Company: HCK2 Partners
Owners: Heather Capps
Year Started: 1998
Employees: 11 – 25
This week on An Agency Story podcast, we have Heather Capps, Founder, President, and CEO of HCK2 Partners – a full-service marketing communications agency focused on providing integrated marketing communication campaigns for their clients.
Heather was introduced to the world of marketing at a young age, but she had no idea it would be a starting catapult for her career. In high school, she worked at a high-end spa and salon, starting out as the front desk manager. Soon she would become the director of operations and marketing. Heather’s time spent with this company taught her many entrepreneurial lessons, like the importance of heartfelt connections as well as a better understanding of the business side of things, and these acquired skills would show their significance later on in her journey.
Heather ended up leaving Colorado and headed for Dallas where she got a job at a small design studio that was part of a family office and executive suite. It was during this time that Heather’s willingness to help would lead to an unexpected opportunity. She met a woman who seemed to be struggling with basic marketing tasks. Empathetic, she extended her help on the weekends.
This act of kindness would not go unnoticed by a renowned marketer, who contacted Heather after seeing the work she had done. She would be the first person George Michael would hire at his new firm, and would eventually become the president of that agency.
Heather’s journey is all about climbing to the top, defying the status quo of focusing on a vertical or specific service line, and the importance of balancing left and right brain.
Enjoy the story.
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0:02 Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. From the excitement of starting up the first big sale, passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional rollercoaster of growth, hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach. Enjoy the next agency story.
Russel: 0:41 Welcome to An Agency Story podcast. I’m your host Russel. This week’s episode features Heather Capps, Founder and CEO of HCK2 partners, a full service marketing communications agency based out of Dallas, Texas. The early stages of Heather’s eventual path to becoming a successful agency. Owner started as the front desk manager of a day spa and her skills quickly found their way to bigger challenges and a little empathy took flight. Having built a prominent agency, Heather shares her business insights and how she’s living the dream on this episode. Enjoy the story. Welcome to the show today, everyone. I have Heather Capps with HCK2. Thank you so much for joining us today, Heather.
Heather: 1:18 My pleasure, Russel. Thanks for having me.
Russel: 1:20 Thank you for being on the show here today. Let’s get right to it. What does HCK2 do and who do you do it for?
Heather: 1:26 HCK2 is a full service marketing communications agency, and what we provide is integrated marketing communication campaigns for our clients. Who we do that for is, oh my goodness, a very long list of wonderful different industries across 25 different verticals. Everything from nonprofits and small businesses to Fortune 500 and everything in between.
Russel: 1:51 Wonderful. One of the cool things about this, you’re celebrating your 25th anniversary, so congratulations on that. I’m guessing you’ve had to explain a little bit about your company line a few times over the years.
Heather: 2:01 I have. I think the other question that we often get asked is, what is HCK2 as people are trying to pronounce it? HC is me, Heather Caps, and then my two daughters, Kaylee and Kameron. My oldest daughter, Kaylee, actually works in the business and my youngest daughter, Kameron, happens to be one of our clients.
Russel: 2:21 A family business in more ways than one, even going back to long before, I’m guessing they were capable of working in the business that’s even named after them.
Heather: 2:28 Very true. But if you ask them, they’ll tell you that they were slave labor for me when they were younger coming into the office and doing intern work, processing invoices, organizing the magazine racks when we used to have all those. They’ve been ingrained in the business for a long time.
Russel: 2:43 Lovely. Gotta get ’em to work early. Speaking of youth, sounds like you’ve had the entrepreneur itch for a very long time and from an early age. You mentioned that you had a job in high school that helped you prep for down the road and your journey. What was that? Tell us how that happened.
