Executive Suite: Cartoon Network

Leverage In-house Collaborations to Grow Business Objectives

Brenda C. Freeman, Chief Marketing Officer

Animation, Young Adults & Kids Media, Turner Broadcasting Inc.

Location: Atlanta, GA

Powerplay: Manages a multimillion dollar budget and staff of 140 people; responsible for marketing, creative and strategy for three TV networks that are in 100 million households.


An efficient and effective strategy for building in-house collaborations should be trained on?

You need to be absolutely focused on your customer, for us it’s an audience.  In order to be very audience-centric you need to be focused on your brand.  If you’re a smaller brand [without] the resources of a big brand then the importance of strategic alliances [and] partnerships in order to breakthrough [and] get that fickle customer’s attention is critical.

Because there is such media fragmentation [and] competition for eyeballs for the audience we’re trying to build revenue off of, you absolutely need scale and to create synergies across your divisions, across departments in order to make an impact and get the attention of the viewer.  In order to get collaboration there needs to be a mutual goal in order to win and grow the business, the only way that you’re able to do that is being able to have one plus one equal three.  When we put plans together we make sure we have mutually aligned goals and objectives, and we make sure everyone buys into it and that the benefit is being seen regardless of what department you may be in.

How has the value of professional collaborations been manifested within Turner’s franchises?

The most appropriate example is: We just finished going through a major rebranding of the Cartoon Network brand.  We basically repositioned it, we broadened the overall promise of what Cartoon Network means—the brand is more than cartoons.  We made sure we didn’t use an out-of-house creative agency to come up with what that branding and positioning should look like.  We decided to use our internal creative to help us come up with the solution of what that rebrand should be.  Using an outside agency would have shutdown some of the creative juices [in-house].  To make such a fundamental change in strategy…change in business focus you need to make sure the entire organization is able to be part of the solution.  For us, not going to an outside agency to work on our rebranding but [rather] leverage the creative talent within our departments was a big accomplishment, and helped us get tighter alignment as an organization on our new direction.  Certainly it’s a huge cost benefit to leverage your internal resources.  We certainly had numerous budget cuts that are reflective of the economy; it’s a very tough ad sales market—it will continue to be that way in 2010.  Fact is you’re having to make major changes and do more with less as it relates to financial resources, therefore your human capital becomes that more important.

When old, dysfunctional habits counter the creation of stronger alliances between departments, what approach might help turn the corner?

I think you need to have radical brainstorming that does not take into account the walls of history and previous policy.  It’s almost like zero-based budgeting…zero-based brainstorming: What’s the ideal scenario, what does that ideal solution look like and then build from there.  What you’ll find is that some of the original boxes that you have in an organizational structure probably need to be rearranged to leverage the synergy that is inherent within a company.  There are lots of acquisitions that have happened across the major media companies in the marketplace.  One of our biggest challenges is figuring out how to truly leverage that inherent synergy that comes from having such a large organization that is basically synergistic with each other.  Being the marketer I believe in mantras.  Mantras or key messages, and it needs to be a rallying cry that exists from the very top of the organization and is consistently communicated at all levels.  That’s absolutely [a key part] in trying to be a change agent and continuing to be competitive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.  Those are the things that we do and think about long and hard as it relates to planning for the following years, what is our mantra for the year; make it simple and make it poignant.

Would you advocate appointing one custodian to shepherd building in-house partnerships?

I don’t actually advocate having one custodian, that’s too much risk of putting the burden of forging bridges on one person, versus it needing to be an absolute essential ingredient to the culture of the organization.  It’s almost like it needs to be a part of what you stand for as a company, versus having one person be responsible for forging those [collaborations].  I do believe that as a senior management team, part of your responsibility is to make sure that you are constantly looking for those opportunities and leading the way, showing by example where there are places where you’re working across [and] finding synergistic opportunities, not worrying so much about the boxes of an org chart, in terms of where you’re supposed to stay.  One of the things that we’ve found for sure is that, organizations that are most successful are way more matrixed in nature versus staying within their boxes.  Sometimes that can get a little confusing because of the fact that you’re matrixed, but it also requires more constant, more frequent communication and that in itself helps cross and forge those bridges.  I believe it’s something that needs to permeate throughout the organization versus having a particular custodian, that’s a lot responsibility to put on one person.


Previously published

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