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Leading with Impact: Matt Kucharski’s Journey to Success at Padilla

Published on December 12, 2023, 11:33 p.m.
by Jillian Middleton.

In the ever-changing landscape of public relations, Matt Kucharski stands as a symbol of leadership and innovation, creating success as the president of Padilla, a leading PR agency practicing strategic communications and brand storytelling.

The turning point

Kucharski claimed his journey in the PR and advertising industry began with an internship in the employee communications

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department at CRAY research, a supercomputer company. That opportunity led to a second internship in marketing communications at First Bank (now U.S. Bank), all while earning a degree in print journalism and business with a marketing emphasis from the University of Wisconsin River Falls.

But with all of this experience under his belt, Kucharski didn’t know if he was headed in the right direction. “You know, honestly early on in my career, I wasn’t really sure that this was for me,” he said. He struggled to find the purpose behind his work, and strived to make an impact with what he was doing.

It wasn’t until a transformative company retreat where he learned from mentors such as Pat Jackson, considered one of the founding fathers of PR, that Kucharski fully understood the power of communication to change behavior. “He gave a presentation on behavioral public relations, and what he said was ‘If what you’re doing isn’t causing people to change behavior, that it’s a waste of time.’” Previous Padilla leaders like CEO John Beardsley and Lynn Casey played pivotal parts in influencing his career trajectory.

Climbing the ranks

In March of 1989, Kucharski joined the Padilla family straight out of school as an assistant account executive. He worked hard to climb the ladder, eventually landing the role of president in mid-2018.

Throughout the years, he has witnessed Padilla’s tremendous growth from a 35-employee agency to a powerhouse with over 200 professionals. Some key milestones include strategic acquisitions of FoodMinds, CRT/Tanaka, Joe Smith (a brand consulting firm), as well as Padilla’s sale to AVENIR Global, a family-owned Canadian holding company, in 2018.

Kucharski has developed his own leadership style throughout his career; it is an accumulation of lessons learned, he said. He

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leads in small, courageous steps. His methods leave room for unpredictability and have equipped others, including his employees, to excel.

“Very few people come out of the womb a leader,” Kucharski said. “You have to lead in little bits first, then lead a little bit more, then a little bit more. Take on and seek out additional responsibilities that put you in those leadership positions.”

Tina Charpentier, executive vice president of client experience at Padilla, described Kucharski’s leadership style as “very purposeful.” She said, “He really thinks through things to make sure that he’s imagining all of the potential scenarios and solutions, and how they might impact people and our clients.”

His mantra revolves around creating an environment that gives his employees the ability to do their best work, fostering positivity and, in turn, satisfying clients.

Embracing change

Kucharski has witnessed the industry’s evolution throughout his career. He has found excitement in the use of data and analytics to target diverse audiences and the resurgence of storytelling. “To me, being innovative is in part being curious and learning about things that maybe are different than what’s in your comfort zone,” said Kucharski. To stay ahead, Padilla seeks work beyond its comfort zone, motivated by relationships with clients and its commitment to looking ahead to what’s next.

“He’s really good at keeping up with news and trends. He’s a voracious reader and listener, and consumer of information and data. He will see things in all of this that others haven’t necessarily seen,” Charpentier explained.

Delivering promises

Action, communication and reputation are the three words Kucharski lives by when it comes to maintaining strong client

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“It’s communicating in a way that gets people to change their behavior, and I keep that in mind even today, because everything that we do in our field is about getting people to understand what’s going on with the company, getting them to appreciate it, and ultimately getting them to act — understand, appreciate it and act,” Kucharski said.

Padilla’s success, he believes, is reliant on delivering what is promised, asking questions and ensuring mutually beneficial relationships.

Stay curious

Young professionals have a lot to learn from Kucharski’s career. Whether it be because they are unsure about the path they are on, or they hope to work their way up to a leadership position, Kucharski asserted that the key is staying curious. Stay flexible and recognize the significance of writing as a tool for structuring thoughts, he said.

Outside of his career, Kucharski likes to turn to outdoor activities, like bird hunting and scuba diving, that help contribute to mindfulness and a broader perspective on life.

In the coming years, Kucharski sees Padilla growing in multiple dimensions — both professionally and in its range of capabilities. The industry is constantly evolving, and his ultimate goal is the success and expansion of the organization, creating an environment where his employees can thrive and contribute to Padilla’s ongoing success.

“Padilla and its past leaders helped to shape his career and leadership style, and he is repaying the favor by shaping what Padilla has and will become in the future,” Charpentier said.

As he continues to lead with experience, innovation and a commitment to people, Kucharski leaves an ever-lasting impact on Padilla and the leaders who will follow him.

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