Heather: 2:56 Who would’ve ever thought that a job that I had in high school would lead me down this path? I guess it’s a couple of things. In high school, I had the great pleasure of getting to be on the newspaper staff, which I think led to my love of photography. I was actually the editor of our yearbook. My senior year in high school, that’s where I fell in love with storytelling, layout and design and all the creative aspects that were associated with that. I look now at my yearbooks and I am like, what is this train wreck? It’s an atrocity, quite frankly. I’m like, how many pieces of clip art and how many type faces could I have used on this layout? But I didn’t know any better. That’s literally when word processing had come out. I think that’s where I fell in love with it. A job that I had in high school is that I actually started out as a front desk manager at a very high-end spot and salon. What was fascinating about that job is that the woman who owned the organization, she was an amazing stylist and an esthetician, but the business side of business, let’s say, was maybe not something that she chose to focus on. Even trying to get that organization to buy its first computer, to have digital records, record keeping payroll, paying the taxes, ordering inventory management. All of these things, I had an affinity for it. I ended up taking over some of those things and then I ended up being the director of operations and marketing for that day spa. The other aspect of it was working with so many different kinds of people, right? That’s everything from stylists, nail tags, estheticians, and then the clientele themselves. Very nice, warm, friendly people, and then people that thought that the world literally revolved around them would walk in the front door. I lived in Colorado, so throw their mink coats at you. That lesson at a very early age of figuring out the best way possible to navigate so many different personalities, so many different communication styles, I think that has served me well. In the world of marketing communications there are developers, copywriters, designers, account people. And then of course the clientele is all over the place. How do you, no matter the person, find a way to connect? How do you interpret their communication style, their wants, their needs, and match your personality so that you can have heartfelt conversations? I think I learned that, quite frankly, at the spa when I was in high school.
Russel: 5:33 I’m gonna take the recommendation there, go work at a spa in high school and that’s how you prep for a very successful agency career later on in life. After that you go to college, you go out and head into the career world. What was that evolution before you ultimately started your agency?
Heather: 5:47 I ended up moving from Colorado to Dallas. My ex-husband moved down here for a job opportunity. I got a job at a small little design studio that was part of a family office and executive suite. It’s a long story, and I know I told you one time, I don’t know if all your listeners care to hear about it, but if I can summarize. I had a woman come into the studio one day who was struggling with a couple of what I would consider basic tasks when it comes to marketing. She was making some labels, she was working on a presentation of some sort, and she was struggling because I guess all she had at home was a typewriter. That doesn’t necessarily lend itself to making labels and doing landscape design presentations. A little bit of a challenge. She came into the studio and she was very upset and besides herself. I felt bad, so I asked my boss, hey, listen, can I help this lady out and do some work for her on the weekends? I ended up doing these two different projects for her, and it ended up that one of these presentations that I was working on ended up being a pitch deck for a skincare line. I had no idea who these documents and these labels were even for. As I was putting together this presentation and I saw that it was in the skincare space, I couldn’t help myself but to make some notes in this deck, because after working at the spa, one of the things that I had been working on was our own proprietary skincare line. I had been working on packaging, I had been working with chemists, of course, all the branding and marketing around all that. Anyway, she came, she picked up these documents and I was sitting at my desk the next week and my phone rang and it was some guy on the other line and he was like, who are you and when can we meet? I was like, oh my gosh, what is going on here? Fast forward, I meet with this guy who I have absolutely no idea who he is. I meet him out in the parking lot in his car after work one day. it turns out that this guy was a very renowned, seasoned marketer who had created and sold multiple advertising agencies, worked at some of the biggest agencies in the world, like Bezel, Timberland McLean, and it had a couple of small agencies, and he had sold like his third agency to Publicis and was going back out on his own. Those labels that I was creating were him reaching out, since his non-compete had expired, reaching out to all his old clients. One of those old clients happened to be starting a new skincare line and that is what the pitch deck was for. Needless to say, the background that I had, me being bossy and sharing my opinion in this particular case, got my foot in the door and I was the very first person that George Michael hired at his new firm, Michael and Partners, and I eventually became the president of that agency. In 2004, I started my own company and I bought out all the assets with Michael and Partners, and here I am today, 25 years later.
Russel: 8:46 You make all that journey sound like a breeze and easy. That’s a cool story in of itself. How did that actually evolve from you running that agency and acquiring that in your new agency?
Heather: 8:56 I mean, it was George and I for about a year, and then we slowly hired more people, kept getting more clients. My role kept expanding from being the account executive and the creative director. Again, like the same thing at the spa. Oh, Heather, you know how to do payroll. Oh, Heather, you know how to process a 941. All these like operational things. It’s that weird thing about me that I’m so left-brained and right brained. I literally, can be going through an itemized PNL and making inferences to where we need to save money in the morning and then working on headlines for a campaign in the afternoon. I love toggling back and forth and I’m pretty sure from George’s perspective, he was like, oh wow, this is a bargain. I can get somebody to do all this creative work and then help me on the operations and financial side too.
