When Kate Engler’s marriage ended, she knew she needed to change how she did business so she could support her family and be present for her sons. The outcome was her highly successful Meet the Press Masterclass. Here she shares her leadership journey and lessons learned.
Kate Engler was stoked. It was 2012, and she’d just received a call from an entrepreneur who’d attended her inaugural Meet the Press Masterclass. TV’s prime-time Today Show was featuring their products thanks to the training she’d provided on how to pitch your business to the media.
Engler was both excited and relieved. The single mother of two young boys had been gearing up for then three-day, now two-day masterclass for months. If it was successful, she could support her sons and spend more time with them. As more news trickled in about attendees featured in the media, Engler felt the future was finally in hand.
Building a business
Engler started her career in marketing and PR, establishing a boutique agency 20 years ago while married to a military man. She relished the opportunity to do PR differently from the big-box PR agencies she’d worked for, like employing mothers part-time to help her burgeoning business.
“Then, traditional PR agency hours were get in at 8 am and leave at 7 pm, which wasn’t conducive to supporting brilliant PR people who also happened to be mothers,” Engler says.
Engler’s own initiation into motherhood was challenging. Towards the end of her pregnancy, she contracted meningitis and was still recovering when she gave birth. Struggling with a newborn and her business, Engler felt she was unable to give either her full attention. With primary care falling on her shoulders and their family unable to assist, Engler realised she needed help and employed a part-time nanny.
The ability to be fully present in your life is a gift. To find balance, decide how you want to prioritise your time, focus and energy, then ask or pay others to help you with the rest.
“You can only wear one hat at a time,” says Engler.
Finding a new pathway
Seven years after starting her agency, Engler’s marriage ended, leaving her the primary carer of her sons, then aged 2 and 4, and her self-confidence in tatters. Engler wanted to spend more time with her boys, so she considered how she could restructure her business. After attending a business seminar with a friend, she thought, “I could do this,” and joined the speaking circuit, providing 90-minute classes on marketing your business through publicity, together with follow-up support.
Engler was inspired by the amazing entrepreneurs she met and their willingness to take a chance on their ideas. She realised that most startups couldn’t afford to put mainstream PR agencies like hers on a retainer; she also knew they would benefit from learning how to pitch their businesses to the media to gain free coverage.
“I was so stimulated by what free media coverage could give their business, the credibility and the kudos and the customers that inevitably follow,” she says.
And so, Engler took a leap of faith of her own. She decided to cut her agency from the mix with a new concept – her Meet the Press Masterclass.
As she prepared for her first masterclass, Engler became a world-class juggler. “That period of my life was a tap dancing, juggling, whirling dervish,” she says.
She sought a more experienced nanny, her advertisement stating: ‘working mother needs wife’. Fortuitously, her older neighbour applied for the job. “She was as much a nanny to me as she was to the boys,” she says.
Engler was fortunate to have a champion in her mate, Dean, who was instrumental in helping her restructure her business and, through his printing and design company, prepare the class collateral. “He has a great marketing brain, and I could bounce ideas around with him.”
Engler planned to run a two-day workshop. Day one would train attendees on writing a media release, what journalists need, how to approach them and most importantly, how to pitch to them. But the clincher was to have journalists turn up on day two and allow all the attendees to pitch their businesses to them. For this to work, she needed the mainstream media to show up and to ensure the attendees had something newsworthy to present.
She began to struggle with imposter syndrome. “A whole day is a big chunk of time for a journalist,” Engler says. “I was like, ‘oh my God, what if they say no?”
Managing the negative self-talk
Engler has an entertaining way of handling imposter syndrome, reflecting her creative personality. She subscribes to author Elizabeth Gilbert’s (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) method of personalising the negative voices in your head and putting them in a metaphorical car backseat with headphones and an iPad to keep them busy.
Engler named her negative voice ‘Huxley’. She says in the lead-up to her first masterclass, Huxley was “really going off”, so she learned to say, ‘Huxley, thank you, but your contribution is not required’. Instead, Engler tries to listen to her self-confident voice, named Madam Secretary. There’s a studio audience in her head, too, that claps when she does something right or gasps when they’re aghast.
“It’s quite busy in my head,” she laughs.
Engler’s sons take it all in good humour, asking what the studio audience has to say when waiting on her to make a decision.
For women wanting to develop their leadership skills, Engler recommends Brene Brown‘s Braving philosophy, which she lives by. Braving stands for:
B – Boundaries
R – Reliability
A – Accountability
V – Vault (confidentiality)
I – Integrity
N – Non-judgement
G – Generosity
She also loves the All Blacks rugby team lesson as described in James Kerr’s book, Legacy. It’s a philosophy they refer to as ‘sweeping the sheds’, which essentially means being 100% responsible for oneself and one’s surroundings. When embraced, it’s a game-changer.
Fast forward, and it’s already ten years since Engler turned her life and business around when she launched her first Meet the Press Masterclass. She is proud of what she has achieved for herself and her sons and how she has helped other small businesses and entrepreneurs grow organically.
One of her most successful attendees was a co-owner of Kieser Australia, whose story was picked up by TV program A Current Affair, resulting in close to $750,000 in membership fees in the subsequent months. He is now the ‘go-to’ physio for the Today Show.
Asked what she finds most rewarding about owning her own business and being a leader, Engler says it’s the ‘light bulb moments’ that she sees going off in people’s heads when they are in her class.
“I get to peek under the hood of these amazingly inspiring entrepreneurs daily. They share their dreams with me, their aspirations and their struggles. And then, as a bonus, I get to put oxygen underneath their wings in front of the journalists,” Engler says.
“It never gets old. It still gives me as much of a thrill today as it did the first time we got coverage for our clients.”
Kate Engler’s Leadership Lessons Learned:
© Laini Bennett, MBA