Director / KMC
Kelly Muller is one of those rare; inspiring women that you feel equally certain you could hang out with at a music festival (Kelly, Splendour??), spend an afternoon with at the beach, and hire to help you grow your business at the same time. She’s brave, brilliant and yet totally relatable; we can’t help but see ourselves in her every time she spends Sundays down in Bondi with her seriously cute family, or when she is wrapped up on her couch bashing out a media release, for one of her enviable clients. But that’s the power of Kelly Muller… she is one of the most hard working, impactful and kind hearted babes in the business.
Growing up in a small town in New Zealand certainly hasn’t held this #girlboss back; if anything, it has done the complete opposite. After completing high school and university in New Zealand, Kelly moved “across the ditch” to Sydney where she stamped her mark on the communications industry after a brief stint in glossy mags. When most (post grads) find themselves either answering phones, getting the coffee, or just happy to have landed any job at all, in enters Kelly who negotiated a more senior role at a reputable Sydney PR agency because she knew she was worth more. It’s this kind of tenacity that has continued to play a monumental role in Kelly’s success.
In today’s #careerstory we get down and dirty with Kelly as she eloquently takes us through her time at High School, her trials at University, her experience working for some of the country’s most epic global brands such as ModelCo, Stylerunner, P.E Nation, and her most exciting venture yet… Kelly Muller Consulting. We also take a deep dive into Kelly’s writing career and how she became a contributor at MyDomaine, and a member of the Who What Wear Australia Influencer Network, which is a highly curated roster of some of Australia’s most respected voices in fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
If you have been searching for a slice of inspiration that will propel you further than you have ever been propelled before, then this interview is for you.
Personally and professionally, we didn’t realise how much we needed Kelly Muller and her perfect career advice until now.
Girl, there is no turning back after reading this… trust us!
Hey Kelly, Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the career that you are in today?
I grew up in New Plymouth, New Zealand. It is on the West Coast of New Zealand with both black sand beaches and the mountain in our backyard – neither of which I frequented nearly enough as a teenager. My grandparents semi-retired in Tauranga and I spent all of my school holidays up there. It seemed like paradise to me. I couldn’t wait to get out of New Plymouth and I spent my first year of university in Auckland, before moving to Wellington and then heading to Sydney. My mum fell ill two years into my #sydneylife so I moved back to New Zealand in which Mum had moved to my beloved Bay of Plenty. Tauranga fast became my home and is the place I feel most calm and happy. I have moved around a lot and have always been open to change. I think this has helped me to be easily adaptable and open in adulthood.
So you grew up in a small town in New Zealand! We have interviewed some really cool women from NZ over the last couple of months. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to New Plymouth Girls’ High School, which was a large, all girls’ school that had a great record for both sports and academics. I played netball and loved the more creative subjects – painting, photography, and English. I enjoyed my time there but being surrounded by girls only can be super catty sometimes. Like all kids, I went through stages of total isolation and highs of total happiness. Overall, the experience was fine, but I don’t think it really shaped me in any way. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I left school, just that I wanted to do something.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education? Or guide you on possible career options?
To be honest, not really. I was a pretty good student. I was in accelerant classes for a lot of my subjects so I was constantly challenged and pushed to do more. My expectations of myself were incredibly high. I loved art and photography and while I was creative, I wasn’t exceptionally good at either of them. I thought I wanted to do design when I left school – and actually always wanted to be an architect throughout my younger years – so I started to put together a portfolio for a couple of key design schools in my final year.
One of my oldest friends, one I’d known since primary school, was involved in a tragic and fatal accident during my last year and my focus was totally thrown. My portfolio was totally shit but I submitted it anyway, knowing I was likely to be rejected. It was, and while all of my friends had sorted their uni plans, I was lost and didn’t know what to do or where to go. I’d missed all of the deadlines to apply for accommodation in the uni halls and had to pull something together really quickly. I loved English and have always loved to write, so I applied for a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Communications last minute, was accepted, and set off on my way some months later.
When you think about the entire High School process, you really are put under so much stress. We are sorry to hear about your friend Kelly. So did you do any internships while you were at school? Was that a thing for you?
