NAME: Kelly Muller (nee Barriball)
COMPANY: Kelly Muller Consulting
TITLE(S): Marketing and PR Consultant
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? A passionate, determined, mindful, working mama.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? For as long as I remember, I have wanted to be a writer. So, after doing a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University in Wellington where I majored in Media, Communications and English, I crossed the ditch to embark on a career in journalism. I started off in dispatch at the now defunct publishing company EMAP, thinking it was at least a foot in the door. After a month, I was bored out of my brain and things weren’t progressing as quickly as I’d hoped (demanding much?!), so I applied for a job in PR. I actually had no idea what PR was but the advertisement said writing skills were essential so I thought, why not?! The role was business-to-business specialising in events and exhibitions, however after a year, I applied for a consumer facing job where I was able to express myself more creatively. It was then that I realised how important it is to really love what you do.
The job I interviewed for was at Maxted Thomas PR and it was admittedly too senior for my skillset but the Director, Ian Thomas, must have seen something in me as he created a junior role for me. I haven’t told Ian nearly enough, but his belief in me was one of the most significant moments of my career to date. Not only did it motivate me to deliver above and beyond, it allowed me to adopt a ‘sink or swim’ attitude that has shaped me into the senior executive I am today. My time with MTPR was cut short when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I moved home to New Zealand so I could be with her during her treatment and worked for a couple of integrated agencies – specialising in marketing, design, web and PR – which allowed my passion for strategy to really develop.
While back in New Zealand, I also launched my own online vintage clothing store, Gran’s Loose Change, for a bit of fun and to keep myself busy. I scoured the op shops, styled the pieces then sold them online. I also partnered with a friend and we launched The Little Big Markets, (basically, a much smaller version of the Bondi Markets), which she has grown into amazing things today.
After three years in NZ and with Mum in remission, my then boyfriend (and now husband) and I moved to Sydney. Things had changed dramatically in the PR and communications space and digital was now at the forefront. I spent some time as a strategist in a digital agency to develop my skillset and then accepted the role of PR and Communications Manager at ModelCo Cosmetics. After 18 months I moved across to Digital Marketing Manager and after almost two and a half years in total, I left ModelCo to be the Marketing Director at one of Australia’s fastest growing e-tailers, Stylerunner.
Almost a year and a half later, I found out that I was pregnant. I naively thought I would return to work 3-4 months after she was born because ‘I loved to work’ and despite not having any family to help out, we’d just make it work. However, once I had Sunny, I realised how important my role as a mama was, and it also allowed me to reassess the way in which I was working. Prior to Sunny, I’d made sacrifices that affected my family’s end goal, and was doing really long hours to build someone else’s dream. Having my daughter gave me the clarity I needed around what was important. When she’s awake, I want to be present. I want to watch her grow and help her to learn and I just want to make sure she’s happy, thriving and loved. For me, that means being at home with her. A couple of contacts started chatting to me about doing some work for them and I realised that this was the solution! I launched my own consultancy when Sunny was three months old and it means I can consult with brands I love and am passionate about whilst being there 100% for Sunny. I currently head up the PR for Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning’s AMAZING debut brand P.E Nation as well as look after The Clinic in Bondi Junction. I’m also working on projects with F + H Jewellery and Zulu and Zephyr. It’s an exciting time and I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings!
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? I am a solutions focused Marketing and PR specialist who knows how to get shit done – and how to do it well.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) The intention was to move to Sydney to be a journalist so I’m not doing exactly what I thought I would, but I wouldn’t change my path for anything. I have a broad skillset and it is one that allows me to deliver across many touchpoints in a manner that I am extremely proud of. I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason and I think my career experiences have been part of the journey I’m meant to have. I still get to write – I’m currently the Parenting and Style Contributor for Not So Mumsy and a Contributor for my all time favourite website, My Domaine Australia.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? While I was at Stylerunner, I led the marketing and ecomm teams and I loved seeing them grow. It was what I considered one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my role. Every year, Stylerunner awards a Lion of the Year. This person is recognised as contributing above and beyond to the business and they win a $2500 travel voucher. In 2015, our ecomm manager Torah - and my direct report - won the award and I have never felt more successful in my life.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)? Personally, my husband Josh and I want to show Sunny the world. In the past few years we’ve been back and forth to New Zealand, to Bali, we’ve spent a month in the US and we had a babymoon of sorts in Hawaii. The States (again) and somewhere tropical are next on the list then there’s Europe, the Maldives, India, Asia….the list goes on. We’re just so excited to do it all with our daughter. I also really want an Audi A4 Station Wagon!! Haha!!
Professionally, I want to continue to build my name and reputation with integrity. I am open to wherever things may take me but it is integral to me that I do so honestly, respectfully and without any fluff. I feel like things are only just getting started!
