Paul Rand, Zócalo’s Team Builder

By Mariana Krampien

Paul Rand is a man of incredible accomplishments, yet he knows the art of being humble.

For over 30 years, he has been a leader in the field of public relations and digital media, holding top executive positions in agencies such as Zócalo Group, Ketchum, Golin Harris, and Burson-Marsteller. Mr. Rand is an entrepreneur, business builder, thought leader, and published author (5-star rated book, “Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business”).

In his interview with this DePaul University graduate student, Mr. Rand gave insight into his experiences of being an entrepreneur, working in the public relations industry in senior level roles such as President/CEO, and how his leadership and views have evolved.

Zócalo Group 

Currently, Mr. Rand serves as President/CEO of Zócalo Group, a leading agency that he founded in 2007, which specializes in digital, social and word of mouth marketing, aligning with Ketchum. In November of 2015, Zócalo Group was fully acquired by Omnicom and merged with Critical Mass (one of Omnicom’s top digital agencies, where Mr. Rand serves as a member of the Global Executive Committee). The agency celebrates its 10-year anniversary at the end of this year.

The Zócalo Group culture is very focused on client solutions, innovation, and delivering great work. “People like being here because we work hard to foster a “kind” environment,” he commented. “The energy at the office makes it enjoyable for our team to come to work every day. Employees feel respected and there is a policy for open communication including the good, bad or ugly. This tends to cut down on gossip or speculation and creates an environment of loyalty and trust.”


Mr. Rand is an award-winning team builder and leader in multiple areas of communication including: crisis, strategic, brand marketing, corporate reputation, internal, financial, digital, social media, issues management, global PR, and word of mouth marketing. He has expertise in agency management and counsels senior executives, as well as managing global programs for top international brands.

Mr. Rand earned his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and later earned his MA in Business and Public Policy from DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.

A Period of “Incredible Flux” in PR

In the interview, Mr. Rand addresses the “incredible flux” within the public relations, marketing, and advertising industry. He said, “I think there continues to be a profound amount of confusion of what public relations is today.” As the market has evolved, many elements related to marketing, digital, or otherwise, are now disciplines that everyone says they do.

“Clients don’t really care where the ideas are coming from,” he said. They need certain skills and they want them done by the best people, not matter what the classification of the firm. It places a new set of demands on those who are running and managing in the agency business.

Leadership: “Directional” vs. “Directive”

“Learning how to effectively lead and inspire is an evolved skill,” he said. When you are younger, your main goal is to prove to your employer that you can do the job.

He also stated, “As you grow, you have to be able to make the transition of knowing your success comes from leading and inspiring others. Their success becomes your success.” Mr. Rand knows that every person he leads needs something different from him. He has learned that being “directional” is more effective than being “directive” because it gives employees the freedom to grow and come up with their own solutions.

“Hire Slow, Fire Fast”

Over time, Mr. Rand has realized that the practice of “hire slow and fire fast” is most effective. If someone is not a good fit for the company, it is not a good idea to let that linger. Sometimes people stop growing and the organizations grows past them. It is best to let those people go and allow them to find a more suitable position.

Start Out in an Agency

Mr. Rand likes the ability to work on multiple different accounts and especially advises those who are beginning their careers to start off in an agency due to the many opportunities and experiences it provides. Working in an agency has taught Mr. Rand how to manage and run a business, while continuing to do the actual work for multiple accounts in a compressed amount of time.

“I got an appreciation for the variance of responsibilities and activities that come from being in an agency environment,” he said.

Know Business Acumen

Mr. Rand founded his first company at the age of 27. One of the challenges it posed was his unfamiliarity of the financial side of running a business. “I had no idea how to put together financial statements, pro formaas, etc.,” he confessed. While he had the skills to be a good communicator and marketer, a different set of skills were needed to lead a business, which became a real eye opener.

This led him to make the decision to go back for an MBA. “You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you need to know enough to know what to expect and how to guide and evaluate,” he said.

Drive Revenue

“One of the biggest appeals to me working in a consulting or an agency business is that you are part of a profit-making enterprise,” he stated. He stresses the importance of learning the ability to drive revenue because it makes you less vulnerable should there be a downturn in the industry.


Mariana Krampien just finished her course work in DePaul University’s graduate PRAD program, including Culpwrit’s Agency Management class that matched students with agency leaders who they researched and interviewed. This is the first in a series of agency leader profiles written by the students.