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“Don’t think of yourself as a female leader; Think of yourself as a leader” With Kimberly Eberl

Don’t think of yourself as a female leader. Think of yourself as a leader. A smart leader that deserves attention. You’re not more of a leader or less of a leader because you’re female. You’re as strong or as weak as your own abilities can take you. Your team embodies who you are. If you […]

Don’t think of yourself as a female leader. Think of yourself as a leader. A smart leader that deserves attention. You’re not more of a leader or less of a leader because you’re female. You’re as strong or as weak as your own abilities can take you. Your team embodies who you are. If you are thriving, so will they.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Eberl.

Kimberly Eberl is the founder and CEO of Chicago’s largest independent female-owned marketing agency, The Motion Agency. Specializing in developing integrated brand programs for products and services, Motion is passionately committed to an ever-evolving industry, working closely with B2C and B2B clients to unearth creative solutions for today’s marketing challenges. Kimberly has over 20 years of experience and award-winning PR skills, including being named a “Woman of Influence” by the Chicago Business Journal and a “Top Woman of PR” by PR News in 2017.

Kimberly’s entrepreneurial-minded team represents brands such as Serta, The Home Depot, Whirlpool, Simon Property Group, Tractor Supply, Gold Eagle, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and more. Prior to opening her firm, Kimberly worked at agencies including Ogilvy PR and Weber Shandwick. Kimberly received her B.A. in Public Relations from Marquette University.

Her track record also includes completing more than 110 races of various distances, seven of which were marathons. She’s a member of the Color Marketing Group, Public Relations Society of America, the Publicity Club of Chicago and PR Council. She is also an advocate of the MS Society.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I saw what it took to make an independent business work from an early age: hard work, innovation, persistence and believing in yourself.

As a young adult, I learned a great deal in my first jobs, but what stood out the most was that I didn’t fit the typical corporate profile — I started to see I had more in common with my entrepreneurial relatives.

In 2006, I lost my job at a public relations agency. Instead of seeing my firing as a failure, I realized it was an opportunity to strike on my own. My agency started as a one-woman shop that entailed of convincing friends, former work colleagues and referrals to allow me to work on projects and freelance assignments. Business took off very quickly and I was able to craft a unique agency unseen in Chicagoland.

With seven years of agency work behind me, I could clearly identify what I didn’t like about agencies: a lack of results, wavering dedication and poor creativity. With my own agency, I took great measures to ensure my focus was always imaginative and client-centric, doing whatever was needed to move the needle.

My clients were extremely receptive to this single-minded approach, and the business grew from one client in 2006 with $100,000 in revenue, to 40 clients and multiple million dollars in revenue this year (2019).

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Just a few years into starting my agency when it was Motion PR, I won my first big-name client against several top agencies. When the client told the other agencies they weren’t selected, one of the competing owners said, “I’ve never heard of Motion. You’ve made a big mistake.”

I’ll never forget this since so many agencies don’t get the momentum they need to grow and establish a real business. With that comment, I knew I was going to grow my agency, and that people would soon recognize the name Motion. Motion was going to be more than a “lifestyle” agency setting that I often see, where employees frequently work from home, take long vacations, and show up at work when they want to.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on in my business, I received a call from someone trying to sell me the “motion.com” domain for $5,000. At the time, we were just a PR firm (now we are a fully integrated marketing firm) and owned the domain motionpr.net. Five thousand dollars when you’re just starting out is a lot of money, and our domain seemed to be getting the job done, so I gracefully declined the offer. Fast forward to 2019 and I’d kill to have the “motion.com” domain — but it’s valued at several hundreds of thousands of dollars! Our website is “agencyinmotion.com” (check it out!), which is fine, but I did learn a valuable lesson: buy the domain now, you can always sell it later.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are always in motion — no pun intended! We’re constantly thinking of our clients, moving strategically and efficiently to better their brands. We’re nimble, flexible and eager to keep our clients, well, always in motion. Motion hustles.

