With IMPACT celebrating 21 years this year, IMPACT’s GM Frances Dwyer sits down with her CEO and founder, Nicole Webb to get the lowdown on where the inspiration for one of oldest independently-owned PR agencies in Australia came from. Who inspired (or gently nudged) Nicole at such a young age to enter a career she’s loved for over 30 years? Where did the name IMPACT come from (true story!)? And what has IMPACT done over the past 15 years to help mums return to work? 


Frances: 

IMPACT is turning 21 this year, so we felt it was a good opportunity to have a chat about the last 21 years and what’s next in this coming of age tale with our illustrious CEO, Nicole Webb. 

So, I was looking into other CEO interviews and came across The Fast Company’s nine favourite questions CEOs have been asked in interviews.  So I thought I’ll take a little bit of inspiration from that and then pepper in some of the questions that I was really keen to ask you today, because it gives us an opportunity to chat through a few things that I’m really proud of and passionate about alongside you. 

Nicole: 

21 years is a long time, isn’t it? 

Frances: 

It is and is something to be extraordinarily proud of. And if you think about this year in particular, obviously it has been very challenging for businesses around the world, it’s not the first time that significant external events have challenged and impacted the business. I really wanted to say congratulations for being the founder and owner of a business that’s now 21 years old. It’s really something to celebrate. 

Nicole: 

I’m feeling a little bit old. But I couldn’t have done it without you. 

Frances: 

Well, I’ve been very fortunate to be here for much of that journey. So, I’m excited for us to have this chat today and maybe even dig a little bit further back to what really shaped you. So I wanted to start with who or what has shaped who you are, because I think that’s really a big part of where the organization is now and where it’s headed. 

Nicole: 

Well you know I’ve been really fortunate, even though my mother passed away when I was 28, she was a bloody awesome, awesome role model. She worked in the healthcare sector as a Director of Nursing in the Illawarra. Unfortunately, she passed away with breast cancer. 

I was listening to Leigh Sales the other day (on the podcast Chat 10 Look 3 within Annabel Crabb) and she was talking about when she was at school it was unusual for mums to be working. My Mum worked and I didn’t think it was odd. I did think years later while pulling up to the school and yelling at the kids, “Get out of the car!” that my mum was pretty incredible working and juggling kids  she had three kids under the age of five! I only have two! 

Hands down, she was the most important influence on my life. My grandmother was also incredible. She lost her husband when I was six. I didn’t get to know my grandfather very well but he was an entrepreneur. He ran his own businesses, including butcher shops, ran for politics 

Frances: 

It was written in the stars, it’s in your blood from the get go. You talked about your experiences growing up with your mother working. As you reflect on that, what sort of influence do you think that had on your own expectations of your life and what your future might look like as a girl and then as a woman on the other side of school. Do you think that your home experience influenced that? 

Nicole: 

Oh, absolutely. There was no way that I wasn’t going to university. There was absolutely no way I was not going to do my HSC. I don’t know what would have happened if I pushed back and said, “no, I’m not going to do that’. The expectation set very early on and was never questioned. 

Frances: 

And it sounds like something that you wanted as well. 

Nicole: 

don’t know if I knew what I wanted to do coming out of high school. It was my mum that said, “you’d be good at PR”. And that’s where I ended up. 

Frances: 

And as you started that degree at Canberra Uni, was there a moment where you were like, I would be good at this, or this is something that interests me. Did you have any light bulb moments or has it been kind of in a gradual organic passion that you’ve developed over the years? 

Nicole: 

I was on the student council in high school and we organized events and I thought that was bloody awesome. So I think it started then, and mum saw how much I enjoyed it and steered me onto the path I now find myself on. When I was at Uni I worked for the student union – drinking money – writing articles and hanging posters around campus to promote upcoming bands and events. I loved it!  At IMPACT we’re not doing much event management at the moment (thanks COVID) but I got married in November last year, and it was so easy to organize the wedding because that’s what we do – we can create an event with our eyes closed. 

Frances: 

It’s not overwhelming at all. 

Nicole: 

It not overwhelming at all. I was like, tick, done that, tick, done that. David went to try on the suit – I think that was the only thing that he contributed. 

Frances: 

We’ve known each other so long of course, that you also attended my wedding. And I remember when I shared a Gantt chart with my mother, she was like, you have a Gantt chart? I’m like who doesn’t have a Gantt chart? How could you possibly know who’s doing what, when and when things need to be achieved by if you don’t have a Gantt chart?  

So, you finished university and you worked in both the private sector and public sector. You worked in government, was it Department of Industry? 

Nicole: 

Mineral Resources 

Frances: 

That’s right. And Clean Up Australia Day. So, you worked in the not-for-profit space and also with our very dear friend, Jason Gemenis at Universal Press. 

Nicole: 

Which does not exist anymore. We don’t use street directories anymore. They produced maps and guides and were also the distributor of Michelin guides and the old A to Z travel guides out of the UK. 

Frances: 

So, you had quite a well-rounded and varied experience as an employee in the land of communications. So what made you take the leap from employee to business, founder and owner and what made you decide to take on, take it all on? 

