Family Business Confidential / Hawthorne Advertising – From Hollywood to the family business

by Allen Esrock | Oct 29, 2023 | Celebrating Family Business

Hawthorne Advertising logo on black background with five large interconnected circles

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro
Hawthorne Advertising
G2
Los Angeles, California

Can you supply a short history of the business?

Hawthorne Communications was founded in 1986 by my father, Tim Hawthorne, after the deregulation of television airtime.  Hawthorne Communications was the first full-service direct response agency and pioneered the performance marketing industry.  We developed a direct, attributable ROI on client campaign investments that still drives our success today.  When I purchased the agency from my Father, we rebranded the company as Hawthorne Advertising and we’ve remained true to our roots as a data-driven, results-focused organization that gives our clients a significant advantage, and that’s what makes the agency stand out in the marketplace.

Focusing on results is in Hawthorne’s agency DNA — it’s part of our heritage as performance marketers and permeates every discipline we practice as we craft bespoke campaigns using a custom toolbox of strategies and solutions that not only tell the client’s story but achieve their objectives. Each client’s campaign objectives and key performance metrics inform development of our creative, media, strategy, analytics and audience intelligence approaches.

There’s a famous quote often attributed to 19th-century retail magnate John Wanamaker, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Hawthorne Advertising clients don’t have that challenge because our advanced analytics account for every advertising dollar invested, and that applies across every channel we leverage, including traditional offline network channels, streaming channels on Connected TV and digital media ads on social media platforms.

How old were you when you started working for the family business?

After my undergrade from UCLA, I joined the Endeavor Agent training program (now WME/William Morris Endeavor) and rose to become a Television Literary Agent. During my time with WME, I identified opportunities and negotiated terms for shows that aired on all the major networks, working with teams from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, HBO, USA, Bravo and other networks.

My return to the family business was quite extraordinary.  I wasn’t recruited by my father, but by other employees at the advertising agency.  They saw that the 20-year-old advertising agency needed a second generation of life and energy. It was over 17 years ago when I joined Hawthorne Advertising as an Account Executive and eventually worked my way up the ladder. At nights and on the weekends I was getting my MBA from LMU while working full time from, and then transitioned from the client side to the operational side of the business to become Chief Operations Officer, then CEO and then eventually purchased the company from my Father in 2015.

Were you there any discussion or expectations of going into the family business?

I’m an only child and my father and I never planned to work together in the business.  Even after I was recruited back to the agency, I never formally worked or reported to my Father because he was already Chairman when I joined the company.  I credit my success to my strong work ethic and values which stems from my Midwestern roots. I never had expectations to be passed down the company in any formal, family manner or inheritance. After working my way up the ladder, and eventually becoming CEO, I purchased the company for full-market value in 2015 from my Father which was well deserved from his lifetime of what he built as an entrepreneur and business owner.

Can you recall The Moment you made the decision to enter the family business?

I received a call from our current VP of Marketing asking if I would consider joining the business.  The VP of Marketing is still an employee at Hawthorne Advertising in her 26th year of service to the agency.

What other family members are involved with the business (working or ownership)

I’m an only child so there are no other family members involved.

What is your long-term goal for the business?

Balancing AI with our already deeply intrenched technology is an important focus currently and moving forward. Our business intelligence team leverages advanced data analytics to discover the audience insights we use to plan campaign strategies and develop creative frameworks. Areas of focus include audience intelligence research, qualitative and quantitative research, predictive performance modeling, consumer insights and industry and competitive analysis.

Identifying campaign data and success metric baselines is also a critical step, and at Hawthorne Advertising, we leverage machine learning for advanced marketing analytics. After our data scientists and analysts establish baselines and the campaign is running, machine learning assets can manage datasets and provide support for campaign management activities.

Again, balancing AI with the human touch is also important in testing, and for situations like proposing brand naming options and conventions, we find that surveying online focus groups is a great way to identify what resonates with consumers. Testing to identify which creative is most effective with various market segments is also important. Every client’s business is unique, so testing is essential, as is building unique attribution models to align with client goals and success metrics.

What’s the most important moment in the company’s history?

A very special moment in 2019 was when I was honored with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Winner in the Transformational Leader Category.  My Father, Tim Hawthorne, who normally resides in New Zealand, happened to be in Los Angeles and attended the gala and was there when I received the award. This was especially meaningful to me because I was recognized almost 20 years after my father received the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Winner Award in the Midwest region. So, in a sense, it was the continuation of a Hawthorne Advertising tradition — for the agency and family.

What’s your favorite event for employees?

With nearly four decades in business, you can imagine that culture and treating employees with respect and like family has been core to our success and why we have such long tenured staff. We have always had celebrations and events across the holidays and include employees in all our office locations and with the transition to remote work which has stayed consistent for many, we balance both in person events with remote events/celebrations across the agency. We also make a special point to acknowledge people’s great work, anniversaries and birthdays for every individual and publicly across the agency.

Are there any “rites of passages” for family members that join the firm?

