Team Player: Brenda C. Freeman, Chief Marketing Officer, Turner Broadcasting

Team Player

Photo: sean drakes
Brenda C. Freeman (Source: Sean Drake)

Brenda C. Freeman
Chief Marketing Officer, Animation; Youg Adults & Kids Media; Turner Broadcasting
Location: AtlantaAdd an Image
Age: 43
Power Play: Manages a budget of nearly $50 million and a staff of 140; responsible for marketing, creative, and strategy for three TV networks that are in 100 million households.

What is an effective strategy for building in-house collaborations?
Collaboration between key departments, or key stakeholders, allows for creative, out-of-the-box solutions to business objectives. In order to collaborate, there needs to be a mutual goal of winning and growing the business, and the only way to do that is to have one plus one equal three. By that I mean the ability to look at problems from very different perspectives gives a company the ability to reimagine the “value chain,” and that is where true innovation can occur resulting in growth for the business. When we put plans together, we make sure we have mutually aligned goals and objectives and that everyone buys into them, and that the benefit is seen regardless of what department you may be in.

How has the value of professional collaborations been manifested within Turner’s franchises?
We just finished going through a major rebranding of the Cartoon Network. We basically repositioned it and broadened the overall promise of what Cartoon Network means–the brand is more than cartoons. We didn’t use an out-of-house creative agency to come up with the new branding and positioning–we used our internal creative. Using an outside agency would have shut down some of the [in-house] creative juices. To make such a fundamental change in strategy,  you need to make sure the entire organization is part of the solution. Leveraging the creative talent within our departments was a big accomplishment, and it helped us get tighter alignment as an organization in our new direction. Certainly it’s a huge cost benefit to  leverage your internal resources. We had numerous budget cuts reflective of the economy. It’s been a tough ad sales market–and that will continue in 2010. Fact is, you have to make major changes and do more with less; therefore your human capital becomes more important.

Would you advocate appointing one custodian to shepherd in-house partnerships?
I don’t advocate having one custodian. That puts the burden of forging bridges on one person–which is too risky–instead of it being essential to the culture of the organization. It needs to be part of what you stand for as a company, versus having one person responsible for forging those [collaborations]. I believe that as a senior manager, part of your responsibility is to constantly look for those opportunities and lead the way, showing by example the places where you’re working across and finding synergistic opportunities, not worrying so much about the boxes of an organizational chart, in terms of where you’re supposed to stay. One of the things we’ve found for sure is that the most successful organizations are way more matrixed versus [having workers who] stay within their boxes. Sometimes being matrixed can get a little confusing, but it also requires more constant communication, and that helps cross and forge those bridges.

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 doesn’t take into account the walls of history and previous policy. It’s almost like zero-based budgeting or 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 inherent within the company.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.