Executive Leadership: Tom Hirons

CEO Tom Hirons sat down with us to discuss his unique experience in the advertising world after 39 years in the business. A creative at heart, Tom recounts the path he took from starting the company to where he is today and the challenges he has overcome to achieve success in a fast-paced industry.

Where did you go to school, and what first drew you into the world of advertising and marketing?

I went to Indiana University in Bloomington. I long had interest in advertising and actually paid for part of my college as a freelance designer, concert promoter and political campaign manager. Luckily an extraordinary mentor, Phillip Ward Burton, convinced me I should get better clients than rock stars and politicians. He opened my eyes to the opportunities in communications and what I could learn.

What is something that makes your day-to-day work life unique from others at Hirons?

Ideally, my day is not unique from others. I strive to do the same jobs everyone else is doing. I want staff to perform at the highest level and think strategically, which is why we do our best to work together and keep it uniform. I do, however, have responsibility for more unique tasks such as serving as the senior branding consultant in the agency, gathering talent and assembling high-performing teams. I also have the ultimate responsibility for accountability to our clients for our quality of work.

In the beginning of your career, whom did you look to as a mentor? How has that changed as your career has grown?

In college, Phil Burton was my most important mentor. He helped me realize my potential in communications. Another influencer was my entrepreneurial mentor, Steve Huse, founder of Noble Roman’s and current proprietor of St. Elmo’s. Jerry Neely and Lee Marchant were also extraordinary mentors, grooming me to be chairman of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce at a really young age. As my background was not in business, they taught me how to use boards of directors and gave me in-depth training on budgeting and financial analysis.

The biggest challenge to starting as CEO is you don’t have co-workers or a boss who is constantly thinking about your professional growth and development. It is essential to find a way to identify the experiences you need, correct the shortcomings you have, and build a set of professional experiences to help you grow in your profession.

As my career has grown, it became clear I needed a challenge, motivating me to open an office in China. This allowed me to work with three Fortune 500 companies as well as work in another culture, opening up a mid-career professional growth opportunity that I could not have found anywhere else. I continue to do that with clients and peers. Today, I look to our COO, Jim Parham, and David Geis, state director of the Indiana Bankers Association, for guidance.

What would you describe as your “time capsule” accomplishment? If you could only take one project or victory with you from your career, what would it be and why?

My most meaningful accomplishment is building a successful agency and operating offices in Beijing. I am very proud to say that we were the first international company to register a woman as our CEO. It was incredible to see her break that barrier and create opportunities that would lead to an extraordinary career.

How has the industry changed over the course of your career, and how have you adapted?

The most visible change is technology. Our initial technology purchase was an IBM Selectric II, a typewriter with a small memory card. Before technology we would buy marker pens by the case to do hand-drawn design renderings and camera-ready art. Technology has driven change. Early on it changed how we did our work, and now it is changing the work and services we provide. Not being a digital native, I have had a learning curve, but surrounding myself with talented digital workers has helped me learn tremendously.

Of all of the agencies in the industry, what makes Hirons different?

Our brand. In reality, there are a number of great firms and talented people in communications. We are different by our integration and digital leadership, and by being research-based, results-focused and employee-owned. Philip Kotler, among the senior faculty at the Northwestern School of Management, is quoted saying, “If you are not a brand, you are a commodity.” This rings true, which is why we have built our brand on a set of values that distinguishes us from other shops. Our values are to outthink, outwork and outperform with a core essence of being bold. Our reputation has continued to be our greatest strength for 39 years.

Employee Highlight: Mike Murtaugh

How did you get interested in advertising/PR and how did you break into the industry and land your first job?

The path I took to wind up in advertising and public relations was unplanned. All through college, I was confident I would follow my passion for sports writing into the job market. Surprisingly, I switched potential career paths at the last possible second towards the agency side. My degree from Butler University was in marketing, and I pivoted toward the business development and PR side once I started working in an agency.

After graduation, I landed my first job with another agency in Indianapolis. A friend of mine from college had started working there and had done well for himself, so when an in-house position became available, I applied as a way to get my foot in the door. Long story short, I sort of fell into the industry, but have been in it ever since.