I didn’t do anything like that and I think it was because I didn’t really have a clear path of what I wanted to do. I have worked since I was 15 years old, first rolling ice creams at a dairy (corner store) then at a café while I was at high school. I have always been hard-working but when I was younger, there wasn’t any real direction for work or learning, it was just a means to an end – and by that I mean earning enough money to buy clothes and go to house parties on the weekend ;) Don’t get me wrong though, I have always had a strong work ethic and my high expectations meant I took immense pride in everything I did, even if that was rolling a couple hundred ice creams on a Sunday afternoon.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I did a year at Massey University in Auckland before transferring to Victoria University in Wellington. I was fiercely independent and despite all of my friends initially going to Wellington, I wanted to do things on my own – hence my first year in Auckland. Truth is, it sucked. I didn’t like the uni, I missed my friends, I’d broken up with my first long-term boyfriend and I felt really isolated. I committed to seeing the year out – (me and my fear of failure) before heading south and spending three wonderful years surrounded by friends, culture and the real beginning of adulthood.
I wrote for the university magazine, I worked in a retail store and I took classes across media, communications, and English. By this stage, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I was good at English so putting essays together was never an issue for me. I did well enough at uni but it wasn’t overly challenging. I was so proud to be there, I was the first in my family to ever go, but I wasn’t there fulfilling a real passion or career path.
After I finished my BA, I applied for a Graduate Diploma of Journalism. It was heavily focussed around news reporting and they only took 15 people a year. We had to do an intense 3-hour test and I knew while completing it that it wasn’t for me. I don’t know if I subliminally sabotaged it, but for the second time in my life I was rejected from something I applied for but I knew it was for the right reasons. I packed up my life and headed across the ditch to Sydney, intent on working for a glossy women’s magazine….
Ahhhh, an amazing story. Sometimes things just don’t feel right, and you have to know yourself implicitly to know when to move on. It sounds like you have always known who you are. So let’s jump into your professional career. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I arrived in Sydney and landed a job at (the now defunct) EMAP. I was working in dispatch booking and receiving couriers [laughs]. But it was one step closer to writing for the mags. I made sure everyone knew my name and I threw my hand up for anything writing related. I transcribed for Australian Mountain Bike Magazine, I proofed the pages of Tracks Magazine and I sucked up to the New Woman team, hoping that someone would offer me a job. I lasted a month. I was determined and ambitious and while many will tell you that patience is a virtue, I’m all for creating your own happiness and sometimes that means taking a sidewards step!!
I began my ‘career’ in a small boutique PR agency specialising in events and exhibitions. I applied for the job because it advertised that ‘writing skills were essential’. From there, I moved into a consumer-facing role at Maxted Thomas PR. I have never been one for doing things ‘because that’s how things are’ so when I was told that as an Account Executive I had to report in to an Account Manager and then an Account Director, I wasn’t very happy about it – not because I thought I was too good for the system, but because I knew I had ideas that deserved to be heard and not picked apart by the hierarchy. I put a proposal to the Director asking to work directly with him on one account so I could prove my worth, ideas and initiative.
God bless Ian Thomas. I was thrown into a sink or swim situation. I worked within a team on most accounts, and direct with Ian on one. I loved my job and it was here that I realised I wasn’t a ‘traditional PR’ – I wanted to do more. I wanted to strategise and create quality pieces over quantity. I thrived on the challenge of finding a new and innovative story angle and I loved working across projects from start to finish. My mother fell ill during my time at MTPR and I moved home to New Zealand.
I worked in an integrated agency where we offered full-service marketing solutions. This is where I was able to truly develop my love for strategy and I knew that was actually my calling. After three years back in New Zealand, I moved back to Sydney with my then boyfriend (now husband). I did seven months in a digital agency – things had changed a lot in the time I’d been away (Facebook for Business didn’t even exist when I left!) and upskilled across digital campaigns. I then took on the role of PR and Comms Manager at iconic Australian beauty brand, ModelCo, before moving into the role of Digital Marketing Manager.
I spent two and a half years with the business and owe so much to CEO Shelley Sullivan. That woman is a powerhouse. She’s direct as hell but she knows what she wants – and I love that. She taught me never to take no for an answer. Try another approach. Propose a different option. Make that shit happen!
From there, I took on the role of Marketing Director at Australian online activewear store, Stylerunner. They were the first online store solely committed to activewear and the team was tiny when I started. My ‘marketing team’ consisted of, well, me. I had to work resourcefully and creatively and I am really proud of the growth Stylerunner experienced during my time there. I left when I was 38 weeks pregnant and always planned to go back to work after the birth of my daughter. Prior to being a mama my work defined me in a way and I naively thought I would return to work 3-4 months after she was born. I saw my personal success as my career accomplishments but once Sunny was born, I realised success was nothing to do with my career and I couldn’t go back to work the way I knew it before. I fell into a new path that allowed me to balance both work and home life.
