Name one industry today that is untouched by the extraordinary pace of progress.
Breakthrough technologies and the consumers who use them are inspiring the next generation of digitally forward businesses to challenge old-guard companies at every turn. The rules for their survival are clear: grow scale, but think nimbly or risk irrelevance.
Of equal importance is the need to cultivate talent. A global economy calls for myriad points of view, which, in theory, should make gender equality and diversity a no-brainer. But JWT's sexual harassment lawsuit demonstrates that, culturally speaking, agencies are not quite there. They're not alone. Marketers, as well as media and technology companies, also must adjust to 21st century thinking. Some are doing just that, handing the reins to agents of change whose visions of tomorrow are being activated today.
In recent months, two legacy companies made key changes at the top. Last November, Michelle Lee joined Condé Nast's Allure, rocking the beauty world by replacing the publication's founding editor. Lee, the former editor in chief and CMO of Nylon magazine, is now in the throes of executing her vision of a digitally savvy brand that also celebrates diversity. Then, in January, DDB North America welcomed Coca-Cola marketing star Wendy Clark, who, as CEO, is charged with reinvigorating the storied agency with fresh talent and major account wins.
Other companies have their leaders and bold plans in place, meanwhile. A+E Networks president, CEO Nancy Dubuc in February launched Viceland, the rule-breaking, edgy network for millennials, which recently struck a VR partnership with Samsung. Dubuc is also busily refreshing A&E, History and Lifetime with top-notch original programming. On Memorial Day, A+E Networks will simulcast an ambitious remake of the television epic Roots.
Of course, not only media and ad agencies are being tested. Brands also are finding their way as they morph into social storytellers. And nowhere has that strategy looked as seamless and become as successful than at General Electric, which makes jet engines and power turbines look cool. GE is on the cutting edge of social marketing thanks to inspired additions like Katrina Craigwell, who in March was promoted to global director of the Marketing Innovation unit for GE Digital overseeing brand, creative, digital marketing and paid media strategy.
These four leaders represent the future of advertising, marketing and media. At a recent roundtable discussion hosted by A+E Networks at its midtown Manhattan headquarters, they shared with Adweek how they are affecting change and positioning their companies for a bright future.
Adweek: The one thing you all have in common is that you are guiding forces of change. I'd like to hear how you found your way.
Wendy Clark: We probably all have a set of beliefs or things that we practice. One of the things that I learned early in my career was never to be above doing anything. That has served me pretty well. My first job after college was as a receptionist in an ad agency. And I love telling that story now, obviously, because I can really look at our agency and say I've done every job. That certainly is something that's guided me.
Katrina Craigwell: At this stage of my career, part of the journey is still the discovery, so I'm figuring out where my passions lie. How do you put PR, social media, advertising and marketing strategy together to help a business?
Nancy Dubuc: I learned very early on when I was a production assistant and you did every job you carried the batteries and you made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That definitely has served me well as CEO because you do understand every job in the building and you can't be led astray. I'd say on the production side, you also learn to adapt to change quickly. If someone doesn't show up for a shoot or the story does not feel the way you expected, whether it be a news broadcast, whether it be a documentary or whether it be a structured scripted set, that production is always in flux. And it's bringing that set of disciplines to a corporate environment that has been invaluable for me.
Michelle Lee: Looking back for me, it's been my work ethic. I always look back at college as being a really pivotal moment. My family at the time didn't have a lot of money, so I actually worked all through college. I scheduled all of my classes to be at night, and I worked all day. I had always been a really good writer, and I got a job at a weekly newspaper. This was pre- internet, so one of my jobs was writing up movie times in the newspaper. My boss at the time, who became a mentor for me, gave me a shot. She started having me write smaller stories. Within the next year or so, I was writing cover stories. So it really was that moment for me where I just realized that if you work really hard, you can make great things happen.
Wendy, you've been on both client and agency sides. What is the most important thing that agencies and DDB in particular will need to change to serve clients better?
