Marketing is about a lot of things—creativity, sure, but it’s also having the ability to process data and to integrate that data into assets without stepping on the creative. It’s about having a strong point of view and being able to argue for it without alienating others. And these days, when everything is about acquisition marketing, it’s about being accountable for both decisions and results.
All of that is why it increasingly makes sense that top entertainment marketers are finding themselves in top jobs. Three of those—Kelly Campbell, president, Hulu; Alison Hoffman, president, domestic networks, Starz; and Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks—discussed their journeys to the top of their respective companies in a Promax virtual session on Thursday moderated by Variety Business Editor Cynthia Littleton.
Asked why she thinks that is. Monroe said: “As a marketer you are trained to always put the consumer first. In our case, it’s the viewer first. That’s a mindset that is invaluable in every business, not just in our business. The questions that marketers are always thinking about and pondering lead to smart decision-making in this business. Marketing is an Inherently creative process so you learn early in your career how to creatively problem solve, and those are universal skills, particularly when you are leading a business.”
Monroe was named president of Nat Geo Global TV Networks in November 2018 after having served as CEO from May 2014 and CMO from 2011. Prior to that, she was executive vice president of consumer marketing and digital platforms at HBO from 2008-2011. That’s why she’s intimately familiar with how marketers interact with all aspects of the business.
“[T]hat provides you with a holistic view of the business. That’s a purview that is useful as you move up,” she said.
Hoffman agreed. “I think that marketing is a good reflection of the entertainment industry in that you are blending art and science,” she said. “The other thing I think marketers have, and that I always look for, is a strong point of view. Stylistically, that can set you up for an executive position.”
One thing that marketers learn—and especially marketers who have come up through the acquisition marketing side—is to be accountable for their work.
“I always remained very clear with people as to what I was accountable for,” said Campbell, who spent 12 years at Google before coming to Hulu as chief marketing officer in August 2017. She was named president of Hulu in February 2020, just before the pandemic fully kicked into gear and her boss, Kevin Mayer, departed to run TikTok. (Mayer just resigned from overseeing the U.S. arm of the company, which is in the process of being sold.)
“When I talk to marketers who are facing [the challenge of accountability], I encourage them to go back to their leaders and be incredibly crisp on what the metrics are for which they are accountable,” she said.
When it comes to leading teams of their own, each of the women said it’s first important to understand what it is the teams you lead do. Campbell left her global marketing leadership job at Google after she realized she herself had never done any actual marketing herself. She was given advice from her mentor to take a career sidestep, and although it may have seemed like “career suicide” at the time, she said, it prepared her to be CMO, and then move to president.
“It’s important as a leader to not just have a leadership role but to also have experience in the function in which you are growing and taking on more leadership,” she said.
“You are a player-coach and you are in there with your team and that happens organically,” said Hoffman, who came to Starz from AMC in 2012 and was promoted to CMO in 2016. She was named president, domestic networks in April.
“One of the big pieces I had to learn along the way was giving feedback,” Hoffman said. “I’ve learned how much people value it when you are really straightforward and timely with your feedback. As I was becoming a leader, I didn’t do that quickly enough, I didn’t intervene quickly enough. When I started to do that, problems resolved more quickly and people were happier. I had to learn to get in there.”
When hiring, all three said they look for people who are highly collaborative with a strong point of view, a willingness to be flexible and excitement about the job itself, not just the opportunity to work in entertainment.
“I am attracted to growth-oriented opportunities and with growth comes a fast pace and lots of change,” said Campbell. “Now change is happening faster and earlier than expected. Every part of the business model is being challenged and tested. It’s important that people are team players, that they are open and curious.”
For Monroe, hiring is about creating a sort of brain trust. “When I think about hiring people to work directly for me or as part of my leadership team, my best recipe for success is to surround myself with people who are smarter, more creative and more capable than I am and who are willing to tell me the truth. I am looking for people who are passionate, curious, driven, people who have a strong point of view but also a real collaborative spirit. Those things can co-exist.”
What she doesn’t look for is someone who ego-driven. “There is just no time for that,” she said.
“It’s all about the work,” Hoffman agreed. “It’s about how I can contribute to the business versus me me me.”
And for Hoffman, it’s also about finding people who are willing to defend their point of view.
“I’m looking for critical thinkers who are willing to engage in that kind of debate without it getting personal or involving their ego,” she said. “We love a debate at Starz and no one walks away feeling like I won, you lost. That’s part of our process now.”
All three also have had to navigate their leadership roles during this time of national crisis, including the pandemic and its economic fall out and the protests against systemic racism and discrimination. And two of the three—Campbell and Hoffman—were promoted before and during the pandemic.
“Covid, for me, was week two on the job as president,” said Campbell. “We paused our marketing and our campaigns, our priority was on our people. We really took a beat and took some time to listen. We had to find a way to be in tune with our consumers and people’s emotions but still keep it light enough.”
When George Floyd was slain by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day, Hulu had to pivot again and this time there wasn’t time to take a beat. “Emotions were raw and what was happening was tragic and obvious,” Campbell said. “We needed to react more quickly. We just had to be there and be present as a brand.”
All three are now looking at their organizations and considering how they can take and institute lasting action.
“We are waging a war on multiple fronts,” said Monroe. “I had been more focused on increasing opportunities for women, I felt that was a responsibility that I had. This time period has increased our commitment to increasing diversity across every aspect of our business. We have some real work to do.”
Monroe is looking to her marketing teams to help her and the storied 130-year-old Nat Geo brand with that work. “We have to market ourselves as an organization that is really interested in attracting [diverse] talent. We have a bit of marketing to do on our own behalf.”
It’s a similar story at Hulu, which, like Nat Geo, is owned by Disney. “We are focused on better reflecting the world we live in,” said Campbell. “It really comes down to every single Hulugan being empowered to play a part. It’s an extremely passionate group of people and we’re trying to be very careful about giving people tools, resources and education that can help. We are empowering everyone to be part of the solution.”
For Monroe, it’s also about putting the power of decision-making into diverse hands at very high levels.
“We need more diverse voices in very senior roles. That is what it really takes. It needs to be at showrunner levels and in executive suites across all of these companies. That’s what will make us more successful businesses.”
Tune in to Promax’s next virtual session, The Power of Podcasts: Storytelling as Marketing, on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 11 a.m. PT.