Award Winning Leadership With Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

As a leading technology and data-driven advertising agency, Hawthorne Advertising specializes in integrated campaign solutions for brands. As CEO, Jessica Hawthorne-Castro has prioritized company culture and has received numerous awards for her career accomplishments, most recently winning the CEO of The Year award for technology-based advertising by Corporate Livewire. In this episode, Jessica shares with us her incredible journey and what it takes to be an award-winning CEO.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • How growing up in small-town in the Midwest established a hard-working ethic and a discipline influenced by a unique school in Iowa that taught transcendental meditation
  • How dreams of California took Jessica back west to UCLA for college to study Fine Art
  • How her dad is known as the Father of the Infomercial
  • Her experience working as a Television Literary Agent at Endeavor (later William Morris Endeavor) where she learned that there will always be mistakes, but also there are solutions
  • Why work ethic in the agency world is so critical and also a huge part of her success
  • How she came to be a part of her father’s established ad agency company and fell in love with it, even though that was never part of the plan
  • How she l came up with the company’s mission and vision, company strategy, yearly planning, which then led to her becoming the COO, then the CEO, and then the owner of Hawthorne Advertising
  • Her recent discovery of the Entrepreneurial Operating System and how that has streamlined all the moving parts across the organization
  • How Jessica and her teams have created a culture of giving back, enjoying work, making sure her company is a great place to work and helping their clients’ companies thrive and grow is at the core of what drives them
  • Ways she leads by example in personal and professional daily growth through organizations like Vistage and YPO
  • Some of the many awards Jessica has won, such as LA Business Journal’s Top Marketers in LA, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 40 Under 40 and Rising Star awards, CEO of the Year, and more
  • How getting the execution and operations behind an idea right is the only way to actually  bring good things to fruition and how this includes not only managing people well but managing your own time well
  • Ways her high efficiency, incredible organization skills, ability to delegate, and drive to complete daily tasks leads to less stress and more successful output
  • Jessica’s advice to learn all parts of the business

To Find Out More:


“I do appreciate growing up in the Midwest and the values that I got from the Midwest and the work ethic that comes from that.”

“Many entrepreneurial paths are born out of necessity.”

“I never wanted to get a job or have an experience that anyone handed to me. I always wanted to do it myself. I never wanted to owe anyone, anything ever”

“We’re always going to have problems… Nothing is ever easy. But it is how you approach everything in a way that you’re coming to fix it. You’re coming with solutions instead of just coming with complaints.”

“What is important within our culture is that it’s not about the individual. It’s about the client’s best interest. And if we are growing their company and their campaign as a result, then we’re all growing together.”

“It’s really important to me that people work very hard, but that they have a lot of fun and enjoy what they’re doing because we’re spending more time at work than really any other parts of our life.”

“Those who do focus on personal and professional development are those who keep coming along with you on the ride and help drive the growth of the company and what you’re doing.”

“Getting the execution and the operations right is absolutely critical to anything because you can have the greatest ideas ever, but they are absolutely worthless unless you can actually execute them.”

“You have to figure out how to execute and operate to be able to bring things to fruition. And it is about consistency.”

“I can really perform at a high level every day because I push myself to work and complete everything so that the next day I can start completely fresh.”

“Learn all parts of the business, start from the bottom. I’m a big advocate of starting from the bottom.”

15 Tips To Consider When Starting A Podcast

Podcasts are one of the fastest-growing methods for a business to connect with its current and potential clients and expand its influence and reach. Many people listen to podcasts since they are portable, easy to access and fit into a busy schedule.

There are only a handful of ways to get a podcast right, and a myriad of methods to get it wrong. A podcast has to compete against a lot of other, similar recordings, and it needs to prove its worth — or else it won’t get the recognition it deserves.

15 Tips for Podcast

To help, 15 members of Forbes Agency Council offer their best advice for businesses planning to start a podcast and keep it running for as long as possible.

