1927 – Revolutionizing Marketing and Branding with Terry Zelen

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the President and Owner of Zelen Communications, Terry Zelen.

Zelen Wide

Terry Zelen, President of Zelen Communications, explores the intersection of technology and marketing. With over three decades of experience, Zelen Communications has established itself as a leader in the digital space.

Zelen Communications has pioneered leveraging technology to drive marketing success, excelling in website development, online marketing tools, and artificial intelligence (AI). Serving a diverse client base, including startups and Fortune 500 companies, they have impacted various industries, such as restaurants, medical, builder development, and education.

Terry Zelen highlighted the role of AI in Zelen Communications' strategy. AI is integrated into their ideation, analytics, and concepting processes. However, quality control is crucial to ensure AI-generated content aligns with a brand's standards and voice. This balance between innovation and oversight distinguishes their agency.

Terry provided insights into the evolving landscape of branding and marketing, emphasizing the importance of maintaining brand integrity amid AI's growing influence. Zelen Communications' recent rebranding initiative reflects its commitment to evolving while staying true to its core values.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Zelen Communications' expertise in technology and website development
  • Use of AI in various aspects of their work
  • Services offered by Zelen Communications, including custom website development and e-commerce solutions
  • Insights into current trends in branding and marketing
  • The agency's recent rebranding efforts
  • Importance of maintaining brand integrity in the age of AI-generated content
  • Commitment to community involvement and giving back
  • Encouragement for potential clients to explore the agency's website and social media accounts
  • Emphasis on providing in-depth reporting and tracking for marketing efforts
  • Overall dedication to client satisfaction and transparency

About Terry Zelen:

Terry Zelen, with over 35 years of marketing expertise across diverse industries, leads as the President and Creative Director at Zelen Communications, Inc., based in Tampa, FL. At Zelen Communications, he manages a team of strategic professionals dedicated to ensuring the highest quality in their creative and marketing efforts for their clientele.

A true marketing trailblazer, Terry thrives on embracing cutting-edge technology, earning his reputation as an innovative thinker who seamlessly merges creativity with strategy. His firm specializes in real estate, medical, and restaurant marketing both locally and nationally, with clients including Outback Steakhouse, Sykes Global Communication, and HCA Hospital. Beyond his professional endeavors, Terry is active in the community, participating in various organizations and serving on several boards.

About Zelen Communications:

Zelen Communications is a forward-thinking marketing agency specializing in web design, creative services, SEO/digital marketing, and AI integration. They are dedicated to building true partnerships and tailored solutions to meet each business's unique needs, emphasizing client success as their own.

Zelen Communications prides itself on putting clients first and focusing on how they can assist in achieving goals and growing businesses. Their services include traditional and digital advertising, custom website design, AI integration, SEO, social media, branding, photography, video production, and public relations. They have particular expertise in marketing for real estate developers, homebuilders, hospitality, healthcare, and education. Their innovative approach and commitment to leveraging the latest technology ensure that clients stay ahead in today's competitive market.

Tweetable Moments:

11:06 – “Just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's good, right? AI language will improve in time, but the base AI language is very distinct, and experienced people know exactly what you're doing.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Zelen Communications’  website at

Check out Zelen Communications on LinkedIn at

Check out Zelen Communications on Facebook at

Check out Zelen Communications on Instagram at

Check out Terry Zelen on LinkedIn at

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Are you looking for introductions to partners, investors, influencers and clients? Well, I've had private conversations with over 2000 leaders asking them where their best business comes from. I've got a free video you can watch with no opt in required, where I'll share the exact steps necessary to be 100% inbound in your industry over the next 6 to 8 months, with no spam, no ads, and no sales. What I teach has worked for me for over 15 years and has helped me create eight figures in revenue for my own companies. Just head to up my influence comm and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for great guests. Go to up my influence. Com and click on podcast. I'd love to have you. With us right now. Terry Zelen. Terry, you are the president of Zelen Communications just down the road for me in Tampa, Florida. Your website is Zelen Communications Commentary. Thank you so much for joining us.

Terry (00:01:19) - I appreciate you having me on Josh.

Josh (00:01:21) - Absolutely. Well, I love having marketing professionals and leaders, on this program because I always want to know what the current trends are. But before we get into that and talk about your superpowers, and we are going to be talking a little bit about, how AI is, you know, some trends there. But but, Terry, let's start off maybe just tell me just a bit about who Zellen Communications is, who you serve and what you do.

