Getting Brainy with Bobbi Mahlab AM, Founder & Chair, Mahlab

From establishing her own agency in 1997 to becoming a voice for equality and innovation, Bobbi Mahlab’s position as a leader in content marketing is unquestionable. Outbrain’s Andrew Burke sat down with Bobbi to learn more about her journey.

You founded Mahlab over two decades ago. What were your initial goals in establishing the agency, and have they changed over time?

My goals have always been to build a great business that has a relentless focus on doing work that works. This means working with clients who are interested in new ways of thinking, and allowing our team to do their best work while enjoying doing it.

I also wanted to create a workplace where I wanted to work myself – a gender equal workplace that offers flexibility, is full of smart, curious people, where office politics is minimal and poisonous people are not welcome. I am extremely proud that we both talk and walk these values. We are also awaiting our B-Corp certification, which measures our performance against social, environmental and financial criteria. I am really excited about this.

Mahlab has been at the forefront of content marketing. How has this space evolved, and how has Mahlab met these changes? 

Being pioneers in content marketing has allowed us to define our own way of doing things, including strategic processes. We started as a print-based custom publisher and were early to embracing digital. It was clear to me that media consumption habits and the model for publishing were changing. I knew we couldn’t rely on traditional publishing and had to create something new. I found people in the US from publishing backgrounds like us, who were using content to tell, not sell. It made so much sense to me and we embraced it and led it. 

Our business has expanded considerably from content marketing to include broader communications. Our focus has also grown from implementing content strategies to multi-channel performance-led content and communications programs that drive clear marketing outcomes. This includes everything from campaigns and always-on programs to helping companies drive demand for their products, capture leads and produce sales enablement content. 

Our client base has also expanded to include many global clients with an APAC remit, such as Salesforce and Slack, and leading membership organisations such as Engineers Australia.

What’s the journey been like for you as Mahlab’s founder?

It is a wonderful journey of constant innovation and driving change. If someone had told me that I would be in this business for two decades, I would have told them they were crazy. But media and marketing has been one of the most disrupted sectors on the planet and navigating that change has been immensely interesting and rewarding. It has filled my world with incredibly talented creative people and clients in fascinating businesses.

You’ve long been an advocate for gender equality and diversity. What do you believe needs to change within the marketing and advertising industry in order to achieve equality?

We need to ensure women have a seat and a voice at every table. It will improve every aspect of your business, including your bottom line!

You also co-founded the Mentor Walks program, a mentorship initiative aimed at supporting and empowering women. Can you talk us through the story of its inception?

I attended a version of Mentor Walks in Shanghai in 2016 and it was such a simple and impactful concept that my co-founder and I launched it in Sydney two months later. Now, more than 5600 women have participated in the program across Australia and our mentors include 390 of Australia’s most senior, leading women. 

We recently expanded to New Zealand and will launch in Singapore this year. Mentor Walks is about making mentoring accessible to women everywhere, helping them gain clarity, step forwards and upwards, and build their networks. Women generally underestimate the importance of diverse networks. Our aim is to change that.

Mahlab has won numerous awards over the years, and you have also been awarded an Order of Australia for your work in publishing and philanthropy. What do you think has been key to your, and Mahlab’s, success?

The key to my success is curiosity, enabling others and a relentless pursuit of excellence. I think this curiosity and striving to do great work is in Mahlab’s DNA. We attract clients that are open to new ways of doing and seeing, and we attract smart, talented, creative people who really enjoy working together. 

What are the top industry issues you’re keeping an eye on for the rest of the year?

The need to treat B2B buyers more like B2C buyers. COVID-19 has changed the customer experience and the expectation of seamless experiences is heightened. More and more B2B clients are measuring themselves against B2C, and they need to have the technology, content and creative to deliver this experience. 

Can you recommend your favourite podcast?

How I Built This by Guy Raz.

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