1. Have A Clear Plan

It’s easy for many of us to talk about a topic that we find interesting or know a lot about, but make sure you don’t run off on too many tangents. Stick to the goal, the question or the topic to keep your podcast on track and your listeners engaged. Remember, it’s a podcast, not a broadcast. It doesn’t need to be perfectly polished. Your skills will improve and evolve over time. – Bernard May, National Positions

2. Know Who You Are Talking To

I’ve created many podcasts for my clients, from concept to production. The one thing that I know is that brands need to know who they are talking to. Podcasts are just like ads: Do you know who you want to talk to? Podcasts, similarly to video, don’t need a massive number of listens to have a high ROI. What you need to do is focus on your core audience and make sure they follow and listen. – Azad Abbasi, Genius

3. Think End-User First

When brands create podcasts, content typically tends to be focused on what’s important for the business. This approach results in each episode having a different target market, which prevents it from building community. Treat podcast episodes like serialized storytelling rather than a single public relations opportunity and you’ll find greater success, increased consumption and engaged listeners. – Carey Kirkpatrick, CKP

4. Provide Value Without Fluff

Standing out is a critical problem to solve with starting a new podcast. What’s the best way to do it? Provide value without the fluff. Shorter length podcasts that are jam-packed with value have an easier time gaining traction and retention than ones where the listeners have to sit through an hour just to hear a few points of interest. – Nishank Khanna, Demand Roll

5. Defining The Cadence And The Structure

One mistake that is constantly made with podcasts is people who are not taking them seriously enough. If you want to have a successful show you need to plan ahead and show when you are going to be creating content. When you put that content out, you always, without question, must be on time. You also must constantly bring an exceptional format to the show. – Jon James, Ignited Results

6. Build Viral Awareness

Every guest you host and every company they represent should be an advocate for promoting the program. Leveraging individual company newsletters, databases and social media channels will help build a following. In addition, make sure the focus of the podcast (its messaging) is clear and concise so people looking can find you based on their interests. – Ilissa Miller, IMiller Public Relations

7. Be Extremely Customer-Centric

Remember that your podcast content is not about you. Make sure that every podcast topic and episode is laser-focused on bringing value and entertainment to your audience. Think about what they want to learn in your industry and don’t be afraid to talk about things that you don’t offer. Focus on their interests and they will stick around to hear the rest. – A. Lee Judge, Content Monsta

8. Capture A Niche

In order to survive in the extremely congested podcast landscape, the podcast must adequately capture a niche and communicate that niche in a way that is extremely clear to the target audience. General topic podcasts are extremely difficult to sell to a saturated market — find a particular thing you can own and run with it. – Stefan Pollack, The Pollack PR Marketing Group

9. Become Predictable

Become predictable but not in the repetitive, boring sense — in the way that your fans know when they can expect the next release, the type of content they will hear, and how that content will be delivered. From my experience, maintaining a consistent schedule is just as important as delivering interesting stories to your listeners. – Korena Keys, KeyMedia Solutions

10. Don’t Copy Someone

If you find yourself needing to copy someone else for lack of your own originality, then maybe the time to start a podcast just isn’t right. We don’t need more content for the sake of more content. If you’re patient, your original idea will eventually come, and then it’ll be time for you to go all in before someone else beats you to it. – Greg Trimble, Lemonade Stand

11. Remember Your ‘Why’

We’ve just started our own podcast, so we’re experiencing these challenges firsthand. My biggest tip would be to always remember why you created it so that you don’t go off-topic, off-brand and off your strategy. Always think about how you are going to add value to someone else’s day. If you hold that in, you’ll be able to stay on track. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

12. Ask Better Questions

Having started my own podcast recently, my tip would be to make sure you get really good with asking better questions. I saw a lot of videos on how to ask good questions before I sat down to frame my own. Asking questions that don’t lead to a one-word answer would be my one tip. – Namita Ramani, Above Digital

