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Sarah Hardwick is the founder and CEO of Zenzi. Her high energy and passion have fueled the company’s growth from its inception in 2002 into an award-winning communications firm with leading consumer and technology clients including Nestle, Chiquita, Shea Homes, Mapquest and others.
Zenzi combines proven strategies (in public relations, social media, events and grassroots marketing, content management) with new tactics, from cause marketing to crowdsourcing.
MO: How do you amplify conversations and turn them into opportunities?
Sarah: The first step is listening to what’s being said about your company, your competitors and the industry. Every conversation is an opportunity… to grow your business, build awareness and loyalty, understand what motivates your customers and stay ahead of the competition.
We assess opportunities to build and strengthen your relationships with your most important customers and influencers. We look for trends that could drive innovation and business growth. We keep positive communications flowing by curating a flow of relevant content rather than pushing out marketing messages. We stay nimble and responsive to capitalize on ways to gain exposure, recognition and thought leadership.
MO: What inspired you to launch Zenzi? How has your background and experience contributed to Zenzi’s development and success so far?
Sarah: My first experience in PR was working for a nonprofit organization. It’s amazing what you can do with limited resources! We had to be smart and nimble. Creative thinking and the ability to multi-task were invaluable assets. I learned about the importance of partnerships to make yourself bigger than you are. And most importantly, I saw firsthand the positive impact of my efforts, and I experienced how good it feels to give back. This is why decided to make philanthropy a big part of our culture at Zenzi. I currently serve on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations, including Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Keep A Breast Foundation, US Green Chamber of Commerce and Indian Classical Music Academy.
MO: How can a company decide if crowdsourcing is right for them? What kind of questions should they be asking?
Sarah: When done successfully, crowdsourcing can energize a campaign and result in increased loyalty and awareness. It can also be a lot of fun! One of my favorites examples of turning your customers into ambassadors was the Chiquita Sticker Design contest (http://zenzi.com/work/view/banana-sticker-campaign) that we promoted. Taking it beyond the traditional, you can use crowdsourcing to benefit all areas of your business from product development to customer service. More and more free platforms exist giving developers access to a variety of data (maps, weather, shopping, crowdfunding). Before you get started, ask yourself…What problems are you trying to solve right now? Where are you trying to reduce costs, innovate, generate ideas? What resources do you already have to work with? How can you turn your customers into ambassadors?
MO: Has your interest in drumming been a long documented love affair or was it something that struck you quite suddenly? What bands or musicians inspire you?
Sarah: I started learning to play the snare drum when I was in middle school. I was inspired by some of the early rock and roll and bands like the Beatles, Kinks and the Rolling Stones. When I met my husband, who is a guitar player, I realized I had the perfect audience. We have a great time together in his studio, jamming along with everything from reggae to punk and jazz music. What I love most is the balance of precision, creativity and improvisation.
MO: What advice would you give a new company in need of a PR strategy? How much of their public relations should be concentrated on social media?
Sarah: PR is about managing communications between your company and your key audiences. Who are your customers? Where can you find them? What motivates their decisions? How do they communicate? Social media, blogs and online sources are beneficial to help a small business get the word out. However, before you dive in, it’s important to lay a solid foundation. It should be, first, about determining your goals, assessing perceptions in the marketplace and determining how you want to be seen. And then deciding which tools to use to most-effectively convey those messages and communicate directly with your prospects. I often see companies put up a Facebook page and start posting before they even have a marketing plan. Make sure you are clear on your overall business objectives and use social media as a tool to support those goals. Having a roadmap in place along with metrics to measure your success is essential.
MO: Zenzi is currently launching a consumer insights division to explore the untapped motivations that drive purchase decisions. You have a strategic alliance with San Francisco State University and will be releasing a study soon with your findings. Do you have any predictions or hunches on what the study will reveal?
Sarah: I believe we may be surprised when the findings reveal a powerful connection between our spending habits and our happiness. As consumers, what products and experiences we choose can make a big difference on our life satisfaction. We hope to empower people with new information so they can make purchases that are more aligned with their inner values and beliefs. Should you go to a comedy show or an art gallery? Go alone or with friends? The research that we have been conducting with the Happiness and Well Being Lab at SFSU will shed light on the different values that motivate our decisions. It will explain why people feel and behave a certain way and the inner desires that subconsciously influence our everyday buying behavior.