Edmonton is home to zag™, a full-service marketing agency. Partners Alyson Hodson, Ronda Nedelec and Trina Danis inspire a team that is hell-bent on getting to know clients’ brands inside and out. Then, with their A-team of creatives, wordsmiths, out-of-the-box thinkers and marketing masters, zag asks the right questions to unearth exactly where each client needs to be – and takes them there. zag evolves clients’ businesses by providing creative direction such as visual and brand identity, product packaging, scripting and storyboarding; strategic planning; public and media relations; copywriting, campaign writing and social media expertise; digital development for websites, social media and SEO; strategies for negotiation, buying, contracts, tracking/reporting; and much more.
Business in Edmonton caught up with Hodson, president and CEO, to discuss her role at zag and in Edmonton’s business community.
Hodson wasn’t about to wait around for the perfect job to land in her lap. Instead, she aligned with partners who shared her vision of a forward-thinking, diverse, marketing agency with an enviable workplace culture. Together they created a people-focused business that helps companies progress to the next level. Their proven process starts with a strategy, builds a roadmap, and executes big ideas, ensuring every campaign, social post, and line of copy is crafted with intention and aligned to a purpose.
Hodson explains, “I envisioned using my experience in marketing and communications to create a company that achieves my personal and professional goals, that is staffed with people whose values resonate with mine, and that continually moves our clients forward to meet and exceed their objectives.”
Her vision became a reality with the launch of zag in 2009, but surprisingly, marketing wasn’t her first career choice, and neither was owing a business.
“I never considered myself to be an entrepreneur,” Hodson admits. “I had an affinity for marketing and advertising but also almost took a U-turn into being a lawyer early on. Now that I am where I am, I wouldn’t change a thing. The challenges of owning a business mixed with the excitement of the marketing and communications world keeps it exciting and fresh every hour of every day. There is never a dull moment.”
For Hodson, part of the excitement of zag is its continual growth and diversity of clientele. After starting with just three on the team and growing to 27, zag is honoured to work with clients such as Zinc and the Jerry Forbes Centre for Community Spirit while expanding its market from Edmonton to the US in 2013, and then into the UAE in 2015.
Even though zag is expanding globally, Hodson is happy to remain headquartered in the city. “Edmonton is a special place. It’s a community that takes care of its own. Supporting the culture of startups and entrepreneurs here is so important. Its person-to-person, its business-to-business. We like working with the people as much as we like working with the businesses here in Edmonton. It’s something we need to not lose sight of, and something we need to nurture as much as we can.”
Hodson credits the people she works with, and for, as what drives zag’s success.
“Our business is a people business, and they can make or break it. People are what get me out of bed in the morning; our team, and our clients and partners. We all work together, support each other and push each other to be exceptional. It’s about gut and grit! It’s about knowing every single day that we can change the shape of someone’s business and the impact it has on their lives.”
She is also passionate about helping bring the right people on board and mentoring them to be their best.
“I find, nurture, and foster talent. It’s about bringing people along to ensure that they have the opportunity to inspire and enact change while caring about what’s next for the business and how they have a stake in its success,” she says.
Although Hodson shares a large part of the responsibility for making zag the dynamo that it is, she remains humble and grateful for the opportunities that complement the hard work it took to get here.
“I was given an opportunity by a previous employer that opened up a door for me by making a key referral,” she reflects. “He let me know of a friend that was looking for someone with my skillset. I truly believe that where I am today would not be possible had he not thought of me in this situation. I am forever grateful, as it changed my career path.”
Like most entrepreneurs, Hodson strives to achieve the balance among showing up and being present for the people and projects she loves while hitting deadlines and finding time to recharge, and she’s happy to share what she’s learned in her professional and personal journey.
“Business is not easy,” she admits. “It may go through times of being easy and fun, but it will go through periods of extreme difficulty. In those times you will stretch and grow. You will push your boundaries, and that’s ok. Some days you will want to celebrate. Some days you will want to shout from the rooftops and other days you will cry in a corner. It’s about the experience – you can’t buy it, you can’t rent it, you can’t steal it, you can’t borrow it. Experience is something you have to live through, so, enjoy it.”
She continues, “Find your passion. Define what you want to do. Understand what you need to put in to make that happen and be clear on that. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t try to do it all yourself. Surround yourself with great people and remove yourself from relationships that aren’t authentic.
“Don’t be afraid to be bold. Everything is a cycle. Ups and downs come and go, and we all have to support each other through the challenges in these cycles. There is a comfort in knowing someone has gone through what you are going through, so don’t be afraid to share. Always remember, no one is perfect.”
Hodson enjoys mentoring others in Edmonton’s business community, and knows that mentorship is something entrepreneurs, be they newcomers to business or seasoned veterans, should cherish at every stage of their journey.
“I was very lucky to have mentors throughout my journey and all of them helped me in different and meaningful ways,” she explains. “I appreciate them taking the time to give me guidance. As lifelong learning and growth are something that I value, I will always have, learn from, and respect my mentors.”
As a company and as individuals, zag is very active in the community. Hodson is the president of the Make-A-Wish® Northern Alberta board and sits on its National Governance Committee. She is the past chair of the Downtown Business Association and a past director of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Ronda Nedelec, partner and vice president of new business, is the past president of Kids Up Front Edmonton and has chaired the board of Ronald McDonald House Charities® Alberta. Nedelec remains involved with the Ronald McDonald House Family’s Connect and Communications Committee.
Growing rapidly, innovating solutions and serving the community means it is never “business as usual” at the company that focuses on providing extraordinary experiences and profound results for their team and clients every day. As a result, zag’s work has received numerous awards and recognitions.
In 2019, zag won the Award of Merit for Communication Management in Marketing, Advertising and Brand Communication at the International Association of Business Communicators Edmonton Capital Awards. In 2018 it was the Economic Developers Association of Canada’s Annual Conference (EDAC) Marketing Canada Award (along with three other awards, including the event’s top honour) for creating a tourism and lifestyle campaign, investment guide and sell sheets for a client. Also in 2018, zag won the Marketing Excellence Campaign $25,000-$75,000 category’s trophy at Travel Alberta’s Alto Awards.
In 2017 the branding and logo work created for the Town of Stony Plain earned zag EDAC’s Marketing Canada Award, and the brand identity created for The Rising Sun was selected from among 40,000 submissions to be in LogoLounge’s 10th book. This is also the year zag was named as one of Business in Edmonton’s Leaders.
The Award of Distinction won at the ACE Awards in 2016 and 2015 saw them take the International Downtown Association (IDA) Award in the marketing and communications division.
For Hodson, however, one of the most touching acknowledgements came from the staff. “In January, we had a team Christmas party,” she says. “Even after all these years a business owner, it took my breath away and gave me a moment of profound humility when our team presented gifts to me and my business partners. Each team member had chosen something personal to put into a basket and presented it as a thank you. It meant the world to me.”
It’s been a great decade for Hodson and zag, and she’s excited to see where the future leads. She concludes, “Now that we are rounding off that first 10 years, we are setting up for some really exciting new changes in 2020 and beyond. Stay tuned!”
Learn more by visiting www.atozag.ca online, @atozag on Twitter and Instagram, @zagisbetter on Facebook, and zag on LinkedIn.