Video Advertising Perspectives from Tim Hawthorne, an Entrepreneur Long Before Streaming Video

I thought it would be a wonderful idea to talk to one of the original greats in video advertising, Tim Hawthorne, founder of Hawthorne Advertising, who will be bestowed a “Lifetime Achievement” honor by Marketing EDGE as part of its EDGE Awards.

While we all hunker down, work from home, and stream video content, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to talk to one of the original greats in long-form video advertising, Tim Hawthorne, founder of Hawthorne Advertising. On June 1, Tim will be bestowed a “Lifetime Achievement” honor by Marketing EDGE in New York as part of its EDGE Awards. Here, he shares valuable perspective on a video advertising career in an increasingly rich, ubiquitous medium for consumers, brands, and marketers.

A ‘Love Story’ for Film

Chet: Tim, first of all, congratulations! I’m so happy to see you recognized by Marketing EDGE – with its mission of marketing education and professional development, bringing the best and brightest into the marketing field. When you graduated from college – Harvard University no less, in 1973 (really, I mean, “Love Story“) – did you have any inkling that you would build a career of first in direct-response television (DRTV) and video advertising?

Tim Hawthorne, founder and strategic advisor, Hawthorne Advertising (Fairfield, Iowa), will be honored on June 1, during Marketing EDGE’s EDGE Awards in New York.

Tim:  No, I had no idea in 1968 as I matriculated to Harvard that I would eventually become a pioneer of direct response television marketing. (First of all, yes, “Love Story” for sure. I was wandering through the Harvard Yard in the fall of 1969 when they were shooting exteriors. Not sure, but I might be one of those students hurriedly rushing to class in the background.)

It was turbulent times while I attended Harvard – 1968-1973.  (I’m actually Class of ’68 but took a year off after my sophomore year to teach school in Ethiopia with the Harvard Africa Volunteer Project, so I graduated in ’73.) Initially, I intended to study chemistry, then switched to social psychology, influenced by the turbulent social times in the late 60s. But after getting my hands on a still camera in Ethiopia, I decided I’d take a still photography/documentary filmmaking course when I reentered Harvard in the fall of ’71. I was fascinated with the process of editing film, and then determined I’d pursue a career in filmmaking.

Searching for a job post-graduation in my hometown of Minneapolis, I was fortunate to be hired by the investigative documentary unit of the local CBS station, WCCO-TV. I worked there for almost five years, advancing from production assistant to editor to cinematographer, learning the craft of long-form storytelling. Our unit produced amazing documentaries that were often the No. 1 rated television programs in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market and won multiple awards, including the du Pont-Columbia and Peabody awards. I then became a producer/director/writer when I moved to the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia and eventually worked for a number of LA-based network primetime reality-based shows such as “Real People” and “That’s Incredible.”

Chet: Did you grow up having a love for industrial films of the 50s and 60s – which I think were a great precursor to the infomercial age and video advertising?

Tim:  No, I didn’t have any particular love for industrial films (which in the 50s, 60s, and 70s were the height of boring and simplistic video communications!) It’s my background in documentaries – telling a long form story on people and subjects – that seemed a natural basis on which to pioneer telling long-form consumer product stories.

Like many consumers, I’ve never liked being “sold” especially when I’ve felt manipulated. And of course, short-form TV commercial brand selling is very much about manipulating emotions (via humor, poignancy, excitement) and associating strong positive images (sex, strength, beauty) with a product – a very subtle and often deceptive way of selling.

Infomercial or long-form advertising has always been based on factual selling – the exposition of features and benefits – of course, in as entertaining a way as possible. But at least the channel is up-front about its message:  Here’s a product, here’s what it can do, and here are the benefits to you. This “truth in advertising” has always appealed to me. Producing documentaries is also about discovering the truth about a person, group, or issue.

In 1984, having moved from LA to Iowa for lifestyle reasons (wanting to raise our daughter Jessica in the Midwest where I grew up), I was open for new opportunities.  A local real estate investment entrepreneur heard of my background and approached me about producing a long-form commercial. It would be an hour long … and a challenge. That was November 1984, one of the first infomercials on air. Within 12 months, the infomercial had grossed more than $60 million dollars and dominated the long-form air waves. Fairfield Television Enterprise was the company I formed to market the infomercial and over 18 months we revolutionized long-form TV direct response.

Chet: How did early success stories translate to business growth? Were there mentors you paid close attention to? (Alvin Eicoff comes to mind).

