In this episode…

Join David Hernandez, host of There’s Always a Lyric, and Ilana Zalika, owner of Resound Marketing, as they discuss AI in public relations, finding everyday balance, and of course the lyrics that motivate her. 

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  (0:44)  

Welcome to another episode of There’s Always A Lyric. I’m David Hernandez, your host and today I have not only a colleague but a good friend from our industry from the PR and marketing industry. And just to give you a little background, she has over 20 years working in marketing, PR, and communications. She’s a Rutgers grad, English major, which has always been a passion for her because of her writing and communications. And she started her career doing marketing for a tech company. From there she moved to the agency side after about two years. And then five years after that, she thought she would maybe do it better herself and started her own agency which is Resound Marketing. She originally launched Resound with a partner but reinvented and relaunched the agency after they parted ways right before COVID. That timing is spectacular. She has survived and thrived through COVID and emerged a certified WBENC, which we’ll get into. And finally, she is the former president of PRSA, New Jersey, yay, volunteer board member for family reach foundation, overall loves to give back. She provides pro bono PR services to at least one nonprofit each year. And most recently, the Kidney Cancer Association in memory of her dear colleague who passed away. Welcome Ilana Zalika, my friend. 

Ilana Zalika (0:50)  

Thank you so much. So glad to finally be here. 

David Hernandez  (2:10)  

Yeah, we could actually do another podcast on that. 

Ilana Zalika  (2:14)  

Just, the long time it took me to get back. Just too busy, ya know. So busy.

David Hernandez  (2:20)  

And that’s a good thing. And we’re going to talk all about starting the agency and pre-COVID, COVID. And thank goodness post-COVID. So, but I want to start where we are right now. And just tell me a little bit about what it’s like to have gone through this arch. As a founder. Really as a reinvented company, as you said. And relaunching the company as Resound Marketing, just in time for COVID.

Ilana Zalika  (2:52)  

Yes. It’s been a journey, of course. You mentioned I’ve been doing this for 20 years with, I like to say, I founded the company when I was 10. But that started a little bit, as I look older and older. But I do feel like I was a baby when I started the agency 20 years ago, and things have changed so much. I mean, even just the things you mentioned, going through partnership shifts and reinventing the business and COVID, and ups and downs and all kinds of things. Also a lot of very non-dramatic things that happened over the course of 20 years that completely changed the course of the business, you know, year in and year out. So it has definitely been an interesting journey. But right now we’re just excited to continue to grow. I’ve got ten people who are amazing on my team, and we’ve expanded from being primarily located in New York and New Jersey to having people across the country. That was one benefit of COVID, that we’ve expanded our talent tremendously in that way. We’re still doing traditional PR still, but so many other different things, which I’m sure we’ll talk about just because the industry has changed so much.

David Hernandez  (4:02)  

It’s still changing, right?

Ilana Zalika  (4:04)  

It’s still changing, so much every day. Yeah.

David Hernandez  (4:06)  

With all the technology we have, why can’t we work from wherever we are? Right? And I think that kind of led some of your decisions to focus on let me just get great people and not worry where they are.

Ilana Zalika  (4:16)  

And it is definitely a double-edged sword. I think that I come from a generation that still does appreciate in-person. PR is one of those things that you can do anywhere, you do not have to be in an office, but there is a lot of value in the collaboration that comes when you’re together. So we still try to get everyone together every couple of months even just to see each other face-to-face and, you know, get those things from osmosis that you can’t get when you’re just sitting at home. But it has really allowed us to grow our team in completely different ways and meet some fantastic people who I couldn’t imagine Resound being without, that, you know, one of them is in Utah. Who would have thought? But you know, it really allows us to tap into that talent which is great. 

David Hernandez  (5:00)  

No, I agree with you it does open you up. And it is a double-edged sword. You know, we go through the same thing. We have someone in Chicago but you do have to find those moments to bring everybody together, because that osmosis thing that you talked about, there is a bonding that takes place when we’re physically together.

Ilana Zalika  (5:22)  

Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Just the way we defined PR has changed so much, and what services PR includes has changed so much. So being able to be more flexible, and kind of start with what the clients goals are versus what the services are, has really been a core foundation of how we’ve grown the business.

David Hernandez  (5:44)  

That’s an important point there, talking about the changes in the industry. Where we are right now in terms of PR and even the definition of PR.