13. Learn Your Distribution Model First

Developing a good podcast is similar to making a website search engine-optimized. Strategy-wise, the search engine component to podcasts is as important as the content itself. Having knowledge of your potential distribution is crucial, so it’s best to start with a distribution model and work your way back through content creation and storytelling. – Scott Harkey, OH Partners

14. Promote On Social And Track Results

It’s critical for the success of your podcast to properly leverage social media to drive listeners from your target audience. Make sure to share a link to each episode on the social platforms relevant to your target audience of listeners: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat and/or LinkedIn. Tracking visitors to your podcast will allow you to optimize future distribution efforts. – Jody Resnick, Trighton Interactive

15. Don’t Be Afraid To Get Personal

A good podcast tells a story audibly but makes you visualize the situation, personal story or character of the narrator or interviewee. When starting a podcast, strive for that personal connection by sharing relatable stories with human flaws that people sympathize with. The audience will feel they truly “know” the person and continue following their story in subsequent podcasts. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

Eight Tips For Creating More Engaging Podcast Ads

Forbes Agency Podcasts

Original Publication: Forbes

Date Published: December 13, 2018

Podcasts are rapidly growing, with businesses across several industries leveraging the format. According to research, consumers are more receptive to ads on podcasts than on any other medium. As the likelihood of ad spend on podcasts continues to rise, more brands will be looking to differentiate themselves through podcast advertising.

To capitalize on this opportunity, eight Forbes Agency Council members share their tips for creating podcast ads that boost engagement.

Members share their best tips for podcast ads that engage.

Forbes Agency Podcasts

1. Know The Audience And Focus

When creating ads, it is essential that the audience meets your exact target. Understand the content focus of the specific podcast and make sure your ad aligns with the podcast. Podcast ads perform well when you are micro-targeting and speaking directly to an audience that is already captivated by the content of the topic. – Scott Darrohn, fishbat Media, LLC.

2. Combine Story, Knowledge And Entertainment

Similar to other native ads, podcast ads succeed by truly understanding the target audience, crafting a compelling message (not too commercialized but thought-provoking), and utilizing multi-spot frequency to boost memory and recognition. The successful models that we use combine story, knowledge and entertainment to form an effective ad that feels like an extension of the show. – Yan Zhang, XYZ Advantage

3. Think Of It As Influencer Marketing

Outline your goals and key messages you want to communicate to their audience, as well as anything you absolutely don’t want them to say. But then let the podcast personality shine through — even if it’s a bit scary. The most successful sponsored content emerges when influencers are allowed to tell stories in a way that resonates with their audience, and the same is true for podcast advertising. – Danielle Wiley, Sway Group

4. Leverage An Enthusiastic Host

Integrating an ad into a podcast is a very effective way to reach a target audience. Having the podcast announcer promote the brand or read the script directly is the most effective way to integrate a brand with the target audience. The consumer will resonate with it on a deeper level since it is being promoted in the authentic voice of the podcast. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro,

5. Make Your Message Clear And Simple

Most people listen to podcasts during their daily commute or while multitasking at work, so while you have their attention, recognize they are probably distracted with other tasks as well. Keep your message simple and relevant to the show/host, then hook them with a clear call to action. You’ll be more likely to hold their attention and hook them to learn more. – Katie Schibler Conn, KSA Marketing + Partnerships

6. Choose Podcasts That Align With The Lifestyle You’re Selling

Podcasts are great for advertising. But often when creating ads, you are selling a lifestyle just as much as you are a product or service. Be sure that the podcast host fits within this avatar, and that your product will resonate with his or her users. It should also be believable that the podcast host would use your product or service and have a personal experience with it. – Brandon Stapper, Nonstop Signs

7. Listen First, Then Advertise

In effect, podcast marketing is influencer marketing. Hosts often read the ads themselves, injecting their personality. So, your marketing should benefit from their connection to the audience. Many waste this opportunity by providing one-size-fits-all ad copy rather than actually listening to the podcast, understanding its tone and adapting their message. Good podcast ads feel like a part of the show. – Kevin Smith, Mighty Roar

