Date: June 25, 2020

Hearken and Switchboard join forces in unique “Zebra company” merger 

Hearken and Switchboard, two women-founded and led tech-enabled consultancies that build competitive advantage by engaging audiences and communities, have merged. 

For the past seven years, both companies have supported partners in journalism and higher education and have more recently expanded their community engagement expertise by supporting partners in new markets including: member-based organizations, city governments, and foundations. 

By joining forces, the merged company (named Hearken) will serve and support multiple market verticals through their robust engagement consulting practice, and innovation in digital engagement expertise supported by two technology platforms: the Hearken’s Engagement Management System (EMS) and Switchboard’s Community Management System (CMS). 

Jennifer Brandel, co-founder of Hearken said, “Switchboard’s approach and tech perfectly complements ours by enabling individuals to connect with one another to get their needs met, whereas Hearken’s platform connects individuals with institutions. I’m thrilled to see our customer bases already cross-pollinating and finding great utility in our combined consulting and technologies.”  

Brandel co-founded Hearken in 2015 and served as CEO for five years. Brandel will move into the role of Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships and Board Chair. 

The company has also announced a new leadership team, with Chelsea Haring, Switchboard’s former Chief Operating Officer, at the helm as Chief Executive Officer. 

“The time is now for organizations to pivot to driving growth and sustainability through community engagement,” Haring said. “In the post COVID-19 world, connection and community will drive activation, coordination and conversion of engagement into value. A team’s ability to leverage engagement best practices and resource their operations to support engagement work, is the future we clearly see, and what we support our partners in achieving. I am so grateful for the entire team at Hearken today who have worked so hard this past year to integrate our collective tech and consulting work across both companies.” 

Switchboard’s Mara Zepeda said, “Hearken means ‘to listen’ and Switchboard elevates the invaluable human ‘operators’ that solve problems through hearing needs and providing connections. Institutions, communities and the private sector now recognize that listening and serving are core to building more just, equitable, and resilient systems.” 

Zepeda, who co-founded Switchboard in 2013 and served as CEO for seven years, will serve as a Senior Consultant and Board member. The combined team brings world-class engagement talent across sectors, augmented by award-winning technology to scale this public-powered approach for their clients.

Zepeda and Brandel are also co-founders of Zebras Unite, a growing, international movement of purpose-driven startup founders. As their last names (Zepeda and Brandel) imply, this merger represents a Zebra of the highest order. 

Hearken is a distributed team with hubs in Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; and Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Recent engagement innovation projects from Hearken include providing rapid response COVID-19 support to universities, businesses, foundations, and newsrooms across the country; supporting the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office with broad engagement initiatives through software and strategy; and developing Election SOS, which offers training for journalists, connecting them to best practices, resources and support around election coverage.  

For more information and interview requests, contact info@wearehearken.com