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Media, Communications and English at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand but to be honest, I couldn’t tell you what I did in those three years. What it did teach me, was life experience. In New Zealand, there are basically four universities in the entire country. At just 18 years old, it’s the norm to not only move out of home but to move cities where you’re suddenly on your own, studying, working, paying rent, paying bills and figuring life out. Having a degree helped with entry level jobs back in my day but the most important skill it taught me was how to handle the ebbs and flows life throws at you.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Signing Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for ModelCo was an incredibly proud moment. I don’t believe any other Australian brand has had an ambassador with the following of Rosie. Shelley Barrett (ModelCo CEO) and I deliberated for months over who to sign but we were both sold on Rosie from the start. Signing a brand ambassador isn’t just about signing a pretty face; it requires strategic planning, excellent time management and event management skills, and the ability to juggle many things at once.
More recently, I looked after the PR for the debut P.E Nation show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and was pretty damn happy with the results. Not only was P.E featured far and wide, I negotiated several exclusive stories pre-show, with the results attracting international retailers and an increase in sales for the brand. I managed to do it predominantly from home, with Sunny in tow and running off a couple of hour’s broken sleep (until recently, my daughter wasn’t the best sleeper). It was then that I realised absolutely anything is possible if you truly want to make it happen.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? Currently, my workspace is our dining room table. It’s really not that exciting or inspiring but it allows me to work within range of Sunny while she’s sleeping. Until we move to a bigger house, I spend what little downtime I have pinning dreamy workspaces on Pinterest!
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? When you work for someone else, there are times that your strategy or ideas need to be approved – and in some cases dissected. I guess for me that’s frustrating because I just want to get on with it and I know what I have put forward is well thought out and on brief. I analyse everything. I write lists that you can’t imagine. I sound out every angle, option and decision so when I put something forward, I know it’s something that will work, or at the very worst, it doesn’t work but it’s something I can learn from. I’m not opposed to brainstorming and sounding out ideas - and I do really love working in a team - but I find it incredibly frustrating not being able to just get started. That’s something I’ve had to work on!!
Limited or no budget is always a frustration as well, your ideas can always be bigger with a little bit of money - but it makes it all the more challenging and the results that little bit sweeter knowing you can do it without any.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? To be honest, I don’t ever remember a time that I’ve cried because of work. I’ve cried AT work but not because of it. Of course I have felt overwhelmed many times but I’ve grown to understand that I am only human and can only achieve so much. When my workload seems impossible, I’ve learnt that it’s ok to ask for help – or to give your boss/clients a reality check in terms of what is humanly possible and/or realistic.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? That’s probably my worst trait. I put pressure on myself because I want to blow people away – whether it’s my clients, competitors or making my family proud. I have never been ok with mediocrity so excelling in what I do is incredibly important to me. Over time, I’ve come to understand that the only person holding those kind of expectations of myself is me. I think the pressure is still there, I’ve just learnt to deal with it a lot better and am able to rationalise what is achievable and what’s not. I’m definitely a lot kinder to myself.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? I have always been able to keep my personal life personal – when I’m at work, I’m there to work – even if that is from my dining room table. I am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive hubby, if something’s keeping me crazy busy, he is able to pick up the workload at home. Working for myself also allows me to regroup a lot easier. If my head is clouded, I can put down the tools and take a walk or go for a swim. The ocean has always been my saviour - a salty dip seems to cure all!
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? While time is scarce, I think my career has affected my relationships positively because the time that I do have with the people I love is all the more special and focused. I definitely don’t see people as much as I’d like but it’s about quality time and I try to always be present with them – something I don’t think I would have done if I wasn’t so busy.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? I was the first on either side of my family to ever go to university so while sometimes I felt that they didn’t understand or relate to me, I didn’t ever feel lonely. My family are so very proud of me and I have surrounded myself with friends who build me up rather than bring me down. I’ve also lucked into marrying an incredibly supportive man who makes me feel that anything is possible – sounds cheesy I know but it’s the truth!
Being a mum however, is incredibly lonely at times, especially in a country away from your closest friends and family. Trying to keep everything at home in check, plus reach career goals, plus raise a baby on extremely limited sleep is a bloody juggle and there are times I’ve felt isolated and alone. Technology is a damn saviour and having someone at my fingertips has helped get me through those moments and seeing Sunny hit milestones reminds me that the days are long but the years are short and I am one extremely lucky mama.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Right now, thinking that I am only just going to get to sleep before my daughter wakes up! We had a pretty rough ride with sleep – 8 months of no longer than 4-hour chunks, and even that was on a good day. But we’ve just turned a corner and we’re getting a lot more now! That doesn’t stop me from tossing and turning though, half the time I’m still awake in anticipation!
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? I believe that there’s a lesson in everything so I’d do it all the very same way!
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Read the Four Agreements. They changed my way of thinking and I wish I’d read them sooner.
- Be impeccable with your word – speak with integrity and say what you mean
- Don’t take anything personally – nothing others do is because of you!
