Zocalo Group Launches in Chicago

NEW YORK In Mexico, the word “Zocalo” refers to a town square where the local populace gathers to socialize and trade gossip.

Zocalo Group is the name of an agency opening its doors in Chicago today and owned by Omnicom Group. It specializes in word-of-mouth marketing and is the first of its kind in the holding company, according to Paul Rand, Zocalo’s president and CEO.

“The notable thing is that Omnicom is moving into this space,” said Rand. “A number of its clients have been asking for this service.”

Rand, 44, is a six-year veteran of Omnicom-owned PR agency Ketchum, which acquired the company he started, Corporate Technology Communications, in 2001. He was most recently global chief development and innovation officer at Ketchum until approaching holding company executives about starting Zocalo.

He also serves on the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

Tom Harrison, CEO of Omnicom’s Diversified Agency Services division, wasted no time giving the startup the green light. “It’s no secret that word-of-mouth tactics seem to be working very well either to create brands or drive attraction to those brands,” Harrison said. “When Paul presented his concept of this agency, he had a very compelling business model. I’m in the business of looking at companies that are very relevant to brands today and consumers today. This fits the bill perfectly.”

Rand said he is looking to generate “sustainable word of mouth” and engage consumers over the long term. That approach is different from generating “buzz,” which he defines as a “short-term spike of attention.”

The new company already has four clients, which Rand would not identify, but he expects other Omnicom-owned agencies will soon begin tapping into Zocalo’s capabilities for their own accounts. About 10 staffers are on board in Chicago. Zocalo also looks to expand into New York, though no timetable is set.