Harrisburg-based independent marketing and communications firm PrepTalk expanded into a new service after President and CEO Heather Zell received a compliment from a client, opening her eyes to something she could offer businesses.
“We were driving back in the car after a meeting, and he said: ‘You are one of the most emotionally intelligent people I have ever worked with. Your ability to manage a room, speak to the people in that room and address their needs is incredible,’” said Zell.
Following the conversation, Zell got to work getting an online certification in social and emotional intelligence through the Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence (ISEI).
She has since realized that much of her work in the marketing and communications space as a storyteller led her to build skills in emotional intelligence she can now teach to business leaders.
“I never thought of that. I loved presenting and being in a room with people. My favorite part of a job is building relationships,” she said. “When you think about the empathy required to build stories and move business forward, it’s all about emotional intelligence. It all ties together.”
At PrepTalk, Zell focuses on television development and production, public relations and communications training. Her clients include Penn State Health and Ollie’s Bargain Outlets.
The inclusion of emotional intelligence (EQ) coaching to her portfolio gave the communications expert the opportunity to help clients better understand the needs of their staff. That’s become more crucial over the past two years as people went to remote work and workforce pressures caused businesses to think differently about office culture.
“When you think about the best mentors and bosses you ever had, they listened to your needs, they supported you at work, you didn’t feel intimidated to talk to them,” Zell said. “It’s time for businesses to be self-aware and ask themselves: ‘What is it that we are doing that we can’t recruit the employees we want to recruit? What can we do to create a better environment for employees that’s more attractive?’”
As an emotional intelligence coach, Zell offers both group and individual training on how to control your actions while at work. Within the model she was trained in, that involves four quadrants: self-awareness, other people’s awareness, self-management and outside management.
Someone taking a PrepTalk EQ session with Zell can use a tool through the ISEI to receive an emotional intelligence score to understand what they may need to work on. For many the training boils down to empathy, said Zell.
“People used to think back in the old days that empathy made you weak. If you showed too much emotion, you weren’t a strong leader,” she said. “Today people prefer that their leaders lead with more empathy. You can learn the business behind something and now empathy can be taught, too.”
Prior to founding PrepTalk, Zell was a partner at Hummelstown-based PR firm Ch@tterbox Communications. She has also held several positions within Penn State Health and maintains a relationship with the Hershey-based health system by managing its television production.
Along with her work in television production for the system’s “This is Penn State Health” series, Zell also assists the productions on storytelling.
“She puts a premium on telling stories to elicit action,” said Andrea Becker, director of client and brand strategy at Penn State Health. “Emotional intelligence is important because without emotion you create health care advertising that can feel cold and scary. We want to elicit the right emotions.”
Becker added that it is a great time for Zell to add EQ to her portfolio, given that as a leader, she can tell employees to work on their emotional intelligence but can’t expect them to do that on their own.
Zell and Becker are working together to bring Zell’s coaching to Penn State Health but are waiting to do so in person, something that Zell says will be an important aspect to the offering.
“We are on Zoom all the time, so we want it to be in person,” said Zell. “There are plans to do it together, but we aren’t sure when.”