Having my daughter gave me the clarity I needed around what was important. I started consulting when she was four months old and have juggled work/life ever since. It’s hard, but it’s great. It gives me the freedom to be with my daughter and the motivation to get amazing results in the time that I have available. It’s incredible how much you can get done when you have a shorter window of opportunity. I now consult with brands I love and am passionate about whilst being there 100% for Sunny. After doing it on my own for the first year, I hired my first full-time employee in February of this year and I am so excited about what’s to come.
Seriously, your trajectory is crazy. It’s truly inspirational. So let’s dive into the present. How did you get the job that you are in now?
Like most of my career path, I didn’t have a real plan. I didn’t set out to own my own business but timing is a beautiful thing. When Sunny was four months old, I started consulting to Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning on the launch of their activewear brand, P.E Nation. I was doing around 10 hours a week and loved being creative again – plus the girls were a dream to work with. I soon realised this small consulting gig was actually a pretty big gig and when we launched P.E Nation to a global market with extraordinary results, a fire was fuelled in my belly and I was so satisfied knowing that I was hired as a specialist, someone they trusted to get the job done and I realised that this was the beginning of what was to come.
What is the hardest part of working your own gig at KMC?
Finding a balance between work and family life. Sunny is now 18 months old, she’s in daycare three days a week and I split my time between the office with Erin and working from P.E Nation. It’s a challenge to lead and mentor Erin from behind a computer screen some of the time as well as keep my home in check, my baby happy and my husband happy. Oh, and to find time for me too! No one ever told me how hard it was to balance motherhood and work – but I am so incredibly lucky that the majority of my clients are also parents and the ‘rules’ of work life are changing dramatically. It’s not about the set hours you do or where you work from, it’s about getting results.
What does a day a typical business day look like at KMC?
Every day is different as I might be in the office, in a client’s office or working from home – but it always starts with coffee. I then run through a WIP with Erin where we cross check every client and the projects we’re working on. We touch base on results and successes and then work out an action plan of tasks we each own. I look after all of the topline strategy as well as key relationships and general direction. My days could involve planning a new launch, working with buyers, designers or digital teams to align our plans, putting together proposals or marketing plans, pitching stories, collaborations or partnerships, writing content or editing and approving pitches and press releases. We work as an extension of our brands so we spend a lot of time communicating and working with internal teams. KMC isn’t about just getting product on pages; it’s about creating and executing strategies that tie back to overall business and commercial objectives. It’s about quality over quantity.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Wow, big question. I have always looked up to my grandmother. She immigrated to New Zealand from Scotland as a teenager. She started her family in a country she had never visited before with no one else except her husband by her side. She worked. She mothered. She traveled. She evolved. She turned 80 this year and she is still the first person I call when I need advice about anything.
I am also incredibly inspired by successful businesswomen – and by success, I mean happy. Women who are following their passion or creating a life that works for them. Samantha Wills, Eleanor Pendleton, Alison Rice, Pip Edwards, Claire Tregoning, Pip Marlow, my insanely passionate group of friends, Candice Rose-O’Rourke and Karla Rose – they’re all either making a real difference in their industries or carving out a life that they love.
What an amazing tribute Kelly. You certainly have a great #girlgand supporting you, but your Grandma… she sounds like a remarkable woman. To finish we would love to hear your top tips, or advice for girls who are interested in a creative career in PR, Digital or Marketing?
Be humble – you are never bigger than the business (or clients) 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. No is not an option. 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. Focus on what’s next instead of what’s now. Use your initiative. Present ideas even if it’s not your ‘responsibility’. Attention to detail is everything. Check your spelling and grammar. Include all information in the one email. Don’t leave clients questioning or wondering where all of the info is. Be resourceful. Be impactful.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: Who What Wear, My Domaine, and Byrdie, Business of Fashion, Man Repeller.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: I am on Instagram daily. It’s a way to catch up with my friends and family overseas as well as check in on clients and look for inspiration. So it’s kind of everyone I follow [haha], I do a full scroll.
- Books: Thrive, Arianna Huffington; The Four Agreements; The Five Levels of Leadership; The Five Languages of Love; Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso.
- People: Alison Rice and Eleanor Pendleton. Inspired and inspiring. Innovative, thoughtful and considered. Supportive, passionate and hard-working.
- Others: Friends – Lucy Pilkington, Producer at Collider; Michele Singh, Project Manager at ModelCo, Meg Gallagher, Denim Designer for Ksubi; Jade Young, Founder at Jade Young Studio; Jamee Taylor, Mama and Director & Marketeer at Adam Taylor Architecture – we’re not entirely in the same industries but their knowledge across the wider business sense is invaluable. It also helps that they’re such good friends so a ‘work’ chat is almost always accompanied by a wine and/or a general chinwag.