This week on our leadership series we’re speaking with Jay Cronin, Hothouse’s EVP and Managing Director. Jay has been at Hothouse for almost six years and is leading the charge as we develop what’s next for our agency. His incredible sense of purpose has helped Hothouse find its focus. Let’s hear what he has to say!
Haley Robinson: Good morning, Jay! Let’s start with some basic questions. How did you get into advertising?
Jay Cronin: I actually got into advertising through fundraising. I was a history major in college and I met a consultant at a fundraiser. He told me what he did (craft a story and find an audience) and I was inspired. The fundraising industry eventually led me to sports marketing and then to the advertising world. At the end of the day, I’ve always loved marketing, telling stories, and reaching audiences.
HR: You’ve worked at some of the biggest names in advertising. How did that shape your experience in the industry?
JC: Working at big agencies was an amazing experience. I came in as an account executive – the lowest level at the time. Throughout my career I got to meet a lot of talented people. Being mentored by these incredible professionals was the richest part of my experience. Big agencies have a lot to offer: training programs, big accounts and big pitches. Everything was leveled up – it truly felt like the promise of being in advertising in New York. And I was surrounded by people who thrived on that mentality. As I grew in my career, I became aware of the downsides of big agencies. They are bureaucratic, and the size and scale often mean you can’t work on smaller brands even if they are interesting.
HR: What was it like to go from big-name agencies to a small boutique?
JC: The difference in smaller places is all the restraints of big agencies were gone, and I could still surround myself with great talent. Many people I met when I transitioned came from big agencies and simply preferred the freedom of a small shop. Having a smaller team and less resources forced me to expand my learnings and broaden some of my skills. You can play a lot of different roles at small places, which is really cool.
HR: How did you find Hothouse?
JC: I was referred by a friend. She had seen the role and thought I’d be a fit for the people at Hothouse. Even though it was a mile from my house, I’d never heard of it. My friend told me to call Jon (Katinsky, President of Hothouse) and I did.
HR: You’ve been at Hothouse for 6 years. What have been the biggest changes or trends in the industry?
JC: Trends have come and gone – and they are all fascinating and deserve to be studied. But the tenets of persuasion (storytelling and focusing on the needs of customers and brand) are still at the core of everything. If an agency is focused on those fundamentals, the “new” trends fall into place. Another way to think of it is that the more things change, the more things stay the same – and the more valuable we can become if we understand the trends, the client’s brand and their customers.
HR: How has Hothouse changed?
JC: The people and our focus. We have redefined our purpose to being a marketing agency that focuses on the fundamentals of strategy, content and experiences instead of chasing the next best thing. And we’ve hired talent that aligns with that mission.
HR: What do you consider your biggest contribution to the Hothouse team/culture/company?
JC: What I hope I’ve contributed is a sense of focus. For example, we were doing event marketing years ago and we did cool things with it. But it wasn’t really what we needed to be doing – and frankly, we weren’t great at it. By reflecting on it, we proved that it wasn’t where we needed to be. And declaring that and bringing the focus elsewhere was important.
HR: How is Hothouse positioned to meet the needs of clients today and tomorrow?
JC: We’ve got a great blend of people who can listen to clients really well. Our skills of strategy and content can help address client needs right now and in the next five years. Having those two gears is where we provide the most value.
HR: What’s your vision for Hothouse?
Hothouse has a reputation as a ‘nice place’, but five years from now I want to look back and see Hothouse as a ‘nice place that does amazing, valuable work”. It’s important that the work we do in the next five years is noteworthy. We’re not there yet; we have work to do.
HR: What characteristics define your leadership philosophy/style?
JC: Patient, persistent ambition.