Alumni Father and Daughter Duo Bond Over Shared School and Profession
Kaitlin Shayotovich (’18) resisted following in her father’s career footsteps, but it seemed like every time she took a step forward, she was doing just that. Like him, she chose a major from the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, and like him, she now works at an advertising agency. As for her father, Eric Jackson (‘90), he had an inkling his daughter would enjoy the world of advertising agencies, but his parental intuition told him to sit back and refrain from meddling.
“I certainly didn’t want her to do something that I was doing, just because I had done it. When she told me she wanted to be a dentist, I thought, “Great! If that’s what you want to do, do it.” I kind of knew it wasn’t going to work out, though, because I know her personality and that wouldn’t be her strength. So, I let her go her own path,” he said.
Now that Shayotovich, who majored in public relations, is working full-time at a small boutique advertising agency, she looks back and chuckles at her futile resistance. These days, it is not unusual for her to call her father up and get his advice on how to handle a client or project, and both father and daughter are enjoying this new dynamic they have with each other.
“He loves it. He likes telling everyone that he was right, that I was always the creative little kid. I think he enjoys it because we have so much in common, even more now than we did before,” she said. “He’ll call me, and we get to talk about work, and I know everything he’s talking about; as a child, I didn’t care about what he was doing with clients, but now, it’s more for us to have in common and bond over.”
A Father’s Entrepreneurial Endeavors
Jackson majored in advertising and currently is the owner of Element47, a full-service agency that provides web design and development, marketing, branding, and strategy. But he didn’t go right into advertising out of college, and in this regard, he and Shayotovich’s journeys diverge.
It wasn’t that Jackson didn’t want to work in advertising, but rather that the job market was sparse when he graduated. The first Gulf War started just days before he graduated in the summer of 1990, and prospects were slim. First, he tried working in insurance in Knoxville, then he moved back to Gallatin, Tenn., where he started selling pagers. Jackson noted that some people born after a certain time may not know a pager is a pre-cellphone communication device that could alert someone that they needed to call a number back.
It was during one of his door-to-door sales visits that he stumbled into a printshop and spotted a Macintosh computer and asked the owner if they used that. The conversation quickly turned to offering Jackson a part-time job doing typesetting, which led to a career in electronic pre-press and color print production.
At some point, owner of the Hendersonville Free Press and Jackson’s friend, Fell Merwin, asked Jackson if he’d ever considered owning his own business. He hadn’t, but that conversation sparked an entrepreneurial passion in Jackson he didn’t know he had. He set up office in the independent newspaper’s building and began networking to find them print production jobs. They would print out designs in four-color process films and also do designing for some clients.
As many technology-based industries do, the tides were changing and digital printing entered the game. If there’s anything that Jackson has a knack for, it’s for reading trends, so he quickly jumped on board.
“Deforrest Jackson was one of my favorite professors when I was at UT, and I was doing a practicum class he was teaching. He was really excited about what the next topic was and he was building it up and saying, ‘This idea will change the advertising world and you’ll absolutely be using this going forward.” And then he says, ‘It’s direct mail.’ So, we thought, OK, not knowing that the internet was on the horizon—but, what that taught me is that there’s always going to be something new. If you’re not learning what the new thing is and giving it some kind of credence and understanding where it fits in the mix, you’ll be left behind,” he said.
That’s why, when the internet was becoming more ubiquitous, Jackson parted ways with printing and started his second business, Smoking Dog Interactive—a website development and building company.
Smoking Dog Interactive was successful enough that Jackson sold it to Kraft CPAs, which merged the two companies to become Kraft Technology Group. For a brief moment, Jackson became an employee again at that business, but he’d had a taste of the autonomy that being a leader provided, and he missed it. So, he left that job and set off to start yet another new venture with a fellow Kraft Technology Group employee, Mike Miller.
This new business, Keystone Business Solutions, initially was created to build title and escrow business software, but Jackson quickly pivoted back to developing websites and doing IT consulting. Then, they brought on staff and transformed it into a full-service marketing agency. In total, Keystone operated for 16 years under that partnership, before Jackson left in 2019 and took his clients with him to create Element47.
In another parallel to his daughter, Jackson actually never wanted to do agency work. That was clear to him when he was taking a campaigns course from Michael Stankey, who decided that semester the students would actually create a faux advertising agency and advertise the agency for their campaign project.
“I thought, ‘Oh great, I don’t want to be in the agency world, but I got to do it.’ I guess that was the universe’s way of playing a little joke on me, that you will do this, and it was a bit of foreshadowing,” he said.
In leading his own advertising agency, Jackson has enjoyed developing core values and a clear mission for his business, and he finds a lot of value in getting the right fit when it comes to hiring employees. He enjoys leadership and connecting people together to create fruitful collaboration—the latter of which is inspiring his next entrepreneurial idea, a networking business.
