In this episode…

Join David Hernandez, host of There’s Always a Lyric, as he speaks with Debra Rizzi, the President, partner, and co-founder of rizco, a woman-owned brand-led marketing agency. Tune in as they discuss the impact of AI, how she finds her work-life balance, and, of course, the lyrics that inspire her most.

Episode Transcript

lotus823  (0:19)  

There’s Always A Lyric is sponsored by lotus823. At lotus823, your goals are our goals. We help consumer tech, home, and lifestyle brands gain visibility, drive relevant traffic, and increase sales through customized public relations and marketing strategies. Want to learn more? Head over to or get in touch at, today.


David Hernandez  (0:45)  

Welcome to another episode of There’s Always A Lyric. My podcast, brought to you by lotus823. Today my guest is Debra Rizzi. Deb is a friend, colleague, and all-around great person. But a little bit about her background. She has over 25 years of experience in developing brand strategies for local, national, and international companies. She’s a partner and President of rizco, a woman-owned brand-led marketing agency, which she co-founded in 2000. Upon graduating from Bucknell University, Deborah worked in the finance department of corporate Lord & Taylor. Later, she managed the creative department of the global public relations firm, Porter Novelli. Deborah is a past New Jersey Biz 40 Under 40 recipient and 2020 New Jersey Biz 50 Best Women in Business Award winner. She is a member of many business organizations and currently serves on Walls High Schools, Business and Finance Academy’s advisory board, and served eight years on Bucknell University’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. On a personal level, Deborah’s partner in life and business is her husband, Keith. And together they balanced the lives of their three daughters, Mia Marley and Monroe. Welcome, Deb Rizzi, my friend. 


Debra Rizzi  (2:01)  

Thank you, David. It’s so great to be here. Great to see you. 


David Hernandez  (2:06)  

Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this interview. I wanted to start, really, where we are right now and what led you to really build rizco with your partner in life, your husband, and a great creative, Keith. How did this come about? How did you get here?


Debra Rizzi  (2:31)  

I appreciate that question. And it might come as a surprise, but our business was actually founded through personal tragedy. We both worked at an agency, Porter Novelli. Which is still a very large public relations firm in the industry right now. Keith’s dad owned a smaller production studio and he became critically ill. Keith was forced to go on a leave of absence to take care of his dad’s business and I was in between interviews. And he was like, I need help. So we took the leap of faith. We were not married at that time, we were just dating, and I moved away from the agency. He’s very heavy on the creative side, and I’m stronger on the operation side. The true reality is that when you’re in a current position, especially with an agency, you’re supporting over 200 people.  You don’t realize those relationships that you’re fostering. And at that time, a lot of those agencies did not have creative arms within them. So as our, you know, the people that we’ve worked with over the years, moved to other places, word got out that we had started our own firm. So Rizco was born as a subsidiary underneath his dad’s business, and we were very fortunate to have loyal relationships that just moved with us immediately.


David Hernandez  (3:55)  

But what you’re saying is the initial driver of all this was family. Were there people in that process or along the way that have been helpful to you like mentors or teachers or coaches that helped you? 


Debra Rizzi  (4:14)  

It’s a twofold, you know. First would be, and as you read in my bio, I actually came from a finance background. So I worked for corporate Lord & Taylor. Yep. People were like, really? What the? How did you make that transition? And you know, art has always been something that I absolutely loved. You know, going to Bucknell gave me that liberal arts foundation. But it was always that secret about something being visual. Being a part of the creative process was always something that intrigued me. And when I was in the financial department of corporate Lord & Taylor, it actually was the VP of operations from the advertising division. I caught a mistake on his budget before it went up to the President and he said, I am going to get you to work for me one day. And he came through with that. It was about six months later, there was a special projects division. Back then, the New York store, all of the corporate offices were behind the walls of that main store, and in the basement was a full print shop. He loved my analytical skills, but he’s like, I’m gonna send you to school. And all right, I’m gonna date myself. So yes, I learned Illustrator and in Photoshop, I’m gonna say the word quark. And everybody’s gonna be like, oh my gosh, quark. But he gave me that foundation of seeing all the different parts and the the foundation of how an in-house creative firm works. And then understanding ink on paper was a huge advantage for me as well. So knowing, how do you translate your design effectively into print & in that phase of my career. But then secondarily, Tom Caputo was the one who opened that door for me and saw something in me that I didn’t see in my own self, and I would not be here today without him. And then on the back end, being part of the agency, we were a business within a business. So Donald Berg was my creative director. And he taught me how to run a business. From the conversations to the legal aspect, making sure that you’re getting sign offs on all of your proposals, and developing those external relationships with your vendor bases, which make your business run that much more smoothly. And then on the back end, I was responsible for all the finances as well. So your PO’s, your budgets, your billability. So Porter Novelli really taught me how to run a business within a business and so extracting the brand, the customer service, and then also the processes and being able to carry that over to rizco was pivotal.


