Balancing the Grind with Karen Eck, Founder & Managing Director of eckfactor

Karen Eck is a publicist and founder of Australia-based agency eckfactor, which has represented some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.

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1) Tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a publicist, strategist and talent manager. My background is in television publicity. My first break was scoring a graduate position at ABC television after completing a BA in Communications, majoring in Public Relations at the University of Canberra.

A three-week internship at the ABC in my final year at uni, set my career on a path of enormous opportunities and experiences for the next 30 years. 

I started out managing media campaigns for documentaries, films, live comedy and sporting programs. It’s always a privilege to draw attention to wonderful minds and talent, and people who achieve the extraordinary by pushing boundaries. That’s how I felt when I launched my first project and I still feel the same way today.

After working for the ABC, the Nine Network and a three-year stint overseas with Discovery Channel and National Geographic, I started my PR agency, eckfactor to represent entertainment, media and business brands.

Twenty years later, eckfactor continues to evolve. I’m fundamentally doing similar work (creating positive attention for my clients who have something valuable to contribute) but how I go about my business has definitely changed.

I don’t have a bricks and mortar office right now. I curate the talent and staff I need when I need them, much like a production company does. The current PR cycle demands project rather than retainer work. New technology has also given companies and stars direct access to their audiences. Accessing entertainment today is like an all-you-can-eat buffet or 24-hour 365 sushi train!

I also enjoy the adventure/expedition space, and have been honoured to represent the impressive polar explorer Dr Geoff Wilson, and more recently, endurance athlete and podcaster Samantha Gash. These incredible humans inspire me every day. 

In March 2020, I created The Power of Visibility (POV) masterclass and workshop to help mid-career women progress their careers through raising their profile and confidence.

There is a lot of help out there for graduates climbing the ladder, but there’s a huge gap for  experienced professionals who may have hit a career roadblock. They often report feeling invisible, overlooked and at times overwhelmed. POV teaches them how to be PR and promotion-ready and how to create a realistic Visibility Plan.

The workshop content is practical and actionable. It helps change the way professionals think about self-promotion. I strongly believe you must ‘back yourself’. The women I’ve had the privilege to work with are impressive – they’re experienced and talented.

But they needed a push in the right direction to restart their career mojo. Many tell me they find the POV workshops refreshing as well as re-assuring to be among like-minded women.

2) What does a day in your life look like? Take us through a recent workday

My day starts with three essentials: a good stretch, quality caffeine and a blank piece of paper.

I’m a night owl, so getting up early doesn’t come naturally. When I wake up I religiously do a 20-min yoga session. I listen to an audio recording of a yoga class which I find relaxing because I don’t need to think about what’s coming next –  I simply follow the instructions.

My husband is also a convert. Our teenage kids sometimes open the kitchen door to see us doing downward dog or pigeon pose. They shake their heads and say, “you guys are weird”. One day they’ll understand how beneficial a good yoga stretch can be to kick start the day.

Second item on the agenda is coffee. We use a stove top that has served us brilliantly for 25 years. We have carried it in our backpacks while exploring the world. We once climbed a boulder in Colorado, made ourselves a cappuccino complete with frothy milk, and enjoyed it while taking in the snowy mountains view. I know, totally over achieving there!

Thirdly, when I sit down at my desk I like to grab a blank piece of paper, draw some lines and write what I want to do during the day, rough timings, must-do calls and emails. There is something therapeutic about simply drawing up the page! It makes me feel productive and focused.

I like to include at least a few phone calls in my day: a media contact, just to keep my contacts as relevant as possible; a client (again, keeping connected); and a person who will make me laugh.

I would probably call my great mate, Theresa Miller, an accomplished author and media trainer, or my stand-up comedian brother, Gary Eck. Both have terrific senses of humour. And finally, I always need to call my mum back! She rings every morning to check in.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

About 13 years ago I bought an office building in Sydney’s bustling Pyrmont. I enjoyed going into the city and helping eckfactor grow into a well-respected entertainment publicity agency.

At one stage we had eight full time staff and as well as part-timers working on projects and special events. But over the years, I lost the desire to be ‘in an office’. Three years ago, we converted the building into apartments and moved to a remote operation.

I love the flexibility of working anywhere with teams especially tailored for specific projects. I hire people who want to work this way as well, so it feels very natural and just makes sense. Who knew that in 2020, working remotely would become the norm?

During COVID that’s been hard for many people but as everything opens up again, getting together in person is more appreciated and valued.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

With teenagers (one a 2020 HSC graduate, the other in year 7),  a husband of 28 years, two cats and a never-ending home renovation, work-life balance is very much a matter of perspective, day to day.

According to my husband, I’m like a puppy which needs to be regularly exercised! So, I’ll take myself off for a 7km walk and listen to podcasts (that’s two ticks right there). As long as I have exercised, had my coffee and scrolled through the morning news on my iPad, I feel prepared for the day ahead.

For me, personal work-life balance is being able to make choices every day that are good for the mind, body and soul. Even better if it’s all three at once, but ticking off just one a day is an achievement. Like compound interest, it all adds up!

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’m learning to play golf. It’s a long term 10-year plan. The only issue is that I keep restarting the clock! It’s frustrating yet addictive. I try to do at least nine holes every week.

I’m also a keen rollerblader and have a plan to devise a 2021 distance challenge to raise my heart rate for fitness, and also to help raise awareness for the benefits of positive mental health. 

I’m a big believer in planting lots of seeds that initiate ideas, projects and goals. Some come off, others don’t. But what’s important is that an idea is given a chance in the first place.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

As a PR professional, I’m always listening to the work of my clients, past and present! So I can’t help but give a shout out to their outstanding work.

Every week I listen to The Samantha Gash Podcast. She is a former corporate lawyer, turned ultra-endurance runner and keynote speaker. She interviews trailblazers from around the world about their superhuman achievements. Samantha knows many of them personally, having raced or completed some adventure with them. So her personal experience and insight is invaluable.

My friend and author Theresa Miller’s debut novel The Spin Doctor’s Wife is witty and a great page-turner. Definitely recommended for a holiday read. It’s been a popular choice with book clubs around Sydney. It’s nice to see a good friend enjoy success with something they have worked so hard on.

I read The Squiz newsletter most mornings. It’s a quick take on the news, often with a few witty perspectives thrown in. And the 7-minute podcast recap is handy.

I like to know what’s going on in the entertainment industry, so every morning I read trade publication MediaWeek for a helpful summary.

The Art of Work (by Jeff Goins) is a book with great tips on finding your career passion and understanding the idea behind a ‘portfolio career’, which is now very common. I’m interested in the changing workplace environment and what motivates people through their careers.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Spotify – how did I ever live without it? And any platform that enables me to binge watch brilliant content. Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is incredible and I loved reliving The World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, which I worked on last year as international media manager. 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

It would be a toss between Queen Elizabeth II, who has dealt with every crisis imaginable in her almost 70-year reign and Madonna. Have you seen Madonna dance on stage? She has muscles, chutzpah and a brazen ability to push the boundaries, while barely raising a sweat.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance you’d like to share? 

I think it really helps to set goals, even if they feel far-fetched, in order to put some plans in place. Putting dates and commitments in the diary can help. More than anything, it’s vital to just keep going even when you feel disillusioned or unsure. 

Setting boundaries is also a big one. Not being available for everyone all the time ensures people value your schedule and contribution. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.