While he’s successfully started multiple businesses and kept ahead of the trends, there’s always been a throughline in his work: building relationships. He credits his time at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with giving him that core soft skill.
“Looking back at the totality of my experience at Tennessee, it really prepared me in a variety of ways for specifically what I would do. My day-to-day is about building relationships and looking at the future and leading the team and enabling my team to do the best possible job,” he said. “The whole University of Tennessee experience turned me into a different person, for the better. I think more than anything, I learned how to effectively work with other people to get things done.”
Whether it was his time serving as a student orientation assistant and a resident assistant, or all of the group projects he did in his advertising courses, Jackson says they made him understand the importance of collaborating, time management, and good communication—all of which he uses daily.
As for his daughter’s blooming career in advertising, Jackson couldn’t be prouder. While he didn’t meddle in her academics, he did teach her the power of human connection and communication early on in her UT journey.
Starting an Advertising Adventure
Shayotovich had two schools in mind when she started applying: the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the University of Mississippi. She was leaning towards Ole Miss, especially because she hadn’t heard a peep from UT since applying but Mississippi had accepted her within 24 hours. It was puzzling the family, but Jackson used those networking connections he had to get to the bottom of it.
“Patrick Powell, who was the development director at the College of Communication and Information at the time, had been in touch with me and the first thing he asked me was ‘How’s Kaitlin?’ and I said, ‘Not good, I think she’s going to Ole Miss,’ and he had this shocked look on his face and he asked me what was up and I told him she hadn’t been admitted yet and we didn’t know why,” Jackson recounted.
It turned out there was a process and Shayotovich was still stuck in the middle of it. Powell helped arrange for the father and daughter to come to the Knoxville campus and take a tour geared towards her interests. He also arranged for Jackson to speak in Tombras School Director Beth Foster’s class.
That class was a turning point for Shayotovich—with some humorous self-deprecation, Jackson admitted he had thought for years his daughter had been inspired to switch her sights to UT because of his speaking, but that wasn’t it at all.
“I was in Dr. Foster’s classroom and my dad said at the end of his talk, ‘Oh Kaitlin is thinking about going to Ole Miss.’ and I’m not kidding, I had ten students come up to me and say, ‘You need to come here.’ I literally got in the car and cried afterwards because it was very moving. It felt like home. And when we visited Ole Miss, it wasn’t that same feeling,” she said.
So, she ended up following her father for that first step and went to UT—a choice she said she’s very glad she made. As for that next step, Shayotovich made the switch from pre-dental to a public relations major after a disastrous chemistry class early on in her time at UT. She quickly realized it was a much better fit and started racking up as much experience as she could through internships, participating in UT’s Social Media Week, and joining the Tombras School’s PRSSA chapter.
“Through PRSSA, we had a lot of people come and talk and that’s where I was given a lot of opportunities. It was also great that I could speak freely with professors and get advice from them, and they also helped a lot in getting internships,” she said. “It was things like that that gave me the confidence to find opportunities and get hands-on experience on campus. I think the foundation I was given in my classes along with the real-world experience I got in those internships helped. I was given the tools and had to have the confidence to go find jobs.”
Shayotovich says all of the courses she took also fed her creativity and helped her become a better writer and designer, and really set her up for success in the job market. But, like her father, she ran into a problem when she began job hunting after graduation that was totally out of her control: she had just moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, for her husband’s job and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. The well of jobs she could apply to in her new city was fairly dry.
That’s when Jackson used some of his networking know-how to call Samantha Pyle, who owns Green Apple Strategy, and connect her with his daughter. Pyle agreed to bring Shayotovich on as a remote employee, and she worked first as a freelancer doing digital and social media work, and then transitioned into a full-time role six months later. Today, she is a content marketing strategist with the agency, and she’s enjoying the role immensely. She said it didn’t hurt that her dad’s career has given her bonus information about working at an advertising agency that she otherwise wouldn’t have.
“I feel like I entered the workforce with a little more context about how everything is ran. I really understand the decisions my boss is making and why we can’t push our clients on certain things,” she said. “I’ve learned the hard way that clients trust you, but their opinion still comes first. So, I ask my dad how to present my ideas in the best way, and I think learning from him has helped.”
While their jobs have helped the father-daughter duo to bond more in the past few years, there’s one established bond that will always keep them going: Vol football. They’ve bought season tickets for the past two years, and Knoxville has become a halfway point between Nashville and Charlotte for the pair to meet up and celebrate their alma mater’s team.
Beyond athletics, Shayotovich said she’s discovered even more benefits to being a Vol For Life. Everywhere she goes, there seems to be other UT alumni ready to help her out.
“When I was there, everyone was so helpful, and now even in my career, if you meet someone who went to Tennessee, they want to help you. And I still feel like that. It’s just the Tennessee way, everyone is so warm and kind and willing to help,” she said. “Definitely the Volunteer spirit is everywhere.”