I rarely feel short. But when I walked into Motion PR, I was greeted by two women who were about 5-foot-10, wearing 4-inch heels. I was there, in flats, to meet Kimberly Eberl: founder and principal. I was feeling nervous—but I shouldn’t have.
You’ll read in a bit how Kim likes to meet with people she admires—and Alysse and I are so lucky to be able to do the same all the time for PWP. Thanks, Kimberly, for being our latest!
After you read Kim’s crazy story and find out more about her path, let us know: Who would you like to meet for lunch? And then we’ll ask you: Why not do it now? (Unless you pick Harriet Tubman or Jackie O. or someone. Then you get a pass.)
People with Panache: Let’s start with a little bit of your history.
Kimberly Eberl: I’m from Cincinnati, and I went to school at Marquette in Milwaukee. I’m one of those rare people who always knew what they wanted to do. I knew it would be something in communications. In 8th grade I said I wanted to be Murphy Brown, and I did this speech about being a journalist. In college, I learned more about PR, and that’s what I ended up studying. I knew that’s what I wanted. I had five internships before I graduated.
PWP: What happened after college?
KE: I moved to Chicago and got my first job at the East Bank Club doing their PR. Then I spent a few years at Weber Shandwick, cars.com and eventually, Ogilvy. Then I got fired and was out on my ass. I freaked out and started calling everyone I knew. I was not thinking of starting my own company. I was just thinking: “What’s my next full time job? Where do I go?”
PWP: What did you do?
KE: One of my old bosses, Dan Pooley, said he didn’t know if he needed a full-time person, but they were in a jam on a project, and asked if I’d come in and help. I said yes right away because I didn’t know how long I was going to be out of work. I figured I’d take these freelance gigs while I looked for a real job.
“Owning my own company was the best accident that could have ever happened.”
So I cast my net really wide, and I ended up having so much work that I had a decision to make. I could either turn down all of these projects or bring someone else on to help me. I decided to bring in someone else. That’s kind of how the agency started. I got fired and started as a freelancer. I even have my letter from when they fired me in my office.
PWP: What was it like starting a company after that?
KE: It was a gradual development of the company. I never had a business plan. I know, you’re like, shame on me. Well, I didn’t. For the longest time it was me and one other person working from home, dividing and conquering. Now we’re almost at 10.
PWP: Was it scary?
KE: It’s still scary. It never becomes not scary. I think any small-business owner would say having a company is scary. It’s a different type of scary, and it’s a completely different type of stress; this is the type of stress that I thrive on. To know that even though I have a great team, the successes and failures along the way fall on me. Owning my own company was the best accident that could have ever happened.
PWP: It’s great you had all of those contacts to call when you got fired.
KE: It’s hard not to sound braggy when you’re being interviewed by yourself, but luckily I really do have a great network in Chicago. I have a lot of great friendships and relationships across different agencies and companies, which made it a little easier to grow. You never stop building a network.
PWP: What gets you fired up and out of bed every morning?
KE: I am so lucky to own my company, no bones about it. I’m proud of it. That’s what gets me out of bed every morning. And also the fact that we’re profitable, we’re doing well, we’re growing. As much as I’m stressed, I always tell myself I’m so lucky, and that’s a great motivator. Also that I don’t want to lose this. This is the best thing ever. I don’t want this to fail. But when you own it, there’s more motivation to have it succeed.
PWP: Do you feel like you’re living your passion right now?
KE: I feel like I’m always trying to find ways to push myself. I’ve been doing PR since the late ‘90s, so some stuff does get old. I own this thing, I love it, but sometimes I feel like I’ve done the same thing a lot. My biggest challenge is to push myself. Am I doing everything I can? Am I marketing us right? That’s the biggest challenge.
PWP: You’re more experienced than the typical person we’ve featured on People with Panache, but I have interviewed some of your clients, whom I adore, so I thought you’d be a great person to meet. What advice do you have for someone just starting out?
KE: Don’t follow my no-business-plan path. Have a business plan; have financial goals. I have short-term and long-term goals that I try to achieve.
And don’t give up. I would hate for someone to have a sparkle in their eye for a business but they’re stuck in a boring job staring listlessly out the window. But the other piece of realistic advice that I think is smart is to have the financial backing to do what you’re doing. Work two jobs at once. I always think that’s smart.
I think it’s good to have a team of advisers, too. That’s something I’m doing now. When I first started and I got fired, I was like crap, I have to figure this out. In the last year I have tried to have lunch every week with someone I admire. I’ve learned a lot from that exercise. It helps me stay fresh and motivated. I try to build this family of people. It’s a reality check, too, to think of it from the outside looking in.
PWP: What makes you happiest?
KE: One thing: chocolate. And the morning. I’m a morning person. So, chocolate in the morning makes me the happiest. Every day is a whole new day to conquer the world.
[Photos by Kate.]