Sharon L. Goldmacher is a veteran in the marketing and public relations industry, beginning her career in Atlanta in 1987. She develops integrated, results-focused marketing, PR and digital campaigns for clients in real estate, community improvement districts, food/beverage, professional services, sports, nonprofits and technology.
Competitive by nature, she created communications 21 in 1992, at the naïve age of 28, to see if she could do it. Within the first two years, she won the DeKalb Chamber’s Stargazer award for “Small Business Start-Up of the Year” and the Young Advertising Professional Award presented by the Atlanta Ad Club. In 2013, she won Business to Business Magazine’s Woman of Excellence award. Over the next 25 years, the company has garnered 80 awards for its award-winning campaigns.
While often accused of telling long stories, Sharon enjoys presenting and has spoken on marketing, PR and digital strategies and tactics to various organizations such as the Association of Public Gardens, the American Marketing Association’s Annual Summit, the Exhibit Design and Producers Association, NewComm (Society for New Communications Research conference), MBA Conclave Curriculum and Teaching Conference, PRSA chapters in Washington, D.C., and Florida and more.
Corporate responsibility is part of c21’s company culture, and Sharon volunteers on a number of industry and community boards, including the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the past presidents’ council of the American Marketing Association – Atlanta Chapter, the Hospitality Business Network Foundation and The Blue Horse Association.
In addition, she volunteered for Georgia Support The Vote, a nonpartisan organization focused on helping businesses to inform, encourage and enable their employees to vote. She is a graduate of Leadership Buckhead, and served on the board for several years, in addition to holding volunteer positions with the Green Chamber of the South, Literacy Volunteers of America and Hands On Atlanta. Sharon also served as the executive director of the Atlanta Local Organizing Committee for the planning and execution of the 2013 NCAA® Men’s Final Four® held in Atlanta.
Sharon attended college in “The Big Easy” (a.k.a. New Orleans), graduating cum laude from Newcomb College/Tulane University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and communications (and almost a dance minor). During school, she worked at the NBC affiliate, WDSU-TV, which convinced her to choose a different career path.
While a love-hate relationship, golf is a passion, and her favorite golf saying is “fairway-play is for sissies.” In the past few years, she’s taken up cycling, and can be found on the Silver Comet Trail or huffing and puffing around the hills in her neighborhood!
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Success and failures – lessons learned
- Digital marketing and PR tactics for large and small businesses
- Social media marketing success
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business, and this is going to be a good one. Today, we have Sharon Goldmacher with Communications 21. Welcome, Sharon.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:00:29] Hi, Lee. It’s nice to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:30] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about Communications 21, how are you serving folks?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:00:36] We are a digital marketing and public relations agency. We are based in Atlanta, actually, Inman Park, right near the BeltLine. And we have been in business since 1992. Our focus is on remarkable service and real results.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:53] Now, did you start out in PR and then kind of added digital marketing? Or did you start out in digital marketing and added PR? Was that kind of always a two-pronged approach since the beginning?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:01:05] It was actually a two-pronged approach. We always did marketing and public relations and design. And then, probably, you know, as things started to turn towards digital and we did started to do websites, and then social media came bursting on the scene, we started to really shift a little bit more towards digital.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:30] So, now, how have you seen kind of that marriage between marketing, advertising, PR, digital, print, non-digital, billboards? Like, it’s all kind of morphing together into one where previously there might have been more distinct kind of darker lines between them.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:01:49] Absolutely. There were stronger divisions than there are now. We really never did what I would consider to be traditional advertising, and that’s in part because we’re very focused on metrics and analytics. I am the daughter of an engineer, and so I was kind of taught that there’s a process to things. But, also, if you don’t measure the outcome of your effort, then, really, what was it for and how does it help a client increase their brand awareness or sell a product?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:02:28] So, I think the beauty of digital and the reason why there is definitely more blurred lines is because most of clients today demand, you know, analytics and demand measurement to understand how their money is being spent, if it is actually resulting in meeting their goals and objectives. And I think that is why you see more blurred lines.