At the age of 29, Anne Zizzo landed her dream job as marketing director for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
However, just a couple months into her new job, Zizzo’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unable to simultaneously continue her career and care for her father, Zizzo left her dream job and started her own company in the basement of her home.
“I don’t think I really fancied myself as an entrepreneur at that juncture,” Zizzo recalled. “I fancied myself as a marketing person who was doing what I needed to do to balance my family life and earn some income at the same time.”
One year later, she had seven people working in the basement with her, and they had done nearly $7 million in sales. Since the company’s humble beginnings, Zizzo Group has been profitable in each of the last 13 years and has never laid off or downsized employees.
“Everybody who works here at Zizzo Group is entrepreneurial,” said Zizzo, chief executive officer and owner. “So, this is a company that has grown strategically, but organically.”
Claiming to be the “region’s most fearless results-driven integrated marketing firm,” Zizzo Group brought in nearly $40 million in billings in 2007. Zizzo prides herself on generating new business nationally and bringing nontraditional dollars into her company and ultimately the local economy. And people outside of the market, she said, have a very favorable impression of Milwaukee as a growing, dynamic metropolitan city.
“There are just so many things we can celebrate in our region entertainment-wise, business-wise, arts-wise and so on,” she said. “I just feel privileged that my company and myself can step out in front of it and celebrate it. I think more people should celebrate it.”
Born in Green Bay and adopted by a stay-at-home mother and an eighth-grade social studies teacher in Menomonee Falls, Zizzo said she has always had a special connection with the Milwaukee area. Giving back to the community that has been so good to her and her company was never a question.
“I decided early on that even a small business like mine can lead by example, can make a difference and can give what we’re able to give to help promote this region and help the organizations that need it,” she said. “I can’t go out and fix the health insurance crisis in the state or the nation. I can’t go out and change the political system. We’re a marketing firm. I can help market this region.”
Zizzo currently serves on the boards of directors at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, the Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Marquette University Board of Trustees, the United Performing Arts Fund and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin.
In 2007 alone, Zizzo Group contributed more than $250,000 to those and other community organizations. Zizzo also urges her employees to share her vision of a better community.
“We encourage people to figure out what the company can do that’s important to them and will enable them to be foot soldiers for making this region better,” she said. “It’s really become something that’s been a great employee benefit of the company.”
Zizzo’s overwhelming dedication to promoting the area’s bustling business culture has earned her this year’s Bravo! Entrepreneur Regional Spirit Award and the unofficial title of “Spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Region.” Zizzo was nominated for the Bravo! Entrepreneur Award by Lisa Ninmer, director of public relations at the company.
“For me, this company is one that needs to treat staff with a great deal of care and concern,” Zizzo said. “I like to treat this marketplace – Milwaukee, southeastern Wisconsin, the state – with a great deal of care and concern. And, ultimately, I want the legacy of this company to be one that is in honor of my father.”
Address: 648 N. Plankinton Ave., Suite 270, Milwaukee
Web Site: www.zizzogroup.com
Industry: Advertising/public relations
Revenues: $38.5 million in 2007