Clark: Anyone who chooses marketing or advertising for a career has to be comfortable with change. I think the most profound is the currency of business being speed. In order to conduct business to meet the expectations of any of your constituents, your customers, your consumers, your employees, your regulators, no matter who they are, you all have to be able to move with speed. But we can't do that at the cost of quality of the storytelling and the output and the work we create.
Katrina, what has been the catalyst of change at GE?
Craigwell: At GE, we seek to be as innovative in our marketing as we are in our jet engines, and so when we think about how we market and present a brand in 2016, it means that we do have to be ready for new platforms, ready for new formats. One of the most disruptive parts of the ecosystem has been the creator networks and the new talent that has risen as a function of Instagram, as a function of Snapchat, as a function of YouTube.
Michelle, you recently joined Allure after having been editor in chief and CMO of Nylon. How will you help Allure better compete with digitally forward sites like Into the Gloss?
Lee: At Nylon I was in charge of all editorial and also all native advertising. Previous to that, I had owned my own agency. Being a business owner makes you a better editor, in my opinion. Going in, Allure was still very much a print-centric place, and I told everyone, We're not print editors. Don't call yourself a magazine editor you're a brand editor. It's exciting to think about what's happening in digital, in social, in video, and honestly, it's exciting to think about native advertising.
Will there be an e-commerce play?
I do think so. From a consumer experience and a user experience, if you're watching a tutorial on how to do a certain hairstyle or a makeup look, you do want to figure out and buy those things instantly. It's less for me about a business reason and more about the actual user experience.
It's one thing convincing clients, customers and audiences that your company's transforming. Can anyone point to when you've had to get your team behind a big cultural shift?
Dubuc: We've evolved Bio channel to FYI. We've evolved H2 to Viceland. And those aren't just programming decisions. Those are decisions that impact ad sales, finance, legal, distribution, certainly partnerships, not to mention programming and marketing and trafficking and ops and everything. And it's one thing to say we're going to take a brand and pivot its programming and launch shows that are slightly younger or slightly this or slightly that. It's a completely different level of change to say we're going to take a network, we're going to go out to the affiliates, and we're going to completely convert it and focus on a different audience in a different way being more digital first. That's a lot of change in a short period of time.
Nancy, you often talk about taking big swings. Which of your legacy networks this year will undergo the biggest change?
Dubuc: A&E probably this year has the biggest change. A lot of that is in reaction to 10, 11 consecutive years of growth, which is almost unheard of in terms of sustainability in linear TV. They had some huge shows that are naturally and organically in decline. In the reality space, there's a show called 60 Days In, and in the spirit of the cultural movement around prison reform, there are some wardens who are working with volunteers that are actually going into prisons for 60 days and the inmates don't know they're not convicted felons. So you get a very unique experience and a very unique point of view of what that's like.
Katrina and Wendy, can you speak to creating a culture of change?
Craigwell: We are fortunate in a couple of respects. We have visionary leadership. [Vice chair] Beth Comstock's mandate, her mantra, her m.o. is innovation and change. Linda Boff, our CMO, gives our teams their cover to be able to do the things that we do. And then there's a certain aspect of relentlessness to it. When I first got to GE, one of the early videos that we shot had us taking drones with specially rigged cameras through factories in healthcare and aviation. So the idea of calling up a factory that has to do the very important job of actually getting a gas turbine out to a customer and saying, Hey, if you don't mind, we're just going to fly a drone camera across the floor. Four years ago, that was certainly a harder sell. It was our job to make sure that we communicated the benefit to our business partners. Now the phone calls are much easier. We've been able to kind of amass a library of content.
Clark: Culture, to me, is this amorphous thing you can't just put it on your checklist. You can't be like, oh, on Thursday I'll address culture. It is a thousand actions, it's a thousand different thoughts and ideas, it's the sum total of everything that comes out of our agency, everything that comes into our agency, our clients, our people. We've done a few things already. We've hired some people and we will continue to hire some people. We're doing some structural, internal changes that are going to need to take place. We won a pitch (Time Warner Cable, followed by Fiat Chrysler's Jeep and Alfa Romeo brands) that was good. We have 2,000 associates in North America, and I want to get out and meet all of the associates, hear them. This is, to me, a playbook around what we're starting to call the resurgence of an icon. DDB is an iconic brand, and our job, those of us who carry that brand today, is to hand it off to the next generation, to leave it better than we found it.
