Over the past several years, as a growing body of research has shown that word-of-mouth referrals from friends, colleagues and other “people like me” carry greater credibility and influence than the other forms of marketing, or even recommendations of traditional authorities, a wide variety of firms have added word-of-mouth marketing to their credentials presentations. In some ways, word-of-mouth is a natural extension of public relations. The process is essentially the same: identify individuals whose endorsement means something (traditionally journalists, but in this new universe, anyone from bloggers to housewives to cool kids), tell them the company or product story, and then rely on them to amplify that story and give it added credibility. But far too many firms have seen word-of-mouth as a synonym for “buzz” and decided that creating talked-about but otherwise traditional PR campaigns qualifies them as experts in the new discipline.
As a result, Zocalo—our 2008 New Media Agency of the Year—has quickly grown into an industry leader, with a team of 28, led by president and chief executive Paul Rand, former partner and global chief development and innovation officer at Ketchum, serves on the executive committee and Board for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. He is joined by partners Patrick Rooney, formerly president of Expand Communications, a firm he founded with the belief that the future of long-term competitive advantage will in part be based on which companies can achieve open, honest and mutually-beneficial dialogue with customers and those who influence them; Emily Bader, a former senior vice president and group manager at Ketchum, where she led the Midwest food and nutrition practice; and Dave Kissel, who joined in March, 2008 after holding senior leadership roles at ad agency DDB Chicago.
Just as impressive as the firm’s growth—fee income was up by 70 percent last year—is its client roster, which includes blue-chip brands such as State Farm, Subway, Capital One, Dove,