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:02:54] But, ultimately, and you hear this a lot these days, it’s about telling stories. People want to resonate with a brand. They just won’t see an ad anymore and go, “Oh, I saw that so it must be true.” People really need that connection. And that’s where storytelling and what, in essence, I believe, public relations and marketing can really help to tell that brand story, especially if you’ve got a client who’s got a great story to tell. On the opposite side, I also think that if a brand or a company doesn’t have a great story to tell, that may come out as well and it could, in fact, negatively impact their sales.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:41] Now, when you’re working with your clients, how do you kind of help them really understand that? Because that sounds like a little bit of different approach than some other firms are taking. When I started, I started out in marketing and advertising and there was a saying – I don’t know if it’s still true today – that, “50 percent of your advertising is kind of wasted. You just don’t know which 50 percent.” And you mentioned the importance of metrics, how do you kind of help your client understand that certain metrics matter more than other metrics? And just because you can count something, doesn’t mean that it’s something valuable?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:04:24] Absolutely. Again, you are very correct. Typically, when we’re working with a client, especially with a new client, we will sit down and, together, understand what are the key performance indicators that are important to that client. So, for one client, it might be sales. For another client, it might be identifying people within their district who they need to market to. So, it could be as simple as database management or it could be I want to make $10 million more this year than last year. If we’re not at the outset understanding what the KPIs are or those key performance indicators, then we don’t know what 50 percent is working or not working, to your point.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:05:15] If we can set those metrics at the beginning and then we will, each month, come back around and measure, did we move the needle on ultimately what that goal is, then we can look at our subtasks and say this one outperformed this one ultimately to get back to that initial goal. So, we added 300 members to our database, but we cleaned out 400 people that were no longer relevant. So, it may be a negative in terms of growth, but it’s a much more targeted list of people who are engaged who want that client’s information.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:05:55] So, ultimately, I think it may win in the end in terms of what their goal is, but it may not on paper. To your point earlier, it may not have been the the ultimate increase, but certainly a better target and a better target audience that’s more engaged is a win for any client.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:15] Well, I’ll tell you what I’m hearing from you is certainly refreshing. And I’m sure as you know, but maybe your clients don’t know or prospective clients don’t know, that this is not kind of a normal conversation that folks have with marketing or advertising or PR agencies. A lot of agencies focus in, to me we call them, cost metrics on metrics that look good or might impress somebody. But it may not really be the thing that, like you said, moves the needle in your business. You know, collecting likes or followers just for the sake of doing that, it’s not as difficult as it seems. But getting an engaged group of people is a little trickier and harder. So, I’m glad you’re holding everything to a higher standard than you are focusing on the results that matter and the metrics that really move the needle.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:07:05] We hope so. We hope so. I’ve been in business since 1992 and have seen a lot of changes, and I’m sure there will be a lot more in a much more compressed timeframe than the past 30 years. But, ultimately, I think we keep our clients because we are focused on what their end goal is and not necessarily what our goal is. We’ve won our fair share of awards. I’m not going to say we haven’t. But I think it’s because we’re helping our clients meet their goals. So, ultimately, that is the win-win.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:40] Right. I mean, and another thing I learned when I was in this industry back in the day was, it’s not creative unless it sells. You know, unless you’re really moving the needle for your client, creativity, just for the sake of creativity, isn’t really what we should be doing.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:07:56] Right. Although they can be entertaining.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:00] Right. As long as it’s moving the needle, I don’t care. But just because you came up with something clever that makes you laugh and everybody thinks is hilarious, but if they don’t connect it with your brand or it isn’t really impacting anything in your business, then, to me, that’s kind of for art’s sake. And that’s not really why they hired you.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:08:19] Yes. Agreed.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:21] Now, in your business, when you’re working with these folks, we talked a lot about kind of the mechanics of getting the metrics right and what we’re going to measure correct. Now, here’s where the art part comes into the art and science of this business, once you have those processes right, there still is a lot of kind of trial and error in getting the creative right in order to tell those right stories and to get the message resonating with the right people.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:08:51] Yes. And, unfortunately, that’s a little less process oriented. So, that is where I think people who want to get into this industry think every day is creative brainstorming and amazing ideas and campaigns that will go viral. And that is definitely a piece of it, but it is the hard work that gets you there. I think it’s the less sexy part of what we do in this industry. And there are some incredibly creative people. My team, I’m blessed to have a great team here, and I’m amazed every day of the ideas that they come up with.