Terry (00:01:45) - Yeah. We, Zelen Communications has been in Tampa our entire time. We've been here for over 30 years. And we have, really kind of been on the leading edge of a number of technologies when websites, websites began. We actually started building websites before, you know, in the very early days, and we adopted all of the online marketing tools, including pay per click SEO, retargeting, social media. And really, we've been at it since the beginning of all of those new waves. And, AI is really the newest wave that we've been writing and we've been working with AI for over two years now.

Terry (00:02:20) - I feel like we've been at a long time, and I talked to others who've been doing it six and seven years and think like, okay, we're way behind the curve, but it's coming at us pretty quick. Yeah, okay. Our clientele.

Josh (00:02:30) - Oh, please go ahead.

Terry (00:02:31) - Our clientele, we range from everything from, we work with Outback Steakhouse for ten years. So we've done, you know, fortune 500, and we're doing a fishing company that's starting up right now. So we do startups to, you know, fortune 500. And we've done a lot of work in the restaurant industry, a lot of the medical industry, also in the, builder, developer and in education, that kind of gives you a spectrum of the type of clientele we work with.

Josh (00:02:56) - Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, very exciting to see. Like, so as an agency working with these types of brands. Tell me about, maybe current implementation of AI. Like where does it fit in? Because it can be very easy for lazy marketers to do a bad job given the new tools.

Josh (00:03:16) - Right? So it's like we've been given this fabulous gift and it's not perfect right now. There's a lot of shortcomings. But boy, if you use it well and you know what you're doing, Holy cow. What? What a time saver in terms of, you know, you know, just helping achieve goals faster, more efficiently and more successfully.

Terry (00:03:37) - Yeah, without a doubt. I mean, we use it, in a number of different ways here at the agency, and different team members use it for different reasons. And, outcomes. But our team likes to use it for, you know, ideation. So it helps us instead of going on to Google and saying, you know, synonyms for this word, we can just ask, you know, ChatGPT to give us similar words to and it gives us much quicker feedback. but we use it for analytics. it helps us, generate better outcomes for our clients by helping us understand what the outcomes for an existing campaign was. and we used a lot for actually for concepting, for new clients.

Terry (00:04:16) - we have one of our accounts is the Hillsborough County School system. They're the seventh largest in the country, and we've been working with them for about three and a half years now. And they came to us and they wanted a new campaign. So for us to to demonstrate it, because most people are not visual, you have to show them something that's realistic for them to understand what you're trying to achieve. So we developed a campaign for them for recruitment this year for teachers and bus drivers and, you know, people from the top to bottom. They're always looking for to recruit new staff. And we wanted to show them visually what that would look like. So we generated three concepts using AI. And we worked with Midjourney, and we were able to show them exactly what we wanted in a very short time frame. They were able to visualize what we are trying to promote, and they selected one of the campaigns. And, it is just about to launch in the next week or so. So it works great for a number of different assets for our industry.

Josh (00:05:10) - you know, but I'm thinking about is you're telling that story, you know, just in terms of, like, the way that we serve our clients, right? And again, we don't ever want to degrade the quality. Right? So you always need those those experienced eyes being able through wisdom, through that lens of wisdom, being able to work with the output to make sure that it meets the standards, that anything that would be customer facing, you know, we don't want to degrade that because it is easy. Again, I'd say maybe for a newer marketer to just, you know, throw in their use case, throw in the, you know, the basic data, take the output and go, great, I'm done. But that's not typically that's not my process anyway. Yeah. Do you mind maybe kind of defining that and just like what's the what was ultimately in the story that you just told, what was the advantage to the client ultimately.

Terry (00:06:06) - the ability to demonstrate it in a very short time because they came to us and they had a very short timeline to get the campaign launched.

Terry (00:06:12) - So we would have had to hire a photographer and illustrator, found talent and put that all together, and then going out, shot some of the rough images just to demonstrate to them what the concept was going to look like. And we were able to do it all within the confines of artificial intelligence tools like Midjourney and Pica and, runway and generate the imagery and show it to them. We, of course, came up with the concept and the ideation, but then we, can help to write a rationale using ChatGPT, for the concept itself. And we have. We use AI for writing like everyone else does, but our writer, who's been with us for over 15 years, manages all the AI writing, so she helps get a base set of content going, and then she goes in and massages the content to ensure that it's to the brand standard. And not that we're not saying something that isn't, you know, because I can go out and glean, you know, a website, scrape it for information and write things about it, but it doesn't mean it's right.

