A conversation with With Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne

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Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is CEO of Hawthorne. Jessica has strategically positioned the agency to be at the forefront of advertising, where art meets science. She is committed to providing data-driven solutions and proprietary tools to help clients maximize their advertising investment dollars. From creative and production to strategy, media and analytics, Jessica ensures quality and innovation […]

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is CEO of Hawthorne. Jessica has strategically positioned the agency to be at the forefront of advertising, where art meets science. She is committed to providing data-driven solutions and proprietary tools to help clients maximize their advertising investment dollars. From creative and production to strategy, media and analytics, Jessica ensures quality and innovation throughout all disciplines of the agency. As CEO of Hawthorne, Jessica has prioritized company culture and corporate social responsibility and is a Climate Change Reality Ambassador. Today, Hawthorne is a certified woman-owned business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a Great Place to Work®, and on the Inc. 5000 list. She is a member of the Forbes Agency Council and Ad Age’s Agency Collective, invitation-only organizations for senior-level executives in public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. She is the incoming Chair of the Board for the ANA ECHO Board of Governors, the elite group behind one of the most coveted prizes in marketing as well as a participant in TED International, TED Women communities and Vistage International. She is also a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), the global organization empowering more than 28,000 members in more than 130 countries and is the Chapter Chair for YPO Los Angeles and on the YPO Pacific U.S Regional Executive Board. When Jessica isn’t busy with the company, culture, and board participation, she enjoys spending time with family and friends and traveling the world (over 50 countries so far!). She resides in Los Angeles with her husband, son and daughter.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Starting out as a television literary agent in Hollywood, the transition over to the advertising industry was actually a natural fit as I had experience managing clients which were individual writers, directors and producers. Client management is key but instead of individuals, in advertising, it’s managing an entire brand, their team and campaigns. It is very fulfilling to work with such smart clients and brand managers to help them grow their companies and brands. In addition to the clients, I also feel it was another seamless, natural transition to operations/managing the company, where employees were also my clients and I worked on behalf of their best interests. Whatever I have done or worked on, whether it was for clients or my employees, it has always been to better their lives and careers.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A funny marketing fumble I experienced early in my career is when I got a client a commercial shoot and they wanted to re-write the script on the shoot day — something that can be a costly endeavor both for time spent and valuable shoot hours spent re-writing. We work very hard in the weeks and days approaching the pre-production and shoot to make sure the client’s team members have signed off on the script so that there aren’t any members of their team who could possibly derail it on shoot day. This was a huge learning opportunity for how to navigate tough and unexpected client situations!

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I find that a major tipping point in my career is when I clearly found a mentor who recognized my hard work. They helped accelerate my career and pushed me through promotions upon deserving it with merit. Finding a mentor who could teach me aspects of the business I’ve never experienced, while making it clear I was interested in having them champion me was key to my career success.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Hawthorne Advertising is a founder of the performance marketing space nearly 35 years ago, and I truly feel our commitment to ROI and accelerated growth for our client’s businesses and brands runs deep and is embedded in every employee’s DNA. You can’t manufacture that passion, it’s innate in every team member and is our culture — we thrive in helping our client’s businesses grow and thrive.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I actually have a long-awaited book that will be published soon which is a follow up to one of the original performance marketing books our company has published. Stay tuned . . .

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Work hard but have fun — always have fun. Enjoy your team members and remember to laugh with them even in challenging situations. Always remember that as long everyone has the brand and campaigns’ best interest at heart, all viewpoints are valuable, and you are all trying to reach the same united successful goal for the campaign.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s again identifying a mentor early on in any career and position. Spend time shadowing that person, taking their advice and working harder than anyone else while you are doing it, and they will take you on the ride with them.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?

Nike is still a huge success story with their original “Just Do It” campaign but also because it aligned with their clear mission to be #1 in the category and surpass the incumbent at the time. It is still their core goal to be #1 and all campaigns drive that creative strategy in the marketplace.

If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

Start out with the core goals of the blueprint and put it into architecture terms.
If you wanted to build a house in the dessert that would withstand 110 degree heat, stand for over a 100 years, be architecturally timeless in look and feel, and house multiple generations, then you would start out with those key KPIs and then design the house from there. Choose the location, size, building elements and design templates. The overarching campaign goals or KPIs are key and then you build the rest of the campaign to achieve your unique goals.

Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

Authenticity is key for any brand. A consumer must have a need in their life and the brand should be able to fulfill a unique need for the consumer and how it will make their life better. It’s all about being able to tell that story in a beautiful, eye catching but succinct way which clearly and quickly communicates how a brand will make the consumer’s life better while also meeting the consumer on the platform they prefer and making sure the content is uniquely targeted to them.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Work hard and be humble
  • Work smart as your time is valuable
  • Work with good people and quickly move on from those who don’t have the greater good in their hearts
  • Make a positive impact on the world and environment
  • Always have fun

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?

Visual dashboards that connect all marketing activities, website, and sales data via APIs are key to a business having a snapshot at any point in time of their overall efforts. They’re able to make a quick change and pivot in strategy to always be maximizing their marketing investment.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

How I Built This podcast on NPR shows great stories of inspiring CEOs and entrepreneurs that defied the odds and built great companies.

Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?

Al Gore. Even though he didn’t become president, he pivoted his career by focusing on the environment and bringing reality to the delicate balance of our Earth’s ecosystem. I’m all for going to Mars but if we have the opportunity to fix our beautiful blue planet, let’s focus on our backyard first.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am surrounded by CEOs of huge caliber and I endeavor to continue to be a positive influence on how all these mammoth CEOs who, as a group, collectively represent GDPs larger than many countries. We can positively impact the world through corporate social responsibility, sustainability and building great companies that are positive work environments for employees, which in turn betters the lives of all those employees and their families.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on twitter @hawthornecastro and on LinkedIn

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