Michelle Pujadas is the founder and co-CEO of Zer0 to 5ive, a marketing and communications firm based in Philadelphia, with offices in New York and Pittsburgh. Since 1999, Zer0 to 5ive has helped clients in industries like education, financial services, healthcare, and consumer products build their brands, learn new technologies, and stand out in the marketplace. Thanks to its innovative campaign strategies and experienced team, the company has won scores of creative services awards, such as a silver 2014 Davey Award and multiple Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silver Anvil Awards of Excellence and Big Apple awards. Additionally, Michelle Pujadas was named as one of Philadelphia SmartCEO’s 25 Powerhouse Women Leaders in 2013. Prior to starting Zer0 to 5ive, Michelle was a Senior Vice President at Ketchum, where she won the company its first Silver Anvil for its Technology Practice.
How did Zer0 to 5ive start?
MICHELLE PUJADOS: Zer0 to 5ive started back in 1999. We originally started as a strategy firm. We wanted to work with entrepreneurs and give them the right strategy to go to market, because my background working at Ketchum with so many entrepreneurs gave me insights that, while you may be brilliant in technology that doesn’t always mean that you’re brilliant in taking your product to market—packaging it up the right way.
So, I started in 1999, and my very first hire was my husband, because we immediately connected with Safeguard Scientifics—started working with their portfolio companies—and grew very, very rapidly, and I needed somebody who knew how to run a business—not just run marketing. He’s brilliant and he’s still with me now.
What differentiates the company from its competitors?
I feel like one of the things that has always differentiated Zer0 to 5ive, from the very beginning, is that we always thought of ourselves as strategic communications. The value of strategic communications is that we don’t go and presuppose that public relations is the right answer, or advertising is the right answer, or you always need a new website. I think our value has always come with sitting down with the entrepreneur, or large company—because we’ve now worked with many, many large companies—but sitting down and saying, “What are your business challenges?” And how’s it wrapping into a marketing challenge, and then figuring out what’s the message? What’s the channel? And what’s the right way to convey your value proposition? I think that the value that Zer0 to 5ive brings is, you know, sometimes that’s PR, and sometimes that’s digital advertising, sometimes that’s a content strategy, and sometimes it’s a combination of all three; and I think that having that open mind and a broader view of marketing is one of the things that’s really made us go to the top.
Can you share how you came up with the name?
The genesis of the name Zer0 to 5ive is twofold. The first is that, when I was at Ketchum, there was a big tech award called the Fast 50. My team and I waited to see who would win the Fast 50 and it turned out to be a window-type company that was using technology. That was really cool, but at that time, I was working on semiconductors and all this really cool technology, and you know, our opinion was “that’s not technology—semiconductors is technology.” We were working with a lot of startups, so we had an internal joke: “Why should we be Fast 50? Maybe we should be the ‘fast zero to five’ for the emerging tech.”
That was something that always stayed in my mind, and then soon thereafter I decided to start Zer0 to 5ive, and one of our the cores of Zer0 to 5ive is what we call “the Zer0 to 5ive roadmap.” It’s a six-step process of how you really should go to market. If you have the time and resources to do it correctly, it starts with setting objectives and research, then doing positioning, messaging, brand strategy, brand identity, and ultimately your plan. We’ve used that methodology for all of our clients over 16 years. It keeps people focused on what the job that needs to be done, and it makes sure that you’re not going into the market unaware of market conditions, competitors, and what you might need both on a competitive strategy, but also on the media front.
Are there certain advantages and drawbacks to be co-CEO with your husband?
So I have been working with my husband basically since we started 16 years ago. There are tons of advantages… and rare disadvantages. The advantages are it’s great to be in a business with a partner who you know can’t leave. So many businesses start and the partners have different ideas, and after a couple of years, they dissolve. It wasn’t that the company didn’t have a great idea—it was that people weren’t on the same page, or had different visions. So, one of the great things is knowing that when the hard times come, you always have someone. And, when the great times come, you have someone who really cares and wants to celebrate.
The few disadvantages have to do with logistics. A lot of time, we have to go to the same meeting—at the same time, we have children, and there can be definite logistics problems, but we do different things: he runs more of the business side of things, whereas I do more work with the clients… Although he’s a brilliant marketer, and we definitely bring him into some of our top-tier clients to give his point of view and strategy thoughts as well.