Ilana Zalika  (5:56)  

Yeah, and I think actually, one of the most important things that we’ve done in more recent years is offer to be more of a partner to our clients in navigating that because actually, with all of those different new opportunities, there’s also a lot of not so great opportunities out there. But it’s really hard to know what’s good and what’s bad. It all sounds great. And I’ve written about this, actually. But I had a client come to me and say, “Dennis Quaid wants to interview me, it’s so great, it’s so exciting.” For the younger audiences, Dennis Quaid is an actor. And, you know, I was like, let’s take a look at this opportunity. And it really, it was a paid opportunity, a quite expensive one, that didn’t really seem like it was going to deliver to the client anything that they were looking to accomplish. So while that’s exciting, and it sounds great, and it sounds like it would be a great PR opportunity, you know, you really have to dig in and get to the bottom of whether or not it’s a fit. And that’s something that we really tried to do when we’re working with our clients. You need a kind of a partner in this wild west of what PR is evolving into.

David Hernandez  (7:00)  

Right, I think a lot of times clients, and I think in our collective experience, get caught up on tier of media and not enough on relevancy.

Ilana Zalika  (7:11)  

Yeah, well, that’s a good point, too. I mean, we talk sometimes. I’m stealing this from a client, for sure. But we talked about the kind of watering holes. So there’s always that big media. And if your goal is to have your name in lights, let’s say or get that big headline or be able to tell your mom I was on the Today Show, there are certain, you know, great opportunities for that. But in other cases, if you’re trying to reach a very specific audience, it might actually be a smaller outlet that’s very, very targeted, that’s gonna get even more traction than that Wall Street Journal headline. So it’s just a matter of finding. Sometimes it’s a mix of, of multiple things that works. Affiliate marketing is very, very interesting from a PR perspective. In fact, I’m currently taking a course to expand my knowledge even further of affiliate marketing, because what I found is that affiliate marketing has been around for a very, very long time. And, you know, in simple terms, that’s just the ability to pay a commission to someone who sends business your way, right? It’s good old referral marketing. But what we’re finding is that as the media changed, and the media started losing ad dollars and started shrinking, and I mentioned this before, the media has dictated you know, their changes have dictated our changes. They’ve started putting commissionable links in their content. Because if they recommend, you know, when it’s holiday season, whether it’s Mother’s Day, whether it’s Christmas time, any time of year, you’re seeing these lists of “Best Ideas for Dad”, “Best Ideas for Your Three Year Old”, “Best Gift Ideas For This.” You know, if you click that link, they’re going to get a commission of the sale if you make a purchase. And so this has become really a great opportunity for the media to stay afloat, which is so important for us. We need the media and we love the media. But they need other ways to make dollars. And it’s creating an opportunity for brands to also finally, which was never possible with PR in the past, directly track a sale from a piece of media coverage. So there’s great opportunities here, but it’s kind of an unknown. There’s affiliate marketing that has existed for other things, brand partnerships and all sorts of other things. And then there’s affiliate marketing specifically within the editorial world. And one of the things that Resound is really trying to take a leadership role in is finding good ways to merge the two so that brands can really understand the value of the entire affiliate marketing chain, whether it’s, you know, more of a marketing partnership, more of a PR opportunity. We’re trying to educate them on how to take advantage of that.

David Hernandez (9:53)  

That, I mean, everything that you just talked about is also another way of describing just the state of the industry when you think about marketing communications, as a whole. There are lots of opportunities in that, and a lot of challenges as well. What would you consider a good experience or good advice that you can share about how to ride those changes? And how to manage an agency through those changes?

Ilana Zalika  (10:22)  

Yeah, I think again, it comes back to taking a deep breath, taking a step back, looking at everything in front of you, and thinking about why are we doing this in the first place? What are we trying to accomplish? You know, PR has always been primarily about awareness, and awareness, over time, will lead to growth, sales, new business, partnerships, new opportunities, but it takes time. And not everybody has the time, patience or budget for that, right? They need something that will be a more direct sales mechanism, something that’s going to drive traffic right away or generate leads. And so it is kind of understanding again, what are those goals? What are you trying to accomplish? What do you have the appetite for? And, you know, it can pay off in the long run. But if that’s not what you’re looking for right now, or what you need, right now, let’s look at some of these other things. And I think that’s really the key, it’s taking a step back. So often, we will get clients who come in. They don’t even say I want PR. They say, my favorite is they say, I want to be on Oprah. And I have to first explain Oprah is no longer on the air. Which is a whole other conversation. But you know maybe more realistically, I have gotten the Oprah statement a number of times, but you know, maybe they say Good Morning America, or wherever it is, Wall Street Journal. And we’ll dial it back. And we’ll say, we’ve gotten clients there, we would love to get you there. But let’s talk about the why. And that’s really the best tool that you have to navigate all these changes is, you know, how does it tie back to the why?