- Don’t make assumptions – find the courage to ask questions and communicate as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings
- Always do your best – remember that your best will vary from day to day
Who are some women in business you admire & why? There are two women who I am in awe of right now and they both happen to be called Pip! I’m not sure if she knows it, but the minute I met Pip Marlow I knew I wanted to get to know her better. She has this inviting, empowering and inspiring presence. She’s from New Zealand like me, she’s a mother, a businesswoman and she’s the Managing Director of Microsoft. She’s innovative in her leadership, she encourages her staff to do whatever they need to do to get the best results - that includes working from home or via flexible hours. I admire a leader who can offer that, it means they’ve hired an incredible team that they trust to do the job and to do it well. On top of that, her family always comes first. And now that I have my own daughter, it’s inspiring to see someone at the top of their game successfully manage a work/life balance.
The second is Pip Edwards – I am currently heading up the PR for her debut brand P.E Nation and I have never seen anyone as busy or as passionate as Pip. Not only does she juggle her extremely busy role as the Design Director at General Pants, she’s a single mum to a 10 year old and also the cofounder of P.E – and she delivers 110% to each and every one of those responsibilities.
There are also several women I admire daily - Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook, Sophia Amoruso (Nasty Gal), Alison Rice (Allure Media), Eleanor Pendleton (Gritty Pretty), Samantha Wills (duhhh!!), Zoe Foster Blake (Go-To Skincare), Claire Tregoning (Co-Founder of P.E) – all of which found their own path and ran with it. They’re all incredibly hard working and humble, traits I admire not only in women, but people.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Gratitude and attitude. Respect, honesty and humility. The way you speak to other people and the way you speak about other people tells me a lot about the kind of person you are.
Work life balance… Does it exist? Balance is different for everyone and I choose to be busy. Things that may seem like ‘work’ to some people are totally relaxing for me (seriously, vacuuming makes me feel sane!) I try to make exercise a priority and work out with Chris and Rach at F45 Surry Hills twice a week. I also spend a lot of time outdoors and in the ocean. The sea makes me feel safe, connected and clears my head.
Working as a consultant has definitely allowed me to reassess my priorities. I spent a decade working for other people and brands, which I loved, but it was always on their terms. Consulting gives me the flexibility to do things in a way that work best for my family and I. I work for brands that know I have a baby but who trust I will get the job done. It’s a freeing feeling knowing you have clients who believe in you and your work.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? If something’s making me unhappy or not working, then I’ll change it. You are the only person in charge of your happiness so quitting isn’t an option for me – but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to changing my path when and if I need to.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That the industry is ‘fake’. With the rise of social media, in Australia especially, marketing and PR has changed dramatically. It’s not about paying for billboards, TVCs or a full page in a magazine anymore, it’s about tapping into who and what is influencing customer behaviour and currently, that just happens to be social media, specifically Instagram. Sure, there are some people who are being paid to post products but customers are savvy and they see through that. I have always made it a priority to ensure any strategy I am suggesting is organic but also transparent. I don’t think it’s effective sending someone product for free or paying them to post when it’s glaringly obvious what the motive behind it is. Being authentic is one of the most important things to me.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
- Don’t feel like you have to fit a certain mold - be yourself, be brave, trust your gut and be consistent.
- Be humble – you are never bigger than the business/client you work for.
- Be prepared to go above and beyond what is expected of you. There are thousands of people just like you, but what can you offer that they can’t?
- Be a great negotiator.
- Network. With everyone. And never burn any bridges; you never know when you might need to call on a favour.
- Be positive. The industry requires long hours and plenty of resilience. I can’t stress enough what a difference a positive mind can bring to your career and your life – positive thinking breeds positive results.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? It’s all been a great adventure and I still think the best is yet to come. However, I would like to think that I’d know my worth earlier and not feel afraid to campaign for my abilities.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? I guess I want my daughter to be my legacy. I hope to raise a kind, happy, healthy girl with a strong set of values and self belief, who will serve as an inspiration to her own children one day.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? I have long been inspired by Samantha Wills’ journey as well as encouraging women in business. I celebrate in my fellow sisters’ success (Eleanor Pendleton, Chloe Brinklow, Alison Rice, Karla Rose and Candice Rose O’Rourke, amongst so many others, I’m looking at you!) and surround myself with intelligent, driven, inspiring and hardworking women in a professional and personal sense daily. I used to think that to truly bring women in business together you had to celebrate and praise only women. However, I think it’s actually about ensuring equality in the workforce and understanding that we can learn so much from either gender. It’s more about giving women in business the tools to do an exceptional job and empowering self-belief, because this is where it all starts.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
I’m definitely a quote girl so they change all of the time! My favourite at the moment is a reading we had at our wedding. It’s a nice reminder to stop and appreciate everything around you and also the person/people you love.
“There are few things in life so beautiful they hurt: swimming in the ocean while it rains, reading alone in empty libraries, the sea of stars that appear when you’re miles away from the neon lights of the city, bars after 2am, walking in the wilderness, all the phases of the moon, the things we do not know about the universe, and you”.
And of course, one of my all time faves: ‘Gratitude changes everything’.