The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Director of Brand Communications at Taylor Guitars, Chalise Zolezzi
As the Director of Brand Communications at Taylor Guitars, Chalise Zolezzi utilizes her experience to develop comprehensive integrated communications strategies and brand-advancing initiatives to lead the acoustic and electric guitar manufacturer.
In her role, she oversees a team of specialists in the areas of creative design, community relations, and product communications, and retains responsibility for corporate communications, crisis communications, public relations and public affairs. Her crisis
communications skills have become best practices for leading social media experts and her work, the subject of case studies.
She joined Taylor Guitars in 2008 as the Public Relations Manager, a position where she directed international earned media efforts, public affairs and community relations. While in this role, she worked with artists from all genres, spanning leading Christian musician, Steven Curtis Chapman to the Motor City madman, Ted Nugent.
Chalise is a member of the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of East County as well as The Salvation Army.
WiMN: Are you a musician? If so, what do you play?
CZ: Being surrounded by really great musical talent, I would not consider myself a “real musician,” but as our Master Guitar Designer (and phenomenal guitar player) Andy Powers says, “Music is too important to leave to the professionals.” I picked up my first guitar when I was perhaps 5 or 6. It was a jumbo-bodied six-string from Mexico with a thick, classical-style neck, and since that time, I’ve been fascinated with making music.
WiMN: Prior to working in the music industry, you had a successful career in politics. What made you make the switch, and how do you feel your experience working in politics has helped you with your career in music?
CZ: Public Affairs work accounted for a big part of my early career, and as you can bet, it’s a rough-and-tumble world, which taught me a lot. However, I found that the early lessons I learned — building meaningful relationships, developing forward-thinking vision and when necessary, acting as an agent of change — can have impact in any industry one might be in.
WiMN: What is your favorite aspect of working for Taylor Guitars?
CZ: Taylor Guitars is a forward-thinking company. From designing and implementing new manufacturing innovations and practices to ensuring the future of tonewood forestry for generations to come, we’re looking to the future in our designs, materials, and relationships. We have strong leadership in our co-founders and management, and thoroughly demonstrate our commitment to quality in our products, relationships with consumers and vendors.
WiMN: Tell us about one of the most exciting media campaigns you’ve worked on.
CZ: One of the most exciting communication campaigns I’ve worked on would have to be related to the Future of Ebony. In 2011, Taylor Guitars partnered with Madinter Trade to own and operate Crelicam, an ebony mill in Cameroon. At the time, most consumers (like me!) thought that as wood, ebony only came in one color: black. The truth of the forest, though, is that ebony grows with variegation (coloring/streaking in the wood) and that prior to our involvement, for every ten trees felled, only one would feature pure black ebony; the others were left to waste on the forest floor – a travesty for the forests, the communities within them, and ultimately, for players to know that they are contributing to this harmful practice.
With the leadership of Bob and Kurt, we made a commitment to use ebony of all color and variegation on our fretboards, bridges and pegheads across our entire line of guitars. By involving players in this discussion, and sharing the harsh reality of ebony sourcing, players have responded in a way that initiates positive social change in what “color” ebony is acceptable. It is incredibly reaffirming to hear from players who found a new appreciation for their guitar, or someone who requested a Taylor guitar with “as much color on the fretboard as possible.” The United States Department of State recognized our efforts here too, when, in 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry presented Bob Taylor with the Award for Corporate Excellence for our work in Cameroon. It was certainly a career highlight.
WiMN: What do you think is the biggest key to success in the field of communications?
CZ: I think providing value to your audience is the biggest key to success, and importantly, value that positively influences the perception of your brand/product/service to consumer action. As a society, we’re inundated with messages, ads, communication, etc., from the minute we wake up until we fall asleep at night. The next time you look in a magazine or watch an ad on TV, ask yourself, “Why should I care?” If you cannot think of a reason why, then that ad had no value to you.
WiMN: Have you ever faced adversity in the music industry simply for being a woman? If so, how did you overcome it?
CZ: I come from a long line of women who have been told “No”: “No, you cannot be the head of a union;” “No, you cannot drive a race car;” all during the years that in general, women were not expected to have careers outside the home. In each instance, these female relatives found ways to break barriers of societal norms, prove their worth, and through their experience, improve the future of their daughters, granddaughters, etc. Gender should never be a part of the equation, and in our industry, I have found that talent and ability are much more important than gender.
WiMN: What is a little-known fact about you?
CZ: I am an avid gardener. While that may not sound glamourous, I am currently researching the inoculation and propagation of trees containing truffle fungi. While inoculated trees have been cultivated since the late 19th century, there has been little interest in growing them in the home garden because of high investment, space restraints, and particular soil conditions including colonization of mutually beneficial symbioses – and a long list of other conditions that an environmental biologist would need to explain. But I am learning, and look forward to trying my hand at it. Perhaps in the future we’ll be chatting further about my truffle endeavors.
WiMN: Do you have advice for young women who might be considering a career in the music industry?
CZ: My advice would be that no one person is entitled to any one thing, but everyone is entitled to work hard — so be prepared to work hard. Also, seek out mentors who can coach you on your way, be open to feedback, and have high expectations for yourself. Do not let anyone determine your worth but you.
WiMN: What does it mean to you to receive a She Rocks Award?
CZ: To join the group of illustrious women who have received this award is simply humbling. I am thankful for this honor, to Taylor Guitars for the opportunity to serve, and motivated to continue to help women in our industry as a mentor to lead fulfilling careers.