What are the specializations/most important tools of the trade?

To be successful in an agency, you need to pay attention to detail and possess a willingness to do what you’re asked, when you’re asked to do it. It shows others that you are passionate about the work you do, that you care about it and also that you care about the final product. Working long hours or working on a challenging project will help you prove, to yourself and others, what you’re capable of accomplishing.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in the advertising industry?

In the advertising (and public relations) industry, you need to be confident and flexible. It is important to be self-assured and know you are in the industry for a reason. Know you can handle whatever you encounter and be able to go with the flow when people present you with challenging assignments.

Do you have any interesting hobbies/second jobs/bits of information that make you pop as an individual?

My passion is sports – playing them, watching them. It’s a big part of my life. Aside from sports, I enjoy spending my time with friends, watching movies and listening to music.

When and where do you have your best ideas?

There is not one consistent place where I come up with my best ideas. I will sometimes stew over something for a little while and formulate a strategy before I dive into it. Sometimes an idea will come to me in the middle of the night, and I will get up to jot it down. You never really know when an idea is going to hit you.

What has been the most exciting project/campaign that you’ve worked on at Hirons?

On the account side, I’m most proud of being able to take the first stab at writing copy for the Eskenazi Health website. It was cool to see our team launch the website, in full, during fall of 2016. In terms of business development, I’m most proud of reaching our goal of continuing to grow our federal initiative. Although it took almost a full year in my current position, we finally landed an exciting new federal client, which is a U.S. military initiative.

Why is effective advertising/PR so important for growth and success of organizations?

Advertising is a growing, competitive field. Since companies can now promote their products on various social media platforms, the push to be smart, creative and strategic has never been greater. If you’re not all of the above, you will fall by the wayside.

On the public relations front, a company’s reputation is built entirely on a narrative – what people are saying about you and the context of the conversation. PR complements paid advertising, in that it’s a way for companies to utilize a separate promotional vehicle to spread the word about their company – what it does and why you should be doing business with them.

What’s one important tip you would share with anyone looking to go into the agency world?

My tip to others would be to soak in as much knowledge as possible from the people around you, especially those new to the agency world. In most agencies, especially one our size, you will find a lot of people who have a lot of experience. Make yourself a sponge and soak in as much as you can, as quickly as you can.

What is the most meaningful part of your job?

The most meaningful part of my job is getting the win. Although the process may sometimes be grueling, and there may be a lot of hoops to jump through, checkpoints to achieve and challenges to bypass, none of it matters in the end when you get the win.

Learning by Doing

By Andrew Gretencord, Business Development Intern 

It’s easy to worry about your first internship. As I walked through the door on my first day at Hirons, thoughts cycled through my mind in ever-accelerating circles. Will I add value to the agency? Am I suited for this position? Will I enjoy my work and maybe even exceed expectations?

As I walked to my desk, I could tell from my surroundings that the work environment was right. It was clear that I was going to have to work extremely hard to match the intensity and drive of the individuals at Hirons. This aspect was exciting and challenging because this would be my first job in a professional setting.

Since I was hired as a business development intern, I assumed all of my energy would focus on that area. To my pleasant surprise, Hirons gives me the freedom to gain valuable experience in all departments of the company. A month ago I never would have expected to be working on press releases, crisis situations, social media and business development. But getting hands-on experience in a range of agency services shows me how complex and diverse an integrated communications agency is.

I have always been a hands-on learner, a testament that likely rings true for most people. Last week, I assisted in the development of podcasts on diverse topics such as crisis communication, media buying and public affairs. Not only was I able to assist in preparations for the podcasts, but I was also invited to watch the recordings. Listening to business professionals who have worked in their fields longer than I have been alive was a humbling experience. But rather than being intimidating, it was motivating.

I have come to realize that Hirons is successful because it encourages its staff to become well-rounded, to work on both internal and external affairs. It is an amazing experience being able to work with talented individuals who all have unique skill sets.

Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” By filling me with experiences, Hirons has provided me with real-world knowledge and skills. I’ve worked on the front end and back end of many different projects, with many points in between. And I’ve only been here a month.

