Barby Siegel: PRWeek Hall of Femme 2017

CEO, Zeno

What would you do if you were not in PR?
There are two completely different careers I’d think about if I were not in PR.

The first is to run a restaurant or a bed and breakfast. I love gathering people around good food and drink. 

The second is caring for our elders, something I’ve seen up close in the incredible relationship my own daughters have with my 92-year-old dad. They love to listen to his stories, witness his fortitude, and hear his perspective on current politics. Our elders are an incredible source of inspiration. There is so much wisdom and so many incredible lessons to be learned from those who’ve lived such long lives. There is also much to be said for the kindness of strangers, for being the person who gives that kindness.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.
This past December, we were named a PRWeek best place to work. We set our sights on achieving this honor several years ago, and it happened. It was the very people who make Zeno go every day who made this recognition possible.

At Zeno, our culture is our most important core strategy. We’ve nurtured it every day for years. Many ask what will happen to our culture as we grow. We’re determined to never lose sight of the values that inspired us from the beginning and got us to where we are today.

The best place to work award is proof Zeno is indeed a place where the best and brightest can make their mark for themselves and their clients. It’s proof Zeno is a place where "careers are built and lives are lived."

The same day the award was announced, Richard Edelman emailed the Zeno U.S. staff telling us how proud his father Dan, who founded Zeno, would be as we carry his legacy forward. It was a deeply meaningful moment all around. 

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment, a total wipe out? What did you learn from that moment?
A few years ago, Zeno had the opportunity to pitch a major, iconic company where we knew the client, but had never before been able to break in. It was a chance to become a roster agency.

We invested a lot of time, followed the brief meticulously – or so we thought – and showed up with great energy and passion for their brands. Days later the client called and dropped an unexpected bomb: Not only did we not make the cut, but she also said we’d completely missed the brief, and by not following the brief, showed we could never join their portfolio. 

We were beyond stunned as we thought we’d done well and delivered just what they’d asked for. It shows how subjective, how vulnerable to personal interpretation, our business can be. We still talk about it as one of the lowest moments we’ve experienced. It still stings.

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
This past Thanksgiving, my two daughters, husband, and I spent the week in Anguilla. Being at the beach is one of my favorite things, and one of my best ways to recharge. Just a comfortable chair, a good book, and fun food and drink. Our biggest decisions all week were about the next meal and what we’d wear to dinner that night. That week was important down time and family time.

I will add I deliberately attempt to recharge my batteries every morning. At home, I am in the gym very early, usually around 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. It’s my favorite time of the day, and the best way to clear my head and prepare for the day. All I need is loud music, heavy weights, and a trainer who knows how to push my competitive buttons, and I am ready for whatever the world will throw my way, personally and professionally.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
New business. We love it, of course – the thrill of the hunt, the fight to the finish. But aspects of new business can be enormously frustrating, such as when the process is prolonged with more than 10 agencies starting out. It’s an age-old issue. Perhaps the most frustrating is when we are asked to do all the work – write the strategy and develop the full plan – that we should be paid for upon being hired. I wish there was less of "give us the plan" and more of "show us how you think."

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
We are very proud of the recognition we received in 2016 at the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Zeno’s work for Netflix was recognized in the highly competitive PR Lion category. Zeno was one of only five PR agencies to be awarded one of 84 PR Lions. This was a special moment for us in a year when there was much controversy around how and why PR firms win – or rather don’t win - versus other disciplines. The work was completely PR-conceived, created, and led by Zeno together with our client.       

Words to live by?
Take a chance. Speak up. Make a mistake, learn from it, and move on. Be fearless. Enjoy life, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Favorite drink?
Oh, I have several! To start the day, it is hot water with lemons followed by a hot cup of coffee. In the evening, I will drink either red wine or an ice-cold vodka straight up, shaken, with a squeeze of lemon. 

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Life is short. Live every day to the fullest. Find a career you love as I have. Never say no to a new opportunity and use your early years to gain global experience. Find a life partner as I have who will support your dreams and fuel your ambition.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter?
Barby, you were a good person who made the most of your life with gratitude every day. You were kind, generous, and caring. You were a good daughter to your parents, a good wife to your husband, a good mommy to your children, and a good friend, especially in times of need.

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