Terry (00:07:10) - So we always oversee everything that we do using AI.

Josh (00:07:14) - Yeah. So I'm seeing here, Terry, in terms of like your services. I see, you know, where your offerings fall into the buckets of digital marketing, which probably is your biggest bucket. but also, AI integration and custom websites. Do you mind maybe kind of, to our friend that's listening, and they say, well, I wonder if Zahlen might be a great fit for me. do you mind maybe kind of fleshing those out a little bit more? Of course.

Terry (00:07:43) - Not. So we don't. We? we've been building websites for a very long time. We use the wordless WordPress platform. we do custom sites only. So our clientele is not looking for a template that they can just pick up and be a ME2 website. They're really looking for something distinctive and different. we have done websites for, you know, large companies, to individuals. But our websites are unique in that we have sites that scroll horizontally, completely vertically and horizontally.

Terry (00:08:15) - They're much more interactive than a traditional website would be. And we do complex e-commerce solutions. So if somebody has, multi-tiered pricing that's required for their e-commerce, website, we're able to do that. We do more difficult integrations with different platforms. So we've written APIs that will work with a particular POS system that wasn't available before. So we've done those types of integrations. we've worked with large home builders and helped them integrate with their entire backend system, which might be, for one, one instance was they had an Oracle database and that ran their entire ecosystem of their company, but they wanted a WordPress front end. So we had to figure out how to integrate the the database itself with the website. It took us a little bit, but we got exactly what they wanted. So they were able to get a custom site that was branded and functioned exactly the way they wanted, rather than a template which people would put together a bunch of plug ins to make it sort of work the way they want. and so our sites tend to be very lean on, on the code side.

Terry (00:09:19) - So they run faster, which is important for SEO. And, really everything that we do is driven towards, making the client get them exactly the type of project that they want and in the outcome. So it's on brand and, fitting with whatever their needs are.

Josh (00:09:36) - You had mentioned some, some standards in terms of design. and I'm curious, you know, aside from AI, which we've talked about, yeah. You know what other trends are you seeing? Both from a design or branding or marketing, perspective? outside of again, I, that that both are emerging. what I'm really curious about is if you have any feel for I would really start focusing on X or paying attention to Y. Anything immediately come to mind?

Terry (00:10:10) - Yeah. I mean, branding is, is is a kind of a tried and true process. we actually just went through a rebranding of our own and we really kind of broke the rules. So when you went to our website, you would see that rather than having a single Z, we actually used AI to create almost 50 different Z's, and we coded it so that every time you come to react to our website, it will randomly pull seven of those Z's and rotate them in place.

Terry (00:10:36) - And then if you were to look at the animation on our site, you'll see the the level of complexity that we programmed to. It's not something that you could do through a traditional means, and certainly not something you can get from a template. But the standards are, you know, in terms of trends, I'm seeing a new trend that I'm not crazy about, which is a lot of AI written sites. They also have like and they're just they're literally terrible.

Josh (00:11:01) - But a cornucopia of opportunity. Terry, what do you say?

Terry (00:11:06) - I'm telling you, just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's good, right?

Speaker 3 (00:11:10) - No, no.

Josh (00:11:11) - It's AI language, and it'll improve in time. But the base, AI language, it is a very distinct language that experience. People know exactly what you're doing. I would just urge anyone that is, you know, delegating content to your team, make sure you've got eyes on and make sure that that voice is an integrity. Terry, to our friend that's listening here. tell me, maybe who should be reaching out and and and what is the typical process like when you're working with the client?

Terry (00:11:42) - Yeah.

