Cynthia Irons wasn’t looking for a job when she started working with Zeel, a same-day, in-home massage service with licensed and vetted massage therapists. Irons was a frequent spa visitor turned Zeel aficionado and began sharing her extensive marketing advice with Zeel. She had a more than 20-year career in marketing in-house and at agencies at companies including Accenture, Gap Inc., KPMG and Ogilvy. When Zeel’s founder, Samer Hamadeh, invited her to be chief marketing officer, she took a calculated risk and said yes to the opportunity.
Gross: How did you end up at Zeel? What was your career path?
Cynthia Irons: An opportunity to join Zeel came at a time when I wasn’t expecting or even looking for it. The company’s CEO, Samer Hamadeh, took notice of some relevant work that I was doing for my then employer. It was 2012, and Zeel was pivoting from a wellness booking platform to creating and launching a new category in the massage industry, which they named Massage On Demand.
After several discussions, Samer felt that my long experience, which included marketing and communications at Accenture, internal communications at Gap Inc., running accounts for Ogilvy PR Worldwide and heading up communications at Intermedia, could benefit Zeel’s growth plans. His passion convinced me as well.
Having a well-rounded career with both in-house and client-side experience constructing 360 marketing and communications strategies meant that I could offer Zeel strategic direction, combined with the ability to roll up my sleeves and tackle projects at an industry-first startup.
How did you land your role?
Irons: Zeel’s CEO and founder, Samer Hamadeh, is a friend and someone that I admire greatly for his work as a successful serial entrepreneur. As a frequent spa visitor, I was intrigued when Zeel relaunched in 2012 as the first company to offer same-day, in-home massages.
I quickly became one of Zeel’s biggest customers. In the early days, I would send Samer marketing ideas here and there. I was fascinated by Massage On Demand and wanted to help Zeel grow. Even though I was working full-time elsewhere, my advice evolved into a consulting role as Zeel’s marketing advisor. What started off as a few hours a month continued to grow over the course of a year. At that point, Zeel was ready to bring a marketing person on full-time, and I realized that I wanted that person to be me. I was excited to be part of a team that was custom-tailored to succeed in the new on-demand economy.
My 20 years in corporate America had given me the deep skills necessary to head up and grow a marketing team, and my tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit showcased that I was willing to be in the trenches and not just strategize and manage. In late 2014, we made it official, and I became the full-time CMO of Zeel.
Gross: What is a workday like for Cynthia? Please walk me through a day!
Irons: I like to hit the ground running every day, which means having an adaptive yet methodical structure to my schedule. First thing in the morning I check all of the company’s key metrics that are critical to the success of the business. This is done either after I wake up while my mind is clear and refreshed, or after I work out, but prior to my commute. This gives me enough time to digest the information and I’m able to set the stage for the rest of my workday while walking into the office.
Upon arrival, our team meets to discuss individual and group goals, progress and any additional targets or urgent matters that require immediate attention. Throughout the day there is very little structure so as to allow the team to work in the most efficient manner possible. My day is a mix of writing, editing, analyzing and creating programs to acquire, engage and retain customers for Zeel across all of our lines of business.
As CMO, my day rarely ends when I leave the office. Running a marketing and communications team in this demanding industry means addressable items often stretch into the evening. I’m also frequently at industry events or take part in panel discussions about marketing, wellness or startups.
Gross: What are your responsibilities as Zeel?
Irons: As CMO at Zeel, I develop integrated marketing and communications strategies designed to drive growth through customer acquisition and enrich our premium brand image. By orchestrating the collective team’s efforts, we’re able to adapt the strategies for scalability and efficiencies – which is vital for our quickly-growing company. Zeel’s in-home massage offering is now available in 65 cities, with more being added monthly. And we now have four lines of business, including in-home Massage On Demand, Zeel Corporate Wellness for office massage events, Zeel Concierge for hotel concierges who book for guests and Zeel Spa, where we provide on-demand staffing to spas. I also split the role of company spokesperson with Zeel’s CEO, Samer Hamadeh. I develop and drive messaging in support of Zeel’s business priorities and brand for both broadcast and print publications.