Russel: 9:47 You start your own business. Sounds like you at least then had a book of business you could carry into that. You’ve worked with a lot of amazing organizations over the years. One, what are some of those, maybe more well-known clients you’ve had? How have you gotten clients evolved over the years? What does that look like? What’s worked, what hasn’t?
Heather: 10:03 Oh my gosh, if I was to think of all the clients that we’ve worked with over 25 years, I don’t even know that I could choose a couple. I feel like obviously some of the more well-known brands that we’ve worked with, especially here in Texas, are 7/11 Greyhound, Regis, Zix, Energy Transfer Company, Celanese, Kimberly Clark, the Fort Worth Symphony, the Dallas Orchestra, BMW Marathon, Big Brothers Big Sisters. I can’t even think of all of ’em. Everyone who I left off the list, I apologize. That is what I love so much about our business, is that because we, again, over the course of 25 years, have got to work in so many different verticals, it obviously positions us very well when a new prospect is introduced to us. We’re like every other agency, right? We’ve got the slide that has all the logos on it for each of those industries, but we’re getting to the point that we can’t keep all of those logos on one page anymore. It’s two pages of logos, which makes me proud. I love learning new businesses and new industries and learning what their challenges are. I think that the thing I’m probably the most proud of is that I feel like we’ve moved to another level, beyond marketing communications, and have a business consultancy arm of our business where we’re coming in and saying, listen, let me understand. You know how all of the functions of your business are tied together, what is happening on the distribution side, obviously on the sales side, on the HR side, loyalty, all these different things, and then figuring out how marketing communications needs to snap on to all of those particular areas. It never gets stole. And I think my team is like that as well. Our team is very curious and sitting across from a new client and learning about their challenges, what makes their business tick, where they’re wanting to go with their goals. It’s fascinating and we love solving problems.
Russel: 11:56 You can do pretty well if you solve problems well.
Heather: 11:58 You had asked and how has it evolved? How we’ve gotten business. I definitely think that at least 80, 85% of our business is referral based. We have clients that have have moved along in their career and we’ve been very blessed that they’ve taken us along with them. Or again, we have a great pool of people who are such advocates for the agency. The other thing, obviously being a certified woman-owned business, we get to respond to RFPs. We get a decent part of that there. I would say the rest of it is networking. It’s out in the community joining different organizations, in particular verticals. I serve on the board of directors for a couple of different nonprofits and a few other members of my team do as well. Our work in that nonprofit sector, obviously introduces us to a lot of different brands as well.
Russel: 12:47 You’ve defied what’s becoming the need to focus on a vertical or at least a specific service line. and I even preach it in my own practice. Did you do that consciously? Somewhere there’s gotta be some secret sauce.
Heather: 12:57 I don’t know that I can say that we did it consciously. It worked out that way. When you saw economic downturn have horrible effects in particular industry sectors, the fact that we had work that went across so many different other industries was our saving grace. Same thing through the pandemic. Unfortunately we lost so many of our clients in the entertainment sector. A lot of our restaurants that we were working with, several of our nonprofits. Thankfully, some of our professional services, our technology, our healthcare, manufacturing companies, those were still very viable during the pandemic. Thankfully they got us through and allowed us to weather the storm.
Russel: 13:37 One of the things you mentioned, and I’ve heard this in a couple other owners I’ve talked to, you described yourself as both very left-brained and right-brained. What are all the different ways you think that’s helped you in your journey?