David Hernandez  (7:06)  

What was happening, there was a setup for what was to come, even though you didn’t know it. Always asking that question of the why and how, and how it led you to where you are now. And I want to talk a little bit deeper about where you are now and the industry you’re in. It is an industry that is now facing a lot of new technologies and changes at a rapid, is not even the right word. This breakneck pace that you can barely keep up with the changes that are happening. Of course, I’m talking about things like AI and the impact. 


Debra Rizzi  (7:46)  

I knew that was coming. ChatGPT! 


David Hernandez  (7:49)  

The impact specifically, on both our industries. On the marketing side, and content side, but your content too in a different way. But your content as well in one of your core areas of images, design, and all that. And I think it’s hard to really understand where this is all going. Right now we’re watching this thing grow up in front of us. Except it’s doing it week by week in leaps and bounds, right? All you have to do is look every day, just check every day. And you’ll see there’s, oh wait a second. Well, now they’ve created all these API’s for chatGPT. And literally, there’s something for everybody and everything in there in terms of these API’s. How do you view this? How do you see it? Are you playing with it yet? Are you guys looking at it as something that does become incorporated at some point? The how, the why, and the how of how you work because it just seems like this thing is a freight train.


Debra Rizzi  (9:03)  

It is a freight train. We are dipping into it slowly and we are testing it. So I brought it to my leadership. It’s so relevant that you asked this question because I just brought it to my leadership team. And some were already dipping their toe into it. They were excited that I was you know, trending. I was aware of this and this you know looking at it. I went to a presentation and I was blown away and scared in the same sense because the presenter talked about how he was able to pull his presentation together in less than 10 minutes, which usually would take a designer and a content team anywhere from 10 hours and up. More so the concern of all right, each one of the images in that presentation was created through AI. But okay, where do the legality and the copyright infringement come into play? Because as we know, as creators, we need to do number one, respect that. But also, it’s a huge risk for your organization. We’ve all been there where you’ve made that mistake of, you know, there’s an image that you’ve got a license, that the license expires, and you didn’t get the notification. All of a sudden you get a letter saying you owe a lot of money. So it’s, you know, respecting copyright law and the legal aspect of it. Where we are using it is to possibly get from A to Z a little bit more quickly. Rizco prides itself on original content. But if you can test a theory, or put in questions to help your brain go into a different direction, to get a deeper end result of the content that you’re developing, that’s where we have started over the past month to use that and to cross reference. We will not support, you with our agency, yes you can start writing your press releases or your blogs by throwing in a few sentences. Because we’ve learned that, you know, 20-30% of that content might not be valid. We’re responsible, we are responsible for it.


David Hernandez  (11:21)  

It’s called hallucinations I think. I think that AI has hallucinations.


Debra Rizzi  (11:27)  

Hallucinations. I expect really good hallucinations. Have you put your own name into ChatGPT to see what it spits out? Some of it makes you seem like a rock star. But, you know, I think it’s going to be interesting over the next year to see how this impacts our employee handbooks and our standard operating procedures. But I still think that there is a value. We’re not there yet, we’re not going to be replaced. Because ChatGPT can’t create what you and I are doing right now.


David Hernandez  (12:12)  

That’s right. There is still a lot to be said for the human element that connects and engages in a way that AI, at least right now AI can’t.


Debra Rizzi  (12:25)  

Are you testing the waters with your team in the same way that we are?


David Hernandez  (12:28)  

Yeah we are, but we’re doing things like content. They may use it for a thought starter, you know, with some prompts that way, but the actual content is still created by humans, by people. But I do think I agree with you that we have to be in it. We have to be aware of it and find out how this tool can be used in a responsible manner but still keep us competitive because other players are going to be using it and are using it. Along the lines of the changes and in talking about your business, I wanted to ask you about it. I get the why of where you started, because there was, you know, literally a family emergency, that kind of sparked this whole thing. But that’s not where we are. We’re not at that family crisis anymore. You know, rizco has now had an entire life. It’s had an arc of existence. What’s the why of rizco, now? Because it’s certainly not the same why when it started. That’s something that we all go through, where our company evolves as we evolve, as the team evolves, all of that. What is that now?


