How I got here: Caroline Catterall

Welcome, Caz. Thanks for letting me pick your brains on your success – and some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way.  
I want to start off by getting you to take us back to young Caz – what were you like and what were your interests? 

At school, there was so much on offer so I did everything from sports to photography to aerobics to debating and music. I don’t know if I was creative, but I was definitely curious. If I look back at those early days, in my education and growing up, I always had that relentless curiosity.  

As an only child, I became very used to forging a path – there was no one to copy so I got good at figuring things out myself. I also grew up with a strong work ethic and that’s something that I think comes from my family. My parents migrated here from Europe so I’m a second generation Australian and all those migrants had such an incredible work ethic because they came here with nothing. 

Did you know what you wanted to do when you grew up? 

I was lucky, I was one of those kids who knew what I wanted to do career wise from about year 10. I remember going to the RMIT open day and sussing out the different courses… and I saw the third-year students talk about PR and I was totally enamoured. So, it was really clear for me through my VCE that I wanted to get into that course specifically. 

What influenced you to go into the creative / PR world?  

After school I started working in hospitality. I was plucked out of suburbia and popped into this fine dining restaurant called Max’s Restaurant at the Hyatt in the 90s. It was a very different time. I was looking after people like Solomon Lew and overhearing their conversations about business. And I think that also weirdly made me quite comfortable in being around businesspeople.


How it started vs. how it’s going.

When did you start drumming up Keep Left?  

I started my career after university working at Coles Myer, in their PR and comms team. I did that for a year… and then went into an agency, Hill+Knowlton. I was working with Telstra and some really fast-growing tech companies because it was kind of the beginning of the internet. It was a really exciting time, and I loved the work because it just made sense to me, it added value for people, and I got it. But the dot com crash happened and we all got made redundant.  

Then one of our clients approached me to work in-house. The guy’s name was Stephen Melville, and the company was Ingena and I still have a lot to thank Stephen for, 20+ years down the track.  

After a couple of years, aged 23, I sat down with him and told him I wanted to go out on my own. I said I want to leave but I still want to work for you as a consultant. And he said yes. 

And where did the business name come from? 

Well, I came running out of my house in St Kilda one Saturday night and saw this big car crash that had happened, and this Keep Left sign was beaten up and I just said: “My god, why can’t people keep left?”  

And I thought right, this is what I’m going to call my little business.  The name works though as we’ve always taken a slightly alternative (left) route. Starting a tech focused business at 23 was left-field in and of itself.

Why can’t people just keep left?

How did you get people to take you seriously? 

I think I was a bit tenacious. I had simple, basic client service principles – be good to deal with, do what you say you’re going to do, and work hard to get the result. And I think through diligence and focus, I earned their respect, and I always knew how to tread that line between professional and nice banter.

What was it like starting a business?  

It was incredibly humble beginnings. I still was in my 20s, doing all the things 20-year-olds do. I think I probably had two or three clients, all tech. And it was about four or five years before I hired my first helper. I had to learn everything. I had to learn GST and provisioning. But I think growing up in a working-class family, you really understand money – through not having much of it.

What were some of the biggest challenges or hurdles you faced in bringing KL to life? 

I remember we didn’t win Kellogg’s, and we should have. The feedback was ‘you’re too small, only in Melbourne, not a big enough footprint in Sydney’. We got that quite a bit 10-12 years ago and it really hurt because we’re a really good agency, but we just weren’t breaking though.  

Even with recruiting, trying to convince people to come work for you when you’re young and small is a big challenge. Fortunately, we don’t have those challenges anymore, but I still remember.

What do you do for fun outside of work? 

I love my exercise, my yin yoga, my hikes, and that keeps me in a good headspace. As much as I can get away from the computer, I do. I also just love meeting new people which I think is pretty core to Keep Left… I just find it really fun to get insights into how other people live. And of course, spending time with my daughters and husband.

Family time at Euroa Music Festival.

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be? 

Just try everything once. It’s simple but I do believe it. I think women are particularly good, or bad, at self-selecting out. Just try it once.