Maybe you’ve seen her on the local news, at political rallies around the state, or on the University of Montana campus.
Kathy Weber-Bates, 37 and a mother of two, works mostly out of her home these days on Missoula’s Westside, directing the public relations and communications firm she founded in 2015. Since then, Starhitch Strategic Communications has promoted Sarah Calhoun’s Red Ants Pants clothing manufacturer, music festival and foundation in White Sulphur Springs; this winter’s Vienna International Ballet Experience in Missoula; Imagine Nation Brewing and Big Dipper Ice Cream in Missoula, and a Bozeman technology firm called Wisetail.
It’s a diversity of interests that Weber-Bates says reflects her own core values.
“Really what I aim to do is help small businesses and nonprofits better tell their stories,” she said. “I know it sounds basic, but I think in this world of so many different platforms, it’s hard for a lot of businesses to figure out: What’s the best way to tell my story, and where, and how?’”
Weber graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in broadcast journalism in 2001 and a masters in political science a year later. For the rest of the decade she worked in TV news – at CBS affiliates in Billings and Missoula's KPAX, and later as main anchor and assistant news director at KULR back in Billings.
The political field beckoned in 2010. Max Baucus was winding down his long career in the U.S. Senate and convinced Weber to become his communications director. Weber-Bates and husband Joe Bates moved the family back to Missoula from Billings in 2013 to be closer to her parents, Jerry and Lusie Weber. After Baucus resigned his Senate seat to become U.S. ambassador to China in early 2014. Weber-Bates became communications director for John Lewis’ run for the U.S. House. Lewis lost in the general election to Republican Ryan Zinke.
Among the record nine nominations Weber-Bates received for the Missoulian’s 20-Under-40 section, was one from Lewis – “Kathy raised our campaign to another level. She is the best and the business” – and another from his wife Melissa, who called her “one of the most professional, intelligent and coolest people I know.”
Weber-Bates is also a teacher. Her father met her mother while in the Peace Corps in the Fiji Islands. She draws from her own experience growing up Polynesian in Montana in a Diversity in the Media class she teaches at UM.
“In developing this course, Kathy became a very articulate advocate for discussion of diversity issues on campus,” said Larry Abramson, dean of the UM journalism school. “She turned her course into a statewide discussion on this very sensitive topic.”
Weber-Bates ties all those experiences together at Starhitch to promote the “right” kind of enterprises.
"I want to use my skills to help businesses that are giving back and see Montana as a stakeholder," she said. “I think Montana is like a secret weapon for a lot of businesses, and I’m really proud to help shout from the mountaintop what a great place this is to do business.”