Meet Kristen Lawrence of Stilts in Richardson

By: Voyage Dallas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristen Lawrence.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kristen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a small town right outside of Austin, TX from a family of all right brains. My mom was a math teacher and tax accountant, my dad, and brother are both mechanical engineers, and even my identical twin sister graduated with a computer science degree and is the Engineering Program Manager for Apple after working 12 years for Microsoft. I bucked the family trend and focused on the creative side by graduating cum laude from the University of North Texas with a BFA in Communication Design and a minor in Music.

After graduating, I spent almost 10 years in and out of ad agencies in Dallas working with all types of accounts from small startups to large F500 companies including Slurpee, Arnold Bread, AT&T, Tenet Healthcare, Exxon, and Alliance Data. The last part of my “agency life” was spent as the creative lead for all of B2B & B2C marketing for Omni Hotels & Resorts.

Up to this point, what felt like a success for me (and for agencies, in general) was winning advertising and design awards, presenting mind-blowing creative to happy clients, and simply being the best AD/Designer/Creative Director I could be. Then, enter the rise of Marketing Automation. This was when I started to realize that there was something missing. The lack of concern for gathering and understanding the data and metrics for what specific campaign efforts actually produced was disheartening. The priority seems to be on how the creative looked over how the creative performed. No one was willing to answer the question: did the creative generate leads that turned into sales? This bothered me.

Driven to find a place that was more future-focused and totally different, I jumped feet-first into the deep end and joined a tech startup as their Marketing & Creative Director. Boy, did I learn trial by fire! I built a marketing team from scratch where I managed five people. I hired and fired 4+ agencies/partners to help initiatives. I cut my teeth on the front lines of marketing learning how to build marketing programs, use marketing automation and successful lead generation. Most importantly, I learned how important it is to use data to measure efforts and make creative decisions. It was hard work, but my efforts helped grow the company 250% year over year.

I have always dreamed of owning my own small agency full-time. During my stint at the tech startup, I felt that the experience I gained was so unique to what most agencies know. That newfound knowledge, along with the birth of my son, assured me that the timing was right to jump out on my own. As of today, I’ve been running Stilts full-time for nearly three years, and have loved every minute of it.

Has it been a smooth road?
Not at all—as I’m assuming most entrepreneurs (and most people in general) can attest to. But adversity is a great tool of growth – as someone once said, “Friction creates art.” Looking back over the course of my career, I’ve learned how to manage difficult leaders, environments that lacked support, and how to respond to direct contradictions for my plans. When I went to start Stilts, I had a boss directly tell me he didn’t think I would make it on my own. And as cliché as it may sound, working in more traditional industries (read: old school owners who discredit a woman’s value) as a woman in a position of authority has been an uphill battle. However, these situations showed me how to work with tough personalities and politics, and how to navigate murky situations. Many times I had to use strong arguments backed by data to stand my ground – learning that my right brain is just as valuable as my left.

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a company? What sets you apart from others?
Stilts’ mantra is that we blend creativity with data science for data-driven growth. We ask the question: what is a well-planned strategy or good design without results, and even more, how do we optimize the initial plan/design to get better results? Stilts is formed from my previous experience as a creative director and marketing director – a combo of right brain and left brain – where we value data-driven decisions as much as the creative vision. Always striving to be better and failing is ok, we pursue the best solutions and methods of getting there. At Stilts, there is no such thing as the one-and-only-right strategy – there is only a better one over another depending on the goal. The point is to first try, then learn, and to always have mechanisms in place to measure and improve.

We handle the execution of the marketing plan to work around what the client needs – without any of the overhead of a traditional agency. We use a network of hand-picked specialists to help facilitate the job, which helps get things done and reduce the risk for the client if we are testing a new channel (like Facebook ads or Google PPC). Time and again, I’ve seen good marketing consultants come up with a plan, to only then throw the keys to the company to figure out how to execute. The war is sometimes won and lost on this front, but usually lost when companies aren’t adequately prepared to execute, or a new learning from the execution needs to re-inform the strategy. Stilts studies our client’s specific needs build a plan based upon test results, then helps pour on the gas of what truly works to ensure the client receives the best results.

We love to work with companies who have the opportunity to grow but don’t know their next move or are at an inflection point with the direction. Our sweet spot is partnering with small- to medium-sized companies. We have a soft spot for tech companies but have experience in almost all industries.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think Richardson and Dallas, in general, is a great place to start a business – financially, from an opportunity standpoint and especially community-wise. Housing is affordable, the job market is growing, and it’s also centrally located, so for our out of state clients most of the country is accessible with a quick plane ride. Most importantly, the people here are what makes the difference – I’ve been lucky enough to find a great network of people professionally and personally that help make Dallas home.

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