There aren’t any formal “rites of passages” that we ever spoke about. However the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as they say and something that both my Father and I had in common was that we tended to be the hardest worker in any job we had and then of course in the agency as well – because we enjoy work and the nature of it.

Are there any family business rituals that were impactful on you? (Examples, going to lunch with father; working on holidays, taking inventory)

Another thing that my Father and I have in common is our extreme OCD organization of files, emails and electronic file folders where we have the largest data storage of anyone in the company. With the hundreds of emails and tasks that I have to do on a daily basis, I literally can see the white part of my email ib-box every day so that everything has been taken care of and I can start fresh every day. With a clear state of mind, it enables me to work very quickly through everything each day. It’s just part of the Hawthorne genes.

Are there any non-family members in the business (old-timers) that you were close to when you were growing up?

Many of the staff members that were in the business when I first started were there and I had known them and their families for decades previously so there has always been a warm, family atmosphere in the business.

What was your closest moment to leaving the business?

17 years and still going strong!

Who gave you the best piece of advice regarding the family business?

Not regarding the family business but business itself was that “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” and while the advertising industry is hard work, it’s fun work and I love it.  Hawthorne Advertising has had the pleasure and responsibility to build brands through profitable marketing where every dollar invested in media should generate an ROI for our clients. It’s a great honor to work with the amazing clients we have over the past nearly four decades, help them build their companies and become market leaders in their industries.

What is one memory from the family business that you cherish the most? Same response as above:

A very special moment in 2019 was when I was honored with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Winner in the Transformational Leader Category. My Father, Tim Hawthorne, who normally resides in New Zealand, happened to be in Los Angeles and attended the gala and was there when I received the award. This was especially meaningful to me because I was recognized almost 20 years after my father received the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Winner Award in the Midwest region. So, in a sense, it was the continuation of a Hawthorne Advertising tradition — for the agency and family.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when coming into the family business?

The old adage is true, especially in a long tenured family business, that “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”

Are there outside organizations that you’re involved in?

I’ve always found it useful to surround myself with people who are positive influences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be people who are in your industry — anyone you can learn from professionally can be a valuable connection. When you’re around people who are positive and forward-thinking, you benefit from inspiration and fresh perspectives. With that being said, joining boards is a great way to network and give back to the community. Currently I serve on:

  • Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce: The CEO Council – The CEO Council is a team of industry sector leaders from our region who will convene, collaborate, and provide insight on industry priority issues, challenges, and opportunities to bring about business leadership and engage civically to bring about a balance to California. We provide the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce with insight, speak with a collective voice to the community, elected officials, and the media, and drive public policy that is relevant and has meaningful outcomes for the broader community at large.
  • Loyola Marymount University, Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) Advisory – Loyola Marymount University’s M.S. in Business Analytics program is considered one of the best in the nation. LMU teaches the latest techniques and advancements in the business analytics field and is highly connected with industry professionals through its MSBA Advisory Board.
  • DignityMoves Homelessness Task Force Board – Our amazing team of volunteers is committed to helping others. What started as a temporary homelessness task force of members of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) came together during the Pandemic shutdown of 2020. This effort turned into what is now Dignity Moves. Seeing the incredible spike in homelessness across California and the nation, our group of business leaders had enough of watching and decided to act. We bring leadership, relationships, and business strategy skills to look at the problem in out-of-the-box ways. Our focus is on how we can help give the extra boost to transition individuals out of homelessness to a better future.
  • YPO / Young Presidents Organization in a number of roles including, YPO Pacific U.S. Regional Executive Board, YPO Pacific Star Integrated Board, YPO Los Angeles Board, and YPO Global Editorial Advisory Board. YPO is the world’s largest leadership community of chief executives, over 34,000 extraordinary global members, coming together to become better leaders and better people. I have served many roles within the YPO Pacific US Region, the largest YPO Region in the world with nearly 4,000 members and 60 individual YPO chapters.

Short Answer 

Biggest non-family idol or inspiration?  Simon Sinek is a great inspiration for business leaders and his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. This book helped me find my business’ unique value proposition and it has great advice and insights for both leaders just starting out their journey and more experienced ones.
What are you streaming  Ancient Civilizations
What’s on your turntable or Spotify playlist Top 40 Hits
Godfather I or Godfather II  Godfather II
Favorite SoCal Sports team  RamsBoth my alma maters UCLA for undergrad and LMU for my MBA!
Favorite venue to listen to music  My car
Quintessential SoCal activity or experience  Dodger game
Desert, Beach or Mountains  Beach
Where do you take visitors to spot celebrities  Beverly Hills
What do you like most about SoCal  Beach and snow activities in the same day!
What don’t you like about SoCal  Believe or not, I don’t even mind the traffic because I like driving (I’m from the Midwest originally and we love to drive)
Favorite restaurant  Il Pastaio

Jessica will be one of the featured panelists for our Driving the Family Business Future event on November 2 at Beverly Hills Porsche in Los Angeles.

 

 

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Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.