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:09:37] But I think, ultimately, again, keeping those metrics in mind and doing the research, competitor research, really kind of diving in and digging in where you help then to see that path where you can help a client zig where everyone else is zagging. And usually if you do the work, then the creative gets even a little bit easier. When we’re developing brands, for example, we don’t just go off in a room and come up with brand ideas. We have done that legwork, the kick off meeting with the client. We have done the research. We have looked at what their competitor colors are, what their taglines are, what has been successful in terms of campaigns for both the current client and their competitors. And from there, I think we create a creative brief.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:10:38] But then, we used to come up with our creative and brainstorm. So, for example, we’re working with a client who what they do is really interesting, but it’s not very sexy in terms of an industry. So, they help get goods and services and, oftentimes, hard to find supplies to people living in the Caribbean. And so, they’re a logistics company, they’re a shipping company, and they wanted to change their name, change their brand, create a tag line. And we got to the name. And then, in the tag line process, we were just listing things on sticky notes and boards around our conference room.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:11:32] And I am very proud to say that our then intern and now account manager came up with “From Land to Sand Overnight.” And it was brilliant. It was great. And she’s 23. And, you know, it’s just those types of inspirational moments that happen that they say capture lightning in a bottle. The client just went crazy for it because their previous tagline was like three sentences. It was really long trying to explain everything they did and this simplified it and they use it now in everything. And it really does help to explain what they do.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:16] And kudos to you for having a culture that allowed that to happen, that allowed somebody to contribute to that level, and be open, and to hear it until safe enough to do that. Because you shouldn’t take that for granted. That is a very important component to this. And that allows you to get that kind of lightning in a bottle result because you have a culture that allows that to occur.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:12:41] I hope so. I probably don’t think about that enough. But it’s a safe environment where everybody feels like they can contribute. My dad was a great mentor for me. And he said to me, you know, it’s good to run your company with the pie truck theory, where if I was hit by a pie truck tomorrow, the company could go on. And the reason that he said that is because this is larger than just any one person. I mean, it’s a small business. It’s a boutique agency. But you have to kind of think of it as it can go on. Hopefully, it could go on.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:13:27] And so, everybody in here, we call it C21 University, essentially goes through an onboarding process where everybody knows how to do everything. They may not love to do everything that we do in terms of services we offer. Someone makes a sale at video versus someone makes a sale at digital marketing, where someone else may be great at getting stories placed. But everyone knows how to do everything. And so, if I was hit by a pie truck tomorrow, they would know how to keep this going. And I think that environment empowers people, but also provides them with a safe space to throw out ideas that someone may say, “Oh, my God. That’s amazing.”
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:14:17] And then, we reward those as a result on the back end of those as well. So, people that go above and beyond, or do something amazing, or take something off someone else’s plate, we give little spot awards for that, you know, every month so that folks know that, “Hey, I can do that.” Or, “I could take that on.” Or, “I have a really good idea for that. I’ll share that with my teammates.”
Lee Kantor: [00:14:44] Now, let’s give a little tactical and maybe share some advice for the listener. I don’t know if you want to do this as one and maybe do it separately, but any kind of digital marketing or PR tips for that either large or small business out there? There’s some low hanging fruit that maybe they could be doing on their own that can, at least, help them move the needle a little bit in their business.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:15:08] Yeah. Here’s an interesting tip we just shared recently with a client of ours. They are capital market investors, so they’ll invest in projects for multifamily, to single family rentals, to mixed use, and they look for partners, et cetera. And they don’t do a ton of deals every year. But what they do are pretty high impact. And they always put skin in the game. So, they won’t do a deal unless they’re personally involved, which makes them very different from other capital investment companies.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:15:51] And we were talking about LinkedIn and that they hadn’t really had enough news that we’d been posting on LinkedIn. And we had recommended that we increase or try to increase our amount of postings. And a client said, “Well, I don’t really have that many followers on our business page, you know, versus my personal. So, I’ll just post personally.”
