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Leader finds her home at the helm

Butler/Till president Kimberly Jones brings optimism and authenticity. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

Moving to a new town was part of life for Kimberly Jones as a youth. As president of Butler/Till Media & Communications, she has centered her life around moving the marketing agency forward.

The self-proclaimed “Army brat” has built up personal grit that has contributed to her success. Throughout her career, Jones has been in charge of her own progress. When she lacked a skill, she made it a point to take it on and to push herself to become proficient.

“I like to move forward,” Jones says. “I tend to be pretty goal-oriented, and I want to always move forward. I want to continue to achieve, not for the trophies or the accolades, but to just continue personal development or improvement.”

Jones, 38, became president of the firm in January.

She joined Butler/Till five years ago. Under her leadership, the firm completed the acquisition of Brand Cool Marketing Inc. in June.

Butler/Till expects to bring in $14.2 million in revenue this year thanks to the Brand Cool acquisition and growth in the firm’s pharmaceutical accounts. Butler/Till’s agency revenue was $11 million in 2014, excluding media purchases, officials say. The company does close to $160 million in capitalized billings.

Butler/Till ranked No. 4 on Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of marketing communication firms. It employs 100 people at offices Jefferson Road in Henrietta.

Clients include CenturyLink Inc., State Farm Insurance, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., Bausch & Lomb Inc., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Rochester Regional Health System and Eastman Kodak Co.

Getting ‘grit’
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Jones moved with her family constantly as her father was a physician in the Army. The upbringing gave her the grit she so respects in others, her husband says.

“She’s a whip-smart individual,” Matt Jones says. “One of the combination of things that I obviously love a lot about her is she has an incredible amount of optimism. She really believes that through hard work things are going to turn out OK, and she combines that with a capacity to get over disappointments pretty quickly. I think it infects her team at work the way it infects our family at home.

“It’s not a coincidence that her favorite adjective for a personality trait is the idea of grit,” he adds.

Kimberly Jones loved photography in high school but not with the passion needed for a career.

“When I started at the University of Texas I started taking a photography course, but I quickly dropped it because it just occurred to me: ‘How am I going to make any money on this? I don’t know if I have really the passion and the drive to do it,’” Jones says.

She heard people in her dorm were taking an advertising class and decided to try it. She never looked back.

“(I thought) advertising kind of combines photography creativity with business—this could be really interesting,” she says. “And I was hooked; I just loved it. … It was that combination of business and creativity. I really liked the idea of finding creative solutions to business challenges.”

Jones spent her freshman year in Mannheim, Germany, near the city of Landstuhl, where her family was based.

“I decided to spend my freshman year of college abroad,” Jones says. “You look back on these decisions (and say), ‘How do you make these decisions?’ I have no idea; I was going with the moment. It was a wonderful, very non-traditional first year of college experience.”

She graduated from the University of Texas with bachelor of science degree in advertising in 1999. Once she graduated she headed north, moving to New York City to work at McCann-Erickson, then the largest ad agency in the world. She was an assistant account executive on accounts such as Johnson & Johnson.

“I gained experience in all kinds of aspects of advertising,” Jones says. “So I knew I was going to have a career in advertising and once I made that decision, for me, I had to go to New York. I knew if I went to New York I would never regret it.”

The workload was substantial and Jones was game.

“I think working in a big agency real-ly taught me the discipline of advertising,” she says. “You really start at the bottom and you have to really learn everything and you’re working really hard—think about the work ethic in New York City. You put in the 60-hour weeks and that was just what was expected. It was so exciting that it was fun.”

Coming to Rochester
Jones and her then fiance, Matt moved to Rochester in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Jones secured a job as an account supervisor at the Wolf Group Integrated Communications, which is Partners + Napier Inc. today.

Having had plenty of experience working on contact lenses for Johnson & Johnson, Jones took over the Bausch & Lomb account.

“I had this unique experience,” Jones says. “Other than an optometrist, I know everything there is to know about contact lenses.”

Working 20 hours of her week on-site at Bausch & Lomb helped Jones create connections. She started working in Bausch & Lomb’s marketing communications department in 2003. When she started she was the manager of consumer communications; by the time she left in 2010, she was the senior manager of global Web strategy and communications.

Working on both the client and agency sides helped round out her career, Jones says.

“It was a natural fit, and it was an opportunity for me to gain that client side experience having been on the agency side for five years,” she says. “The way that I think about it is when you work at an agency you get a pretty shallow view across many different types of clients. Client side you get to go much deeper but with a single brand or product.”

While working full-time—at Bausch & Lomb and then Butler/Till—she went back to school to earn her MBA from the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business. She graduated in 2012.

“I went back to school not to change careers, but to make me better in the career I had already chosen because I loved it,” she says.

Earning an MBA brought out Jones’ entrepreneurial spirit.

“I had decided that I had really liked the idea of running a business,” Jones says. “So, what Simon taught me was that accounting and finance that I had never really been exposed to. I chose to take advantage of that, Simon being more of a financially and quantitatively driven school. It’s really not my background but I forced myself to do it because I knew that was what I needed in order to successfully run a business.”

She started her MBA degree while working for Bausch & Lomb.