Heather: 13:45 I think it’s probably been one of my greatest assets as an entrepreneur and I thank my parents so much. My dad is financially minded. He’s always been doing that kind of work, banking, finance and things like that. My mom’s always been marketing communications, I think that I’ve picked up on this more from all of the different brands that I’ve worked with, all the different startups. Being amazing at your craft is very important. Obviously there is nothing that is more fun than coming up with campaigns, getting campaigns in markets, seeing all the results, building that brand awareness, driving conversion. That is like the fun part of marketing. If you do not have business sense, if you do not have processes in place, if you are not constantly watching the bottom line, if you do not know how to truly interpret a PNL and understand gross margin, understand resource allocation, that operational financial side. I think that’s where a lot of entrepreneurs struggle. When we’re working with new clients and I find out, oh my gosh, you’re absolutely brilliant. You can see this genius, and then they’re like, oh yeah, I don’t have a COO. I have a CPA that I send some stuff to once a year. I’m always like, no, I don’t want your business to fail. Those things are so important. I’m very proud of everything that I’ve learned about the back office side, the working in the business part of it, or working on the business I should say. That’s been very helpful and has lended to our success.
Russel: 15:13 Very good words of advice. Sounds like maybe you are naturally left-brained and right-brained, but maybe some folks that aren’t, they need to get a surgery. I don’t know what you need to do to add the other side, but you can’t ignore it is the key takeaway there.
Heather: 15:24 You can’t ignore it. There’s also amazing technology and tools out there as well, and making sure that you have someone in your organization who’s like an integrator that understands those things, that is super detail oriented, that can connect the dots, is a very valuable person to invest in.
Russel: 15:41 Speaking of accomplishments, I know you’ve had a number of recognitions over the years, as I believe a best place to work, some other accolades. Clearly you’ve created a great environment. What do you feel has been successful in building that environment?
Heather: 15:53 Oh my gosh. Of course everyone is going to say you’ve gotta have a great culture. Having a great culture and putting words on a page or putting up some core value posters is where I see so many people stop. It’s almost, I gotta check the box and I can say I do all these things. It’s about truly being the embodiment of that culture and those core values. That starts with me. It always starts with me, my leadership modeling and people seeing the way that I show up, the way that I care about our core values of charitable hearts and being knowledge seekers and making clients raving fans, these are a few of our things and balanced life. I have to live and breathe that. It’s not about showing up and faking it, it has to be your true, authentic self. If it’s not who you are and what you believe, I say don’t even bother publishing it because your team is gonna feel that. Those are some of my favorite things that I hear, when people have been with us for six months. Oh my gosh, Heather, everything you said in the interview about what you guys do for the community and that I’m not working 12 hours a day and that you have a family first environment, this is all true. And I’m like, absolutely it is, or I would’ve never said it. I think that’s how you build a culture, authenticity and knowing yourself well, knowing what’s important to you so you’re the natural embodiment of those values.
Russel: 17:10 Hard to fake being yourself.
Heather: 17:12 Some people are good at it though, haven’t you noticed?
Russel: 17:15 Yeah, for a minute. But it always shows through the second you make a decision that’s counter to what you’ve put out there as the words and the culture, you’re gonna hear it. You’re gonna know it. Obviously, again you’ve had some success in the business. Are you at a point now, is it a lifestyle business for you? I know you recently had a big RV trip. I know you’re doing all kinds of fun things out there. What is your role in the business today? What does that look like for you?
Heather: 17:34 Here’s me being my authentic self. I wish I could say that it was a lifestyle business, but anyone who’s made the decision to start their own company knows, sometimes as soon as you start letting go of the reins, either your brain can’t process that or you need to step back in cause things are getting busier or there’s a personnel change or a new client comes on board. I try to be that embodiment of our work-life balance, but the key is that I’ve surrounded myself with very amazing, talented people that allows me to have a little bit of freedom. If I’m stuck in a business, it’s usually because I can’t let go. I’m so wired that way. But yes, you asked about our RV. Pre pandemic my husband and I decided to sell our home and we built a off-roading expedition vehicle. Her name is Liberty Blue, if you wanna follow my Instagram channel, hashtag Living Free Over Land. We try to travel about every six or eight weeks, go on a three to five week trip. It’s amazing. I love to be in nature. I’m one of those people that loves animals more than I love people. We travel with our dogs and we’re out boondocking and having a good old time while of course still being connected so that I can still work from the road. It’s been a blast. I have loved it. It’s giving me that ability to step away from being attached to my desk, which I was for 22 years, have a little bit more freedom to work from wherever.
Russel: 19:08 Awesome. Congrats on that. I know that took a lot of hard work and effort to get there and didn’t come easy and there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that always doesn’t show up on the backside, but to be in that place, testament to your leadership. What does the future look like for HCK2? When we’re doing the 50th anniversary podcast in 25 years, what does that look like?