Debra Rizzi  (13:55)  

So the why still goes back to our roots. It’s brand-led marketing designed to matter. It’s designed to matter. And we are very intentional in the way that we approach our business. It’s a proprietary research process that helps to differentiate us in the marketplace and enables us to be a champion for our brands or for our customers. And so our why becomes their why. And so when you’re engaging with a customer, you’re asking them well, what is it that you’re trying to achieve? And by going through our research phase, we are then able to give them recommendations that are based on fact. We use this analogy, you buy a piece of land and of course you want to build on that property. Do you just go in and start building? No. You survey that land, you see, what kind of structure could I put on here? Is it going to fall? Is it a wasteland? You survey to make sure that you understand what you’re working with, and then you can build something, a solid structure on it. So our why becomes the client’s why, and then we put our process into place to come up with that solution that’s gonna drive their business forward. And that’s different, you understand that. It’s, you know, for some people, it’s visibility. For some people, it’s donations. Trying to sell a product, to beat out a competitor. Each business that we engage with has their own set of goals that they’re trying to achieve. And it’s a different answer for each one of them.


David Hernandez  (15:41)  

100% and to me, it’s the work that you do is so highly personal. Even though you’re working with a brand within a business entity, at the end of the day, things like design, making decisions about fonts and colors for a logo, for example, or a particular design element that creates the logo and makes it. To me, those things are very personal and very subjective too. Aesthetics are extremely subjective, you know, one man’s food is another man’s poison, right? So it’s interesting that you talk about that upfront research because I’m guessing that is part of the way you’re able to mitigate and help them. Basically, you’re going through the research, but it’s also an education process for the client, so that he understands that he’s in medical, and he probably doesn’t want to look like a McDonald’s logo. I mean, I’m being silly, but you know, it’s kind of educating them and bringing them along, in that education process, so that you can start to set up guidelines of what this should look like, as opposed to just you know, whatever’s in their mind at that moment.


Debra Rizzi  (17:10)  

100%. So a lot of times a client is trying to figure out, alright, what are my key differentiators? How am I different from somebody else? And, you know, one of the basics is even just to ask your own staff. So using the people that are in your business on a daily basis, and in including them in your process, a lot of that foundational information can come from your staff as a first touch point. And then that secondary touch point comes in looking at competitive landscapes. Look at the people that you’re competing against on a daily basis, and then maybe a brand that you’re aspiring to be. What do they look like? What do they sound like? Are all of your competitors blue, and yours blue? You know, color and color theory and those decisions, it’s not just, oh pick it, because it’s cool. Pick it because it is going to put you in a different realm or pull on the emotional touchpoints of your consumer in a different way. So, you know, for those who are listening, you’re like, where do I start? Look at your competition. Do you look like them? Do you sound like them? Are you using the same words? Are you using the same words that everybody uses on a daily basis? So it’s the verbal and the visual, that help to create this roadmap of originality, that helps your brand stand on its own.


David Hernandez  (18:38)  

It’s really a series of learnings that you’re bringing the client through, to get them there.


Debra Rizzi  (18:47)  

Sometimes you’re digging even more deeply. We’re serving internally and externally. And therefore, when we’re going through that brand audit on a very deep level, you’re now reporting back based on statistics. There are percentages that are driving. Okay, this is why you need to be investing your monies here, we’re making this shift or investing in a rebrand. And it’s very gratifying, especially for those businesses who are looking to grow to sell. They go through a brand audit and even if they haven’t implemented it yet, to be able to put that in front of the investor, it increases the value of their business. So even more recently, we’ve had four clients who have gone through the audit process and have gone to the table and gotten more exposure and more offers than they were expected. 


David Hernandez  (19:40)  

Oh, that’s awesome. That’s a great story. Finding your way to balance and I know everybody uses the word balance. To me it’s, there’s no real like homeostasis of balance but to me the teeter-totter of always trying to find that balance. What’s it like for you? Are you in a place now where you feel like you’re finding ways to live a more balanced life for yourself and for your family so that you’re able to truly enjoy all of it right? Enjoy the work and the successes that you have with clients, that is extremely fulfilling for both you and Keith, but also be able to have that balance of your family. With Keith, with just a joy that is the wonder of life. Right? And how do you find your way there? Are there certain things that you’ve made decisions upon, that are impacting that in a good way for you? What can you tell us?