8. Make It Relevant

It’s more about the podcast host, the topic and their audience, and less about the actual ad. It has to be seamless. Podcast ads convert better because the audience is there to learn — they get a lot of value. Imagine if the podcast is on marketing automation and you’re selling a marketing automation service? It stops being an ad; it’s a value-add, a recommendation. People like recommendations. -Rafael Romis, Weberous Web Design

Alden Interviews Hawthorne Direct CEO Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Original Publication: YouTube

Date Published: September 12, 2017


Ep. 110 – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro – CEO OF Hawthorne Advertising

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Author: n/a – interview with JHC, Matt Gottesman and Case Kenny

Title of piece: Episode 110: Jessica Hawthorne-Castro – CEO of Hawthorne Direct

Original Publication: HDF Magazine

Date Published: June 26, 2017

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro CEO of Hawthorne Direct

“I came out to LA, then I broke into the entertainment industry all on my own. I had a bit of a chip on the shoulder for no real reason except for that I never wanted to owe anyone anything, and so I got into the entertainment industry with no connections whatsoever, just my resume and portfolio.”

Jessica Hawthrone-Castro – CEO of Hawthorne Direct; What makes a great CEO; Building work culture; Work / Life balance; On being a mom.

Segment 1: (Length :04:00) – General Updates; Introduction to Jessica Hawthorne-Castro and her journey as an entrepreneur and CEO; Breaking into the entertainment industry; transitioning to work with family.

Jessica’s finer points:

“This agency was founded over 30 years ago by my father, Tim Hawthorne, who was a documentary filmmaker. I grew up in the Midwest, and for those of you in the Midwest, you grow up with a good, strong work ethic.”

I came out to LA, then I broke into the entertainment industry all on my own. I had a bit of a chip on the shoulder for no real reason except for that I never wanted to owe anyone anything, and so I got into the entertainment industry with no connections whatsoever, just my resume and portfolio.”

“I was actually nearly laughed out of the room because I was so professional in how I came in, and they were used to mainly friends and family contacts. I rose really quickly in the agency world because I was dead set on becoming a talent agent at that time. I was one of the youngest female agents in this pretty much all-male agency. I loved my clients.”

“I was a television literary agent, writers, directors, producers for TV. I, at that time, represented writers on the show called Entourage. I don’t know if you guys remember it from back in the day.”

“There was a transition period of this agency that my father had. I mentioned he was a director. We never thought we would work together. If anything, he thought that I would probably represent him as a big Hollywood director.”

“Dad said he would go back to his roots. Other folks within the ad agency were looking to transition it to the next iteration of what it was going to be, because 30 years is a long time for any company, and especially an agency when things are moving so quickly.”

I took the opportunity. I came in on the client side, noting again that I would never have thought I’d work with my father. I’m an only child because it was never in the cards, and I never also wanted to owe anyone anything.”

“I came in and we actually never had any of the dynamics that people typically have with a child or someone coming in with the family, that they seem to be … have more of an advantage over others, because if anything, I came in and had a stronger work ethic, just that was in my DNA than really anyone in the company.”

“I set the standard, by example, of how I expected people to work, communicate and the speed of which I started out on the client side, then, at one point, went back to get my MBA part time while I was working full time. I managed literally every single client in the company. I just took them on.”

Having too much work is never in my vocabulary, because I do love work and what I do, so people are always shocked by that, but you can never give me too much. I always just take more and more.”

“I transitioned then parallel between the client side, the operations side, and then decided to focus my … I was basically representing all the clients, but I decided to represent the agency and all the employees instead. By that point, then I moved over to the operations side and then transitioned to CEO and then took over ownership a couple of years back.”

Segment 2: (Length :08:00) – Talking with Jessica Hawthorne-Castro; What makes a great CEO; Understanding operations is key.