Tim:  Eighteen months after launching Ed Beckley’s real estate investment infomercial, I became disillusioned with the way the company was moving forward. I resigned in April 1986 and took a couple of months off before starting Hawthorne Communications, later to become Hawthorne Direct, and then become Hawthorne Advertising. In late June 1986, I was a one-person company with the goal to persuade Fortune 500 companies to add long-form TV commercials to their marketing mix. We were the first infomercial ad agency in the world and I was confident that virtually all products had, somewhere at their hearts, a fascinating story we tell and hold viewers’ attention for 28 minutes and 30 seconds.

The agency had a singular focus: TV long-form advertising. There was no road map for the industry. We invented it as we went along. Certainly Al Eicoff was the reigning master of DRTV (and his book “Or Your Money Back” a short-form DRTV bible) but his company focused on short-form DRTV (2 minutes or less). So I and my growing team began to innovate, and I began to write about and present the long form story to marketing groups and corporations literally around the world. There was no road map; we were the trailblazers.

A Litany of Firsts and Video Advertising Innovations

Chet: Trailblazer indeed. What are some of the innovations you have brought to the field of DRTV, infomercials, and more recently digital video programming? How has digital disruption affected the traditional DRTV and broadcast channel, from a marketing perspective?

Tim: I’ve been called a “leading architect” of the DRTV industry by producing an impressive string of “firsts”:

  • Co-founder and president of the first infomercial direct marketer to break the $50 million revenue per year mark, Fairfield Television Enterprises
  • Founder and chairman of the first infomercial advertising agency, Hawthorne Communications
  • Produced the first infomercial for: a Fortune 500 company – Time Life; a major music company – Time Life Music; a major credit card company – Discover Card; a major health insurance company – Blue Cross Blue Shield; and a retail driving campaign for a brand name product – Braun
  • Infomercial Agency of Record for the first infomercial for: a major computer company – Apple Computers; and a major weight loss company – Weight Watchers
  • Infomercial Agency of Record for the first “promo-mercial” – a half-hour promotion for a primetime TV series (NBC’s “JAG”)
  • Published the industry’s first newsletter: “The 1-800 Report”
  • Published the industry’s first hard-bound textbook on infomercials: “The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing”
  • Created the first long-form TV media buying computer analysis system – “Time Track”
  • Purchased the first long-term cable TV bulk media contract: Discover Network, for $50 per half hour, six hours per night
  • Established the first infomercial agency/traditional agency alliance with Earl Palmer Brown

As for innovations to digital video, Hawthorne was one of the first agencies to actively use video promotion on websites (late 1990s) and we pioneered the “drive online direct sales” with short-form TV commercials, which were designed to motivate new visitors to our web-based clients.

Yes, the digital economy has significantly disrupted DRTV, as it has the television entertainment model as a whole. With a 35% drop in primetime adult (18-49) viewership from 2015-2019, the era of aggregating mass audiences on broadcast TV is long over.

A Family Affair – and an Investment in the Future

Chet: Was it a great leap – or expansion – from Fairfield, Iowa (hey, I’m from Nebraska) to Los Angeles? What brought Hawthorne Advertising to LA (and beyond)? Was there a talent pool you needed there?

Tim: From the beginning, Hawthorne was somewhat disadvantaged being a national advertising agency headquartered in a small Iowa town. We did have a small LA office (two staff) from the early 90s to keep in touch with our West Coast clients. But when Jessica (my daughter) came on board in March 2007, she brought an energy and vision to the company previously unknown.

Her goal was to build the LA office and lead the company into a digital future. And she has done that in spades, making LA our headquarters, while our Iowa office strongly administratively supports LA to this day. Our LA office certainly had access to talent we always struggled to persuade to move to Iowa, as you, being a Nebraskan, are probably aware of. It was a brilliant move by Jessica which has allowed the company to continue to thrive going into our 35th year.

June 2011 Cover - Response Magazine
Tim Hawthorne and Jessica Hawthorne-Castro share the cover of Response Magazine (June 2011) on the 25th Anniversary of the Hawthorne Advertising agency.

Chet: Well now we know why Marketing EDGE named Jessica Hawthorne-Castro a 2015 Rising Stars honoree. (You must be very proud!)

Tim: Yes, I’m very proud of Jessica’s ownership and leadership of the company. And it wasn’t by design. Jessica was a thriving talent agent at Endeavor, one of the few women agents at that male-dominated business with six years’ tenure. But she recognized that industry was missing certain business and spiritual values important to her. In February 2007, I coincidentally asked her if she had time to monitor a commercial talent audition in LA that we needed someone to attend. She did it, enjoyed it, and said she would be open to coming on board at Hawthorne. Over the next five years she soaked up the business, brought much-needed youthfulness to our efforts, advanced from client service associate to CEO, and built our LA office to 50-plus employees, while transforming the agency to a digital foundation.

