With his bushy mustache, six-foot seven-inch frame and irrepressible smile, Ron Magill certainly stands out at Zoo Miami — even among the lions, tigers and bears. But those aren’t the only reasons the zoo’s communications director deserves the role of goodwill ambassador for the South Florida attraction.
“I think it’s almost impossible not to think about Ron Magill when you hear Zoo Miami,” says Mayra Fernandez, 59, who has been a fan of the zoo since it opened in 1980. “He’s definitely the face of the place. His energy and charisma make him unforgettable.”
Aldo Vazquez may not be as well known as Magill, but his enthusiasm brightens shoppers’ trips to Publix. Then there’s Cathy Szalva, who welcomes both humans and pooches at Laura’s Classy Canines; Cheryl Wynter, the go-to source at the Consulate General of Jamaica; and public address announcer Jay Rokeach, whose voice conveys the triumphs and calamities of sports.
At a time when a stagnant economy, salary cuts and layoffs take center stage, these employees still see their jobs as a labor of love. What’s more, they bring businesses a priceless type of branding.
“Anyone can copy a business idea,” says Melissa Cassera, the CEO and president of Cassera Communications. “But they can’t copy your own personality, your own unique qualities, or your own attributes. It’s what makes you stand out from the pack.”
Author William Arruda, who has worked with brands like Microsoft and Disney, says, “I think a lot of companies see it as a risk when you put an employee as the face of the company, but it’s really an incredible opportunity.”
These special employees usually follow three steps, Arruda says: They find what they’re passionate about, what they’re good at, and what they can bring to the table that others can’t.
“It’s the little things that matter the most,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding and author of the book Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing). “These employees who become the face of the place make me feel like they’re taking care of me. It’s the small things that they do that can make a customer want to come back. However, it works better with mom-and-pop shops. It doesn’t seem as natural with big companies.”
For Magill, Vazquez, Szalva, Wynter and Rokeach, going the extra mile isn’t just good business. It’s good for everyone.
When he was a kid, Ron Magill would sit Indian-style in front of the TV on Sunday nights to watch Wild Kingdom, waiting for his longtime hero, Jim Fowler, to appear on the screen.
“I was a kid that was fascinated with wildlife,” he said. “Watching Jim Fowler on his show, I knew working with animals was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Decades later, Magill is “very good friends” with Fowler, he has become a wildlife photographer and he works at his dream job as Zoo Miami’s communications director. He has also worked on Emmy-nominated nature programs, handled the animals on the set of Miami Vice and has appeared on Late Show With David Letterman, Sábado Gigante, the Today show and The Early Show, usually accompanied by a snake, owl or wild animal. Magill can hold his own with such competition for the camera. In fact, his enthusiasm for animals helped him land his job in the first place.