Executive Leadership: Rose Durbin

As a witness to the evolution in the media and digital worlds, Rose Durbin paved her way as a problem solver. Throughout her exhilarating and varied media career, she has reveled in the challenges posed by emerging media, from cable television to social media and evolving developments in digital data measurement.

We sat down with our media director to talk about her career path and evolution.

Where did you go to school, and what first drew you into the world of advertising and marketing?

I attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, working in the university’s business office all four years while studying toward a degree in English. During my time there, I learned how important communications and PR were to an organization.

I took my first computer class in 1972 and realized the potential of the medium. With new, innovative technological tools at my fingertips, I knew I had the opportunity to be part of something big!CPC_8197

What was your first job in the industry, and how did your path lead you to Hirons?

I began my career at an advertising agency, in accounting, then transitioned to media, where I found my niche. I moved around to other agencies in neighboring cities. I first worked for Hirons from 2004-2007 and came back in 2013. (We hope for good!)

What is something that makes your day-to-day unique from others at Hirons?

While many of the challenges I confront as media director are technical in nature, I relish brainstorming with the media team to find innovative communications solutions for clients. In an industry that is constantly changing and evolving, it’s key to stay at the forefront of new developments and research.

How has the industry changed over the course of your career, and how have you adapted?

Everything is much more complex. Instead of relying so heavily on just Nielsen for TV and radio, we utilize comScore just as much for any type of digital advertising or placement. With the precision of the analytics that we use on a day-to-day basis, those numbers alone can tell the story for you now.

I appreciate the challenges that come with a fast-paced media environment. Our digital team does a fantastic job of reading consumers and knowing how to communicate with them. They think outside the box. That’s really important to Hirons in general. We really do focus on using the most innovative technologies and ideas to serve our clients in the best way possible.

What would you describe as your “time capsule” accomplishment? If you could only take one project, accomplishment or victory with you from your career, what would that be and why?

I am most proud of executing the integration of cable into broadcast media for clients. In a time where clients were using cable for the first time, I saw it as an opportunity to introduce them to a new era of advertising, one where they can measure success individually. I miss the intimacy of those client relationships from the days before digital skyrocketed. Taking the time to develop those relationships is so important to building a strong foundation for all future work.

Of all of the agencies in the industry, what makes Hirons different?

Hirons is constantly growing and learning, which is something that many of our clients appreciate and admire. For me, it’s refreshing knowing we are always a step ahead and are always improving.

Employee Highlight: Nick Reese

A graphic designer, problem solver and translator are all roles played by Nick Reese, Hirons’ newest creative assistant. His job is to interpret and visually convey an idea, message, brand or product in the most effective way possible. From complex campaign concepts down to simple fact sheets, Nick helps create a wide range of digital and physical visuals for clients. We interviewed the most recent member of the Hirons family to delve deeper into his creative mind and uncover more about his passion for art – at the office and outside of work.

 

How did you become interested in advertising/PR, and how did you break into the industry and land your first job?

I initially graduated from Park Tudor here in Indianapolis. I went on to attend High Point University in North Carolina, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in graphic design and digital communications with a minor in photography. In school, ads were my favorite projects. I love the overarching structure filled with intricacies that branding provides. I also love the emotion an ad can stir within a person. An image, combined with a well-crafted message and intricate thought process, is all you need to make someone grin from ear to ear or cause their stomach to drop. That’s beautiful to me.

I landed my job here at Hirons thanks to someone from RePro Graphix who passed along several names of agencies in the area. I ended up interviewing with Tom and the creative team. Shortly after, I became part of the Hirons family.

 

What are specializations/most important tools of the trade?

Creative is a bridge – and not just between two people. The work you present needs to speak to the client. You have to structure all of the input you receive into a path for the client to follow or a direction for them to go. For them, an adjective becomes something that performs. The client or account manager will use certain terms in an attempt to convey their vision to you. It is important to dissect those words and fully understand what the client is trying to achieve so you can help them reach the goals they have set for the project as well as identify potential flaws and suggest revisions.