Chet: As an author of several business books on DRTV and infomercial formats, and likely a bevy of company alumni in the field today, you’ve contributed so much to the professional development of data-driven marketers, marketing measurement, attribution and the like. What part of giving back to the field do you find most gratifying? Is there a particular “lifetime” achievement you’re most proud of?

Tim: My greatest achievement? Creating a company that has endured for 35 years and allowed hundreds of staff to learn, thrive, and grow in marketing knowledge and experience, while realizing greater personal achievement and confidence. We created a company that was a home for our staff to do great work amid friendship and respect. Undoubtedly my greatest achievement, far beyond any creative work for a client.

Thank you Tim – and we’re so happy to celebrate your contributions at the EDGE Awards come June 1.  And much more video success ahead!




10 Self-Marketing Tips for Job-Seeking Marketing Grads

I’ve been informally coaching my undergrad business school students on how to prepare for the business world they’ll face while job-seeking in just 1.5 years. They have some work experience, usually as interns. When it comes to presenting themselves in a business context, they are pretty green.

I’ve been informally coaching my undergrad business school students on how to prepare for the business world they’ll face while job-seeking in just 1.5 years. They have some work experience, usually as interns. When it comes to presenting themselves in a business context, they are pretty green.

But they’re eager and ambitious, so I decided to compile a set of tips to help them get ready.

I’d appreciate comments and additions from colleagues on these:

  1. Find a Local Professional Association in your area of interest — whether industry or job function. Join as a student member, and volunteer to help with a committee.
  2. Use All 120 Characters Available for Your LinkedIn Headline, and pack it with keywords about your skills. Finance, analytics, big data, strategy — use the terms hiring managers are looking for.
  3. Write Your LinkedIn Bio With Your Goal in Mind. Who are you trying to persuade? If it’s to attract job offers, then emphasize your skills, attitude and drive. Talk about contributions you made during internships. Declare your ideal industry and job function.
  4. Use a Professional Photo. Seems obvious, but surprisingly many LinkedIn members use shots more suited to Facebook.
  5. Clean Up Your Social Media. Take down photos and delete comments from your younger days that may make you look undesirable as an employee.
  6. Practice Your Elevator Speech. Come up with a few sentences that identify your situation and your goals. Add in a personal or professional twist to stimulate interest. Once you have it down, then start practicing ways to adjust your speech on the fly, depending on the audience.
  7. Buy Your Name as a Domain, and use it for your professional email address.
  8. Start Building Your Professional Network. Begin with your classmates, teachers and guest speakers. Add people you meet at your internships. Send out LinkedIn invitations, and also maintain a database of contacts. Keep in touch.
  9. If You’re Not a Natural Joiner, then find other ways to position yourself. Try writing a guest blog post. Follow writers on business subjects of interest to you, and actively comment on their posts.
  10. Think Ahead. You are in college now, but in the business world before you know it. Take steps early, and often, to position yourself for a satisfying career.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

5 Strategies to Become the Marketing MVP

It’s a great time to be in marketing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts a 9 percent growth in employment for marketers through 2024, 2 percent above the average growth rate of other industries. With this type of growth comes tremendous competition, which means it’s getting harder for A-players to stand out. In order to rise to the top and become a Marketing MVP, you need to proactively manage your career.

It’s a great time to be in marketing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts a 9 percent growth in employment for marketers through 2024, 2 percent above the average growth rate of other industries.

With this type of growth comes tremendous competition, which means it’s getting harder for A-players to stand out. In order to rise to the top and become a Marketing MVP, you need to proactively manage your career. Here are some strategies you can start applying today.

1. Keep a Career Journal

As a marketer, you know the importance of data. Well, keeping data about your career can assist you in getting the raise or promotion you want and provide guidance when going after new opportunities.

There should be two parts to your career journal — one focused on your overall career goals and another documenting details of projects as you complete them.

For your overall career goals, ask yourself questions like these and review your answers on a quarterly basis.

  • Where do I see myself in the next step of my career? Be as specific as you can.
  • What skills do I need to develop to get there?
  • What do I need to improve or create in order to reach my goal?
  • What is my No. 1 priority for the next 12 months?
  • What do I want to be doing more of in my career?
  • Am I spending time on the things that will take me where I want to go in my career?
  • What do I want to be known for?

Then as you complete projects in your current role, jot down what the challenge or situation was, the actions you completed and the results you got. This is what is commonly known as a CAR story (Challenge, Action, Result) or STAR story (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Be sure to include all quantifiable data you can in the results.