Recently, we completely digitized a retailer’s magazine in only seven weeks’ time. If you’re in the industry, you know that this process can take months, if not a full year. Nonetheless, our agency gladly took on the challenge and enjoyed every second of it.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

While we can’t disclose our active client work, I can mention that I’ve been instrumental in bringing Chicagoland agency owners together to share best practices and collaborate. This new community is helping each other learn and grow, while sharing in the joys and frustrations of being in management in the advertising/marketing/public relations community.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t think of yourself as a female leader. Think of yourself as a leader. A smart leader that deserves attention. You’re not more of a leader or less of a leader because you’re female. You’re as strong or as weak as your own abilities can take you. Your team embodies who you are. If you are thriving, so will they.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Although it’s important to have boundaries between your business and personal life, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being approachable at work and having your employees know you on a personal level. With my staff, I’ve seen firsthand that employees work harder and engage more when they WANT to work for you, and they LIKE working for you. I make it a point to know every single person in the agency and ensure that we interact when we see each other around the agency. This builds a sense of belonging that I expect from everyone I employ.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It may sound cliché, but I’m grateful for the ongoing support from my parents. My dad always likes to brag about the agency and my mom constantly tells me she’s proud of the success so far. My parents never suggested that I work for someone else, or that I fold up shop, or come home to take care of them. They always want me to go after my goals and have faith that I’ll accomplish whatever I put my mind to. When I’m searching for strength, I think about my parents and how they handle adversity.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Since I own a marketing agency, it’s hard to think about a philanthropic way that I’ve brought goodness to the world, even though my team and I do spend time doing charitable endeavors. I’ve been told that my story of being fired and now owning a thriving business inspires others. Although I can often overlook this impact, I’ve been able to demonstrate by example that great things can come from seemingly difficult times.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Get a Mentor. I am a proponent of trusting your instincts. As entrepreneurs, we sometimes shoot for the stars and figure it out afterward. It’s great if that works out, but sometimes a mentor can help answer questions that can thwart some troublesome decisions and provide support.
  2. Don’t Overthink It. I recently met a business owner that thinks a lot about the “what if’s,” especially as it relates to others’ opinions. As the saying goes, “perfection is the enemy of good enough.” Although you want to make a good first impression, striving for perfection or worrying about catastrophe can just slow you down. If you have vetted your idea a few times, run it by a mentor (see tip #1), then move ahead.
  3. Employees Can be the Hardest Part of the Job. Once you start adding employees, your people become your biggest expense, both in time and financial resources. Great employees can help you reach new heights. Difficult employees can make you lose sleep. Understanding how to work with people and honing your own management style can help you unleash the power of your people.
  4. Set Goals. When I first started out, people asked me about my professional goals, vision, mission, etc. I never really had the answer, and always thought, “I just want to make money and be happy.” Without professional goals, you’re floundering in your career, and you can get bored or burnt out quickly. Writing down goals, small and large, not only helps you stay engaged but also helps you understand the aspects of your career that are important to you (money, title, responsibility, etc.).
  5. You Are Smarter Than You Realize. I’ll never forget the first time I was in a competitive professional situation. A few agencies were gunning to win a new client, and I was astonished when we won it. The client, with whom we developed a good relationship with, said, “Don’t sell yourself short.” It’s a simple philosophy that we often hear, but you can’t forget it when you’re on your own. Once you are in the owner’s seat of a company, you need to be reminded that you’re there for a reason, and you have the smarts to succeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would launch a website called “Fired Anonymous” for professionals who have been fired or laid off to share their “bounce back” stories, and for other recently fired professionals to gain ideas and inspiration. Visitors can share their struggles and successes anonymously or be open with their identities and be sources for ideas and connectivity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If not me, who? If not now, when?” This is relevant for me almost every day. As an entrepreneur, you’re often the one who pulls the trigger, initiates the meeting, or calls the team into action. In my personal and professional life, I hate when there are great ideas that go unexecuted. If I can be the one who makes the movement now, then I will be that person.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Probably Kevin O’Leary, “Mr. Wonderful,” on Shark Tank. Although harsh at times, he tells it like it is and his business acumen is spot on. He also has a good sense of humor, which I think is important in business as well.

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