 

As a graphic designer, what characteristics do you need to be successful in the advertising industry?

In this industry, it is important to understand that while your art may look good, it may not perform well. Thus, you need to have thick skin in order to handle criticism. The ability to remove yourself from a situation or project and seek out another point of view is crucial, so it is also important to have humility.

 

Do you have any interesting hobbies/second jobs/bits of information that make you pop as an individual?

I collect sneakers – any type of shoe really. Right now, I have around 200 pairs. I’ve been obsessed with them forever. I have notebooks from the third grade that are filled with shoe drawings. Looking back, my obsession with shoes started with a basic understanding of design in terms of form and function. The marriage between the two is the basis of design – something that is both eye-catching and serves a purpose.

 

When and where do you have your best ideas?

Honestly, I have no specific time or place. Sometimes I’m in my car, and an idea hits me out of nowhere. Other times, I’m hunkered down at my desk, and they come to me as expected.

 

What has been the most exciting project/campaign that you’ve worked on at Hirons?

My first pitch was a whirlwind. I had only been with Hirons for a few months, so I was still new to advertising as a whole. Seeing the details and nuances in prepping and pitching and watching it all unfold made me feel like I was watching a choreographed dance by the end. I learned a ton working under Pam and John, and it was amazing to see Tom present. He had everyone on the edge of their seats.

 

Why is effective advertising/PR so important for growth and success of organizations?

I am a firm believer that all problems stem from miscommunication, and I see myself as a translator. In the world of advertising, we have to take the time to study human behavior and learn what works and what does not. We also have the difficult task of capturing a client’s vision and making sure it is well-received by the masses in the most effective way possible. If a problem doing so arises, I keep peeling back layers until I eventually find a communication disconnect.

 

What’s one important tip you would share with anyone looking to go into the agency world?

The “9-to-5” concept does not apply to the agency world. Here, the work gets done when it gets done. It’s a fast-paced environment, and there is no hand-holding.

 

What is the most meaningful part of your job?

Right now, it’s learning. I’m trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible so I can eventually slay this world of creative direction and feel proud of the impact I am making. Luckily, I have great co-workers who have years of experience from which I can learn.

How Many Friends Do You Have?

By Tom Hirons, CEO 

Robin Dunbar makes a compelling case in his TEDx talk that the human mind has the capacity to manage about 150 meaningful relationships at a time. It has become known as the Dunbar number. Hence the question, how many friends do you have?

When Hirons started working with Ruler Foods, a division of Kroger, we knew that Facebook would be a critical platform and that building a network of individuals who like and follow the page would be one measure of success.

In less than a year and a half, Ruler Foods’ page likes went from 0 to 35,579. And they are still growing. That’s good for Ruler Foods and good for Hirons.

President Trump has 22.3 million followers on Twitter. I have 98. But how many friends?

Dunbar views friendships in a series of concentric circles. At the center are your closest friends, primarily comprised of a few family members. For most people, this may number five to seven.

In the next circle are those 10-15 individuals you might describe as best friends. These are people with whom you communicate on a regular basis.

In the third group, Dunbar describes individuals whom you would be genuinely happy to see if you bump into them at the airport or grocery store.

Beyond that are those who might be on your Christmas card list, with whom you might communicate once a year.

In total, 150. Curiously, the math is reliable. Through centuries, across technologies and across cultures, the number is generally around 150. The average number of Facebook friends? About 150. Dunbar holds that this is based on the capacity of the human mind. It’s how we are wired.

Why is this relevant?

Hirons does extensive grassroots and grasstops outreach. Knowing the Dunbar number and other principles, we can more accurately project the number of meaningful contacts we must make to achieve the reach and results we desire over time. We shape content to significantly increase the likelihood that it will be shared.

It also is relevant as we know the capacity of the computer extends far beyond 150. And through customer relationship management (CRM), we can help clients behave like friends, greatly enhancing sales and customer relationships.

