GETTING YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS
Founder and CEO
A background in broadcast journalism first taught Risë Birnbaum how to write in ways that draw in an audience. Today, she’s putting that training to work as founder and CEO of ZCOMM, where her team explores fresh new ways to get clients’ PR messages across — including podcasts and games.
Q: Before you founded ZCOMM, you were a broadcast reporter. How does that background help you serve clients now?
A: As a network correspondent, I was always on deadline, which taught me how to prioritize my work. I was lucky to learn to write for radio and TV as a reporter and anchor — crisp and conversational copy — very similar to what’s hot these days. And my experience choosing the most compelling news stories now helps my staff package the kind of content producers want.
Q: ZCOMM started out doing radio promotions. How have your offerings evolved since then?
A: We still handle radio promotions, in English and Spanish, as well as audio news releases and radio tours, but as the communications landscape has changed, so have we. We now work on everything from podcasts and animated videos to blogger outreach and the design and hosting of microsites. So we’ve evolved throughout our 26 years, handling business for almost every sector. Our clients are tapping us for both our produced content and our ability to market that “snackable” content directly to target demographics. We’ve evolved from a traditional broadcast PR firm into an integrated marcomm agency.
Q: You were involved in the famous “Got Milk?” campaign. How did that come about?
A: We were fortunate to work for this groundbreaking campaign through another, large PR agency and supported their program with audio news releases, audio features in grocery stores, and even a 90-market radio promotion targeting teen boys with a Battle of the Bands theme. We helped promote the Milk Mustache Mobile and a move to milk in vending machines in schools, and I’m proud to say we’re still lending a hand on the account.
Q: The PR landscape has been changed dramatically by social media. How is ZCOMM staying on top of new media in its campaigns?
A: We stay on top of what’s happening by daily checking out cool sites, and with the help of our younger staff, who are always plugged in to the latest. We purposely scout out non-traditional ways to communicate messages and laser-target audiences, whether it’s a bar takeover to reach millennials or videos in fitness clubs with health tips.
Q: ZCOMM is looking into client messaging through podcasts and games. Can you tell us more about what that might look like?
A: Sure. Thanks to NPR’s Serial, audio podcasts are red hot these days. And we’re able to tap into podcast popularity by working directly with podcast hosts. We choose the podcasts for our clients that attract the right audience, and then provide the podcast host with “chatter” that includes client messages and a call to action. Listeners love podcast hosts, so the messages they “talk up” at the start or the middle of their podcasts are extremely credible. On the game front, we work with dozens of visually rich games that can be branded and tweaked to include a client’s product or service. Over 47 million Americans played games last month, so we know it’s a great way to engage an audience. Once a game is branded, we can share it over social media, post it on a microsite or provide it to relevant bloggers to help our clients market their cool content.
Q: Your daughter works as a VP at ZCOMM. What’s it like working together? How do you keep family and work issues separate?
A: It’s not always easy, but I try to balance my stay in the office with events and business trips. She’s an Ivy League graduate and a veteran of Hollywood, so she brings her entertainment focus to our work for corporate or nonprofit clients, which adds sizzle to the substance.
Q: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
A: Stay calm. The world is changing and that’s going to happen whether we’re calm or stressed. But it’s much easier to think clearly when calm.