Terry (00:11:42) - You know, we've done everything you know from. We've done large communities. We were working with a large community here of 6500 homes. We put together the entire business plan for them, so we would do it on an annual basis. They would give us their budget, and we would allocate those dollars to the proper channels that we felt would give them the best return on their investment. And our process is very technical. So everything that we do as an agency is reported each month, whether we're doing SEO, social media, pay per click advertising, all of those get reports at the end of the month, so our clients can tell exactly which components of their marketing are working in which or not. Because all too often we hear people say, you know, I know half of my marketing is working. I just don't know which half. So with our process, we track literally everything we do. Another tactic called call tracking. So a lot of times we work with a number of builders and they will say, well, we have a we have a sheet that when people walk into one of our model homes, the people fill it out and they say, how did you find out about us? And they'll say, oh, it was a billboard, but that's the billboard they passed on the way there.

Terry (00:12:48) - But that's not got them in the door.

Speaker 4 (00:12:51) - So yeah.

Terry (00:12:51) - Apply a different phone number to every channel of the marketing that we're performing. So if there is a billboard, it'll have a phone number. If there's print advertising, it'll have a phone number. If there's a direct mail piece, if there's a pay per click campaign, if there's a website form, everything has a unique phone number. So at the end of the month, we can actually track in real time where those people are engaging with their different marketing avenues. And that's really the, the, the difference between what our firm does and a lot of other firms is the depth of reporting that we're able to provide them to see the true outcomes of what we're doing on their behalf.

Josh (00:13:28) - Yeah. so your website is Zelen Communications. Com or Zelen. Com. Com. and my recommendation to our friend that's listening is go to the website, take a look at what we've been talking about. I actually, love the Zs and I've got my favorite Z that it showed me.

Josh (00:13:48) - Yeah. No. And also to great, great, portfolio of work. And I'm looking at that, that community that you did work for and, yeah, just really, really gorgeous work. So, congratulations on that. To our friend that's listening. Yes. what would you recommend they do? I know you have a blog. You have some good content on social as well. But, you know, to someone who wants to maybe learn more, maybe they're not quite ready for a conversation at this point, but they. But they really want to get a feel for, you know, whether there might be a match here. What would you recommend?

Terry (00:14:21) - Well, you know, take a look at our website that shows some of our work. but also if you follow me on, on LinkedIn, I'm very actively posting there. I recently became a. A part of the Forbes Council and for the marketing side of things. So I will be writing articles and, hopefully being published relatively soon on Forbes.

Terry (00:14:43) - But that is all part of the process that we are, you know, doing a greater outreach. Our LinkedIn account is probably our most active. And then if you want, you can sign up for a newsletter on our website and get that on a monthly basis, just to get an idea of the types of projects that we work on and the outcomes and the strategy that we, you know, develop and utilize for our clients. I think that is the best. And then speaking because a lot of times it's the best way for us to see if it's a match or not, because it's really about the engagement and the interaction between the parties. That makes a huge difference, because we like to see ourselves as a partner or an extension of their company, rather than just a vendor, because we achieve much better outcomes when we work together.

Josh (00:15:28) - Yeah. you're, By the way, I just want to ask you about this really quick. I kind of I should have asked this much earlier, but you do so much work, in your local community, like, you do a lot of local speaking.

Josh (00:15:41) - You're volunteering or on boards, you know, that sort of thing. just to other business leaders that may be listening. Do you mind maybe just sharing a bit about why you've prioritized that?

Terry (00:15:51) - you know, I believe in giving back to the community. I've been in Tampa for a very long time and see it grow and change. And, I served on five boards one year, and I backed down to just two at this time. And I think that it's really good to be involved. It helps keep you relevant in the community and also helps you keep kind of an understanding of what's going on around you. We do a lot of work here, but we do. We've done work in, we did a winery in South Africa. We've done work for a an art school in Italy for a number of years. We've done websites for companies in all different parts of the country. So although we're based here, we've done work for, national firms in all different parts of the in the US.

Josh (00:16:34) - Terri Zelen, president of Zelen Communications, your website.

Josh (00:16:38) - Zelen communications. Com Terri it's been a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us.

Terry (00:16:44) - Josh. Really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

Josh (00:17:02) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence. Com and click on podcast. We believe that every person has a message that can positively impact the world. We love our community who listens and shares our program every day. Together we are empowering one another as thoughtful leaders. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this program, if you're looking for introductions to partners, investors, influencers, and clients, I have had private conversations with over 2000 leaders asking them where their best business comes from. I've got a free video that you can watch right now with no opt in or email required, where I'm going to share the exact steps necessary to be 100% inbound in your industry over the next 6 to 8 months, with no spam, no ads, and no sales.

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