Yet the most powerful application might be for each of us in our own lives. Knowing the natural limitations of our capacity, we might work to push the boundaries of those concentric circles. Imagine taking the time to communicate and expand your list of best friends, or those with whom you maintain regular contact. Imagine never avoiding eye contact or hoping someone you recognize doesn’t see you. I write this hoping I’m not the only one who has done this and equally hoping I won’t do it again.

If I can only have 150 friends, let them all be good friends.

Fine-tuning Facebook Ad Data

By Olivia Crum, Digital Coordinator 

More than ever, consumers are engaging with ads across a plethora of platforms. Due to the increase in digital channels, Facebook has expanded its measurement partnerships to increase cross-channel comparability and, later this year, third-party verification. By partnering with companies such as Nielsen and ComScore, Facebook is taking strides to ensure accurate ad delivery data.

Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) is a statistical analysis that measures the impact of media tactics. It specifically allows advertisers to measure performance across media types, enabling comparisons among TV, digital and print ads. Advertisers will be able to determine which ads performed best and which ads yielded the greatest ROI. This information becomes more powerful when used to create subsequent advertising plans.

The concept of MMM originated with consumer package goods advertising. It has proven so useful that Facebook is encouraging advertisers to utilize the analysis to make tactical decisions about future campaigns.

These additions will benefit our advertisers throughout the planning and evaluation process. MMM will allow Hirons to look at all data in a synchronized platform to better evaluate a client’s ad performance. With Facebook’s measurement partners, we can now verify and measure specific outcomes for Facebook impressions. This will better inform us, as well as our clients, as we begin planning future campaigns.

What’s Next?

By Malcolm Weaver, Communications Management Intern

It is no surprise that consumers are changing how they consume information. So of course advertisers have been changing with them to reach their clients’ target audience. In recent years consumers have been using digital: online, mobile, streaming and apps. Why? Your advertising needs to always reach the decision-maker, and the decision maker is all over the digital space.

As technology develops, digital has become one of the most efficient forms of media to increase consumer awareness and spending. By using mobile advertising as an example; news, social media, videos and multiple apps are all accessible on your smart phone.

According to studies (www.smartinsights.com) on “time spent for adults digital media use per day,” 51% of total adults studied use Mobile and 42% of total adults studied use desktops/laptops. Smart phones contain the same qualities of a desktop – in a portable form. Enabling advertisers to reach out to “on the move” consumers as well as those who are actively consuming media from their computers.

As advertisers strategically place their messages across multiple media platforms, the overwhelming problem is getting consumers to actually engage with the message. For example, with pre-roll ads, your consumer is right where you want them to be, on YouTube. Your consumer is doing exactly what you want them to do, searching for entertaining videos to watch. But, when your perfectly placed advertisement pops up… your consumer no longer does what you want them to do. In most situations, after 5 seconds your consumer is given the option to skip your advertisement.

Problem: How do you fit 15 or 30 seconds worth of content into the first five seconds of the advertisement? Solution: Geico’s ‘Unskippable’ Campaign. Ad Age named Geico’s ‘Unskippable’ 2016 Campaign of the Year. A series of ads were created with the overall theme of “You can’t skip this ad, it’s already over.” Within the first five seconds of the advertisement you’ve heard from Geico that “15 minutes could save you 15% of more on car insurance.” Their main message has been delivered to consumers within the guaranteed five second window provided.

 

As a brand Geico found a way to successfully adapt by thinking outside of the box. Success is measured in the aspect of this campaign by not only measuring the overall quality of created content; but through Geico’s ability to adapt to the changes in the market, all while providing comedic relief to potential consumers.

The Key to Using Google Search Advertising Effectively

By Olivia Crum, Digital Media Coordinator

In our digital age, advertising opportunities are endless. Why’s that? Whether on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, your consumer is always connected. Advertisers can better target their audiences and reach them where they are, when they are there.

 

One digital service that you may not know about, but have definitely seen, is Google AdWords.

 

Google AdWords is a platform that provides advertising services on Google and its advertising network. This service allows advertisers and businesses to set a budget and only pay when someone clicks on their ad.

