Advertising, Marketing & PR  October 16, 2015

Keeping its edge: Ad agency Avocet builds a culture of success

LONGMONT — Lori Jones knows where her objectives lie, and today they are in a select group of 16 national advertising agencies that meets twice a year.

“This is my 33rd meeting, and I’ve only missed three because I was giving birth to our children,” said Jones, owner of Avocet Communications of Longmont.

Obviously it is a meeting she’d rather not miss, even though it’s 1,500 miles away in Morgantown, W.Va.

“Quite frankly, that’s what we bring to the table,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, we are always willing to look at the end game. From the beginning we wanted to get to an integrated approach.”

That’s probably expected of one of the state’s top 20 ad agencies – or “integrated-marketing specialists” as they’d rather be known today. But the truth behind this 37-year old integrated-marketing firm is that it had humble beginnings, followed by decades of commitment toward staying on top of a rapidly changing game with the evolution of digital marketing.

“Our training budgets are bigger than they ever have been, because we need to stay abreast of what’s going to be going on in (the future of) the industry,” Jones said. “We invest in our team, but even we as CEOs and business owners can become a part of that change.”

Twenty-five years ago, Jones recognized such a chance when working with her father – Kit Sutorius, who remains a principal in the corporation – as a small broadcast advertising firm based in her parent’s home. A large regional car-rental business wanted to consider the fledgling Avocet agency, but first it wanted a meeting at the Avocet offices early the following week.

“I remember looking down at the orange shag carpet in my office, which was my brother’s old bedroom, and set an appointment for 9 o’clock that Monday,” she said. That day, a Friday, they rented an office space on the 400 block of Main Street in Longmont, found some used office furniture in Berthoud, and over the weekend refinished the furniture and filled their new digs.

“We had family members sitting in the office just to fill space,” Jones said. “But we got the contract.”

Today, Jones said, training and constantly trying to stay on top of the business are what makes the company successful. An industry seminar in the early 1990s got the company an early start on the digital edge and websites, an edge it’s been seeking to maintain with more and more focus on combining quantitative approaches with aesthetic insight.

“I remember my father saying pretty ads don’t always sell, but thought-provoking ads really sell,” she said. “All too often, ads look nice aesthetically, but how does it tie into a brand?”

More so, with the barrage of information sources today, the numbers game has changed substantially.

“In the ’80s, the rule was that someone needed to see your ad three times to create brand affinity. That number now is 20,” she said. “That’s 20 times that someone needs to interact with your brand.”

When traditional media is running (such as TV, radio, newspaper, print and billboard), it’s also important to be supporting that with digital marketing such as search-engine marketing, display, email, and social media, to name a few, Jones said.

“We’re going to get to that number earlier. We’re going to create more touch points to help the customer achieve more sales.”

So far, it appears to be working.

Avocet’s accounts include numerous healthy and well-known corporations such as Arc Thrift Stores, Big O Tires, Massage Envy and Papa John’s Pizza in the retail space; consumer brands such as upcoming Savory Harvest, Hain Celestial, Walnut Acres and Ball Corp. in the consumer space; B2B companies including Voyant Technologies, ACX Technologies and Aircraft Performance Group; health companies such as Hope Cancer Center, Allegiance Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado and National Jewish Health; as well as a wide variety of governmental agencies and nonprofits.

That diversification is something that makes Jones especially proud of her company, and something she credits for the company holding its own during the recession. That diversification also was important in allowing her to make what she called the “hardest business decision I’ve ever had to make” in 2013, when she let the company’s No. 1 billing client go.

For about 10 years, Avocet had been running about $5 million in capitalized billings annually, and that client was responsible for about $1.7 million a year.

“It was one of those situations in which we had worked closely with them for 10 years, but our bosses changed over every two years,” she said. “It got to the point where they stifled our productivity. They were unkind. It just was not fun for us anymore.”

More importantly, serving the client was running Jones so ragged that she wasn’t able to focus firmly on growing the agency. Since the split – which was done gradually and without acrimony – the agency grew to $6.5 million in capitalized billings in 2013 and to $8.6 million in 2014.

“Overcoming obstacles is just one part of learning to be a leader and not a boss. That’s what creates culture in a workplace that people choose to work in,” she said. “Our team members can go home at night and say, ‘I love what I accomplished today.’ ”

Correction: The original version of this story, as well as the Oct. 16 print edition of BizWest, misidentified Lori Jones as Lori James. We regret the error.

LONGMONT — Lori Jones knows where her objectives lie, and today they are in a select group of 16 national advertising agencies that meets twice a year.

“This is my 33rd meeting, and I’ve only missed three because I was giving birth to our children,” said Jones, owner of Avocet Communications of Longmont.

Obviously it is a meeting she’d rather not miss, even though it’s 1,500 miles away in Morgantown, W.Va.

“Quite frankly, that’s what we bring to the table,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, we are always willing to look at the…

Related Content