’t put thinking under pressure, it doesn’t generate quality. Ideas need to percolate, evolve and iterate.
Prior to embracing flexible working there was an expectation that we would work from 9am to 5:30pm, and the consequences affected output; now that we’re no longer working to a daily deadline that would disrupt the creative process, I’ve seen our output and quality step-up to a new level.
It means I absolutely encourage a healthy work-life balance, and that needs to start with me. This year I’ve learned that I can fully trust our team. As a consequence, it’s released me to embrace my own work-life balance, as I don’t have to worry about what they’re doing and when they’re doing it, as I know they’re creating outstanding work. That’s a massive shift.
And we all benefit from the flow-on effect; stronger output, higher quality, happier people, a better culture and a team prepared to take on more responsibility, which perpetuates a better work-life balance for everybody.
5) In the past 12 months have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Absolutely, how can you have this conversation without speaking about COVID-19? Everybody knows that COVID has changed how we work, and we’ve embraced that forever; for me nothing’s ever going to go back to the way it was. In the last 12 months we’ve changed the way that we do things.
So, have we shifted our habits? Absolutely.
I’m embracing a more balanced, healthier lifestyle. I’ve made sure that my eating habits have improved, I’m exercising more, I’m spending more time with my family and we’re all better for it.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts, or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Most of what influences me is about how your story, purpose, vision, experience and brand identity aligns, as creating a very clear line of sight informs what you look like, say and do.
I greatly respect a handful of key pieces that have been utilised in our processes and are drawn from some great thinking. There’s Harvard-type thinking in our business alignment piece, we also utilise the simplification of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, but with a real emphasis on what a ‘why’ truly is and how it drives Purpose.
Is there a book that I lean on? I voraciously read everything that’s worth reading, but naming one is tricky. There are a few that I recommend, and a few that delve into the style of work we produce.
I always have time for Paul Ardern’s book It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be. It’s a simple book that helps start people up – I particularly like the pages on opportunity. With regard to the type of work we do, it’s more often intangible, so I’ve always loved Harry Beckwith Selling The Invisible.
7) Are there any products, gadgets, or apps that you can’t live without?
I’m living a busy lifestyle with three kids, lots going on, so I need to be connected. Broadly speaking I find it hard to live without my iPhone but that doesn’t mean that I live and die by it. I love mid-century design, and that comes from early in my career.
It accelerated when I was working at News Interactive in the late 90’s. As part of that role I took a deep dive into online auctions. I discovered how they provided a catalogue of niche knowledge that rapidly accelerated my insight and had me really fall down the rabbit hole of my interests.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Ray and Charles Eames. Whilst their furniture was ground-breaking, it was enabling a new lifestyle and they set a tone for the way people live today, encapsulating an ethos around lightness, materials and accessibility.
They were a married couple who strove for a vision together, their work wasn’t just a pursuit for them, it was a lifestyle. Their influence on contemporary work-life balance is incalculable, imagine having a conversation with them today.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
There’s a point in your career where it’s not really about you as an individual as much as it’s about the great people around you. Seeing them do their best work and knowing that you’ve been able to provide a structure and environment for them to pursue their success, that becomes your enabler.
We create brands of influence, brands that influence the world that they operate in, so why wouldn’t that be true for me as a leader of an agency filled with people trying to do that; why wouldn’t I be trying to create people of influence? That’s how I can achieve my vision for work-life balance.
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