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:16:16] And so, LinkedIn has a feature where you can invite people to follow your business page. You can send out 100 invites a month for free to just grow your followers and engagement on LinkedIn. Which, for businesses, typically outweighs, for example, the power that Facebook has, despite the fact that it has billions of followers. But from a business perspective, use that tool where you’re inviting people to really grow your network because LinkedIn has that incredible power. And, yes, there’s LinkedIn Premium and you can pay for certain things, but why would you if you don’t have to. For small businesses and large businesses, people should be doing that. That’s just a small tip.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:05] Well, that’s a big tip. That’s a good one. Now, kind of you mentioned earlier that lightning in a bottle tagline, is there any kind of story that you can share that you helped a client get to a new level, that you’re kind of was rewarding, or that was meaningful to you or your team?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:17:26] Oh, gosh. That one’s a tough one. There’s so many clients and so many years, and I’m so old, and it’s a Monday. I will say, me, personally, not necessarily a client, but a personal achievement that I was very proud of was in 2007, I volunteered to help with the NCAA Final Four that was in Atlanta. And I did the marketing and PR and didn’t really know what I was getting into. And I had asked the previous city if they had a plan or something that they could share. And the person said, “We sent four press releases.” And I said, “Okay. We’re going to do more than that.” So, I put together a plan.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:18:24] And NCAA at the time was kind of like, “We’ve never seen anything like this.” I’m like, “Well, it’s not that complicated, but I think we can do more than four press releases.” So, from there, I worked on the bid, so the city hired C21 to work on the bid to try and get the Final Four back. And I really wanted the 75th Anniversary year. And everybody told me, “That wasn’t going to happen because that was going to be in Indianapolis and that is where they’re headquartered.” And so, I, again, kind of said, “Well, let’s go for it anyway.” And put in ideas around 75th Anniversary and it’s a diamond anniversary, and so we kind of used that theme throughout.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:19:14] And then, we were going to have some people pitch it and we were going to get a female executive from Coca-Cola and some other people who are sponsors. She ended up not being able to do it. They asked if I would do it. And I’m a nobody. So, it was weird. But we did pitch it and we did win it, and we won the 75th Anniversary and it was really great.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:19:42] And then, I was asked by the organizers who should be the executive director. And so, I gave them some names of folks that I thought would be amazing. And about a month later they came back and said, “We’d like you to do it.” And I said, “I have a job, but thank you.” And they kind of convinced me that I can do both, and I did. So, I became the executive director of the Local Organizing Committee for the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2013 and also ran my company, and that was a very long 18 months. But it was one of the most successful Final Fours that had been held. We had the highest attendance of any Final Four and some of the highest attendance of any Final Four’s ancillary events, like their fun runs and what was then called Bracket Town, all that. And that was a very proud moment for my company and for me personally. Great memory.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:46] I think that speaks, again, to the culture that you’ve developed and your own, I guess, personal values and philosophy in not just doing what was done or not just checking boxes. You can probably connect the dots to that to the fact that you didn’t say, “Let’s just run four press releases. Let’s go above and beyond because that’s what this project needs. And let’s just not kind of go through the motions.” You wanted to really serve the client and really do what you felt was right. And because of that, that may be what caused those dominos to fall in the way they did to get you to that point.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:21:27] I’m extremely competitive, unfortunately. I love winning. I’m not so great at losing. I’m a gracious loser, but it’s a much better feeling to win.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:39] Right. I mean, I think that it stems from that kind of work ethic, and the philosophy, and the values that you have that helped you win probably as often as you do.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:21:49] You are probably right, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:51] Now, let’s talk a little bit about GWBC, why was it important for you to get involved with that organization?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:21:59] I think anything that empowers women is something that I want to be involved with. And they’re a great organization in terms of helping businesses, like myself, to be certified. I think it is always helpful in RFPs and responses to be able to say that you are a certified woman-owned business. Right now, we are actually all women in here. So, I think they’re an organization that supports my personal mission, which is to empower women. And so, that’s why, I think, we’ve probably been certified the last, I don’t know, 15, 20 years. It was something that when I found out about it, I said, yes, let’s make sure that we’re certified and we keep it up every year.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:50] Now, you mentioned that you’re a member of that organization and you’ve been a member of a variety of other industry and community organizations. But you don’t just kind of join, you tend to kind of lean in and take leadership roles. Can you share maybe for the young people listening why that’s so important to, not just kind of join something just to check a box that you’ve joined it, but to really kind of lean in and volunteer and take leadership positions, how that can help you and grow your career.