People of Sacramento commenting on the news: MaryJayne Zemer

MaryJayne Zemer, brand strategist at Brand Mother Strategies. Photo: Kevin Fiscus.
MaryJayne Zemer, brand strategist at Brand Mother Strategies. Photo: Kevin Fiscus.

(This is the 16th installment in a weekly series with people who don’t work in journalism commenting on the news. Photography by Kevin Fiscus. If you’d like to participate, message or tweet me.)

Meet MaryJayne Zemer.

She’s 29, a Portville, New York, native, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, graduate, studied narratology while at the University of Sheffield, lives in West Sacramento and helps “companies own the brand they want to own” at Brand Mother Strategies.

MaryJayne and I first met last year while she was spearheading the Sacramento Hashtag Project. The grassroots initiative aimed to foster pride within hyperlocal neighborhoods, create a platform to solve problems and connect residents with small businesses.

As she described in her action pitch from TEDxSacramento in 2014:

“The Sacramento Hashtag Project is a community engagement initiative, and we’re using the connecting power of hashtags, both online and off, to incubate Sacramento’s culture of connectivity.”

We reconnected in July at Insight Coffee Roasters in Southside Park to talk about media consumption, the city of Sacramento and her thoughts on the news.

MaryJayne relocated to Sacramento three years ago for her job.  She appreciated the openness of the residents, the “incredibly happy people” and how easy it was to make new connections.

“I love the energy in San Francisco but I love the work/life balance here,” she says.

Sacramento is thoughtful; Sacramento is home. It can be seen in the little things. When learning to drive a car with manual transmission, she worried other drivers would yell at her if she struggled with the clutch. That never happened.

“I taught myself to drive stick without being flipped off,” she says.

She values giving back and, at first, spread herself thin with too many projects. Instead, she decided to invest deeply and thoughtfully with one pro-bono project at a time.

For a recent project, she committed to a national market research project for yoga studio owners. She wanted to look at the competitive market advantages, the un-met market needs, brand development and helping owners find a sustainable business model.

“The collective wisdom and hard-learned business lessons of yogapreneurs around the country demystified the practice of yoga as a business model,” she wrote in a recent story for Comstock’s magazine, where she is a frequent online contributor.

In the process, she found that Sacramento had one of the best programs for consumers to find the right studio for them without burdening studio owners. For $40, the Sac-Sierra Yoga Pass offers one drop-in class at every participating studio. It “solved the Groupon problem,” wherein an influx of new students threaten the atmosphere and deep discounts challenge a studio’s ability to sell membership at full price.

One of her earlier projects opened her eyes to how hard it can be to capture the media’s attention. After working on a project that explored the barriers that keep women from bicycling (think: biking without breaking the dress code), she went to one local outlet to pitch a story with a box of donuts and a flash drive of documents. She couldn’t get anyone to say they weren’t interested. They were too busy.

“That’s what I like about lawyers,” she says. “Lawyers will say no, or I don’t know.”

MaryJayne answered the following questions by email about how she gets the news. Text submitted April 8.

How do you get your news?
Digitally, from just about anywhere and everywhere credible.

What’s the first news event you remember?
My parents weren’t TV people. The week they decided to test out cable, the OJ Simpson freeway chase happened- it’s my earliest memory of the news.

What content do you pay for?
I’m an avid supporter of NPR, Mother Jones, Comstock’s. I do actually let the loading page ads on Forbes play all the way through rather than skipping, and depending on the video I don’t skip the ads on YouTube.

What’s the last great thing you ate?
My first garden strawberry of the season!

Who’s doing it right in news?
I think The Washington Post does a great job of educating on the whole story or the big picture surrounding an issue- which is what I love most about the Washington Post; I think Mother Jones does an outstanding job talking about tough issues- they’re really owning their commitment to “smart, fearless journalism;” and I think the Harvard Business Review has figured out how to evolve the business of magazine publishing in a way that adds value to readers. So many publications have struggled with staying current and evolving their revenue strategies as technology and customer expectations are shifting. The Harvard Business Review is an excellent model for getting the business of publishing right.

Name the three most important issues facing Sacramento.
Water issues are a given. My brown lawn and speed showers seemed like much smaller contributions once I discovered Nestle was bottling 50 million gallons of Sacramento tap water a year to ship around the country and that California used 70 million gallons of water for fracking. I hear a lot about why we should conserve water, but I think government and the media have been slow to respond to the big picture.

The business culture in Sacramento is definitely more loyal than progressive, and highly influenced by government. I’m amazed by the sheer number of professionals and small business owners in Sacramento that admit they either can’t get local work or don’t want to deal with the politic of working local. So many locals either have to or just prefer to do business in the Bay Area because of local business politics.

I’m definitely concerned about bees and pesticides on a national scale, but Sacramento is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world- and the severity of our drought combined with the impacts of our agricultural sustainability has the very real potential to effect national food supplies. We should be taking a much more sustainable approach to agriculture with the long game in mind and we should be doing it much swifter than we currently are. Government moves slowly, and this is still very much a government town. We need the pace of entrepreneurship to kick it up and get things moving quickly in ag and sustainability.

What do you absolutely hate about the news?
I hate how many articles just repeat the same facts and press release tid bits. I have a lot of respect for journalists who do legitimate legwork, find their own angle, and site their own sources.

Repeating the same facts also tends to mean the same businesses and individuals are featured over and over again. Most business journalists tend to write about businesses they like and know, and reinforce existing celebrity status rather than leveraging their power to support new ideas and lesser known individuals.

What’s the most important issue to you that’s not being covered well enough?
Definitely water issues – I want to see more informed coverage that addresses where our water is being spend and how we’re investing in our long term access. It’s time for a very transparent and open dialog.

If you could be anywhere, an-hour-and-a-half drive away, where would you be?
Right this minute? Hiking in Tahoe. I love living in West Sac though!

Follow MaryJayne (@BrandMotherCA) on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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