Jessica’s finer points:

“When I started out, and this is probably true for most CEOs unless they have a very traditional educational background where they’re Harvard MBAs or Stanford MBAs, you don’t necessarily aspire to be a CEO; it just ends up the natural progression of what happens.”

What I feel is a strength as a strong background and can actually translate through any industry is becoming very, very good at operations.”

“That was really the key thing. I had actually an art background. I literally majored in fine arts at UCLA. I was also a realist, so I was this interesting combination because that’s not always true about artists. I was an artist, so I would painting and photography, but as a realist, I could say very clearly, “I’m good but I’m not great,” right? At art specifically. What I found is that I could represent artists and know their work very well and also help them when their careers. That’s actually why I became an agent.”

“Also, now in advertising, most people at this point even forget — or they don’t even know, some of them — that I even have this visual background. They just think I’m pure business and straight to the point because that’s how they know me, for the most part, now. I’d come in and redo an entire campaign very quickly, comment on the visuals. Obviously in advertising, it’s very important. I started on the client side.”

“When I transitioned to the operations side through getting my MBA, that gave me some of my core business skills. I already had them, but it was just a good, solid background and foundation to have.”

Being in the day-to-day and the nitty gritty I think is so critical. I know a lot of people in finance or high-level strategy, and if you don’t necessarily have that attention to detail, it’s hard to really run a business or know all details.”

“I still to this day know absolutely what every single employee does, what all their roles are, who’s working efficiently, who’s not, where every dollar is flowing through the company.”

“These are things at some point, when you get to a certain size, that you do want to have … I don’t want to say give up, but relinquish control. Especially in the very beginning, you can’t be hands-off. You have to want and be able to do the hard work.”

“For me, it’s very easy for me and I actually enjoy that work, but I have a … Sometimes it’s hard to do both sides, both the overall corporate strategy and the vision and be able to get down in the minutiae and the day-to-day, but I am able to do that.”

“Still to this day I will get in there, and if we have to prep for a conference room and other people are ready, I have no problem with just getting in there and doing what needs to be done to get the work done. That’s what I project through the whole company, that no one should ever feel above their pay grade or their job responsibilities and everyone should wear multiple hats and get in there.”

You need to be an expert, but when there’s a need, you need to get into every detail. Knowing how things work and being a core operator is the foundation, I think, to then becoming a very successful CEO.”

Segment 3: (Length :10:00) – Building work culture; Managing Millennials versus older generations; Getting ahead on the trends; Work / Life balance.

Jessica’s finer points:

“Back to the MBA thing for a second. I agree it does teach you the numbers, but as you probably know, what an MBA does not teach you, you might’ve taken one class in the initial overview, is overall culture and people management. Once you get out into the real world, that’s basically 99.9% of your job. You get some hard skills, but the rest you’re really learning as you go because as we know, life is all people, right?”

Companies are really all people, even if you’re a technology company. You still have people at this point still, programming that technology. Those are skills for me, that I reach out to other CEO networks and support groups to continue to learn those skills and perfect those as you go, because that’s the big missing piece of all of that.”

“For me, personally, how do I not feel like I ever have too much work or accomplish so much in a day? For me, personally, it is probably because I have … It’s not diagnosed, okay, but I have OCD tendencies. I have extreme organization and discipline.”

“I get probably get more things coming across my desk, emails, information than … not only in the company but anything, any words I’m on externally, anything that’s going on, or even I’m dealing with my son, flowing through me every day. No matter what, every day, even if I’m in the office or in all-day strategy meetings or out at a conference or what it is, I have extreme discipline to organize and go through everything that comes across my plate every day.”

“Also, because I’m so organized in how I approach things, I can very, very quickly filter through information and data. Or if someone’s asking for something, I know exactly where it is and how to find it in one of my thousand folders. That’s, for me, how I think that I’m able to accomplish so much and not feel overwhelmed, is because I tackle everything every day.”

