Empathy + Strategy Is The Recipe For Success
It’s the start of the week. And for Stephanie Chavez, that doesn’t mean acting like Garfield and his distaste for the day; it means actually looking forward to Mondays and Zen Media’s “Monday Moments,” where employees share their best moments from the weekend.
Chavez is a morning person, logging in well before many of her employees to get a jump start on the day. As President of Zen Media, she sets the tone for her team, and she takes that job very seriously. Seemingly small initiatives, like themed days (Moments Monday is followed by Kudos Tuesday), virtual workplace parties, and thoughtful birthday gifts, are important to her. She believes that it is varied yet consistent actions that, together, make the biggest impact. And this strategy is used for more than just workplace culture; it’s the bedrock of the holistic marketing and PR strategy that she drives through Zen’s proprietary PESO model.
Chavez’s journey with Zen started in 2009 when Shama Hyder’s theories on how social media could be used for marketing caught her eye. In Zen’s infancy, it was just Chavez and Hyder taking over the world—and building one of the first-ever social media marketing agencies. They grew the company together for five years, scaling the start-up to 40 employees with clients around the globe, and though Chavez left for a different opportunity for a few years, she came back at the beginning of 2020. “Since then, we have doubled our revenues year over year and have a staff of around 60,” Chavez explains.
When she first returned, it was to take on the role of Global CMO, a role strongly in her wheelhouse—Chavez is a member of the CMO Club, a Forbes Contributor and Agency Council member, and she was named among the Top Women in Media in 2019 by Cynopsis Media. Her long tenure as a CMO is one of the reasons she is so passionate about advocating for CMOs, but in truth, she advocates for everyone at Zen. “My number one priority is to support our team and make sure they have everything they need, both personally and professionally. If they are happy and well cared for, then everything else will fall into place,” Chavez explains about her leadership style.
It’s this empathy and team-centric mindset that, paired with her marketing expertise and ambition, moved her into the role of President.
While old-school business principles may favor the mindset that “It isn’t personal; it’s just business,” Chavez flips this outdated belief on its head. Not only is she deeply invested in each of her employees, but she also uses her empathy as a strategic tool to drive marketing initiatives for her clients.
“No one knows a business and its brand better than the people who own, work at, and run the business,” Chavez explains. “Getting to know those people, how they operate, what their goals are—it’s second nature for me, and it helps me really align my strategies with their goals.” And this empathetic approach has made it into Zen’s core values as well, with Heart representing Chavez’s empathetic spirit.
“It all starts with the core values, our 5 H’s,” she explains. “We look for team members who are Happy, Hungry, Helpful, have Heart, and are High-Performing.” Each value has a description with additional sub-traits that are assessed from the interview stage through the lifecycle of each employee because, along with their career-based credentials, “Values are important.”
According to Chavez, it’s integral that everyone at Zen has those 5 H’s because “What we do at Zen is unique. We work together to build an engaged, hungry, ready-to-buy audience that trusts our clients and will buy from them in an exceedingly competitive marketplace.” To compete, every player on the team must be at the top of their game, both from a credentials perspective and in their personality and value system. “We are frontrunners who help other frontrunners succeed,” she says with a smile.
And it’s true. Chavez is definitely a frontrunner in her field, and her expertise is setting the tone for Zen Media.