What's the secret to positioning your brand for the next generation while preserving its core?
Lee: The very first issue that I worked on at Allure happened to be our 25th anniversary issue, so it was a very poignant time to come in and to look back at the past 25 years and to really celebrate it but then to also think about where do we want to be 25 years from now? We want to speak to our core, but we do want to open ourselves up to a new audience. We're great at recommending products and telling everyone these are the best ingredients, but I want to see more people. Beauty is such a personal thing that whether you're a tech entrepreneur, you're a ballerina, you're an athlete, everyone has a different beauty story.
Katrina, GE is all about jet engines and power plants. How is using social platforms like Snapchat helping transform the GE brand?
Craigwell: It was this notion of, GE is fairly widely known, maybe not so understood. How do we think about the next generation of talent? How do we think about the next generation of people who are going to buy our machines but also buy our digital services? The types of folks who are making those decisions are present on digital—they're on LinkedIn, they're on Twitter, they're telling stories and conceiving stories in all of those ways. Snapchat may be more where we reach our future employees and talent, and Facebook might be a little bit broader where we reach our shareholders.
Which platforms and technologies are you all experimenting with?
Lee: When you think about reading a magazine, everyone typically has their cellphone on, too, so we've been looking at other technology that helps to bridge those two worlds. I really would love to do, at some point this year, a tutorial issue where on various pages through the issue you're able to then surface the video that shows exactly how to do that.
Dubuc: VR is clearly a tailor-made product for History, whether it be historical sites, historical battles or world monuments being experienced in that way. We're making an investment in the company that will be public in the spring [live-event VR technology company Voke]. We'll be one-third owner of the company. We're very active in using data as a selling tool. I wouldn't say it's new; it's really a digitally minded way of selling and targeting audiences. I wouldn't say that we're creating new technology, but we're constantly looking for what's around the corner, what's being served up and how do we apply our content offerings, and how do we supply and provide our clients with opportunities to utilize that kind of technology vis-à-vis our brands.
Trying out new technologies comes with big risks. How comfortable are you with that?
Dubuc: We've launched channels that I don't know whether they're going to work. I think you have to take big swings, go for the grand slam and even if you end up with doubles and triples, you're in a good place. You have to set that example for your employees, too. There are going to be failures. I absolutely guarantee that some of the things that we're trying aren't going to work, and those are the things that we should hold up and celebrate because we tried them.
Lee: As you're reinventing a brand especially, you can't be quiet about it. One example is that our May cover [singer FKA twigs] is sort of a nontraditional Allure cover star, and it's a risk. But at the same time, it's a risk worth taking because as we're reinventing the brand, it's important to make a big statement that this is not exactly the same Allure that you remember.
Clark: As a leader, as you contemplate those decisions, I have so much more fear about not making a decision than I do about making the wrong decision. Indecision is an absolute killer for our organizations.
There are a lot of political/cultural changes going on in the country right now. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, what impact might it have on women in business?
Clark: I could suck out the oxygen in this discussion very quickly here [Clark took time off last year to advise on the Clinton campaign], so I'll try and be disciplined on this. I have two daughters and I have a son. Each of them has the same genetic makeup and the same education, and yet my son looks out and sees 44 examples that tell him he could be president of this country one day. And my daughters see none. I firmly believe that you can't be what you can't see, and given that we have a candidate that is so capable and is a woman, that is a double check for me. I think it would materially change just as we've seen some of the change that came around from President Obama—the gender discussion in business, in our country, in our schools and in all of our institutions.
Lee: I would say that it would be incredibly wonderful for my business. I think that ultimately, a lot of women's media is about empowering, and what is more empowering than looking up and seeing the first female president?
Dubuc: It already has. At the beginning of this race, you had women on both sides of the aisle, and from just the conversation around unconscious bias and likeability, that's eye-opening. Even for women who wanted to deny it was happening, it's undeniable that's happening.
