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Hinton’s Journey to MPG Leads From Secretary to Sears Account

Oct 24, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Kaki Hinton is proud to tell the story about how she got into the advertising business.
Ms. Hinton, formerly with Johnson & Johnson, joined MPG earlier this month as executive VP and managing director on the Sears Holdings account. She was a sociology major at Miami of Ohio who planned to join the Peace Corps. She was assigned to go to Niger, but found that she couldn’t afford to live on what the post paid.
So she went back to Boston, and her grandfather, a successful businessman, urged her to go to the Katherine Gibbs school, whose eight-week course accepted only college graduates. She learned secretarial skill, such as typing and shorthand, and got a job as a media secretary at ad agency Hill, Holliday. Her boss there had been an associate media director at J. Walter Thompson in New York before moving to Boston.
“He had a lot of faith in me and kept expanding the scope of my responsibilities beyond secretarial duties,” Ms. Hinton said. “The next thing you know, I was a media planner and I was a buyer, and then I came down to New York and started at Ted Bates.”
Ms. Hinton has told the story frequently. She would tell that story to new staffers at Pfizer, where she was a member of the U.S. leadership team.
“It’s kind of unique because it doesn’t happen in this day and age,” she said. “Now just to get into marketing at a company like a Johnson & Johnson or a Pfizer or a Procter & Gamble, nine times out of 10 you have to have an MBA.”
At Pfizer, Ms. Hinton started the Pfizer New Jersey Women’s Network to mentor women in the organization. Mentors were important in helping her advance in her career, so she wants to make sure other women get the same invaluable assistance.
In addition to Pfizer, Ms. Hinton also held senior posts at Warner-Lambert and Johnson & Johnson. She thinks that client-side experience will help her in her new job because she has seen today’s media and marketing challenges from both sides.
“I think it keeps both of us up late at night, to tell you the truth,” she said. “How do you come up with the next killer-app idea that is not only innovative, but provides a positive return, gives you a positive sales bump and sets you apart from your competition?”
Ms. Hinton said she is a big believer in experimenting with outside-the-box ideas.
“My feeling is if you’ve done something different and it didn’t work, you didn’t fail. You learned something, and you’ve learned something valuable,” she said.
At Warner-Lambert, she urged the company to become a charter sponsor of Chris Whittle’s plan to create special magazines for doctors’ waiting rooms. The magazines were fine, but they didn’t move the sales needle, she said.
“I think people’s mindset when they’re in the doctor’s office is not as relaxed as it could be, not like when you’re at home watching ‘Desperate Housewives,’” she said.
More recently, Johnson & Johnson was a charter advertiser in Project Apollo, the Arbitron-Nielsen joint venture designed to link media exposure to in-home purchases.
“The idea was phenomenal,” she said. But at the time she left J&J, “the learnings were not as robust early on as we would have liked.”
Ms. Hinton is the second oldest in a family of eight. She grew up mostly in Boston, but also spent several years in Evanston, Ill., near Chicago, where Sears is based and where she’ll be spending time every week. Kaki, which rhymes with shaky, was her grandfather’s mother’s nickname, and her mother wanted to keep it in the family.
“I wasn’t christened Kaki,” she said. “I was christened Kathryn, but I’ve always gone by Kaki. If anyone saw Kathryn Hinton, they’d say, ‘Who is that?’”
Ms. Hinton and her husband have two children of whom she’s very proud. Son Cory, 18, is a freshman at Miami of Ohio, his parents’ alma mater. He’s on the track and field team, throwing the javelin. Daughter Alexandra is 15 and a competitive dancer who was one of 55 girls named a national junior champion. She danced in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York as part of that competition and appeared in the closing gala event with dancers from Broadway shows.
In her spare time, Ms. Hinton is an avid skier and one-time runner who loves to exercise, although her new job will pose a challenge to “find time in the day to continue that regimen.”
Who Knew: Ms. Hinton’s husband is a microbiologist. “He doesn’t look like one–he’s very handsome,” Ms. Hinton said. He has worked for Exxon Mobile for 25 years and was the lead scientist on the Valdez oil spill in Alaska. That was in 1989, the same year their son was born. “He lived up there in a trailer. He flew back for Cory’s birth [in April], and than had to go back to Valdez and didn’t come back till after Labor Day,” she said.

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