 

I have outlined a few key elements to remember when creating search ads in Google AdWords:

  1. Use Specific Ad Groups

When you start a campaign, you will want to run a series of different ads. By creating ad groups, you can add keywords specifically related to your advertisement. Keywords are simply Google search terms or phrases. For example, if you own a shoe business and want to drive sales through search advertising, you would want to create specific ad groups for each type of shoe: Women’s Running Shoes, Men’s Dress Shoes, Children’s Boots, etc.

  1. Group Related Keywords

Within your ad group, you will create keywords. These keywords need to be related to one another so that the correct ad shows for related searches. For example, in the ad group Women’s Running Shoes, you would have keywords such as “running shoes for women,” “women’s running shoes,” “women’s athletic shoes,” etc.

Those keywords, or search terms, will then generate the related ad. When you search “running shoes for women,” this is the first ad that appears:

Women’s Running Shoes – FinishLine.com‎

Ad www.finishline.com/WomensRunningShoes

4.4  rating for finishline.com

Find Great Deals On Top Brands. Buy At Finish Line & Earn Rewards!

 

Because Finish Line knew it wanted to target people searching for women’s running shoes specifically, it created an individual ad group containing keywords related to women’s running shoes. By doing this, it is ensuring that the ad the consumer sees is related specifically to his or her needs. This will avoid people coming to its site and then leaving immediately.

  1. Create Engaging Ads

While making sure that your ad relates to the keywords is extremely important, it’s only half the battle. You need to make sure you are creating an engaging ad that will draw in consumers. You have 140 characters to tell your consumer what they want and why they want it from you. Each ad consists of two headlines, 30 characters each, and a description that is 80 characters.

 

This is how the 140 characters are divided out:

Headline One (30 Character Max) – Headline Two (30 Character Max)

Ad www.finishline.com/WomensRunningShoes

4.4  rating for finishline.com

Description (80 Character Max)

 

You want to make sure you use some variation of your keywords in your headline as well so that consumers know you offer what they need. So in the example above, the Finish Line headlines are “www.finishline.com” and “Women’s Running Shoes.” Both are beneficial because the consumer can see immediately exactly how his or her search is related to the ad.

  1. Use Quality Landing Pages

Your ads also need to take consumers to a related landing page. Your landing page is extremely important because if Google sees that your ad about women’s running shoes is taking consumer to a page with men’s running shoes, your ad will not receive a high quality score and therefore will not show as often.

Old School. And Visionary.

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By Tom Hirons, CEO

Phillip Ward Burton was an advertising genius.

Burton’s career started at Proctor & Gamble where he responded to letters from consumers and rose to be the senior creative officer consulting on all Proctor & Gamble brands. He went on to be a professor at Syracuse University, the feeder school for New York agencies. His textbook for advertising concepting and copywriting became the most widely used in the US. His weekly column in Advertising Age, “Which Ad Pulled Best?” popularized his research on advertising perception and explained what factors contributed to advertising effectiveness.

In 1987 the American Advertising Federation wanted to present him with their inaugural Distinguished Educator award and name it the Burton award. He accepted the award but declined to have it named after himself saying, “You never know what scoundrels may follow me.” In reality, he was too humble to have the award named after him.

When Burton reached the mandatory retirement age at Syracuse, Indiana University picked him up. He continued to teach for another 20 years. One day he came to me and said, “I think I’m going to have to quit teaching.” Knowing he was a bit hard of hearing I shouted back to him, “Mr. Burton, why would you do that?” With a smile, he replied, “I really can’t hear the students.” I leaned in and reminded him that what he had to say was so important I didn’t think the students would care. But, he had made his mind up. He asked me to pick up his classes. And, for another 20 years I carried on his tradition.

Phil Burton came from the golden age of advertising. His contemporaries were Burnet, Burnbach, Ogilvie, Reeves and other giants of our industry. His ideas and principles were ground breaking and as relevant today as when he started. Simplicity. Relevance. Humanity. Truth.

So much has changed in our field. Advertising is both a reflection and driver of culture. Digital media has revolutionized how we communicate. Technology has impacted our craft. Public relations and advertising have converged.

Culture has changed. And, Phil Burton would be right at home.