We've seen a steady stream of powerful social statements on diversity and the gender pay gap. What will you do this year to make both your workplaces more inclusive and your businesses more reflective of the culture?
Craigwell: At GE, we think a lot about women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]. A couple of years ago, our creative team; Andy Goldberg, our chief creative officer; and BBDO released a spot [Imagination] that to this day brings tears to my eyes, about a young girl talking about what her mother does. And at the end, she said, My mother works at GE. This goes back to what it means to have Hillary Clinton in office. It's important that we keep pushing what we see. It's important that we keep pushing what is normal and keep pushing the norms. At the same time, Beth Comstock [was named] the first female vice chair at GE. As a young woman in my career, to be able to be in the office that day and see that happen was amazing.
Dubuc: I have the benefit that this is a company that has always lived and breathed culture and this issue and empowerment for a long time. I'm the rare female CEO that took the reins from another female CEO [Abbe Raven, now chairman emeritus]. So it was a very strong baton passing when that happened, but with that comes a responsibility to make sure that you're embodying that at all levels of the company, both internally and externally. One way that we are focused on the diversity issue in Hollywood is through Broad Focus, which is a Lifetime initiative to make sure women have opportunities behind the camera. One of the things I'm most proud of is that through the Broad Focus initiative, History has green-lit the series SEAL Team Six and the director of Episode 1 is a woman. We're a diverse culture, a diverse country, [with] diverse political views. Everything about us is the fabric of the melting pot of who we are, and you have to represent that in the people who are telling the stories. That's the only way you're going to get diversity in the story.
Clark: We have a Better by Half initiative, which is our gender-equality initiative, which we activated for International Women's Day in March, and we had an outward sentiment, which is that talent has no gender. It's a very clear statement, and we fundamentally believe that great talent isn't dependent on your gender. This is a personal passion of mine, and I think a lot of people are looking at me to carry this baton at the company. So we're activating unconscious bias, we're activating an equity audit, and obviously the advertising industry has a fair way to go still to say that they are representative of the marketplace that we serve. We have to really represent the true diverse makeup of the marketplace, and that's something we will continue to strive to do.
Lee: Diversity is a huge priority for me, too. When I was a teenager and just learning how to put on makeup for the first time, reading books and magazines about how to put on eye shadow or something, it just never applied to me and I think that that's frustrating for a lot of women out there. In order to really serve our audience, we have a big opportunity to not only give them great information but also to show true diversity, to show true diversity of models, celebrities, of real women.
What will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of leaders, and what advice would you give them?
Dubuc: I would go back to the failure and risk taking. There's a generational phenomenon of how many likes can you amass? I have concern about the ability to take risks because when you really step out and take a big swing, it's usually not agreed upon, it's usually not liked. That's the very nature of risk taking at its root. Continuing to take those kinds of risks is going to be crucial to the infrastructure of our country and our economy and the advancement of all of our businesses in the future. It's that thing that everyone doesn't think you should do: think twice.
Craigwell: Working hard is really important and it gets you to a certain point. After that, it's all about relationships and the quality of relationships the ability to take risks, the ability to fail safely and to succeed together. All of that kind of depends on the trust that you have with each other, and so especially in an age of social, where some of our deepest relationships might be over Snapchat, being able to prioritize how you are building trust between you, your colleagues, your team, higher-ups is super important to building a culture that's going to allow you to do your best work.
Lee: Stay hungry. I see so many people sort of like midway in their career who get very comfortable. And to me, that's sort of a death knell. You have to put yourself in a little bit of discomfort to keep on growing.
Clark: I would simply say something that is actually centuries old. Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warrior who wrote The Art of War, said there were five traits of a great leader: brave, caring, disciplined, smart and trustworthy. And those are as true today as they were in the 15th century. That's something every great leader can think about, and in times where you have failed or you've succeeded, you can look at those five traits and say, well, was I brave enough? Did I care enough? Was I disciplined enough? Was I smart enough? Was I trustworthy enough? Those have been true for my career, and I think that those sorts of enduring traits are going to carry the next generation and generations onward.
