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Picking the Good from the Bad: The Client Edition

Kimmie Neidhardt has an extensive history working as a creative powerhouse for some of the biggest and best agencies in Australia. She left agency-land temporarily to start a family and upon returning found that companies would only offer a fraction of the pay, and would not budge on flexibility that would suit a working parent (male or female).

Banding together with her business partner Simone Brandse (pictured on the left), Burd agency was born out of wanting to ‘have their cake and eat it too.’ The concept of wanting to start their own company was to be able to do great work and still be able to pick up their kids from school.

The mantra behind this agency is strong; find the right clients, do good work, use your passion and the money will come. We spoke to this Sydney-sider after her creative panel discussion on ‘Women who started their own business’ at the recent 3% Conference on how to choose the right clients, having the balls to say ‘no’ to the ones who don’t enable you to do your best work and sticking to your guns.

 

Can you give us a little background into the lead up of launching Burd?

After working in agencies for a good decade and a half, I had gone from presenting to big clients and leading pitch meetings to being the person who could only get shit jobs after having a family. People must think that having a child coincides with getting a lobotomy and that working mums don’t have the brain capacity to work anymore!

In both mine and my business partner Simone’s case, we were going for jobs and being offered half as much money as we did before we had kids. We knew we could still do great work and be great parents, and so launched Burd this year, an agency that accommodates our lifestyles, delivers top work – and supports other females (particularly mums) on a project basis.

 

When you first started, wasn’t it hard to not say ‘Yes!’ to every project?

Definitely. As a creative, it’s really hard to say “no” especially when it comes to an interesting project, you become really excited, really quickly. At the end of the day, our decision to say “yes or no” was hugely weighted on the impact it would make on the parents that we wanted to be, no matter how much money we get paid.

 

What are the red flags signalling a bad client? What does a good client look like to you?

I wouldn’t call any client ‘bad’ – maybe just ‘unsuitable’.

To do the best work, an agency-client relationship needs to be built on trust and honesty. On top of that, we need to believe in the product or service, because, if we don’t, we sure as hell aren’t going to able convince anyone else to!

We also prefer to work with nice people – nobody likes an asshole!

Kimmie High Res 4

How do you balance filtering through clients whilst still getting money through the door?

It’s a hard one. We’ve been lucky so far that we’ve worked with some amazing people and we’re keeping our head above water. Just when you think it’s going to fall over, a massive project comes and money comes in.

We launched Burd for a reason and we like to remind ourselves of it regularly. I’m in a situation where my partner makes money and I know I will not starve. It’s empowering to say no to a client. Advertising agencies don’t ever say no, and the result of that is their people are overworked, unhappy, frustrated, depressed and to be honest, some of them aren’t treated very well.

How do you diplomatically put down a potential client? Do you have advice for people who have to have that tough conversation?

I’m a massive straight talker and caveat every introduction with that. I think you can honestly say to someone, “I have a feeling you don’t trust my capabilities.” If it’s a product or service, I’ve been straight to the point and said, “I don’t think we can differentiate your offering in the marketing.” It’s that easy.

Committing to a client whom you know isn’t the right fit could lead to overcommitment, stress, overworking, has that been your experience in the past? What are other outcomes of having a bad working relationship with a client?

Mental health issues and a revolving door of people leaving the agency. I’ve worked with an agency where I loved the people but the clients were not kind. There were a lot of tears and a lot of amazing professionals who were left feeling extremely vulnerable. It’s disempowering and people doubt their own abilities.

We’re lucky in that the bottom line isn’t the most important thing for us. It’s about doing work that we’re proud of with the people that we like. When you don’t have a good relationship, there’s fear involved.

Fear stifles creativity. You’re always anxious that something bad is going to happen. A creative needs to have a lot of self believe as you’re always putting yourself out there. You’re never going to do great work if it’s with an ‘unsuitable’ client.

 

How do you grow the balls to say no and choose to work on projects that suit you and your business?

You need to ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?’ Make this your own brief that you keep going back to. At Burd, Simone and I want a certain lifestyle and be proud of what we’re doing. If we don’t deliver to that, it can’t be a part of our company. I have learnt through shitty experiences that being transparent from the get go is the most important thing.

 

Any parting words?

At our agency, we try to engage as many working mothers and as many females as and when we can with project based work. There are a lot of women, especially mothers who were in senior positions before starting a family who are now considered ‘braindead’. The Burd Nest is our secret Facebook group where we find them work by the hour – we provide the flexibility needed and work that will actually stimulates them.

Females should be paid what they’re worth and we are so proud of this network we’ve established within the advertising community.

 

Connect with Kimmie Neidhardt here.

 

Check out the rest of our Agency Iceberg Blog and the hit #LeadingLadies interview series here.

 

Photography by Jonathan May.