MarTech360 Interview With Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO At Hawthorne Advertising

When you’re around people who are positive and forward thinking, you benefit from inspiration and fresh perspectives.

Jessica, can you tell us about your professional background and your current role at Hawthorne Advertising.

Currently I am CEO and owner of Hawthorne Advertising, an agency that has a 37-year legacy of founding the performance marketing industry. We have 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 4 decades, help them build their companies and become market leaders in their industries.

I had a previous background as an Agent in Hollywood at WME/William Morris Endeavor where I was 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.

The experience as an Agent, prepared me to work with brands and corporations in the advertising agency.  Whether you’re representing writers, directors or producers in television as a talent agent or working with a client at an advertising agency, you invest in the client and partner with them to achieve success. This has been the core of Hawthorne Advertising’s culture for nearly 40  years and remained central after I became CEO and subsequently purchased the company in 2015.

Since then, we’ve continued the tradition of helping people and businesses thrive, using the expertise the agency has gained in the performance marketing space over decades and pioneering approaches to attribution, analytics and audience response for a new era. We were a data-driven agency before many in the field understood data’s potential, and now we’re exploring advanced technologies so we can continue to deliver results for our clients as the advertising landscape evolves.

How does Hawthorne Advertising differentiate itself from other companies in the same space?

Our roots as a data-driven, results-focused organization give our clients a significant advantage, and that’s what makes Hawthorne Advertising stand out in the marketplace. The agency pioneered performance marketing in the 1980s, and our ability to create a direct, attributable ROI on client campaign investments drives our success today.

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 problem because our advanced analytics account for every advertising dollar invested, and that applies across every channel we leverage, including traditional TV network channels, streaming channels on Connected TV and digital media ads on social media platforms.

Focusing on results is in our agency DNA — it’s part of our heritage as performance marketers. It 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.

You’ve been recognized with multiple awards over the course of your career. Could you provide insight into a couple of these notable awards and elaborate on the importance that each of them holds?

I’m grateful to have received individual recognition, including being named CEO of the Year, Female CEO of the Year and Female Entrepreneur of the Year by various publications and awards committees. It’s an honor, but the awards I’m proudest of are the accolades Hawthorne Advertising earns as an employer and the recognition we gain for creative work on behalf of our clients. To name just two, in 2022, our team won two Hermes Creative Platinum Awards and three Viddy Platinum Awards. The Hawthorne Advertising team took home 18 major awards for creative work we did for clients in 2022.

For me personally, it was an amazing honor to be named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Winner in the Transformational Leader Category. This was especially meaningful to me because I was recognized almost 20 years after my father received the EY Award in the Midwest region. So in a sense, it was the continuation of a Hawthorne Advertising tradition — for the agency and family.

What role does technology play in Hawthorne’s approach to advertising and campaign management?

Technology plays a central role in our approach and campaign management, specifically technology-driven analytics. Hawthorne Advertising’s data science team maintains an advanced platform with proprietary analytics and attribution tools, including live KPI reporting dashboards, impulse and long-tail response, mixed media modeling, Bayesian modeling, incrementality testing and halo verification metrics.

At Hawthorne Advertising, we’ve been performance marketers since our inception, so we’ve blazed new trails in analytics and attribution along the way and we continue to build advanced analytics products and tools to expand the foundation of our integrated tech stack. We’re constantly applying new technologies and developing sophisticated models and measurement tools to lead the industry in technology-driven analytics.

What role does testing play in your data-driven methodologies, and how do you determine what elements to test within a campaign?

Testing plays a crucial role in our process, which starts with our business intelligence team leveraging 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.

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.

Also Read: MarTech360 Interview With Vibhor Kapoor, President At AdRoll

How can brands effectively employ experiential marketing to craft immersive and unforgettable interactions with their intended audience?

There are many different forms of experiential marketing and a number of ways brands can leverage the discipline to connect with audiences. One technique we’ve found particularly effective is to apply creative imagery and installations at large public gatherings like sporting events, intentionally sparking conversations among attendees about what’s being advertised. When people recognize what it is, the original mystery sets the image in their minds in a way that makes the brand more memorable. It also makes people who experience it more amenable to future messaging from the brand.

How do you approach networking and building professional relationships? Do you have any tips for our readers on how to make meaningful connections in their industries?

One technique I’ve always found useful is 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. Jessica has 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 chaptersQ

What advice would you give to other leaders which helped you personally?

As a leader, I find annual strategic planning invaluable, and not just as an individual exercise — it’s most helpful as a team sport. When the team gets together for a thorough review of the past year’s objectives, the organization’s wins and areas that need to improve, it can be incredibly clarifying. It’s also the perfect foundation to build out a plan for the year ahead. A team meeting for strategic planning can be an opportunity to reset as an organization and make a brand new start.

What is the biggest problem you or your team is solving this year?

Like many post-pandemic workplaces, our agency is still finding the right approach to flexible working which is a challenge we’re working on solving this year. A healthy work-life balance for employees is a priority, as is making sure we’re there for clients when they need us. Collaboration platforms that have quick feedback capabilities and instant messaging tools between teammates are a great way to find the right balance since they let coworkers stay connected and move collaborative projects forward no matter where they are. Instant communication is a must for a productive and efficient workforce.

Is there anything that you’re currently reading, or any favorite books, that you’d recommend?

The book I always recommend to business leaders 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.


Thanks Jessica!

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is the CEO of Hawthorne Advertising, an award-winning technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 35 years. Hawthorne has a legacy of ad industry leadership by being a visionary in combining the art of right-brain creativity with the science of left-brain data analytics and neuroscience. Jessica’s role principally involves fostering long-standing client relationships with the company’s expansive base of Fortune 500 brands to develop highly strategic and measurable advertising campaigns, designed to ignite immediate consumer response. From strategy, creative and production to media and analytics, Jessica is committed to premium quality and innovation throughout all agency disciplines. Hawthorne Advertising is a Women Owned Business, a certified Great Place to Work, and on the Inc. 5000 List.

Hawthorne Advertising, a creative, analytics and technology-driven advertising agency, specializes in strategic planning, creative development, production, media planning, buying and analytics, and campaign management for integrated marketing campaigns.
Hawthorne helps brands efficiently target their consumers, improve cost per acquisition, optimize the lifetime value of a brand’s customers, and even drive consumer response to key retail outlets or corporate locations. As a leading analytic and data driven, accountable brand advertising agency, Hawthorne specializes in integrated campaign solutions. The company offers a full suite of integrated solutions with creative, media, digital and mobile services.

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