Nicole: 

Way back then I had a business partner and we believed that we could do it better than other agencies out there. We wanted to set up an agency that was very transparent and made sure that when clients gave you a budget, you stuck to it. You didn’t go back to them, cap in hand and say, well, we’ve reached the budget so we need more money to complete the work. It was all around transparency. And 21 years later, we’re still transparent with our budgets. We’re still transparent with our clients. So, what started out as one of our values, we still continue today, which I’m very proud of. 

Frances: 

And where did the name Impact come from? 

Nicole: 

Oh God. Really? That’s a loaded question. Now everyone’s going to think I’m loopy. 

Frances: 

No, there’s a thread here, I’ve got to follow the thread. 

Nicole: 

We had Diva, Loud and Grapevine as our top three business names. I was seeing a friend of mine, Desney for Reiki after mum had passed away. She could ‘see’ mum during my appointment and mum told her that ‘Impact’ was a good name. I drove home and looked it up and the name had been de-registered pretty much that week so we could use it. So that’s how we got the name.  

Frances: 

I had to bring up that story because I know what an enormous influence your mum had on shaping who you are and continues to this day. I just think that it’s so fascinating that she nudged you in the direction of that career path that you found to be your passion and then even nudged you in the direction of the name. I don’t care where that idea came from, I love that story. 

So tell me more about the passions that you have. What are you passionate about?  

Nicole: 

I’m passionate about the environment and I’m passionate about climate change. I think that stems from the work I did with Kim McKay when we were working with Clean up Australia. We had a couple of other environmental clients back then. Even back in the early nineties, I was really passionate about what was going on in the world in terms of the environment. 

I’m also really passionate about empowering our female staff that we have in the office. 

In our industry 70 and 90% of people that work in PR agencies are female. When I fell pregnant with Ciara I put my name down at several daycare centres in the inner west. Even after she was born, there were no places for her. So we set up a creche in the office. We hired a nanny to come in and look after her. So, this newborn baby came into the office and, that’s when the creche was created. 

Frances: 

I’ve had my two boys go through the crèche tooThere’s a whole assembly of creche alumni. I think it’s been one of the most incredible things to witness. This moment of, well, why don’t we just do it? And for it to endure for over a decade and enable so many women to remain in a job that they’re passionate about or perhaps weren’t previously unable to return to work to after having children. 

The intentional focus on ‘people first’, offering flexibility, and a focus on you as an individual, with what was going to work best for you – to be the best that you could at work and in your own life – I think is the true legacy. It’s such a big part of what we are as a business, the way that we treat our people and the values that we hold dear to that. 

And what would you say are the values that we try to foster in our culture? What are the things that you really encourage and have developed? 

Nicole: 

This is something that we’re working on (and the culture playbook that you are working on will shine a light on this a little more for us), but a couple of years ago, I saw a gentleman by the name of Patrick Lencioni speaking at a Growth faculty event. He talked about the three things needed to make an awesome team player and it really resonated with meIt’s where we’ve landed with our values. We’re still working on it, but it’s the ‘humble, hungry, smart’ concept, where you need somebody to have three characteristics – to be humble , hungry (and for us that means they need to be curious), and smart – they need to have emotional intelligence. 

Frances: 

The reason it resonated with both of us so much was because it really did articulate many of the things we have sought out in new employees and fostered in our team. We have a weekly IMPACT Inspire award that is used to encourage our team to being curious about the world around them and excelling where we can, not just in our work, but in our personal lives and pursuing things that bring us purpose and passion. 

don’t think it’s possible to run any form of professional services agency sustainably for 21 years, as you have, if you don’t have a constant focus on people and culture. 

It also has to evolve and shift and change over time but curiosity and creativity, those things are enduring, even if the execution looks entirely different.  

 So 21 this year, it’s a coming of age, next chapter. What do you think we’re doing really well right now? And where do you think is the opportunity to grow for us and for you? 

Nicole: 

I think we’re doing really well. In the awful year that has continued to tested us, we have done some incredible work. I’m so proud of the team. We did whatever we could to help our clients get through, including ensuring one of our clients remained as an essential service during lock down! 

I know the rest of the world is still in an awful way, but we seemed to have come out the other side and the work that we’re currently doing for our clients is about moving them forward. I think that was part of Jacinda Adern’s acceptance – moving forward. We acknowledge what’s happened, but ask ourselves “what do we need to do to help our clients move forward” to help them make their sales targets in this dare I say it, ‘new normal’ 

Frances: 

Absolutely. I think collaboration and purpose have been at the heart of what we’ve done for 21 years and enhancing and adapting that to be even more valuable to our clients is definitely the trajectory that we’re on. It has been a joy to interview you and occasionally make you squirm with my questions today. Thank you for letting me take the reins and thank you for sharing the story of Impact and celebrating our 21st birthday this year. Happy Birthday Impact. 

Thanks Nicole. 

Nicole: 

Thanks Frances. Happy Birthday IMPACT!