In Conversation with C. Zawadi Morris of The Original Media Group & BK Reader

C. Zawadi Morris_Blog Header

Describe your business in a few words?

The Original Media Group (OMG!) is a media relations agency, the parent company to BK Reader, and digital daily news site covering 9 neighborhoods across Central and East Brooklyn.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I think entrepreneurship was my eventuality, because as a creative visionary, I’ve been making things from scratch since childhood, started making my own toys by age 8 and then sewing my own clothes by age 13. Whatever we couldn’t afford to buy, I figured out how to make. I stumbled into entrepreneurship, however, earlier than I had expected. I had left my job in healthcare communications and decided to take a 6-month hiatus to figure out my direction. During that time, two major accounts landed in my lap through word of mouth from my time at corporate. I was then forced to start my own LLC in order to get paid by these new clients. And it has been fast-forward ever since.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

My background was in writing and bilingual communications. Right out of graduate school, I worked as the bilingual press secretary for NYC Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. Then I went on to work in public affairs and healthcare communications before starting The Original Media Group, LLC (OMG!) and then launching BK Reader.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

No, I did not consciously think I would be an entrepreneur. I came up during a time when the employment path was laid out for you as an African-American, beginning with undergrad, grad school, and then getting a corporate job, then rising up the corporate ladder. Of course, what I was not told while going down that path and checking off all of the boxes was: RACISM. SEXISM. I was always high-achieving in school and had no concept of barriers to progress based not on my merits but on my gender (to a lesser extent) and my race (to a much greater extent). I understood soon I would have to take my future, my goals and advancement into my own hands.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

The Original Media Group is a boutique media relations agency. I had come out of journalism, writing and public relations, so launching a business doing just that made developing the marketing and PR materials a breeze. Very glossy and professional. In fact, I would admit now that my press and marketing materials were probably far more fine-tuned than my business operations, lolol. It might have taken a few years for my business to catch up to its marketing. But when you’re a small business, the best marketing will be word-of-mouth. 90 percent of our new clients came through word of mouth referrals.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I had so many ideas, so many approaches, I was trying to do so much and move too fast before I was ready. If I could speak to my younger self now, I would tell her to slowwwww dowwwwn. lolol. It’s so much more valuable to do a few things very very well rather than do all things mediocre. Mediocrity will never get you referrals/clients/readers/followers. You need to be excellent. So focus solely on what you do excellent and do that for a while before adding anything new.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

BK Reader is the first and only black-owned/woman-owned digital daily newspaper in New York State.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

“In a perfect world, where do you see yourself in the next five years? In the next ten years?” Listening to a writing candidate’s goals and dreams gives me not only important insight into their professional goals but also insight into who they are. Some of their answers simply surprise me. One candidate told me they hope to be doing standup comedy on national stages! It made sense to me. Writers are sociologists of sorts and so our comedians! That question also helps me understand how to support them as writers in helping to reach their goals.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

As publisher of BK Reader, the COVID-19 Pandemic has been a time of both devastation and expansion.  It was devastating to our bottom line, as a large percentage of our revenue comes from local and small business advertising. After the governor closed businesses, we lost our primary revenue stream. Conversely, all media was designated as an “essential business.” As an essential business, not only did we end up doubling our work and our audience overnight, a lot of financial support showed up in the form of grants and advertising from the city. Also there was great satisfaction in being able to provide our readers what we had trained for all this time which was on-the-ground, hard-hitting reporting, news, updates. It was a very fast-moving time where we — the writers– felt very responsible and motivated to keep our readers informed.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

I just launched a non-profit, collaborative hyperlocal news service called Scriibe.org. This platform will be 100% grant supported and is still working to get off the ground. However, it aims to reimagine how we bring news to our communities! This new venture really excites me, and I look forward to seeing how it is received.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

2020 taught me to work, love, share and BREATHE …. It taught me to live in the NOW,  because you don’t know what awaits around the corner. Basically 2020 taught me to appreciate life, while letting go of expectation. It taught me to have faith.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I underestimated the power of racism, even as an entrepreneur. I thought, like in high school and college, my business and work would be judged by merit alone. As a woman of color, there are so many X factors you may not consider when you jump into entrepreneurship, coming from outside AND inside of your community. And to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t know. Because I probably wouldn’t have started if I knew what the road ahead of me looked like. I’m so thankful for the lessons. I’m so much more agile, adept, smarter and calmer than I was when I first started. There’s simply no price on wisdom.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Reporting on so much loss in one year has made me appreciate what I have. I’m so grateful to be alive and be able to pick up the phone and hear my mom’s sweet voices and the voices of every single one of my family members. I’m so grateful for my husband’s embrace.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Work hard. Play hard. You can take one look at my Instagram page to see I clearly do both. It’s just that now, in the time of COVID, it has become “Work hard. Play hard. And be safe!”

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I sew, and I’m also a clothing designer. I was named one of Brooklyn’s Top 20 designers in 2003 by NRG Magazine.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • The first thing you should do every morning the morning is stretch, meditate for (if even for 3 minutes) and then drink a tall glass of water.
  • Try to take a dance class or exercise class or yoga class at least 3 times a week.
  • Always make a “to-do” list at the top of your day, even if it’s 2-3 things (setting small goals and meeting them daily will become a habit).

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being a leader. Being an example. Nurturing our society. Basically, being the bad-ass, powerful-ass women we are!!!

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