Heather: 19:25 If I’m still doing this in 25 more years, then there’s a problem. Then I did something wrong. Gosh, Russel, I don’t know. I wanna keep doing what we’ve been doing best, which is meeting with great companies who are doing innovative things and changing the landscape of our world, hopefully for the better, and helping them with that journey. From that business consultancy, marketing communications consultancy lens, I think another thing that is important to us, and another layer that we’re gonna be adding to the business is that, in our public relations practice, oftentimes asked to help our clients establish their CSR, ESG programs. That’s something that me and several members of my team are passionate about. Making sure that they’re not doing something to check a box, that they’re doing something, showing that every day that they show up in their respective businesses. Helping think through those communication strategies. So think like a more formalized CSR and ESG part of our organization is gonna be something that we layer on top of everything that we do.
Russel: 20:31 We’ll be talking about that in 25 years. We’ll schedule that after the podcast session today. No canceling on that.
Heather: 20:38 You got it.
Russel: 20:38 Last big question for you, Heather. Are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
Heather: 20:42 Of course, you pre-sent me this question and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. My response is, I think that they’re born. I have to think about myself and the other business owners that I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to work alongside, members of different CEO groups and things that I’m in. The one thing that I find that we all have in common, at least probably some of my most close friends and me self-reflecting is that we’re not conformists. We see the way that things have been done historically and are like, pardon my French, why the F would you do that? There’s a better way to do that. I’m not a person that likes to be a follower. That probably comes from also playing sports and being a team captain. I’m all about inspiring and pushing people forward and leading. I don’t know that was ever taught to me. I think it was always in me. That’s my answer. You can tell by the name of my Instagram channel, Living Free Over Land. It’s about being yourself, getting out there. Forget what the norms are, forget what the crowd is doing. Be yourself and forge your own path.
Russel: 21:44 Love it. Can’t argue with a single point of that. Great answer. I need to keep a scoreboard of what people pick. It’s born, made or in the middle, which is usually where most people go. I’m gonna start keeping a scoreboard of that. We’ll track our data over time, as any good marketing company should do. If people wanna know more about HCK2, where can they go?
Heather: 21:59 Our website is HCK2.com. I’m on LinkedIn, and again, if you wanna follow the travels of Liberty Blue and me and my husband as we’re traipsing around the country that’s Living Free Over Land.
Russel: 22:12 That’s the next Instagram channel I’m gonna follow. I’m gonna go right after this. I’m gonna go take a look at that and probably be a little jealous in the process. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today, Heather. It’s great to hear your journey and look forward to not only seeing more of what you’ve accomplished already and what you’re gonna do in the future. Thanks so much again for sharing your story.
Heather: 22:30 I appreciate that, Russel. Thank you so much.
22:35 We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to email@example.com. An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction. Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to 5 million dollars and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.
Heather: 23:11 This is pre pandemic when we had close to 50 people. We love to go out and entertain ourselves at the state fair opening day for Rangers. Different holiday parties and things like that. Because Greyhound was our client, I always got a Greyhound bus. Of course I got a Greyhound bus because there might’ve been one or two alcoholic beverages that were maybe being passed around.
Russel: 23:36 Possibly.
Heather: 23:37 Maybe.
Russel: 23:37 Not certain.
Heather: 23:37 One year, it was a Christmas party. We had been day drinking literally since 10 o’clock in the morning. We went to this nice restaurant. I can’t even remember what it was. It was somewhere in downtown Dallas. Everybody gets off the bus and my whole entire team is standing there waiting for me to get off ’cause I guess they were following me into the restaurant. I am so shit-faced, it’s not even funny. I take one step and I wipe out. All the way down the stairs in front of everybody and I’m like, Merry Christmas. You can’t even imagine the bruising that followed after that. It was pretty rough. It was pretty rough.
Russel: 24:14 Alright, looks like you turned out all right.
Heather: 24:16 How’s that for a story?
Russel: 24:16 That’s a great story. I love it. Falling off a bus in front of your entire team. It shows we can work hard and play hard, all in the same way. As long as we’re being good leaders and there’s nothing wrong with letting loose.