Mark Jones is Chief Creative Officer of Palm Springs-based Brighthaus Marketing. Mark and his business partner, Brian Vatcher, specialize in helping businesses both large and small with critical assessment, strategy development and execution. They specialize in Integrated Community Marketing—a practice of helping the right customers find and fall in love with businesses both online and offline through a mixture of online marketing, social media, public relations, outreach, and strategic partnerships.
Mark lives in Palm Springs where he serves as co-producer of Sparkle: An All-Star Holiday Concert, and as host and co-manager of the Tuesday Nite Social Club, a flash-mob style social mechanism for organizing great events for gay men at various locations throughout Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley area. Kate Buckley recently sat down with Mark to learn more.
Mark, we have so many mutual friends and interests in Palm Springs, that I feel I already know you—of course, being friends on Facebook doesn’t hurt! —but I’m looking forward to learning more about you. For instance, I know you’re originally from Connecticut (and went to college there as well), but then moved to Atlanta before moving on to Southern California. Is it safe to assume you’re not a fan of cold weather?
Mark Jones: I’d say you’re VERY safe on that one, Kate! Growing up in Connecticut I have memories of snow on Halloween as well as on Mother’s Day! That was my main reason for moving to Atlanta after college. It was one of my top three choices, so a friend and I stopped there to check it out for a few days while we were on Spring Break our senior year. t was early March and below zero in Connecticut, but it was sunny and 70 degrees in Atlanta. Considering my other top choices were Seattle and Boston, I was sold on Atlanta instantly!
Tell us more about your time in Atlanta. I understand you owned a small independent real estate firm during your 16 years there. Can you share with us about that venture?
It was a lot of fun and a great learning opportunity. My business partner and I started with three other agents— one who had nearly a year in the business and two who had just become licensed. Within six years we had grown to over 125 agents with four offices and nine staff members, and then sold the company. It was a great learning experience because I had to be the bookkeeper, marketing department, brand manager, salesperson, trainer, recruiter, HR department and broker—pretty much every hat you could wear in a small business. I have a business degree in finance and minored in marketing, but that practical hands-on experience was invaluable, and where I learned the most about consumer behavior.
What brought you out to Southern California (first San Diego, then Palm Springs) after so long on the East Coast and in the South? By the way, I love that, like me [Kate is a native Kentuckian], you still say “Bless your heart”!
Yes, I admit, “Bless your heart” and “y’all” are still part of my daily vocabulary.My family in Connecticut still thinks I sound Southern! I moved to San Diego in 2008 because my partner at the time had lived there before, and we both loved the city, the ocean and the weather in San Diego. Having sold my company in Atlanta, I took a break from working and spent about a year and a half just taking some time for myself and volunteering for nonprofits. Although, for some reason I never felt like it was “home” for me. It was during that time I started visiting Palm Springs and unlike in San Diego, I immediately felt at home here. The community in Palm Springs was so cohesive and people were so nice and so welcoming, I connected with it instantly. I started making friends and connections, and pretty soon I was visiting so often I thought, as I imagine many others do, “Why don’t I just move there?”
And how did you come to start Brighthaus Marketing?
I’m very much an entrepreneur and want to start new events and businesses all the time. One day I was talking with my friend Brian Vatcher, who I had met some months earlier. I shared that I was ready to start my next business but needed some help clarifying what it would be. He offered to put me through a strategy exercise. I knew he was incredibly smart, strategic and thoughtful, so I decided to trust his guidance and see where it led me. That session helped me determine my passion is helping businesses and nonprofits with marketing and growing their business, utilizing events and social media, which were things I enjoyed and had a good grasp on. Before long, I had more business than I could handle, so I asked Brian if he’d want to work together. Brian had previously worked in corporate marketing, from launching cable internet service to launching Quicken Online for Intuit, which also included launching Quicken’s first iPhone app and its initial efforts in this “new world” of social media and online discoverability. We have a great complementary set of skills that helps us be really effective for our clients. We formalized Brighthaus Marketing as a company in March of 2011.
When I interviewed City Councilmember, Paul Lewin, he credited you and Brian with approaching him with the Forever Marilyn concept for Palm Springs and with connecting him with the Sculpture Foundation (the owner of Forever Marilyn). Can you talk about how that idea came to you and how the process unfolded?
That has been a lot of fun! It actually started on Facebook—a friend sent me a Facebook message with a picture of Forever Marilyn in Chicago and said he had learned it was to leave Chicago soon. He asked me if I thought there was anything I could do with it.
I started looking at the press online the sculpture had received (a lot of which was not very positive) and felt it had received a less-than-optimal reception in Chicago mostly because there wasn’t any context for Marilyn. In contrast, Marilyn was said to have been “discovered” here at the Racquet Club, was photographed here by Bernard of Hollywood, owned a home here in Vista Las Palmas, and rumored to have spent time with Joe DiMaggio here at SandAcre Estate. Palm Springs definitely had context for Marilyn!
