THE BLOG

Women in Business: Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Chairman and CEO, Hawthorne Direct

05/11/2015 04:21 am ET | Updated May 10, 2016

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro heads the next generation of Hawthorne Direct as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, strategically positioning the leading analytics and technology- based accountable brand advertising agency to lead the next marketing revolution. She recently initiated and is assisting in launching a new corporate branding to refresh Hawthorne Direct's image in the marketplace, as well as introduce new media service segments.

Hawthorne-Castro first joined forces several years ago with her father, Tim Hawthorne, who founded Hawthorne Direct nearly 30 ago. During the course of the past eight years, she worked her way up the company's corporate ladder from the role of Account Executive in 2007 to Director of Client Services in 2009, was then promoted in 2012 to Vice President of Operations, was named the agency's Chief Operations Officer in March 2013 and then in April 2014 Chief Executive Officer. In January of 2015 she became the owner of Hawthorne Direct and currently serves as the Chairman and CEO.

Hawthorne-Castro's leadership role at Hawthorne Direct involves fostering service-oriented relationships with the company's high profile clients, helping them to envision, create and execute powerful advertising campaigns that build brands and ignite consumers. To date, her clients have included 3M (Command, Post-it, Scotch-Brite), Armor All, Audible, BLACK+DECKER, Brother, Carbonite, Dyson, Hamilton Beach, HomeAdvisor, Hoover, Lifestyle Lift, L'Oréal, PETA, Remington, Transamerica, United Healthcare and more. She is based in Los Angeles, the company's headquarters, along with Hawthorne Direct's creative, media and production teams.

Prior to joining Hawthorne Direct, Hawthorne-Castro was a successful TV literary agent with William Morris Endeavor (formerly Endeavor), one of Hollywood's top, full-service talent agencies representing writers, directors and producers for television. As the agent for an impressive list of WME's top TV talent, she identified and negotiated opportunities for shows airing on all major broadcast and cable television networks. She also packaged key elements necessary to develop shows, working regularly with executives from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, HBO, USA, Bravo and others. In this capacity, Hawthorne-Castro assisted the creators of numerous top-rated programs, including "Entourage," "The Office," "Heroes," "24" and "Law and Order," to name a few.

Hawthorne-Castro is a member of numerous professional organizations, including the CEO network, VISTAGE, Electronic Retailing Association, Step Up Women's Network, Strathmore's Who's Who, Cambridge Who's Who Executive and Professional Registry, Invincible America, Hollywood Radio and Television Society, Women in Film and the National Association for Professional Women.

She holds a Magna Cum Laude MBA degree from Loyola Marymount University, with a double emphasis in Management and Marketing. She also holds a Cum Laude Bachelors degree from UCLA's School of Arts and Architecture. Hawthorne-Castro and her husband, James Castro, an investment banker, live in Sherman Oaks, CA, with their son, Braden.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'm often told that I am like a 'rock' and imperturbable when it comes to my delivery and temperament in both business and personal life. A lot of that comes from my deep roots and the core values and beliefs I was raised with, starting at a young age. I am fortunate to have two parents who each provided me with a stable upbringing and strong belief system. This has helped contribute to the sense of stability that I now exhibit in my day-to-day life, and has helped immensely as I've advanced in my career.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Hawthorne Direct?
Previously, I was an agent at the WME talent agency in Los Angeles. The entertainment industry provided me with great experience in managing clients and networking. It also taught me about the importance of relationships, how to work in a competitive environment, and how to focus on the specific skills you need to get to where you want to eventually be. I took those skills but then further expanded on the things that I wanted to see in a company culture and work environment. Thus, at Hawthorne, the focus is on working hard and always exceeding our clients' expectations, but while having fun while we do it in a positive environment where we respect and support each other's work.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Hawthorne Direct?
The answer to this question is almost one in the same - it boils down to brand awareness just as we focus on for our clients. Hawthorne Direct is the original analytics machine. We have always been at the forefront of data science, especially when it comes to leveraging technology, analytics and accountability in all areas of a client's advertising campaign. However, because we have nearly 30 years experience, perception can often be a struggle. The challenge is trying to avoid being perceived as a traditional direct response agency. We are obviously a leader in traditional direct response agency space but we are focused on brand awareness in the general marketplace because our agency has some of the leading analytics and web attribution methodologies in the industry - relevant for any brand that is looking for accountable advertising. The challenge is communicating to clients how they can marry these various platforms with persuasive brand messaging to create high performance advertising campaigns - and not think they are embarking on a 'direct response' campaign. Any company that is doing 'digital' is using the same analytic techniques and attribution that we have been applying to our campaigns for the past 30 years. We want people to know that we are a creative, analytics and technology-driven advertising agency that specializes in strategic planning, creative development, production, media planning, buying and analytics, and campaign management for complete, integrated marketing campaigns.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in advertising?
Advertising is a great career for women, especially because it speaks to a lot of females' innate skills. Advertising is about relationships which come naturally to women; relationships with colleagues, clients, vendors, etc. It's also about being detail oriented, being able to multi task and being accountable at all times - also skills that are innate to most women, I believe. Overall, it's a very supportive environment for women to be involved in, especially on the creative side. You always get to work with really smart, focused individuals - it's the best of all worlds.

What is the most important lesson you've learned since becoming CEO?
Thoughtfully listening and being open to feedback, and then taking the time to think deeply about what the best solutions for the group or company moving forward might be. It's important to never immediately react before you make a decision by taking the time to review the situation from all sides with different perspectives. I've also learned how to provide a solution back to a group with strong confidence in where I'm coming from.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I work really hard, I always have because I love what I do. The work/life balance for me has really evolved over time. While some people say they struggle with the challenges of balancing work and kids, having a child has been the best decision I have ever made. Being a parent has really helped me cut through the tasks that some people may spend too much time on. Delegation is a core part of it, too. Knowing I have a limited amount of time each day helps me work efficiently so I can get home to my son and spend cherished time with him. After I put him to bed, I continue working so there is no down time, but I love being active and busy. Many people also comment on the amount of energy that I have but that also comes from making sure I get a good night's rest - then I can start fresh and be ready to take anything on the next day.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Not working in a supportive environment. If you are working in a company that doesn't have the support you need, the key is to recognize that and take it into account. Sometimes it just isn't worth it at the end of the day. If you are fortunate to find a supportive environment, recognize it and don't let anything hold you back from reaching your goals.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors are very important. I have been fortunate to have mentors in all of my various jobs - but I sought them out. It's important to realize that you are not just automatically given a mentor when you start your career. You have to be proactive and develop these relationships, knowing that they are not going to just be handed to you. I've developed many strong relationships on my own over the years, and they have each been extremely beneficial as I've progressed through my career.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Definitely Hillary Clinton. She's an incredibly strong woman who has been through a lot of challenges in her life. However, she has remained steadfast and overcome many challenges. Now, she's in a better position than she's ever been before. I love that she's been able to persevere every day, and I have high hopes for her with her continued leadership for our country.

What do you want Hawthorne Direct to accomplish in the next year?
I want Hawthorne to continue to be innovative in analytics and proprietary algorithms, and bring that to the forefront of the industry as a whole. However, it's important to stay focused on the concept that while we may offer some of the more advanced analytics on the market right now, what's good today, isn't necessarily what's good six months from now. I constantly encourage our team members to be think tanks, challenging them with questions, like "what is the next big thing in advertising going to be?" It's key to stay focused on the big picture.