Avocet Communications is celebrating 41 years in Longmont, growing from a family business out of a home basement to an international marketing agency.
Avocet’s CEO and President, Lori Jones has been there since almost the beginning. In the 31 years Jones has worked in marketing, she’s watched Longmont grow from a bedroom community for Denver commuters to a bustling town all its own.
“We never set out to be a Longmont agency, we set out to be a very strong boutique national firm that happened to be in Longmont,” Jones said. “We’ve got the best of all worlds having a national footprint and we’re in one of the most incredible places on earth.”
Helping companies differentiate themselves and command their market share is a key part of how Avocet Communications helps their clientele grow in their business, according to Jones. Many of their clients are entrepreneurial startups or engineering firms that positioned themselves in what Jones calls the “sea of sameness.”
One of those clients is Longmont-based aerospace company Roccor. Roccor’s chief technical officer, Mark Lake spoke of Jones and Avocet with gratitude.
“Among her many accomplishments as a marketing and communications leader, Lori Jones has a particular skill for distilling brand strategies for high-tech companies whose executive teams often struggle to articulate ‘why it’s important’ or focus on ‘how it works’,” Lake said. “Her leadership has brought tech companies like Roccor into the mainstream of media awareness while helping build investor interest and stimulating growth in a critical business sector for Longmont’s future.”
“Avocet takes brands from boring to brave. People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy how it will benefit them,” Jones said. “The ‘boring’ is that most brands appear like every other brand out there because they don’t know any different. We take companies to ‘brave’ and push that sea of sameness aside. That way they have that unique sales positioning and value statement that creates an epiphany with a buyer.”
Avocet’s Public Relations Director, Lisa Metzger, has also worked in public and media relations for 30 years. According to Metzger, the fast-paced world of marketing and communications requires having a leader that understands the nature of the work and can inspire the team that surrounds them.
“Lori Jones is a remarkable leader for many reasons; she's a strategist, a big picture thinker, super creative, and pretty gutsy. But what makes Lori such an amazing leader, from my point of view, is that she leads from her heart,” Metzger said. “For Lori, it's about people. Her priorities are always her family, her team and the culture she has built, and the clients and the very real and human goals they are trying to achieve.”
Aside from managing their growing network of clients, Avocet Communications has helped Jessica Erickson and the team at Longmont Economic Development Partnership, or LEDP, manage Longmont Startup Week for the past five years. This year is the first that the agency has run it all themselves.
“This year was a turning point for Longmont Startup Week in general. We didn’t want to see it go away and neither did LEDP, but they had other priorities for their staff, Jones said. “And I’m thrilled. I want to see entrepreneurs succeed just like I have. I want their visions to come to life just like mine have.”
Jones looks at Startup Week as an opportunity to foster communal growth for businesses in Longmont and Colorado at large.
“I’m an entrepreneur so I know what the struggle is like, when taking a step forward still feels like taking a step back. That hard work and perseverance is something we want to be able to share with like-minded people,” Jones said. “Opportunity is out there, we just need to create it. Startup Week helps bring it to light.”
“What (Longmont) has done with the business leaders to form a strong community and a shared resources mindset has done a lot to create an infrastructure that is so giving and community based,” Jones said. “We’re always exploring, we’ve got curiosity. Always asking what we can do to make a stronger, better community. A lot of people talk about it, but differentiates Longmont is that we’re living and doing it.”
Jones grew up in Longmont, having moved with her family from Illinois when she was four, and attended Longmont High School. By 1989, Jones had graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in communication and journalism. Her father, Kit Sutorius, had already started Avocet nine years prior, and was working out of his basement doing marketing and advertising.
“My Professional Selling professor asked me to intern for him after I graduated, and during that internship we decided to hire my father to do a project for us,” Jones said. “During that project, my father said ‘Let’s do this together,’ and that was the beginning of this incredible heritage that we have today.”
Jones credits her strong relationship with her father, and his support of her early career, for empowering her to persevere.
“If it weren’t for my father asking me to work for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Jones said. “That father-daughter bond is truly what made me into the strong entrepreneurial woman I am today.”
Three months into working with her father, Jones remembers pitching a regional rental car agency.
“They called us up on a Thursday to let us know that we were a finalist for the contract, they wanted to come visit our office on a Monday and meet the team,” Jones said.
The basement office in her parents’ home was covered in orange shag, Jones remembered knowing it wouldn’t work. Jones and her father found office space at 455 Main Street, furnishing it with desks picked up from a used furniture lot in Berthoud and touched up with upholstery fabric and wood veneers.
“We made the desks on Saturday, moved in on Sunday and Monday morning we had our whole family there to make us look bigger than we were,” Jones said. “The client walked in at 9 a.m. Monday morning and we had a signed contract at 10 a.m., we were off to the races. That was the first big move for the agency.”
Since that start, Avocet Communications has grown with a national footprint. Their clients include Arc Thrift Stores, Longmont Economic Development Partnership and Colorado Department of Transportation, among many others.
“From Jessica Erickson at LEDP and Eric Wallace at Left Hand Brewing to the engineers at Roccor, we’re doing incredible things to put Longmont on the map,” Jones said. “It didn’t just happen, and it’s been exciting to see Longmont grow.”
As the agency continued to grow, Jones and her staff realized that they needed to grow with it to meet the needs of their clients.
“In 2013 we were ready to make our next pivotal move, and the question was do we move to Denver where most of our clients are, or do we stay in the community we love? We chose to stay,” Jones said.
Jones and company purchased the building they currently call home in 2013, recalling that the building at 425 Main Street was a “lime-green eyesore.” Avocet gutted the whole building and returned it to the original facade and tin ceiling, building in glass walls to create more openness and space.
“It’s become a center point for the agency. Our Denver clients love to come up to Longmont and get out of the hustle and bustle down there,” Jones said. “They’ll spend a whole day here working outside of our two hour meeting. We created this environment and culture that can be collaborative and beautiful at the same time.”
While fostering growth for Avocet and their clients, Jones said working with nonprofits is equally important. The agency's mindset is akin to mission work, Jones said. Avocet Communications donates $100,000 a year in pro bono work to nonprofit organizations they believe in. Those organizations include Domino Service Dogs, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and most recently ABA Enhancement.
“When we, as community leaders, have emotional attachment to the community we live in and grew up in, it makes it that much easier to give back,” Jones said. “I want other people to experience what we have experienced, and they should be able to. If they have that dream, let’s help them get there.”
That same mentality applies to Avocet’s internship candidates as well.
“I think that empowerment is huge. It starts at home and at school, but then at your first job,” Jones said. “If I can do anything with our interns here to make sure they understand their worth, I want to provide them with the mindset that they can accomplish anything.”
"Avocet has truly been the best kick-start to my future career. Lori, and so many others, have allowed me to immerse myself in the work they do and have encouraged me to push myself to new and exciting limits,” said Avocet Intern Katie Olson. “The supportive environment Avocet, and its staff, have created is easily the most memorable aspect of my internship experience, and will continue to be for years to come."