Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened our sense of uncertainty, apprehension, and loneliness. My advice for staying sane is finding balance — drawing the line between personal and professional time — and staying true to your passions. For me, that’s helping people, including my family and my employees, be the best they can be. This includes fostering leadership by inspiring and helping women — including my own children — achieve their goals by setting a positive example.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Jones, President & CEO of Butler/Till, an innovative results-driven marketing agency and one of the fastest growing private companies in the United States. Kimberly brings decades of experience in marketing and media in both B2B and B2C. She previously worked at McCann Erickson, Johnson & Johnson, Bausch + Lomb, and the Wolf Group.
Our new norm requires nimble moves and the ultimate juggle. Kimberly shares how she and her firm are managing the COVID-19 crisis, and staying committed to solving their clients most challenging business problems while providing the best work experience.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, I started my career in advertising at what was then the largest ad agency in the world, McCann Erickson in New York City. I moved to Rochester after 9/11, working at a mid-sized regional agency and then on the client side for several years. To flesh out my experience and prepare for my next career goal — running a business — I went back to school for an MBA. I joined the founders of Butler/Till in 2010, becoming the firm’s President in 2015 and appointed their CEO this past January.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
We became a 100% employee-owned company. That accountability and passionate ownership culture reduces turnover, increases productivity, and greatly improves results for our clients.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The crisis has opened up exciting new opportunities for us to partner with new clients (we’ve recently added five!) and to grow our relationships with longstanding clients. We’re helping our clients connect and engage with their customers via new channels like telemedicine and connected TV, and leveraging innovative new technologies like those that allow us to visualize mouse movements with heatmap eye-tracking offerings.
Internally, we continue to build on a massive overhaul of our media operations to better serve our clients and our employees. Prior to the pandemic, we developed a new department, implemented new technology, and rewrote many of our operational processes. Going remote has given us new insights and presented new challenges to solve. To meet them, we are developing a new innovation process to operationalize idea generation leveraging tools like Miro that we wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to without the shift to virtual work environments. We are also developing a proprietary collaboration tool to help enable seamless client communication, document management, and relationship management, virtually.
What’s more, we are fortunate in that we are building a new headquarters currently, too. When COVID-19 hit, we were still early in the planning and building processes, so we were able to adjust our plans to create a space catered to our new reality. We put fresh eyes on space planning, assuming that remote work will be a prominent part of how we work in the near-term, as well as the future. We’re designing flexible spaces — taking into account social distancing, flow of traffic and technology, as well as sustainable materials.
Our goal is to create an environment that inspires creativity and makes our employees feel safe and nurtured. Those objectives haven’t changed from our pre-COVID-19 plans. They’ll just lead to a space that looks a little different than we had first imagined it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Both of my parents have been very supportive of my career and I know it’s the independence and perseverance they instilled in me that has helped me achieve what I have today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Crisis requires communication and empathy, qualities that are often associated with female leaders. It also demands that we seize opportunities presented or be left obsolete. As a newly appointed CEO, I am working hard to deliver those qualities and leverage them to evolve our firm and to articulate a new vision that requires onboarding, building trust, and gaining alignment. That vision now has to be adapted to reflect our new and continually evolving environment, and be re-communicated, which is especially challenging to do virtually. I’m also working to re-establish trust and confidence with clients who may be questioning their own profession and personal futures.
Like both my female and male counterparts, I’m juggling family, personal, and work responsibilities, and doing it under the same roof. The lines are especially blurred during these challenging times, and no one could have prepared for the uncertainty of this situation. But we’re all facing it head on and we’re doing it together.
To help my team and myself manage the juggle, I adhere to a collective spirit and embrace empathy and flexibility as tenets for navigating. For instance, rather than the longer meetings we were used to, I now schedule shorter, more frequent Zoom calls to keep teams connected and able to provide faster turnarounds to clients, while also leaving time to address personal needs.
Differentiating weekdays and weekends can be a challenge, especially for those who are balancing childcare with professional responsibilities. Flexible hours, simple understanding, and compassion go a long way in making it work.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We want our employees to feel good about coming to work — whether it’s in the office or from their own homes. We continue to provide them with tools, mentorship, trust, and encouragement to succeed.
We make remote work possible and ensure that it operates smoothly by doubling down on technology like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as real-time chat and good ole fashioned phone calls, to collaborate and connect. We’re committed to regularly connecting to share updates and facilitate personal connections that we all need during these otherwise isolating days. We have also launched a new learning and development strategy, leveraging LinkedIn Learning so employees can continue their development without the advantage of conferences and in-person training.
Another way that we keep morale up is to continue giving back. As a proud Certified B Corporation, we are committed to humanitarian efforts and environmental stewardship. It means we hold ourselves at the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The pandemic hasn’t changed that. While some of our annual events are no longer possible, including the American Heart Walk and the Habitat for Humanity mission trip, which we typically send five employees on each year, we remain committed to making those donations.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened our sense of uncertainty, apprehension, and loneliness. My advice for staying sane is finding balance — drawing the line between personal and professional time — and staying true to your passions. For me, that’s helping people, including my family and my employees, be the best they can be. This includes fostering leadership by inspiring and helping women — including my own children — achieve their goals by setting a positive example. I am passionate about building a company that offers true value and makes its employees proud. Together, we are creating that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I particularly like this quote from George Patton: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow.” It reminds me that, oftentimes, acting with a sense of urgency is more important than seeking perfection.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!