David Hernandez  (12:06)  

Right, it’s really listening. Listening to your client, and asking the right questions. Basically, things like, what are your goals? What are your business goals? What is that you’re really trying to accomplish?

Ilana Zalika  (12:18)  

Yeah, and I think that is something I’ve learned through the years. I think it’s very easy to say yes to a client, especially early days when you’re growing a business and you need clients. But one of the things I’m most proud of as we’ve grown is the ability to say, this isn’t the right fit for you. And if that means that I don’t have you as a client, I’m okay with that. Because I want you to trust me. That’s what agency relationships are with their clients. It’s all built on trust. So down the road, if you’re ready for what we can do, I know you’ll come back because I’m giving you the truth right now. And sometimes it’s just listening and saying, you might consider something else and I may not be the right partner for you for that right now. 

David Hernandez  (12:19)  

And that’s really the right way to approach what really is a partnership, and not just a vendor relationship. 

Ilana Zalika  (13:10)  

Absolutely. It takes it to another level. And it’s, again it sounds easy. It sounds like that’s how it should be. But it’s very hard to do. First of all, when you’re running a business, and you need to grow the business, but also because everything does sound great. You know, we’ll talk to clients too. And it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of certain opportunities like the Oprah of the world. But you do have to take that step back. And like you said, listen, and really understand. Have that open conversation about where we’re headed.

David Hernandez  (13:43)  

What keeps you inspired? What keeps you, kind of, keeping the pedal to the metal, I think you would describe yourselves as hustlers, right? You’re scrappy, and you keep going and you’re looking for those wins. But for you, what inspires you and drives you?

Ilana Zalika  (14:03)  

We started really working with startups, we’ve always worked with startups. Since then, we’ve evolved and we also work with larger brands but startups have always been at the heart of our agency, and I really get my inspiration from those scrappy founders that we work with. And definitely a lot of female founders in particular, I mean, especially women in technology, who are fighting a million uphill battles. So you know, having that scrappy attitude where you really don’t know if you’re going to make it early on, right? Those startups are hoping to get the funding or get that one spark that’s going to take them all the way. We learned from that, and I think we admire that I watched that and all of the founders that I’ve worked with just show this incredible resilience and passion for what they do. And that scrappiness, I think that that’s really what always has inspired me and continues to inspire me. Because unfortunately for a lot of tech, female founders, things haven’t changed much in the last 20 years. It’s very hard for them still, to get funding, to get to where they need to be. And so seeing what they accomplished is always very inspirational for me. And that’s where I draw a lot of the fire that I have to tell their stories, and then also just, you know, create our own. 

David Hernandez  (15:30)  

Right, for you there, I think there’s a sense of identity in the work. It’s not just, this is what I do. It’s who I am.

Ilana Zalika  (15:40)  

Absolutely. We talk our mantras, kind of, I’ve read before hustle and heart will set you apart. And so we talk about honesty, hustle and heart. Those are kind of our three core tenants. And I think that that is what we see in those startups that we work with. And then actually we’ve had large brands come to us and say, we want that scrappiness, we want that kind of startup mentality, even though we’re a bigger established brand. And so we’re excited when we can bring that to the table. So it’s again, it’s being direct and talking about those goals and expectations out of the gates, it’s the scrappiness. That’s the hustle. And the heart. I mean, we care about the people we work with. We care about what we do. And, this applies to everyone. You know, you mentioned before the media is like a client to us, our clients are our clients, our partners. We take the same attitude and our team, you know, so being honest with them, and having heart with them, is so important. And so, being who we are, I think is at the core of why we’re successful at what we do. Sticking to those core facets of our approach. It’s just really important to us. 

David Hernandez  (16:51)  

And as a business owner, with many customers to serve; internal and external. It’s sometimes hard to shut it off.

Ilana Zalika  (17:05)  

Yeah, that’s true.

David Hernandez  (17:08)  

I know, I can talk to you from a similar position as an agency owner too. It’s, sometimes it’s hard to just put it aside. What do you do to find that balance? I know that you have a family, and you have a life outside of Resound Marketing. How do you find time to kind of recenter yourself and not be balanced? Because that’s everybody throws that word around, but it’s more like a teeter totter of balance. Sometimes one way, sometimes it’s the other way. But how, what do you do to find that peace and balance to be able to have a personal life, that’s not constantly bleeding into the other?