I contacted Paula Stoeke, the Executive Director at The Sculpture Foundation, and she immediately saw our vision, liked all our ideas and fortunately was already very familiar with Palm Springs. We worked with Paula to put together the project over a few weeks. We ran the idea—complete with costs, timing, a calendar of events (concerts and movies, press opportunities, etc.)—by Councilmember Lewin who also immediately saw the value, and took our presentation information to PS Resorts. Brian and I continued to meet with PS Resorts, potential donors and supporters over the next six weeks, while also helping facilitate negotiating the loan agreement between PS Resorts and The Sculpture Foundation until they had an executed contract.
It’s a very “Palm Springs” story, because so many people from the community played a role in working together to bring the project to life. It’s been a tremendous boost for downtown and has really helped raise Palm Springs’ visibility on the world stage. We couldn’t be happier with the results. We also put together last summer’s highly successful Marilyn Monroe film series, including costs and licensing, and then gave it to PS Resorts so they could implement it. It’s always exciting and gratifying when you can put ideas into action and watch them come to life.
You were heavily involved in philanthropies in San Diego (serving on the board of Rolling Readers—a literacy nonprofit—as Programs Chair, and also as a volunteer for the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, working with the HIV Funding Collaborative, evaluating nonprofits and helping the convener, SDHDF, decide where to allocate appropriated funds). What philanthropies are you involved with in Palm Springs?
Brian and I do a lot with Desert AIDS Project, including the AIDSWalk, Dining Out For Life, and co-producing the annual benefit “Sparkle: An All-Star Holiday Concert” with my friend and co-producer Scott Nevins. We also have worked with, supported or raised money for other organizations including The LGBT Center of the Desert, and The Palm Springs Sun-Up Rotary. We have built into our business model a certain number of hours per month dedicated to nonprofit clients at a discounted rate. Giving back is part of our personal and company culture.
Mark, I have to say I love how social and philanthropic you are! You specialize in social media, social marketing, helping society through philanthropies, AND you’re a co-founder of the Tuesday Nite Social Club. That just sounds like way too much fun. Please tell us more about that and, are you still taking new members?
Absolutely! It’s a unique group, as there’s no membership fee and only one rule: “No Attitude—Be Nice!” It was already in existence when I started co-hosting the group as a way to meet people when I first moved to town. Brian eventually became my co-host and together we grew it from 300 to over 1200 members. It’s a great way for members to explore Palm Springs and try new places. We’ve done events in restaurants, hotels, art galleries, etc. We’ve kept it very informal and if you are on the list you know where to go, sort of like a flash-mob. Always a nice group and many of them are now friends. We typically get an average of 100-125 people at any given event.
You’ve said that you felt like “a salmon swimming upstream” trying to navigate the business and social communities of San Diego. How does that compare with your experiences with the various communities of Palm Springs?
It’s been exactly the opposite here. In fact, before I even moved here I was making connections and people were offering to help make introductions and connect me with people they felt I should meet. I find the community in Palm Springs very open and engaging, and most of all cohesive. I love visiting San Diego, but Palm Springs is definitely my home.
May I be nosy for a second and ask if you’re, by any chance, single? I’m sure there’ll be many eligible bachelors reading this who—particular after seeing your photos and reading about your accomplishments—would like to know the answer to this question! (I’ve already set up two couples over the past year who are now headed for the altar, and I’d love to add a third to my Cupid’s quiver.)
You are too funny! Yes, I’m single. My last partner and I were together for seven years, so I decided to take some time off from dating and relationships to focus on work and on myself, and get into a good space where I’d have something to offer in a relationship, including time! I think I’m finally at that point, and am looking forward to getting back into the dating world—but slowly!
You’ve called Palm Springs “the most cosmopolitan village on Earth.” Why do you feel this is so?
It seems to me that Palm Springs has this great mix of people from all parts of the world, and really successful people. I have friends that have been Presidents or CEOs of major corporations, university professors, successful politicians, artists and professionals from the film, television and music industries, all with incredible life experiences and amazing stories. The one thing they all have in common is they CHOSE to live in Palm Springs. They moved here not to escape something, but to have a great quality of life and to enjoy the natural beauty of the desert and be inspired by that. And they don’t have egos around their success. One of my friends here, who is Belgian, says in his Belgian-French accent “Darling, nobody cares who you USED to be.” I love that sentiment. It’s all about putting ego aside, living in the present moment and enjoying life. And that’s, at least for me, what I have found in Palm Springs. I’m fortunate to have met some of my very best friends living here.
Mark Jones, how do you spend your free time in Palm Springs? A perfect weekend, a cerulean pool?
You know, our work life is SO social that a perfect weekend usually involves napping, catching up on books or movies, or doing something low-key like hiking or lounging around with one or two good friends, and maybe dinner with a nice bottle of wine. For me, free time is about re-charging my batteries and finding balance in my life, something I’m continually working to improve!