Brave by reflection

Brave by reflection

Who are you and where did you come from?

That was just the opening question posed by Margaret Molloy (global CMO, Siegel + Gale), the moderator at The Marketing Society’s “Under the Spotlight”.

And it got harder from there.

How does a news organization survive in the era of fake news? How does a sports league manage a brand when every player has a personal twitter feed?

What was the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? What was your biggest failure? How is your organization impacted by and addressing the #MeToo movement?

In a no holds barred session Doris Daif, SVP customer data strategy, NBA and Meredith Levien, COO, The New York Times, gamely addressed these pressing issues with insight, grace and good humor.

While Daif and Levien would seem to come from different spheres, news and sports occupy important and related spaces in our lives. Both are intricately connected in ways that run far deeper than merely scores and recaps.

Sports has always been a reflection of our world and the culture we inhabit. And like news organizations such as The New York Times, it can provide a lens through which we can understand and confront the issues of the day. So while the NBA may be, as Daif explains it, about “inspiring play” and providing “an outlet to experience sports,” it also, at its best, fulfills The New York Times' mission to “help people understand the world.” 

And in times such as these, where activism has seen a resurgence, the truth appears elusive or under siege, and revelations of past misbehavior (to put it mildly) is everywhere, the organizations that these two women represent and are helping to steer, are ever more important.

So after that initial provocative question, the conversation quickly turned to the crux of the discussion and a perennial topic for The Marketing Society, what does it mean to be brave and what form does that take? The examples, both personal and not, filled the evening and gave it a positive and energizing vibe.

Daif spoke eloquently about the scary decision to leave a loved job at American Express and take on a new and exciting challenge at the NBA. She described the exhilaration of applying her skills in a massively new way and also the doubts that creep in once in a while that make her question herself and her abilities. While particularly common to women in business, this fear is one that anyone who has ever taken a chance on something new can relate to.

Levien’s experience was in some ways the opposite of Daif’s. She talked about the disappointment of not getting a promotion early in her career and the courage to seek feedback and really listen to it. She says that now she takes feedback with ease, something that men have mostly been better at doing and done better for it.

And then things got personal.

Both women spoke about making and owning choices that go against stereotypes and, even in today’s world, require more courage to admit to than should be the case.

Daif, who is married and childless, has in the past felt guilty when she told people that she didn’t want children. While Levien, who loves to work, has had to learn to stop apologizing for it (and credits the Lean In movement with making that possible for women).

But in spite of their experiences, both women were quick to give credit to their organizations and colleagues for acts of deep bravery that, in their opinion, far surpassed their own.

The journalists are the real (and sometimes quite literal) risk takers, according to Levien. As she went on to explain, The New York Times occupies a place in people’s consciousness and it is the reporters who commit major acts of bravery to get the story right that ensure this.

Her job and that of the leadership at the Times, therefore, is to create an environment where everyone feels safe to do their best work.

It’s a belief shared by Daif, who went on to praise the stewardship of Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, and credit him with providing the vision that has allowed the league to thrive and for building a diverse leadership team that has made all the difference. According to Daif, the league recognizes that “sports is a medium to give voice to tough issues and bring diverse points of view together.”

And this clearly extends to the players, who do not shy away from controversial topics.

Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, or gun control, or #MeToo, the players have learned to harness Twitter and social media as a call to arms for change and activism. And the league has supported them.

And finally, the question was asked, can other Brands have a distinct point of view on political issues, and should they? Or is it the purview of news and sports organizations alone?

Some companies have more power than states or nations and so they have a responsibility to champion change and address the tough issues of the day.

Otherwise, warned Levien, we will lose generations. But they must do it with authenticity.

It’s not an ad campaign, it’s your supply chain, it’s the products you choose to make, and it’s how you choose to make them that count.

And it’s the responsibility of all of us to show leadership and bravely hold them accountable.


By Adriana Rizzo, VP, Marketing and Publicity, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt