Dani Lombard, Managing Director at Soda Communications, a boutique-sized PR consultancy with offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I started my career in 2001 in a PR agency in San Francisco. I had been travelling for a year and followed a boy there (as you do when you’re 21) and needed to find a job. The only visa I was eligible for was an internship visa as I was less than a year out of uni.
I studied communications majoring in video and TV production so literally had no idea what PR was, but there was only a single internship I could find that paid anything ($10 an hour) and it was at a pretty cool PR agency – so I contacted them.
Turns out it was a super old ad, but after meeting me, they created an internship for me, which quickly turned into a job. When I moved back to Sydney, they transferred me to the Sydney office, and so began my career in PR!
After about 6 years working in various agencies, I decided to have a crack at going out on my own. Looking back, I was only 28 and I was a pretty good publicist but I had no idea how to run a business. I think in retrospect that was probably good because I had literally no expectations and nothing to lose.
I figured if it didn’t work, I’d get a job. That was 14 years ago. I guess it worked! My company was called DLPR – Dani Lombard Public Relations, but two years ago, we merged with a Melbourne agency called Soda Communications and rebranded under their banner.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
If I’ve got my act together, I wake up and train – either at the gym or go for a run. Come home, make my eight year old daughter breakfast, get her ready for school, pack her lunch etc, drop her at school then take the dog to the park for a run around on the way to work.
Dog then comes to the office with me as he is a highly neurotic rescue dog that can’t be left alone. He’s now our CFO and I can tell you that he’s terrible at his job.
The great thing about agency life and having multiple clients is that no two days are the same. Truly. I spend a lot of time on the phone talking with clients and doing zoom meetings which is honestly a blessing as less time is wasted in the car going places.
There will be meetings with my team, editing written materials – media releases, pitches going out and discussing ideas for events, new product and brand launches, strategic plans etc.
Most days I eat at my desk with something I’ve made from home. I’ve been vegan for three years so usually some kind of yummy salad.
Today I’ve been sourcing props for a client’s upcoming social media photoshoot, viewing a potential venue for an upcoming skincare product media launch, have a bunch of media materials to approve, and have to make some calls to some TV shows to pitch a celebrity client who’s promoting a new fitness program.
Also have to put together a plan for a new client looking for crisis management support. Honestly no two days are the same so I guess I can just give you an example of what today looks like!
I’ll usually fly out the door at 5:30pm so I can have some family time before my daughter goes to bed. If we’re super busy, I’ll jump back online after dinner to try and clear my emails and admin tasks so I’m feeling fresh-brained for the next day.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I’m the boss so yeah, I work wherever I want! Currently I’m in the office 4 days a week and one day at home. But after last year, I’m really loving being back together with the team!
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Oh golly, I’m really bad at it. Work-life balance would honestly be finding the balance between being a Mum to my daughter Cleo, having a rewarding marriage and career, looking after my body by being able to nourish it with healthy food and loads of exercise, having a social life as I adore my friends and don’t see them enough, getting enough sleep and generally feeling healthy and happy.
I honestly do a pretty bad job of the juggle, like most people – and inevitably, work ends up taking precedence over everything else. But when you have your own business, you need to make hay while the sun is shining.
After 2020, I feel like the sun is shining and there is much hay to be made! I’ve recently added a couple of people to the team hoping to restore a little more balance back into my life. It really is an eternal struggle.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
We went away for 4 weeks to Noosa in December and January which was truly life changing. Christmas and New Year is the only real time I can switch off all year as clients are generally on holidays too.
To have that much time just hanging with my family and doing nothing was remarkable and really made me realise how precious life is and that it shouldn’t be all work and no play. I promised to change my life and not work so hard this year, but then oops, the year started and nothing changed.
I’ve recently brought a very senior person into the business to provide more support and structure and once again, hopefully allow me to restore a little more balance to my life!
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I love a good podcast! I generally listen to chatty interview style shows – my current favourite celeb podcast is Smartless with Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes. I also love Conan O’Brian Needs a Friend and Mia Freedman’s No Filter.
Others on high rotation include ABC Conversations, Terrible Thanks for Asking, Heavyweight and Grounded by Louis Theroux. I generally listen to podcasts to be entertained. I should listen to some business podcasts but honestly, my brain runs at a million miles an hour and podcasts are my chill time – I don’t want to have to work that hard while listening!
Same goes with books, I generally read for pleasure, although I absolutely loved my friend Tim Duggan’s book Cult Status: How to Build a Business People Adore, about cult brands. He started Junkee and Punkee media and is a bloody top guy. It was honestly one of the most readable and practical business books I’ve read.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My Apple AirPods are literally the best thing I ever bought. I was a late adopter but hello? You can talk on the phone while wandering around the office and listen to music at the gym while leaving your phone on the windowsill. I also listen to podcasts while cooking. Genius
I am also attached to my iPhone like most people, which makes my husband want to divorce me most days. I love Asana for managing workflow in the office, Strava for tracking all my running and am a straight up social media monster.
If I’m not scrolling on Facebook (yes, I’m basically a boomer), Instagram or TikTok, I’m probably asleep. Oh and I love my Garmin Fenix 5S watch. I use it again to track my running, training, swimming, my heart rate, my steps and sleep. The Garmin app is ace for all of that.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Oh golly. I would like to read a book about work-life balance from someone who isn’t already rich. It’s all fair and well when you have a business with a couple of thousand people in it, and are worth millions. Unfortunately that’s pretty much where you have to be at to get a book deal though!
Oh and the person needs to have small children. Show me a small business person with small children and work-life balance and I’ll read their book. Michelle Obama once said that you can have it all, just not all at once. So maybe I should read her book. But when?
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Look, I think I’ve done a terrific job here of telling your readers that I have no thoughts of any use to share on this topic, since I struggle with it so much. I am definitely someone who hates scheduling and sadly, I think that’s the only way around it.
If you want to pick your kid up from school one day a week, you need to schedule it in your diary like a business meeting. Same with date night. Your exercise needs to be scheduled in the same way.
I have completed more than 20 training programs with a charity called CanToo – a combination of half marathons, marathons, ocean swimming and trail runs. It means I’m locked into two coaching sessions twice a week, and I know I have to train the other days too to make it to the start line on event day, plus I’m raising money for charity so I can’t flake.
So for me doing something like that ticks a big box for me as both a social activity and a health activity that does so much for me both physically and mentally. Having stuff that’s important to you outside of work makes a big difference I think.
Although I love my business and what I do, I really don’t define myself by it. Work is work. Life is bigger than work. When someone asks me how work is, I honestly change the subject every time. Who cares? Let’s talk about something fun! I also try to catch up with a friend at least once a week. I’m a super extroverted social person so that’s super important to me.
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