As a leader who famously encourages her networks to take big swings, the A+E Networks president, CEO is herself swinging for the fences this year, launching Viceland, investing in virtual reality (a Viceland partnership with Samsung that will create VR content for both the companies' platforms as well as a stake in Voke, a live-event VR technology company), and churning out original scripted programming, including a remake of Roots and Six, History's eight-episode action drama about SEAL Team Six. Dubuc is also committed to leveling the playing field for women. Lifetime last year launched Broad Focus, an initiative designed to help women behind the camera develop, create and produce content for Lifetime; the program has since expanded to all A+E networks. Broad Focus gave way to Lifetime's critically acclaimed dating competition dramedy UnReal—which returns for a second season this summer, and which will receive the Peabody Award, Lifetime's first ever, in a ceremony on May 21. Broad Focus is also credited with helping to install women in the director's chair with Six and History's The Vikings, as well as Lifetime's Devious Maids. And last week, Lifetime announced a multiplatform programming slate called The Fempire that will bring together strong, diverse women. This will include movie deals with Serena Williams and Janet Jackson, as well as the untitled Selena Gomez project. Dubuc knows she can't rest on the laurels of Duck Dynasty, and her instincts are often on point. Dubuc made her mark not long after joining History as director of historical programming in 2003 by convincing the net to adapt an episode of Modern Marvels into the highly rated series Ice Road Truckers. Dubuc was named to the Adweek 50 list in 2012 and 2013. Today, at the Waldorf-Astoria, Dubuc will be honored with a 2016 Matrix Award by New York Women in Communications.
Craigwell has become a catalyst in General Electric's transformation to a digital-industrial company for the next generation of customers and employees, having tapped the power of social media and brought to life the concept of visual storytelling. GE was on Instagram from the get-go, has partnered with influencers on Vine and YouTube, and now is experimenting with virtual reality. It is also committed to promoting women in STEM. In March, Craigwell was promoted to global director, Markting Innovation and is responsible for leading brand, creative, digital marketing and paid media strategy for GE Digital. Craigwell also has been involved with GE's reverse mentoring program, in which socially savvy employees get others up to speed. Prior to joining the company five years ago, Craigwell was at social media agency Attention where she worked with clients including CNN and The Guardian. Last year, she was named one of Adweek's Young Influentials and landed on our Creative 100 list.
Previously the editor in chief and CMO of millennial style bible Nylon, the new editor in chief of Condé Nast's Allure is keenly aware that in order to compete against digital upstarts like Refinery29 and Into the Gloss, the beauty publisher will need to supercharge its digital platform by growing its e-commerce, branded content and video businesses, to name a few priorities. Lee's background in fashion (she helped launch CosmoGirl.com at Hearst, served as a senior editor at Condé's Glamour and wrote for a slew of publications, including Cosmo and Elle) and experience as chief content and strategy officer at branded content agency Magnified Media put her in prime position to do so. Since joining Allure last fall, she has established her own senior edit team, including new fashion and design directors and from the looks of this month's cover, the changes at Allure are well underway. The May Allure features British singer FKA twigs, who, as Lee puts it, stands for true originality and creativity.
Since coming aboard as CEO this past January, Clark has wasted no time remaking DDB North America, landing accounts Time Warner Cable and Fiat Chrysler's Jeep and Alfa Romeo and rolling out Super Bowl spots for Jeep and Skittles. She also expanded the strategy department in the New York HQ with five key hires and bolstered the creative team with three executive creative directors, two of them women. Clark has taken the issue of gender equality to heart. In March, and under Clark's guidance, the agency created the buzzy global campaign Talent Has No Gender to support International Women's Day. And in a galvanizing speech at the recent 4A's Transformation conference in Miami, Clark called on agencies to stay restless on the discussion of gender and diversity. Clark arrived at DDB with rare insight into the client side of the ad business, having held top marketing roles at Coca-Cola for the past seven years, most recently as svp, Global Sparkling Brand Center. Prior to Coke, Clark spent four years at AT&T as svp, advertising. DDB marks Clark's return to the agency world. Before her years at AT&T, she was svp, director of client service at GSD&M.
This story first appeared in the April 25, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.