Again, that’s extreme discipline. That’s not necessarily something that is, I think, taught; I think it’s just potentially who you are. That’s actually just how I have to be, because if I have a day where I’ve not done that, I feel behind or like I’m not able to think as clearly and to get to things as clearly.”

“I do not like that feeling. Instead, I just continue every day to make sure that I have dealt with absolutely everything and so that I can start fresh. I respond to every email, even if it’s someone reaching out or potential spam. That’s the respect that I like. I treat people like I want to be treated, so for clients or whatever it is, or even just people are out that you know that even it’s a sales position, they’re putting themselves out there, so I do cordially respond to everyone because I just think it’s respectful.”

“Work hard . . . For me, work is fun. It’s not actually worth it if you’re not having fun while you’re doing it. Even I love your opening beats, right?”

“I think that relationships can have some impact, but for me, I actually went the opposite route, like I mentioned, and maybe too much so. For me, I always let my work prove what it was.”

“I never had relationships be the thing that promoted me, because then, for me, I felt that it was not genuine. It always was just a parent that I was working in a more … and more efficiently, smarter.”

I would say hard work, but caveat in that work can and should be fun, and you should let your merits really speak for themselves. Then, also, be in that works with other people of similar minds. Always know what’s going on in the world and the community.”

“Outside of just your initial company, go to conferences, join organizations, and also be aware of what’s going on in the global scale. That’s what’s really helped me. I have a lot of support … I’m part of things called TED Talks and other things like that.”

“Where you go and we’re meeting with global leaders and people who are doing amazing things for the world. You’re looking at world trends, and you have to get out of our, just our US environment, because sometimes we forget that even the people who feel like they’re the downest out, even in just the US … Everyone in the US: we’re still the top 1% of the world. You have to get out of that … I don’t want to say self-centered nature, but that’s a natural human tendency. So knowing what world trends are.”

“If you’re looking at technology and you’re looking to make an innovation, that you’re looking beyond just your initial scope but what is that, the current needs, what’s going to be there in five years, 10 years? That’s what I’m always looking at, is that not what we’re doing today, because what we’re doing today is just a result of our past actions. What we’re experiencing today, whether it’s good or bad, is a result of what we did yesterday or six months ago or a year ago.”

Things are progressing so, so quickly, and that speed of disruption and that speed of needing to be competitive in just a very short amount of time, it’s absolutely critical to not only succeed but really even to just sustain in this day and age. It’s that world view. It’s obviously a national view. It’s knowing general trends in the marketplace. Just being aware, keeping your mind open. Always be seeking to learn and to go beyond. I think a constant quest for learning is really, really critical, because the moment you think you have it all, you don’t.”

“I think it’s actually fairly easy to instill in the younger workforce, because they just do that naturally. Sometimes where actually it can be more challenging is a older workforce. That is a place where I do work hard on pushing information out to them in terms of what is going on in current trends and things are going on. I think younger people: they’re just naturally aware. They’re grabbing on to that. The older ones: things did not move as fast, looking at trends and what’s happening.”

“We can’t sit on the sidelines, anyone or any company, and just say that things are going to be moving, and if they don’t get on the train … and this isn’t just my company … they will be left behind.”

“Trying to instill that but without projecting too much fear is definitely a delicate balance and what I work hard on every day to try to encourage that but not demand it too much, because you’re not going to get good work from those folks if you’re pushing them, instilling, because they’re just going to push back against you.”

what I try to encourage is there’s always going to be problems, but let’s put the problems aside but come with a solution, because I’m always looking to do things better.

“Nothing is ever … can be good enough. We can always try to do it better, more efficiently, and I’m always looking for people’s suggestions on how to do that quicker and easier and, again, have more fun while we’re doing it.”

I think that really comes from the top if that is how you are as a person. I do have to also ask my executive team members to work in that same way and instill that same level. As a CEO, you project it, but you do have to work hard with your executive team to be on the same level, and then that flows to the whole company.”

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