Balancing the Grind with Kathryn Van Kuyk
Kathryn Van Kuyk is an award-winning senior public relations consultant currently account managing the Dynatrace, Fluent Commerce, Affix and Vonage accounts for BENCH PR.
She is also the co-founder of Media-Wize, an agnostic media training agency helping founders and fast growth companies tell their stories.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I decided when I was 14 years old that I wanted to work as a journalist or in public relations.
I undertook a BA in Journalism at Deakin University and landed in a newsroom when I was 20 years old, it was pre-internet days, where media releases pumped in off the fax and the mail bag dumped on our desks each morning was huge.
After 18 months as a reporter, I accepted an offer from a PR agency and did an internship, followed by completing the year long equivalency training with the PRIA.
For the past 20+ years I have worked in consultancy roles focusing on media relations, project management, strategy and stakeholder relations.
I’ve specialised in government relations, community relations, property PR and for the past 7+ years tech.
I started operating my own freelance PR business when pregnant with my first child, seeking flexibility and the opportunity to set my own hours and design a career that would fit around my family.
For the past 7 years I have worked part-time as a senior consultant with an amazingly talented and supportive group of women at tech PR agency, BENCH PR.
I also recently partnered with well-known business and technology journalist, Anthony Caruana to fill a gap in the market for the provision of agnostic media training services helping founders and fast growth companies tell their stories – Media-Wize.
2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
If I take today for example it was the school holidays and I worked from home around my 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
I started the day with a phone catch up with BENCH PR’s founder Jocelyn Hunter, discussing the status of the accounts I’m working on.
I then typed up interview notes from a call I had with an intern that has recently undertaken a Code Like A Girl internship and found full-time employment – she’s made a career change from a background in Law and Politics and got her start as a Software Engineer.
I then received a phone call from The Jones Collective working a crisis management case for a property developer that found themselves embroiled in a front-page story. I provided strategic advice to the principal on how I’d recommend managing the situation.
Then my business partner Anthony Caruana arrived for lunch and we spent the afternoon working on a presentation for a session we are holding at WeWork.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Absolutely, most of the time the days are devoted to focusing either on BENCH clients or Media-Wize work, but when needed I juggle the workload across various accounts, as I used to when working full-time in my 20s in a range of PR firms.
I’m now a single mother, so the ability to work flexibly and remote is essential to ensure that my children’s needs are met, and my career isn’t impacted.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
I’ve always been a self-starter. I don’t need to be micromanaged or tied to a desk in the CBD to become motivated or deliver results. I use the tech to work smart.
I use a range of tools to ensure a smooth workflow. With BENCH PR we use Slack, Asana, Minutedock and MediaConnect and with Media-Wize we use Slack, Google Docs and we’re loving Hubspot for our CRM at the moment.
5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work life balance means that when I’m not required with the team, clients or at events, that I can work from wherever I want, however I want.
I often get to drop my kids at school and pick them up.
If I’m writing, I may choose to write whenever the mood suits me, such as now, I’m answering this at 7.30pm on a Friday night, because dinner is done, client needs are met and I have the opportunity to think about this at my leisure.
6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
When my son was born, he suffered severe reflux and didn’t sleep through the night for the first 18 months of his life.
I was running exhausted on broken sleep and had I been required to be in an office 5 days a week, even 3 days a week I would have had to resign.
I adopted the freelance lifestyle, started working when he slept or happily watched The Wiggles and I got him used to occasional care creche.
I’m passionate about what I do, so I continued to do a lot of pro bono work on social causes. I never wanted to stop or change my career, I just found ways to make it fit.
I learned that the clock didn’t matter, I could meet client deadlines in whatever way worked best for me. If I felt like working at night for an hour or two I did. I abandoned thinking of work as 9-5 and focused on ideas and delivery.
I made sure I had a smartphone, had access to email on the go, was contactable. I’ve spoken to clients and journalists over the years in the car before I went into the supermarket.
They never knew and it wasn’t important, what was important was my ability to deliver.
I also learned the importance of focusing, making every second and minute effective. There’s no time available to waste, it’s all valuable and I try to make it all count.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I draw huge inspiration from personal stories. Stories of people who have succeeded against the odds. Who faced numerous setbacks but their determination and persistence won in the end.
Bankrupt aged 22 following the failure of his second company, Walt Disney’s career suffered numerous setbacks. Yet by the time of his death he had won 21 Oscars and owned a stake in the multimillion-dollar company bearing his name.
J.K. Rowling went from being a single mother on welfare to a household name, her manuscripts were knocked back so many times, but she never gave up. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War made an impact on me in my early 20s.
I tend to be drawn to personal stories and insights gleaned from personal journey’s than focusing on how to books with the latest theory or ten second rule.
I’ve read many of the Dalai Lama’s books over the years and the power of a good motivation and concentration is the key to success in whatever you put your mind to.
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
I plan, my to do lists are endless. I set each day with multiple achievable objectives. I follow through on every loop, every small detail, until every task is at completion.
I project manage well, with me nothing is random, there is always a reason why I’m doing it.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Be guided by your passion. Do what you love, and it doesn’t feel like work, it feels exciting. People have often commented that even after 20 years I still have so much passion. At this point, I’m driven by the need to help others.
To help founders and companies communicate better, understand how the media works, how to have realistic expectations, to craft stories that are interesting and importantly understand that a PR may secure you an opportunity, but as the media spokesperson it’s up to you to maximise the opportunity, know what you want to say and why and deliver that message well.
If your work in meaningful, it gives you purpose, and the energy naturally comes.