25th Hour Communications is a proud women-led company. In honor of Women’s History Month, 25th Hour is celebrating its women leaders and profiling them throughout the month.
Jennifer Aries, the president and founder of 25th Hour Communications Inc., never saw herself as an entrepreneur. She can relate a whole lot more to the students at the community colleges that her company serves than she could to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.
More than three decades have passed since she started at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), but she thinks about that time in her life often to help guide her business decisions. Then, she was a 25-year-old single mother of two young boys and just a high school diploma. She and her boys were living with her parents while Aries worked at a radio station, but they told her they could not afford to pay her the additional $100 per month she needed in order to afford her own apartment with her children. Her father suggested she go on welfare and go back to school.
She was resistant to the idea, but with few options to provide a better life for herself and her children, Aries swallowed her pride and began accepting government assistance and enrolled at SRJC. That decision would change the rest of her life. “My experience remains stitched into the fabric of my soul. It’s truly who I am,” Aries said.
Her first paper she turned in as a student at SRJC was well received, but her professor suggested that she use typing paper, instead of college-ruled paper.
“The support I got at SRJC, nobody laughed at me, nobody thought I had dumb questions — they respected every single question I asked. When I needed help, there was always someone to help me,” she said. “SRJC helped me in a way where I was a student, but I was still an adult with life experience. Everything was explained to me in an adult manner.”
“My goal every single day is that I can indirectly help change somebody’s life who was just like me. I wake up every day to do that.”
At the age of 27, she received her associate degree from SRJC. She invited her the three social workers that had been assigned to her during her time on government assistance to her small graduation celebration. When she asked how to pay back the government assistance, she was told “it doesn’t work like that.” So she found a way. She went to work.
Her career began at the California Association of Community Colleges, now known as the Community College League of California (CCLC), where she served as the director of public information services. Since then, she has dedicated her career to helping institutions of higher education, particularly community colleges, with public relations, marketing, branding and more. After working at CCLC, then the Yosemite Community College District, and the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, Aries moved across the country with her husband, Paul, to be closer to his aging parents. With that move, Aries looked for work, but couldn’t find the job that felt like the right fit.
One night, over a pitcher of margaritas, Aries’ daughter Melissa Magerer, convinced her mother that she should start her own marketing agency that specializes in the community college market. She was terrified, but with the support of her family, Aries formed 25th Hour Communications.
Ten years and more than 150 clients later, 25th Hour Communications is far from its early days. The powerhouse agency has more than 15 full-time employees and has expanded its services beyond traditional marketing agency offerings into web development, media buying, media monitoring and full branding operations, and support staffing. She has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I want us to continue to be a company that is not afraid to do something different and go in a different direction. We’re in a crowded marketplace and I know our competitors and they’re good. We’re better,” she said. “In terms of growth, I’d really like to see us grow to a staff of about 25. I’d like to see us enter into a few different markets. We’re in the four-year market now, which I’m really excited about, but I’d also like to see us enter the K-12 market because then we would understand and support the whole education continuum.”
She is approaching the age where many start thinking about retirement, yet Aries is busier than ever. She is currently working on her master of arts degree in Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama, and has recently hired on new employees to expand 25th Hour’s service offerings. Along with her busy work and school schedule, she is a dedicated wife to her husband Paul, a mother to her four adult children and grandmother to her seven grandchildren. Aries’ seemingly endless source of energy is a common refrain around 25th Hour, but it is her care for her family and employees (#BestTeamEver) that, she said, motivates her every day.
“I do what I do because I’m afraid of failing and I need to take of our team,” she said. “I wake up every morning and I know that people are depending on us for paychecks. I carry that with me 24/7. I need to take care of our team, they are incredible people doing incredible things for other incredible people and I just need to make sure that they’re taken care of.”
Vice President of Marketing and Communications Crystal Berry said in the thirteen years she has known Aries, her dedication to her family, friends and employees has never faltered.
“Jennifer is a fearless leader with a heart the size of Texas. She will never let an opportunity go by that would benefit a client, a friend, or a colleague,” Berry said. “Jennifer holds the bar very high for each and every team member and expects nothing short of hard work and integrity and will roll up her sleeves to help get the job done. We are so fortunate to have her leading the charge to fulfill our mission every day.”
25th Hour Communications’ ascent from small start-up to one of the leading agencies in community college marketing was far from smooth, however. Aries said that there were many times, especially in the agency’s early days, that she was worried if the company was going to make it.
Aries credits much of the company’s success to her business partner, Chief Executive Officer Trish Lamantia and Berry.
“Since Trish and I teamed up, it has just taken off like a rocket. Then Crystal joined and it’s just been so fun and wild and unbelievable,” said Aries. “The three of us together, we’re unstoppable.”
She said she hopes her story encourages other women who are considering becoming entrepreneurs to take the leap.
“Look in your heart. Determine what it is you want to do,” Aries said. “Make a list of who you know that you could introduce your business to or that you could talk to about it. And of those people who you know, who are the influencers who could open other doors for you. And then just have a margarita and go. Don’t overthink it — just go.”
Check out our next installment in this series featuring our Chief Executive Officer Trish Lamantia, dropping on March 18.