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:23:25] We do that with our team here in terms of encouraging them to, as you said, lean in, in part because we are a small agency and it does expose younger people to both a variety of potential mentors, potential connections, both from a career journey perspective, but also from a possible business development perspective. So, it’s important.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:24:03] I tend to be a borderline introvert extrovert, so when I have a role to play, I’m very much of an extrovert. I can walk up to somebody and say hello to them and explain how I’m involved in the organization. If I am not involved, then I tend to just say hello to either person on either side of me at the lunch table and that’s it. Maybe an exchange of cards. And I don’t really engage. So, from my personal perspective, I have found that if I’m involved, I am more extroverted in my ability to network and make better connections is improved. From my team’s perspective, I think, if you’re new to a role or you’re new to a group, that by joining and by becoming an invested volunteer, you really can achieve so much more in your career.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:25:05] So, I had a former team member who recently left – who we miss a lot, but we wish her really well. She got involved. She was involved with PRSA, which is the Public Relations Society of America. She joined a committee, then she chaired a committee, and she also got to understand from a management perspective what it’s like to manage volunteers, which is a whole another level of involvement than managing people that you work with who are being paid. People who aren’t being paid will say, “I’ll do that.” And then, sometimes work gets in the way or life gets in the way and they don’t get their volunteer work done. And it does open your eyes to other management experiences.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:25:51] And through all of her work, she got great accolades within the organization, which, again, are just great things to try and obtain in your career if you’re trying to succeed and really go far. So, I think volunteering, leaning in, are really important to doing all of that in terms of a career journey.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:13] Now, in your work, who is the ideal client? Do you have a niche that you serve? Is it B2B, B2C? Do you prefer certain industries? Is there kind of a profile of a good fit client for you?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:26:27] Sadly, my answer is clients that pay. We love clients that pay. No, we do not have a nation. That is the hardest part about explaining Communications 21, because we are really, truly a generalist firm. We work with non-profits. We work with technology, sports and entertainment, food and beverage. We are really across the board. That probably goes back to my self-diagnosed ADD, but I love learning. And at the very basis of what I do, if I can learn something new every day, whether that’s some digital marketing tactic which literally changes every day to a client industry, I just love what I do, but it makes me love what I do even more.
Lee Kantor: [00:27:19] Now, is there a pain that a typical client or prospective client is having where C21 is the right kind of solution?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:27:31] Every pain we can solve. We do focus, I would say, on organizations that either don’t have a marketing department or marketing person or may have one person who’s stretched very thin. So, we can literally come in and take over email marketing, social media management, website development and maintenance, public relations. Most people don’t really know how to talk to media or aren’t interested in talking to media, so we can kind of slide in and help with all those things.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:28:16] Some clients hire us for, “Hey, we’ve got an anniversary coming up and we want to plan events. And we want to make sure people are aware of our anniversary.” Those are great opportunities for us because, oftentimes, once we get our foot in the door on a project, people will really see, “Wow. You guys are valuable and are really helping us in terms of letting us focus on our day-to-day business and operations and growth.” And offloading all the painful things like, “Wow. You haven’t posted on social media in about five months. That’s probably not great. So, let us help you with that and we’ll get consistent.”
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:28:58] So, a lot of times, our clients just are so busy that their marketing tactics become very inconsistent. Which, when economies change – which we have seen over the past year with COVID – consistency is really key. And it’s always a struggle when economies take a dive that – as you may know, Lee, from your past history – advertising and marketing oftentimes are the first things to get cut because they’re not seen as essential. Well, of course, we see that as essential, because if people forget who you are, they just move on. There are so many other companies and competitors out there that it’s hard to find a unique service these days. And so, they’ll just move on to the next shiny bright toy. So, marketing is, in our minds, very essential in terms of keeping brand awareness so people think of you top of mind.
Lee Kantor: [00:30:03] Now, if there’s a firm out there that wants to learn more and have more substantive conversation with you or somebody on your team, what’s the website?
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:30:10] Our website is c21pr.com, and that’s C21 Public Relations dot com. And they can go there and find out everything they need, hopefully. At least a taste and some case studies and then give me a call.
Lee Kantor: [00:30:28] That’s the letter C, the number 2, 1, PR dot com. Well, Sharon, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Sharon Goldmacher: [00:30:38] Thank you, Lee. You’re a great interviewer.
Lee Kantor: [00:30:40] Thank you. All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.