2. Always Be in Contact With Your Network

This doesn’t mean you have to contact your network daily, but checking in every few months to say hello, ask how they’re doing, wish them a happy birthday, etc. is a best practice. It helps keep you top of mind.

It’s also important to maintain your network even when you are happy in your current position. Be of service to others so when you find yourself in need of help, you’ll have people to reach out to.

3. Keep Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile Updated

It’s nice to be at the ready when a recruiter unexpectedly comes calling.

If you review your resume and LinkedIn profile every quarter, you won’t have to spend hours and hours updating your resume trying to remember everything you’ve done in the last few years. Plus when you are still employed, you have access to the quantifiable data!

Keep in mind you should not just dump your resume in your LinkedIn profile. Your LinkedIn profile should complement your resume. Get rid of all the resume speak and incorporate keywords into your headline. For more details on how to craft a great LinkedIn profile, check out my previous blog post “LinkedIn for Stealth Job Seekers.”

In case it’s been several years since you last updated your resume, you’ll want to give it a format overhaul so it looks like it belongs in this century. Think of your resume like a newspaper article — incorporate a headline (your target job title) and subhead (your personal branding statement) and follow those up with proof points (your summary). For more tips on resume writing check out my previous blog post “How to Write a Killer Marketing Resume.”

4. Volunteer for Opportunities Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you want to get ahead in your career, ask your boss what you can take off their plate. When you can show you’ve done it, you’ll be more likely to get that promotion. Volunteering for projects shows you take initiative and may also get you exposure to more decision makers in your company.

Volunteering outside of your company has lots of benefits too. It can help expand your skillset and your network. Not only that, but studies have shown it makes you a better employee. A UnitedHealth Group study found that “Employees who volunteer also bring more refined job skills to the workplace which provides a significant benefit to their employer.”

5. Pursue Professional Development 

Regardless if your employer pays for it or not, you should be taking courses to enhance your skills and keep them current. When you seek out opportunities to expand your skillset it makes you a more valuable asset to your current company and more marketable in general.

It’s not always an MBA you need to pursue either. Certifications like Google AdWords, Copyblogger Certified Content Marketer or HubSpot Inbound Marketing can be valuable if you current or potential employer uses these tools.

Although professional marketers don’t have agents like professional athletes, you can still be the MVP of your marketing team when you take charge of your career.

How Successful Marketers Advance Their Career Networks

I think you’ll agree with me when I say: It’s REALLY tough to break into the hidden job market if you don’t have a large network. Well, I bet you have a larger network than you think, and it’s easy to grow your network quickly if you take this approach. In today’s article, I am going to show you just how to build your network, and start nurturing it so you can uncover the hidden job market.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say: It’s REALLY tough to break into the hidden job market if you don’t have a large network.

Well, I bet you have a larger network than you think, and it’s easy to grow your network quickly if you take this approach. In today’s article, I am going to show you just how to build your network, and start nurturing it so you can uncover the hidden job market.

How Successful Marketers Build Their Networks

Just like there is the ABC of sales, Always Be Closing, there is the ABC of career management, Always Be Connecting. Notice I say career management and not job search. This is because building your network needs to be a constant activity in your life, not just when you need a new job. The “net” from your network can catch you when you unexpectedly find yourself downsized or otherwise in need. It will take a bit of “work” to get it established.

So, I’d like to give you the key to your first 100 connections. Below is a list of 10 areas to group people you know. I am going to challenge you to fill each area with at least 10 names, and then, boom, you have your first 100 contacts.

  1. Friends
  2. Family
  3. Trade or professional organizations
  4. Service providers – i.e., doctors, hairdresser, dentists, accountants
  5. Managers, past and present
  6. Colleagues
  7. Clubs, organizations, hobbies
  8. Alumni, classes, parents of kids’ friends
  9. Religious affiliations
  10. Customers or clients

Is your network suddenly larger than you originally thought? Good! The truth is you never know who may be that lead to your next opportunity, whether you are actively looking for it or not.

Your Network Funnel

Now that you have a list, you need to segment them as it pertains to ways they can help you land your next opportunity. Here is that breakdown:

  1. Champions – People you know in “real life” who also know, like and trust you. Typically the people you just wrote down in the exercise above.
  2. Prospects – Second or third-degree connections to whom you’ve been introduced by a champion. They are just getting to know you and learning about your career goals.
  3. Sponsors – These are people openly promoting you or advocating the benefit of networking with you to others. Ideally, they are in your target companies and would recommend you.
  4. Activators – These are the people who call you in for an interview. They open a position for you because they have gotten to know you and have a real opportunity.

You can think of these segments as your job search funnel. Obviously, most people will be at the top of your funnel in the Champions area. You can measure the success of your search by seeing how many people you can move from Champions to Prospects to Sponsors to Activators.