Debra Rizzi  (20:51)  

David, I love you, because you know this is the trick question of our time together today. I’m trying to become the better version of myself. For those who know me, I’m like Mach 10, with my hair on fire. I’m working on it. So yes, last year was pivotal for me. And you know, I’m going to share some of my vulnerability because it’s important for people to hear it. Turning 50 was not an easy thing for me. You go through this self-evaluation of, you know, where am I, am I doing enough? It’s going back to the Bucknell how, and why, but really going through that really tough process. And being surrounded by people like you and Allison, who have watched my process and said, you have to start to prioritize a little bit more. You’re doing that Scooby Doo very often, where your legs are moving really, really fast, but you’re not getting anywhere quickly. So through friends, and my personal coach, who is John Mousseau, I am scheduling those clarity moments. And I’m committed to that now at least, and starting small, but two times a week of blocking that time and not feeling guilty about it. It doesn’t always have to be before work or after work, because I’m constantly in the work. But how I take that time, whether it’s to read, evaluate something on the business, go for a walk, or just pause to have a really deep, good human conversation with my husband that is not about the business or the kids. It’s about us. And where do we want to go in the future? It takes baby steps. It’s baby steps. But that is the one thing that I am working on. And I get inspiration from other individuals who are doing it well, like you. I’ve noticed your shifts and how you’re balancing that. But if anybody looks at my Instagram feed, it’s all about my family. So that time is ridiculously precious to me. And I’m super proud of my children because they are the best creative end product that I’ve ever worked on. And it’s constantly going. And I do want to be around to see and experience their lives. So I’m working on the work-life balance, I promise.


David Hernandez  (23:22)  

And you mentioned a coach, that’s very interesting. And let’s give him a shout-out. It was John Muso?  Yeah. So how does your coach, because I think this is also helpful for people to hear that we all get help from others, right? How does John help you as a coach?


Debra Rizzi  (23:42)  

John leads the alternative board. And so I’m part of a tab program and actually have a board meeting today, where the people within my board are all senior level, either business owners or senior level within their industry. So I have that legal counsel, financial counsel, HR, all within the pseudo board. So we spend three hours a month together, solving problems to make our businesses better. And then one-on-one, I have sessions with John to go through what are my my key challenges and it’s not always business. A lot of times it’s personal, it’s mental. It’s making you the best version of yourself so that you can make the business better. So he has been really instrumental in developing structure for me, and seeing where I need to improve processes and procedures, so I can do that. We’ve done a good job, I can step away and go on vacation and it runs seamlessly. I have the best VP of ops, Michelle Mazur, I have to shout out to her. She’s the best form of glue you could ever find. But there’s another layer that’s needed in order to really balance that work-life balance. So, yeah he’s keeping me in check. And I’m sure he’s gonna listen to this because he’s gonna follow up and be like, did you do it? Did you take your time off? Did you do your clarity checkpoint? Yes, I did.


David Hernandez  (25:20)  

One question that I know you’re dying to answer because it’s the title of the podcast. I got to ask the question. If there’s one song title, or lyric that captures who you are your story? What would it be? 


Debra Rizzi  (25:40)  

Am I allowed to do two? Okay, I’m sorry, I have two and you’ll get it. Okay. So my second daughter is named after Bob Marley. And so of course, music plays a huge role in our family. So Everything Is Going To Be All Right, has always been ingrained throughout our family. And it is. When you look at life’s journey, even when you feel like you’ve hit your rock bottom, there’s that like, it is going to be all right. And in that moment, you just feel like it could be the end. And it’s not there’s always a way out. There’s always somebody that will be there to help you. So that’s ingrained within my family. But the other one is true, true, true to my heart as a woman who grew up with very simple beginnings. I grew up in Rahway, New Jersey, and rap & hip-hop are a huge part of who I am as an individual. So I have to give my shout-out to Pitbull, The Time Of Our Lives. The best line is, but every day above ground is a great day, remember that, Dali!


David Hernandez  (26:59)  

You’re touching on my Cuban roots there, that’s great! Actually, that really does capture you, when I think about it. You have, both you and Keith have, an incredible lust for life. And it shows in, not only the things that you’ve done with your business, but it really shines in the way you guys both support and love your three daughters. The way you embrace family as a center point in your life. It’s kind of like that’s your platform. That is your foundation of everything else, is your family. It’s even though you both are incredibly talented, successful business people. I don’t think that’s how you identify first. I think you identify with your family, number one, and that’s where all the joy springs from and spills over into everything else. I don’t know that there was my analysis.


Debra Rizzi  (28:09)  

I love it. You know what, and once again, because of people like you, who take the time and give back, you’ve enabled me to even look at myself in a different way through this interview, which I truly appreciate.


David Hernandez  (28:24)  

Yay. That’s a double win. This has been lovely. Thank you so much for making the time today to do this with me. It was really an honor and a joy for me to do this with you.


Debra Rizzi  (28:39)  

I truly appreciate it. I’m so proud of all your success and that you made this dream come true. Feels like yesterday, we talked about it over dinner and you have given birth to another baby that I know is going to soar. I congratulate you and thank you so much for your friendship.


David Hernandez  (28:56)  

Thank you so much, Deb. And I’ll be seeing you! Thank you


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