Ilana Zalika  (17:55)  

I think a lot of it is actually giving myself permission to have a life. And also sometimes having to interrupt that life to get back to work. I think that there is a lot of focus on separating things, balance, but reality sometimes changes that. Especially I would say, once we were at home all the time with COVID. I mean, there are no lines between my kids. I locked the door today so that they wouldn’t just barge right into my office, you know, and be able to sit down and focus on work. So I do very much try to compartmentalize and have my work day and then stop at a certain point and have my family life. But I also don’t beat myself up if something pops up, and I need to get back to it. And I’m honest with my family about that. I’m honest with myself about that. And that has actually allowed me to find a better balance, because I’m not punishing myself if it’s not a perfect balance. I think that that’s been really important for me. 

David Hernandez  (18:58)  

That’s a really good approach. It actually leads to the next question about sharing some advice. I think from the balance side, that thought about giving yourself or allowing yourself, right? Giving yourself permission and allowing that space and allowing the space for the imperfect perfect, right.

Ilana Zalika  (19:23)  

Exactly. Yeah, definitely.

David Hernandez  (19:25)  

Things teeter totter. Things move to the left or the right. You’re looking for a center, but you’re not always there.

Ilana Zalika  (19:31)  

I think that is one of the important things is just sort of, you know, do what you need to do. Make sure you’re taking time for both. If they bleed into each other, that’s okay. But as long as you’re still making sure that there is a separation, when there should be. I also will say you know, so one of the things that I do is, I’m a night owl, so it works for me to take you know, end my day whatever it is five, six o’clock, spend the time with my family and I might go come back and check a few emails at one o’clock in the morning. But not everybody does that. And nobody wants to get an email from someone at one o’clock in the morning, nobody. So one of my biggest pieces of advice is schedule send. I feel like it’s a very good way, you know, to keep the workday as the workday, even if you are breaking the rules yourself and working a little bit outside of it. Don’t subject the whole world to that, you know, stay within the right limits. And it actually helps you balance in the right way. Because you’re actually forcing yourself into that schedule, even if you’re cheating a little bit outside of it.

David Hernandez  (20:38)  

That’s it’s actually also respectful, especially to those internal customers, to your team. Because they get something from, you know, the boss, and it’s due in the morning, all of a sudden, there’s maybe an implied pressure there that you didn’t mean to.

Ilana Zalika  (20:55)  

Yeah, and that is something I learned. I mean, you asked before about, you know, mistakes. And when I had my first child, I was up at very bizarre hours, you know, with the baby, and I was like, oh, this is a great time to catch up on some emails. And it didn’t really occur to me that other people would be getting that and freaking out, because the boss was emailing them at three in the morning. And so learning that and thinking about what I do, how it impacts the team and other people, it’s a really important part of being a business owner is being self aware, and making those adjustments to make sure again, I mean, caring for my team is paramount to what we do, so being able to set those limits is very important.

David Hernandez  (21:03)  

I think that is so important from a leadership standpoint to do. It’s really practicing mindfulness, when it comes to the people that you consider really the most important people in the company, your team. There is no Resound Marketing without them.

Ilana Zalika  (22:03)  

Yeah, 100%. And, you know, again, with everything, we always do our best, we will always get things done for our clients, but we do say, it’s PR, not ER, let’s put it into perspective. And unless there is really some kind of crazy emergency, and sure we’ve had crises and things like that, that we’ve dealt with. Let’s take a step back and say, do we need to hit send on that email at one o’clock in the morning? Or can we wait until 9am? And I think it’s a really important lesson to look at anything that you’re doing and think about, again, like we said before, how does it tie back? Is it urgent, you know, that mindfulness is so important across the board?

David Hernandez  (22:49)  

Because there is a difference between important and urgent and urgent and important. I only have a couple of questions. But I did want to touch on the future of our business, of communications and marketing. And, of course, now it’s become the ubiquity of AI. There seems to be a new AI startup every other day. And how that’s impacting your world? 

Ilana Zalika  (23:19)  

Yeah. I think that everyone is recognizing that AI has a place, but it’s not a replacement for anything. I think the biggest mistake is thinking, well AI is going to do this, instead of me doing it. I think AI can help us do our jobs better. But you still need to be doing your job. So I actually read a quote the other day that said, you know, people who are using AI to generate content, they’re creating content that won’t stand out, because it’s just being generated by the same AI that everyone else is now starting to rely on. So actually incorporating that human element is a differentiator. And you can use the AI maybe as a thought starter, or to help you with some writer’s block, or whatever it may be. But you have to incorporate a human side to it. And I think anyone who’s watched a sci-fi movie will know that we don’t want to rely completely on robots, right? So no, I think I really strongly believe that there’s a way to utilize it, to help you but to trust your own instincts and knowledge and make sure that you’re balancing the two.