Work Your Network

There are two critical ways to effectively work your network. One is to send a networking letter your Champions – people who know, like and trust you. You can send this via email or snail mail; the goal is to simply inform your contacts you’re actively searching and would like their help. It’s not a letter asking for a job. Here is an example (all content has been fictionalized):

An example networking letter.
An example networking letter.

Instead of attaching your resume, I would attach an executive summary. This serves two purposes: First, it is not as formal as a resume, so it reinforces you are not asking for a job. Second, it gives them your best achievements so they can get an idea faster of who might be a good connection for you.

Example Networking Career Summary
An example networking career summary.

Once your Champion says, “Of course, I know just the person you should talk to at your target company.” you can make their job easier if you provide them with an introduction blurb. This is a short note explaining who you are and why they are making the introduction. Then your Champion doesn’t have to do anything except copy and paste your note to their connection. This idea comes from my marketing coach, David Newman. He calls it a referral blurb and teaches it to solopreneurs as a way to get more referrals. With job searches, you’re not looking for referrals, but for more introductions.

Calling All College Students

We need the ideas and passion of college students interested in online marketing to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision.

college studentIf you are considering a career in online marketing,  I applaud you.

We need your ideas and passion to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision. And the industry is poorer for it.

Our educational institutions are starting to catch up with dedicated, digitally focused coursework and industry practitioners to help keep it real, but the ivory tower alone won’t sufficiently groom you for success. You will need to take your future into your own hands and look outside your required classes to set the stage for your professional trajectory.

In many ways, an entrepreneurial approach is excellent preparation for a digital career. Digital marketers are, of necessity, multi-faceted and in a constant state of change that favors the nimble and prepared. A solid set of core skills, a deep understanding of consumer behaviors online, demonstrated passion for this industry and the right attitude are infinitely more valuable than even specific experience that may soon be obsolete and can help prepare you to chart your own future and that of this industry.

Core Skills

In addition to learning the marketing basics be sure to come to your first job with the following hard, soft (and somewhere in-between) skill sets.

Data Acuity. The days of math-challenged or tech-avoidance students in marketing careers are long, long gone. As a start, get comfortable in spread sheets including more advanced skills like pivot tables and macros. Learn to read and manipulate data tables but use statistics and other analytics skills and programs to extract meaning that can be used for decision making. Know the difference between data and information.

Programming. You don’t need to be a professional coder but you do need to understand how bits and bytes work. Experiment with your own simple site to learn the basics of HTML.

Writing. Communicating in all channels and modes is a critical skill set for any professional and great communicators have a substantial advantage in any marketplace at any level. This extends to public speaking so work on your confident presentation by offering to deliver class projects or results in front of both small and larger audiences.


Broaden your horizons with disciplines that will give you insights into human behavior and psyche. Behavioral economics, psychology and literature, among other disciplines, will advance your understanding of human decision making and make you a stronger marketer.

Go global. Our world is shrinking so understanding how others view and interact with the world beyond documented, aggregated buying behaviors is a plus. If you have the opportunity to study or travel abroad don’t pass it up. Foreign language skills will also differentiate you.

It’s also important that you don’t believe that your current set of college age, college educated friends represents the totality of even the US population. Get out of your bubble and get to know the broader population through travel, hobbies, activism or other means.


Entrepreneurs seem to have the right DNA to succeed in the online marketing industry amid the demands of constant reinvention. Regardless of the type of business, show us that you have the desire and capacity to try to build something. Even better if you had to team with others as this will demonstrate your ability to collaborate and problem solve. If you have not built a business on any scale, show how you have responded quickly and successfully to changing circumstance.

Industry Passion

For online marketing, learning is about participating — not just hearing or reading — so you need to be a student of the industry. Demonstrate your interest by finding industry internships, following industry publications and staying current with major news, trends and releases. Use your social channels, personal site or other online avenues to present your POV or participate in the industry discussion.

Jump at opportunities like the Google Online Marketing Challenge or other student competitions to get some hands on experience in building plans and launching, optimizing and measuring campaigns.

Ask for student discounted or even free admittance to industry events when they come to your town and use the time to steep yourself in the industry and also network for contacts. Local ad clubs or the like often have student memberships or events that provide access to local professionals for industry mentorship.

To succeed in a digital marketing career you need more than what your school offers and a fair amount of personal commitment. Layer academic theory with some practical exposure and the right combination of skills and attitude to become a sought-after addition to any online marketing team. And should you decide to take a different career track you will still be empowered with an impressive and marketable skill set that most any employer would covet. Good luck!