Shama Hyder on Fueling Growth in Competitive Industries
Shama Hyder is the Founder & CEO of Zen Media
Could you give us a brief overview of your business and your role within the company, especially in relation to innovation?
I started Zen Media in 2009 with a focus on social media marketing, as I was a very early adopter (I joined Twitter when it had under 2,000 users) and saw the massive potential for businesses on social platforms. From there, Zen has grown into an award-winning B2B PR, marketing, and full-service communications agency.
As the founder of one of the first digital marketing companies to address the unique challenges of the social media age, I have always been ‘Chief Innovator’. We serve some of the world’s most innovative, technology-driven B2B (and some B2C) brands looking to maximize their key moments, drive demand, and ultimately - drive dollars. Clients see an average of 96.2% increase in demand gen and a 63% lift in sales after working with Zen, and this is all due to the foresight that the team puts into leveraging innovative trends.
What kind of innovations have you or your company brought to the industry, and how have these set you apart from the competition?
One of the biggest and most recent innovations I put out to the world is a tool that we developed with my PR team called ‘Snooze or News’, a first-of-its-kind AI-powered press release tool to help determine if an announcement is newsworthy. I looked around and saw some AI tools that could correct press releases, but they were boring and honestly not that helpful beyond a glorified spell-check. We created a tool that also provides creative suggestions to make a press release more media-worthy, an amplification strategy, suggestions for distribution, and of course, editing for grammar, spelling, and even AP-style.
This innovative technology and strategic application was a completely new approach to media communication tools, empowering professional communicators to enhance their press releases, receive expert feedback, and gauge their company’s newsworthiness.
Our ‘bread-and-butter’ innovation that serves every single client we work with is Zen’s tried-and-true formula that allows businesses to maximize momentum and amplify successes. For example, when we get a media hit for our PR clients, we amplify that hit in a multitude of ways to not only extend exposure, but to help drive sales. Our innovative approach to exponentially leveraging success helps clients take a small win and turn it into lead generation, SEO-improvement, and countless opportunities to share their messaging with the world.
Can you walk us through a specific instance where innovation played a key role in solving a business challenge or capturing a new opportunity?
Snooze or News is actually a great example of both solving the challenge of helping clients understand when their announcement would be better suited as a social media campaign rather than a press release, while also capturing a new opportunity to create a tool for businesses to showcase our in-depth approach to today’s ever-evolving media landscape. By training our AI-tool, we can use this innovation in-house, as well as share it as a free resource with other companies who are looking to get their feet wet with public relations.
How do you foster a culture of innovation within your team, and what strategies do you use to encourage creative thinking?
At Zen we are constantly sharing innovative tools we find, as well as brainstorming together across departments to elevate everyone’s unique expertise and insights. We have Slack channels dedicated to the latest in AI, social media trends, and general innovative thinking thought leadership. Also, I believe this innovative culture that we have starts with step one - hiring. My strategy with who joins the Zen team is to select out-of-the-box thinking people who are ahead of the curve and have personalities that mesh in our approach to creatively problem solving.
Innovation often comes with its set of challenges. Could you share an example of a significant obstacle you faced while trying to innovate, and how you overcame it?
Since we are always early adopters of new tech, a problem that can frequently arise is that the new, innovative tools we are using are so new or so revolutionary that they haven’t fully worked out all the bugs or aren’t able to completely integrate with existing legacy tools. For example, we started using a pretty new AI-powered tool to facilitate meeting notes and action items, but hit a few hiccups in our integration with our meetings and subsequent project creation integration to ClickUp.
Thankfully we have some really bright people at Zen that were able to troubleshoot a lot of the integration bugs. Also, when you’re working with newer tools, a really nice benefit is that they tend to have passionate, hands-on customer solution teams that will quickly respond to your needs and have even gone out of their way at times to quickly create new features just for our use or to solve our issue.
How do you measure the success of your innovation initiatives, and what role does customer feedback play in this process?
Success in innovation by my measurement is how much better it makes the days of my employees or clients. Did my new formula for media hit amplification completely boost a client’s website traffic, social media stats, and incoming sales?
Success. Did the Snooze or News tool help a PR practitioner correct a press release, provide insights to industry outreach, and make you smile with its sassy responses all in less than 60 seconds, saving them hours of work? Success. Did a new AI-tool shared in our company's Slack channel completely transform how one of my employees is able to do their job and help them provide even more data-driven results for a client while making their life easier? Success.
Looking ahead, what trends or areas of innovation do you think will be most crucial for businesses in your industry?
I frequently give keynote speeches around the world and one of the #1 question I get asked is about which new social media innovations is the one for businesses to focus on, and my answer has been the same for years. It isn’t about the newest platform or tool - it is about the people. I’m talking beyond influencers - everyone, no matter their follower count, is now a platform and a potential outlet for your brand.
The rise of the importance of your company’s impact on even one single person is absolutely where we need to be watching what innovations matter most. Businesses need to be innovating in marketing and PR in a way that doesn’t always measure success by how big of an outlet they get a mention in, or how many views an ad has - but how impactful it is to the viewer and its ability to spark action and true connection with the audience.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in competitive industries who are looking to drive innovation within their businesses?
Try new things and don’t be afraid to break some stuff in the process. When I first started Zen, it was a one-woman show for a while, and some of my most innovative growth happened after a misstep. You won’t know if something can completely transform your business unless you try it.