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When Barby Siegel took the helm at Zeno seven years ago, the firm had 55 people, $10 million in fee income, an almost exclusive focus on consumer, and was viewed by the marketplace as “Edelman’s conflict agency.” Today, after seven years of double-digit growth, Zeno has 400 people around the world, fees of close to $60 million, a balanced portfolio of consumer, corporate, health and tech business, and a global footprint.
But it’s the work that really impresses, from helping Starbucks defend itself against charges that it was part of the “war on Christmas” to supporting Spin Master’s launch of toy sensation Hatchimals to a data-driven micro-targeted marketing campaign for Bernzomatic that really drove sales. The thought leadership isn’t bad either, particularly the firm’s Human Project, a multi-generational study that helps brands forge deeper connections with consumers.
How do you define innovation?
Unexpected. Simple. Defendable. Valuable.
What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Whirlpool Care Counts epitomizes the ability of a brand to make a difference – in this case putting washing machines into the schools so children can have clean clothing for school. Innovative need not be complex. The power of this program is its simplicity – and the proof that a brand can embed authentic social purpose.
In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Love what Jet Blue and Airbnb are doing. They continue to surprise us with simply brilliant ideas rooted in human insight.
Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Re-defining the perception and potential of what a mid-size firm can deliver; re-positioning Zeno via “fearless pursuit of the unexpected” and today our emphasis on data-driven story-telling and fierce creativity.
Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Among my favorites – Howard Schultz, Tony Robbins, Ellen, Lady Gaga.
How do you get out of a creativity or productivity rut?
Relax your brain and put the project away. Step aside. Clear your head. Do something completely different and fun. Get outside or into another environment. Surround yourself with different types of people and have varying experiences that can jumpstart new thinking.
What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Let’s get on with it. This is our moment. As communications professionals dedicated to protecting and promoting corporate reputation and articulating brand stories - internally and externally – never has what we do been more relevant or essential to our clients’ business success.
In your opinion, what's the most innovative place in the world?
Digging deeper beyond the usual hot spots, I like to search for innovation thought starters in places that push you out of your comfort zone. More to the point, innovation can – and should — be found in both those likely and unlikely places as long as our eyes, ears and minds are open to the sights, sounds and human truths that exist around every corner.
What's your favorite hobby that's not work-related?
Lifting weights, working out and getting on a really good sweat to feel great mentally and physically. And I love to spend time cooking in my kitchen.
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