Joining Butler/Till
A desire to get back to the agency side of the industry and serendipitous timing contributed to Jones’ move to Butler/Till.

“I had kind of had it in my mind that I would eventually want to go back—if the opportunity presented itself—to an agency,” Jones says. “Bausch & Lomb was going through some really significant transitions, so there was a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t necessarily have an immediate threat on my job, but things were changing in a way that didn’t feel great.

“I had this wonderful opportunity for a company that I loved, working for two people that I knew and loved, and so it just felt like the right time,” she adds.

She started at Butler/Till as vice president of digital in 2009. Her presence was felt immediately throughout the firm, officials say.

“What really struck me most immediately was her corporate background, both working for Bausch & Lomb and, of course, her education with her MBA,” says Susan Butler, co-founder and chairman of Butler/Till. “She balanced it; she wasn’t a pure corporate animal—she had also worked within the advertising agency arena before—but she brought a degree of corporate mindset to the agency but in a very healthy way.

“There’s a discipline there and there’s knowledge and intelligence and learnings from that environment that she brought to us and are especially critical now,” Butler adds.

Though friendly and approachable, Jones should never be underestimated, Tracy Till says.

“I think professionally she was always very sharp to me, very attuned,” says Till, co-founder and vice chairman. “Just very laser-focused—she’s an impressive talent and it’s very evident. In terms of how she’s developed her career (it has been) very thoughtful, very purposeful … and driven towards doing great things.

“I think she’s a good planner. She’s a good visionary and took the time to listen, pay attention and solve problems,” Till says.

Matt Jones agrees. His wife’s strength can often be masked by her warmth, he says.

“Growing up she moved a lot, and I think the necessity of going into a new school sometimes every single year … you’re going to survive that because you’ve got optimism and confidence, but underneath that you’ve got a lot of strength,” he says.

“I think sometimes because my wife spends a lot of her time smiling, you can sometimes overlook the degree of competitiveness and resilience that she has. But there are strong roots to that. It’s not by chance.”

Industry trends
Knowing the industry’s trends is part of Jones’ job.

The idea of digital’s place within business was picking up speed in 2010, and Jones noticed. She reconfigured the structure of her team at her own expense.

“I came on as the vice president of digital, and I pretty quickly realized that we really shouldn’t have a digital department—that digital was becoming so ubiquitous that it really needed to span the entire agency,” Jones says. “So, I had only been there a year where we actually did a pretty massive reorganization and I remember thinking I’m going to talk myself out of a job because here I am the VP of digital saying we don’t need a digital department.”

Today’s landscape is about the role of media—finally, Jones says.

“It’s because people are realizing the role that media plays, especially as it relates to technology, and how it relates to performance and analytics,” she says. “We say that media is sexy again.”

Data analytics has been a focus in recent years for Butler/Till. It has helped the agency become more important in the eyes of its clients, Jones says.

“We’re often the keepers of the data, and so that makes us even more valuable,” she says. “They want results, and they want to be able to see the results. That’s the future of our business. That’s really what we’re focused on most right now … how to develop offerings for our clients around data.”

Jones’ competitiveness means business for Butler/Till, Butler says.

“She’s very competitive, but not in an unhealthy way,” she says. “She does not like to lose, and that’s especially critical because of her leadership of our business development effort. If she thinks we should have a client, then we’re going to have that client.”

On the run
Jones is always mulling over the business. Runs allow her the freedom to both relax and revise ideas for the agency.

“I love half-marathons because they don’t take over your life like a full mara-thon does,” Jones says. “Running is definitely my relaxation, especially if you’re going for a long run. You can kind of get in that zone where it allows me to clear my head and it gives me a chance to think.”

Knowing her professional role has not always been easy. Today, as president, she knows herself and her own potential, she says.

“I think that you have to be authentic to who you are,” she says. “Especially early on, you don’t know who you are and you try to emulate others. I was successful pretty early on in my career so I always felt this need to look older, act older. … Then you get to a point where you’re like, ‘You know what? I am who I am.’ And you just have to be OK with that.

“So being authentic and continuing to challenge yourself to think about what’s next—I guess those are what I live by.”

Jones has aligned her own goals with Butler/Till’s future. She puts the same drive, intensity and passion to work to help the business succeed as she did to make herself a success.

“Now for me personally the ‘what’s next’ is whatever’s next for the business,” Jones says. “That’s why the Brand Cool acquisition was so exciting, because that’s how I think. Now it’s like ‘OK, where can I take Butler/Till?’

“I can’t imagine at this point in my career ever going anywhere else,” she adds.

Entering her sixth year with Butler/Till, Jones says she is just getting started.

“I look back on what Butler/Till looked like when I first arrived, and it doesn’t look anything like it does today,” Jones says. “We’re continuing to grow and we’re working on our expansion plans, which are really exciting.”

Kimberly Jones
Position: President, Butler/Till Media & Communications and Brand Cool Marketing Inc.
Age: 38
Education: B.S. in advertising, University of Texas, 1999; MBA, University of Rochester Simon School of Business, 2012
Family: husband, Matt; daughters, Andie, 9, Robin, 7
Residence: Brighton
Interests: Avid runner, reader, traveler, cook for family and friends
Quote: “I think that you have to be authentic to who you are.”

8/7/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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