Maven to Know: Denise Herd

The founder of Herd Strategies chats about working in a female-dominated office and owning a Harley Davidson. You know, the usual stuff.


According to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), 40% of U.S. businesses are women-owned. That adds up to about 12.3 million businesses, compared to only 402,000 women-owned businesses back in 1972.

Denise Herd, an Indianapolis-based marketing and communications professional, is part of that growing number. The entrepreneur founded her own public relations firm, Herd Strategies, in 2011. Nearly a decade later, she’s amassed some pretty well-known clients: IndyGo, Madam Walker Legacy Center, and Indiana University Health, just to name a few.

“I’m really focused on working on projects that are about improving quality of life,” she says. “I really want to make sure that we are able to utilize our PR and marketing efforts to make the world just a better place than we found it.”

We snagged some time on Herd’s busy calendar to talk about owning a small business in the wake of COVID-19, how to have fun in Indianapolis by yourself, and about that time she rode her motorcycle to Florida.

How would you describe your job to someone you just met at a dinner party?

I fix your communication problems—I make it better for you and open up new doors for you. And I guide you into conversations with audiences that you’ve always wanted to connect with but just couldn’t quite get your foot in the door.

How do you make sure your business stands out in a crowded field? 

To make yourself stand out, you have to understand the market and understand your competition. I think you have to assess what your strengths are. We really look at our clients as an extension of us and we’re an extension of them. We send quarterly thank you notes to our clients because we know that they could do business with anyone else and so we consider it an honor that they chose us. So, we let them know.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

A really cool project that we worked on recently was 21st Century Scholars through EmployIndy. The great thing about that program is that it registers students in 7th and 8th grade toward the pathway for a free college education. We worked with area schools throughout Marion County to get middle school students signed up for that program.

You mentioned that you have one man that works for your company now. What’s it like working with a female-dominated staff?

It’s very empowering because we’re giving opportunities to women they may not have had in other organizations. The thing about it is that we’ve been able to cultivate voices within our discipline. Voices of women that are doing amazing work in the market. I think sometimes women may tend to not express themselves or be as vocal as their male counterparts are. But in our environment, everyone is vocal. There’s no gender bias and everyone has a chance to speak and be heard and doesn’t have to worry about the stereotypes or the societal bias or assumptions that come with being a woman in the workplace.

What’s your advice to someone wanting to start their own company?

Just do it. That seems so simple, and you have nothing to lose. I remember someone telling me, “You know Denise, you may as well do it because the time is going to go by anyway.” So, wouldn’t you rather be doing something that you’ve longed to do rather than sitting around longing to do it?”

COVID-19 has really hit small businesses hard. How can people keep afloat as the pandemic continues?

Our goal or mantra should always be to remain “open for business.” When you walk up to a business, the first thing you do is you look for that open sign. The same goes for you. I encourage individuals to tap into that part of themselves that made them take the risk to start the business in the first place. Sometimes we have to maybe scale down. We focus a lot on scaling up, but we never spend time focusing on scaling down. So, I think that during this time, it really gives us a chance to clean house and really look at who and what is working in the best interest of our organization. It’s just not being afraid to change and not being paralyzed by change.

What’s a fun fact about you that people might not know?

I ride a Harley! I have a Harley Softail Deluxe. The longest trip I ever took was to Tampa, Florida. I went with a group of people and I was the only woman driving her bike. That’s also one of my proudest moments.

Any fun quarantine memories?

The happy hour I had with my girlfriends over Zoom! We danced, we drank, we talked. I think that’s been my fondest memory during COVID, all the virtual cocktail parties that I’ve had with my girlfriends.

What’s your favorite part of Indy?

What I really love about Indy is we have so many cool things to do and experience. For me, I’m single, so a lot of times I do things by myself. But I don’t feel like I’m by myself. I just bought my ticket to Harvest and I’m going by myself. And I know I’m guaranteed to have a good time.

Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor. 

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