The Legend of Kathy Jones

OWN IT.

Those two words are the war cry of The Cirlot Agency for 2017. Whether it’s a piece of paper in the parking lot, or a client with impossible deadlines and seemingly unobtainable expectations,
OWN IT.

Rick Looser, president and COO

The thought behind those two words is nothing new. It’s been that way since the Agency began. Regardless of your title, or lack thereof, every employee is asked to walk in the door every morning like a boss.

When the phrase, “Congratulations, you’ve got the job,” is spoken, the next phrase to every employee is, “Now, be fired with enthusiasm, or you will be fired with enthusiasm.” OWN IT.

The next thing most of our new employees hear is “The Legend of Kathy Jones.” In the early 1990’s, Kathy Jones came to The Cirlot Agency as our first full-time receptionist. This was before text messaging, faxing, email or even direct dial to someone’s desk. The receptionist was the common denominator for almost every communication between our business and the outside world. Kathy has a great Midwestern accent – professional, very calm and soothing. She had heard all of the things new employees hear, and was told as long as the decisions she made were best for our client and for the Agency, we would always back her up.

One of the first clients that chose The Cirlot Agency over the old school, traditional agencies in Jackson, Miss., at the time was Brad Chism, Executive Director of the Natchez Convention Visitors Bureau. Brad was early in his career, a rugby-playing Rhode’s Scholar, and a man on a mission to make Natchez the number-one destination in the Southeast.

At the time, his choice of The Cirlot Agency might have been seen as a gamble. He was extremely demanding, though very fair. Over 25 years later, I still consider him to be a good friend. So, when he told us the mock-ups of our new ad campaign that was to run in Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report had to be at his office by noon Thursday for board review and approval, we knew it would be tight, but we could make it. It was with a great sense of pride that on Wednesday night, with an hour to spare, we put the oversized envelope holding the ad mock-ups on top of the FedEx delivery bin in the lobby of our office.

The next morning, almost everyone in the Agency pulled out of the office parking lot headed to Ingalls Shipbuilding for a creative meeting. Natchez Convention Visitors Bureau was off our radar and had been taken care of… or so we thought.

It may be hard for younger professionals to understand, but in 1990 a three-hour drive meant no communication with anyone except those in the car. So, it was only late in the afternoon when we arrived back at the office that we heard the story that would become “The Legend of Kathy Jones.”

Around 10:15 that morning, Brad Chism called our office to say he had not received the ads by 10:00 a.m., the deadline promised by FedEx. Kathy checked with FedEx and they had no record of the package in their system. After scouring the lobby, she found that the envelope had fallen behind the FedEx bin. After Kathy relayed to Brad what had happened, he explained to her that no budgets would be approved, and that our only window of making the media buy hinged on the approval of the campaign at the noon board meeting.

Here’s where the story gets good. Late that afternoon, after returning from a great meeting at Ingalls, we opened the door to the lobby and were greeted by the calm, reassuring voice of Kathy Jones as she said, “I hope you don’t fire me, but I did what you said and acted like I owned the company.”

She then explained everything that I have told you up until this point, which leads to the obvious question I then asked her, “Well, what did you do?”

“I got the package there the only way that it would work. I chartered a plane and had the package flown to Natchez, where I arranged for a driver to pick it up and deliver it to Brad. I called him a little while ago and he told me that the package arrived just as the board was finishing their lunch, at the precise time he had set on his agenda. By the way, he said to tell you that they loved the ads and everything is approved. I hope I did the right thing.”

The first words out of my mouth were not actually the first thoughts that came into my head. My first words were, “You did exactly what we’ve told you to do. You have no idea how proud we are about the decision you made.” The next words were actually my first thought, “By the way, how much did it cost?”

“$860, including the driver.” By today’s standards, that would be like $8,600.

I distinctly remember the next word out of my mouth was, “Wow,” which I quickly followed up by telling her she had done a great job.

I love that story. And a traditional, corporate approach would now be to end the story by relating Kathy’s action to the premise that all employees should act like owners, but I think I’ll end it like this: Be like Kathy.

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