David Hernandez  (24:26)  

The way you’re describing it really is as a tool. And at the end of the day, the opportunity is for standout writers now. Because it’s the great content that’s going to matter.

Ilana Zalika  (24:38)  

Content is everything. And I think it’s long been that way, I think we’re realizing it more and more. At the end of the day PR is content right? And we talked about having a great piece of coverage that is still just a piece of content that you can use for other things. Use it in your sales. Use it in your social media. Use it you know for other things, but it is for content and so everything we’re doing is absolute. And actually, it’s a really well written piece of content usually, because when we’re pitching the media, we have to be able to say what we’re saying very concisely. And to the point, right. So it’s probably your best piece of content. That’s really going to get your point across. Yeah, I think, yes. Content is everything. It spans all of the different things under that umbrella that you mentioned, whether it’s traditional PR, influencer, marketing, digital marketing, affiliate, everything. It starts with content. And that’s where I think AI, yeah, if you’re just kind of popping things into a machine, and letting it spit out what you want to say, that’s not going to get you very far. But if you’re stuck, and you need some ideas, I think that’s a good place to kind of iterate with AI and let it get the thought process flowing.

David Hernandez  (25:50)  

It’s good for some sparks, but it’s not the whole fire. I have one more question for you. And what this is, it’s really the whole conceit of the podcast. So if there’s one song title, or lyric that captures who you are, or your story, Ilana, what would it be?

Ilana Zalika  (26:10)  

So this stressed me out a little bit because I actually love music.

David Hernandez  (26:13)  

This is supposed to be the fun part.

Ilana Zalika  (26:15)  

I know. Well there were too many choices. And I also think that I find meaning in so many different songs and lyrics. Actually when we talk about getting inspired for writing, I actually always have music on in my office because it helps me. But the one that I was thinking of because we were talking so much about balance and kind of how do you run a business but also have a life and so one of my favorite songs is the song Vienna by Billy Joel.

David Hernandez  (26:45)  

Oh, my goodness! What? Oh, that’s a great choice. A Billy Joel fan. I think that’s my youngest son’s favorite Billy Joel song, too. Or one of his top five or top 10, yeah, for sure. 

Ilana Zalika  (27:00)  

It’s a great, great song. And it’s about, you know, calm yourself. You know, live your life. Where’s the rush? Do you want me to read the lyrics?

David Hernandez  (27:10)  

I know them by heart. My favorite line is “slow down you crazy child.” Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while, right? That’s what you’re talking about.

Ilana Zalika  (27:19)  

Yes. It’s okay to lose a day or two. Do what you need to do. Live your life and everything will still be there when you get back and I think that that’s definitely just something that I try to live by. So much, especially my kids are getting older and you just want to have that quality time. 

David Hernandez  (27:20)  

Yeah I mean, you want to be present for that. As you know having kids it all goes by in a flash.

Ilana Zalika  (27:44)  

It goes by in a flash, it’s hard. So someone had once said, you know the days are long but the years are short, and I’ve never heard truer words spoken.

David Hernandez  (27:53)  

That’s a perfect way to put it isn’t it? It’s just like weren’t you in my arms yesterday?

Ilana Zalika  (28:01)  

Yeah, it’s really wild, it really is crazy. So yeah, so I feel like more and more I see these lyrics resonate because just life is, it’s such a flash and you want to appreciate it. So you can find that with work. Also by the way, as I was saying before, you know that doesn’t have to mean put away work and only doing the fun stuff. Whatever your thing is that makes you happy and lets you kind of enjoy what you’re doing. It could be a combination of the two. There’s definitely elements that I like to incorporate both, when I’m thinking about okay, what is my perfect day or my perfect you know, relaxation. iIt definitely does sometimes incorporate some of my favorite clients or some of my favorite work related activities. And then a lot, not.

David Hernandez  (29:00)  

Ilana, thank you so much.

Ilana Zalika  (29:02)  

Thanks for having me. This was fun. 

David Hernandez  (29:04)  

It was a long time coming but it was worth it and keep on keepin’ on. I mean, you certainly inspire Allison and me with your energy and your passion and of course, that humor. The audience only gets a little bit of today. Anyway, thanks so much.

Keep in touch with Ilana: 

Call Now Button