’cause Digital Marketing helps businesses hone their purpose

Jane Harrell’s Instagram bio reads: “marketing exec who jumped off the corporate ladder to grow world-changing businesses, foster outstanding lives and rescue animals.” Harrell spent over a decade leading marketing and consumer-based strategy for global pet brands including Petfinder, IDEXX and Purina. A New York City native, Harrell was recruited to Maine to be the head of consumer communications for IDEXX in 2013. Three years later, in March 2016, she founded ’cause Digital Marketing, a marketing agency geared toward pet-based businesses.

Harrell lives and works from her new home in Biddeford (she recently moved from Portland), where she resides with her fiance and a menagerie of pets: two dogs, three cats and a turtle. “I never could have pursued this dream without coming to Maine,” she says. “I love it here and am proud to be an entrepreneur bringing money, resources and jobs to our community.”

Jane Harrell founded ’cause Digital Marketing in 2016 to help pet- and cause-based businesses with marketing solutions. Photo by Derek Guimond

She’s always felt connected to animals. As a child growing up in Manhattan, she volunteered with rescue groups and fostered animals. While a student at Emerson College in Boston, she developed her own interdisciplinary major combining marketing and writing for social causes and pursued a work-study grant to work with a large local animal shelter. It was there she realized that pets are a common denominator for 68 percent of American households. “There have been many times when I find that, among a group of people, their love of animals is their only commonality. What’s amazing is they’ll put aside their differences so they can make a difference for the animals they love,” Harrell says.

Taking the initial leap from the corporate world to running her own self-funded business was “terrifying,” she says, but also extremely rewarding. “I’m not someone who jumps without knowing where I’m going to land. This leap was scary, but I’ve never regretted it or looked back.” As soon as she sent notice to her contacts explaining what she was planning to do, she started getting calls. Her biggest challenge so far is accelerated growth. She hit her two-year financial goals in her first nine months of operation, and ’cause became a quarter-of-a-million-dollar business in less than two years. “Last fall I had clients waiting six months to work with us, and that’s after turning projects that didn’t fit our team away fairly regularly.”

Harrell’s mantra is helping her clients hone their focus and understand “you don’t need to be everywhere and do everything. In fact, it works better if you’re not.” A self-described “data geek,” Harrell works with companies to identify their audience and make it easy and cost-effective to reach them. She also helps connect larger businesses with influencers and community partners who can “be brand evangelists” and help grow a business. In the last 12 years, Harrell’s helped leaders like Petfinder, IDEXX, The Humane Society of the United States and the American Animal Hospital Association provide tools for local animal businesses to connect more effectively with pet owners.

Harrell is able to work from just about anywhere, including her home in Biddeford, where she resides with her fiance and two dogs, three cats and a turtle. (Although this isn’t her dog. This is Henry, a dog of a friend.) Photo by Derek Guimond

One of Harrell’s talents is being able to recognize the gaps within systems, which in the pet industry includes reaching out to diverse communities. “One of the fastest growing pet owner populations in the U.S. is the Hispanic population,” Harrell says. “I have some clients who are specifically targeting the Spanish-speaking population because they’ve historically been ignored from a market standpoint.” One of Harrell’s clients, Global United Foundation, is a nonprofit that works internationally to connect pet education and resources to communities in need. Harrell helped them create their marketing plan and expand their Spanish-language outreach online to reach broader audiences.

She also found the pet industry lacks marketing data, which is one of her areas of expertise. As an $86 billion industry, the pet business is poised for opportunity. “I think a lot of businesses don’t realize what a big industry the pet space is. We’re specifically looking at the pet space to see what’s working and not working, what are the industry markers and how we as an industry can help one another. ” For example, Harrell has worked with housing-market search engines to appeal more to pet owners. “One of the biggest reasons why pets are relinquished to shelters is because of lack of pet-friendly housing. Yet, most of the big housing search engines have weak pet-friendly searches.”

By focusing on what matters most to her clients, Harrell helps them become savvy digital marketers and grow their businesses. “We’re able to help them focus, make important decisions and understand what to hand off, what to move forward with and what to spend.” She takes pride in leading a team of independent contractors, matching their strengths with her clients’ projects. She currently has 16 independent contractors who help her with various aspects of the business, including SEO, editorial, PR, website development, user interface design and branding. “I’ve been lucky to develop amazing partnerships with some of the best digital specialists in the space. One thing I ask our team members frequently is, ‘what do you want to work on?’ Then I pair them with the client who has that need. This keeps them motivated and leads to better results.”

Harrell also attributes her success to her mentor at Coastal Enterprises Inc. in Brunswick, Sarah Guerette, who helped her understand how to run a startup, including understanding cash flow and a company’s profit potential versus overhead expenses. “I’d run strategy and budgets for parts of huge corporations, but I wasn’t trained specifically for running a small business,” she says. “CEI offers free support for Maine women-owned startups, and Sarah has helped me connect with small business owners and agencies who aren’t in a competitive space but who are similar to mine, to help me work through business challenges that come up.”

With a decade of experience in marketing and consumer-based strategy for global pet brands, Harrell says taking the leap to start her own business was terrifying—but also extremely rewarding. Photo by Derek Guimond

In her third year of operation, Harrell is focusing on scaling up her business and adding full-time employees.  “In 10 years, I want to change the world through our client’s success. I want to see fewer pets leave homes, lower euthanasia rates at shelters and help pets and people live better lives together.” Harrell also hopes to help her clients find balance to help them be happier and more sustainable in the long run because she says, “I’ve seen far too many really strong people burn out, and I’ve faced it multiple times myself.” Harrell explains that U.S. veterinarians have a high rate of suicide (1 in 6 have considered it, according to a 2014 CDC survey), and many animal businesses fail because they don’t know how to successfully monetize. She’s hoping her work will help to make an impact and help her clients be more connected to “the need to do well—financially and emotionally—to keep doing good in the world.”

Harrell is leading by example in terms of her own happiness quotient. “When I started ’cause, I wanted to find a new way of working. I’m 35 and asked myself, ‘what’s going to keep me in this space for the next 25-30 years?’ I realized there were some lifestyle pieces that needed to be in place.” One major benefit to running her own business has been working from home (she’s 10 minutes from the beach) and choosing what work she wants to pursue and when to take time off. During her first six months in operation, Harrell’s father was ill and she moved to New York to be with him for two months while he recovered. “Having the freedom and ability to take care of my family was critical, but it didn’t hurt the business or our clients. In fact, we excelled.”

Harrell has found Maine to be a welcoming home base for her new venture and says it’s “an amazing space for startups, especially startups that want to do things a little differently. There’s a magic moment here right now and I’d like to think of ‘cause as one of those successes.”

Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.