Berkeley Haas - Dean's Speaker Series | Michael Smith, MBA 86, Chief Marketing Officer, NPR

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(people murmur)

  • Good afternoon, everyone.


I’m Ann Harrison.

I’m the dean at the Haas School of Business.

Welcome to today’s Dean Speaker Series.

I’m really excited to introduce and welcome back

today’s speaker Michael Smith who’s our MBA,

one of our own from 1986.

Michael earned his MBA from Berkeley in marketing

and finance after earning his bachelor’s degree in science,

technology and society from that school

that shall not be named, Stanford University.

As a leader who consistently questions the status quo,

Michael says of himself that he would prefer

to build, “What’s next,” over managing, “what is.”

Michael joined NPR in 2020 as their chief marketing officer.

He set out to ensure that both the NPR audience and content

reflects the diversity of America.

As a media executive who has spent his career

finding new ways for people to consume content

across an recently diverse audience population,

Michael is uniquely qualified to take on the role

and the challenge at NPR.

He has more than 30 years of experience in entertainment

brand content, digital and revenue generating

brand extensions and he’s held prior leader roles

at both digital channels for scripts, networks

and cooking channel and food category brand extensions.

He’s also held roles at the Food Network,

Disney channel and CBS.

Thank you so much Michael for taking the time

to speak with us today.

We’re very grateful to have you and have you back

because we know you were here last year at this time,

and it’s so great to have an alum here in the room with us,

at least virtually in the room with us,

and we really look forward to an informative discussion.

So now I’m going to turn over the conversation

Mukundha Sastry and Elsa Mora, who are both part

of our full-time MBA program and they will lead

the conversation.

After that conversation is over you will also

have an opportunity to ask some questions,

so take it away.

  • Great.

(audience claps)

We’re so excited to be here today, Mike.

I am a first year full-time student.

I came from media and entertainment.

I am a co-president of the digital media

and entertainment club, as well

as the business Latin X club.

And I’m also part of Consortium.

  • And thank you again, Michael.

My name is Mukundha.

I am a second year in the full-time program.

I also come from media and entertainment and super excited

to share your love of entertainment with this community.

  • Well, it’s great.

Thanks for having me.

It’s just exciting to be back.

Anytime anybody from Haas asks me for anything,

I’m just so excited ‘cause it was definitely,

maybe this is an overstatement,

but it was a transformational time in my life

when I was in business school and just love

to reconnect whenever I can.

  • Lovely.

We’ll go ahead and, dive right into the questions.

So the first one is, you know, you’re CMO of NPR,

you have had a very successful career.

Do you wake up and just pinch yourself

and think, how did I get to this position?

  • Yeah, I do feel lucky.

I think anybody who works in the media and entertainment

business should feel lucky.

I mean, we get to do things around things

that most people consider to be like,

if you say entertainment, it’s fun.

I mean, I grew up, you know, watching television

and reading the newspaper and listening to the radio

and just enjoying it as a consumer.

And to think that, you know,

what I get to do every day is just make the things

that I actually consume and like yeah, it’s a treat.

  • And Michael, there are several folks here in the room

that are really excited about joining a career in marketing.

I think you’ll see that across Haas we have several students

interested in product, in sales,

particularly product marketing.

For someone who, for those of us who might be interested

in entering those types of careers.

I’m just curious to hear from you your career in marketing,

what is the day in the job of a CMO look like?

Could you tell us what was on your calendar yesterday

and some important meetings and sort of what’s on your mind

on a day to day basis?

  • Yeah, and one of the thing, nice things

about marketing is that no two days are the same.

I mean, I think that the mission of what you do is the same.

I mean, our job is to connect more people

to our content and again, into our brand.

But what you do on a day to day basis really varies.

I mean, we’re the voice of the audience

throughout the organization.

You know, I always like to use this sort of framework

when you think of media organizations

is there’s about five key functions that they perform.

The first is that they make content,

then they package the content up, you can call it product.

Then they figure out how to distribute that product,

where to put it and then the fourth thing they do

is to promote and market the product.

And then the final thing is to actually figure out ways

to monetize and make money off that product.

And we are in that, you know, we’re the promotion

and marketing people but we also are part

of the audience intelligence apparatus within the company,

which informs the content at making and informs distribution

decisions and also informs our sales,

our ad sales department that monetizes the content.

So I get involved in a lot of different conversations

across all these parts of the company.

I mean, you specifically to your question about

what was on my calendar.

I was in a meeting with our distribution team

talking about our, actually it’s our product

and distribution team talking about the NPR One app,

which is our audio app that we’ve created

to help people consume our radio stations and our podcasts.

And we were just having some conversation

about how to evolve that app and brand that app

and whether we wanted to have two apps or one app

or what kind of features we wanted to have in the app

and what our consumer intelligence tells us about that.

And then I had another meeting which was about

our organizational structure,

was how we structured marketing

and audience insights and our business development team,

which is another group that I oversee

which deals with our licensing and brand extensions,

and what’s the best way to structure those.

I also oversee our design team

and we do design around our marketing communications,

but we also do design around our products as well

and their conversations about line between UX design

say, and brand design.

So it’s a variety of things.

  • You have a lot of designers and product enthusiasts

in the room.

So if there’s ever any a time that Haas students

can help out with these product ideations,

I think we’re open.

  • Great. - Yeah,

that’s one of the interesting things I know

from what I first got out into the media business

that that’s evolved as, you know,

I talked about the content and then the product

or packaging part of it and then the promotion

and distribution,

but that packaging part was not as salient,

you know, 20 or 30 years ago.

I mean, you know, media product was,

you know, it’s a movie or a television show

or a radio broadcast and there wasn’t really

a package around it.

I mean, there was, you saw it on a movie screen

or on a television set or maybe there was a sort

of a CD package or a record or something

that you could hold in your hand,

but the digital era has created this whole new thing

called an app.

And the app is the package, you know,

that you experience the media content in.

And for, I think for consumers that experience

of how the product is packaged within the app is, you know,

almost in, for some products like a TikTok, you know,

obviously is even more important sometimes

than the content itself.

So that’s an exciting thing I’ve seen happen

over the last 30 years.

  • Yeah.

And, you know, we have heard how you have transitioned

from different roles and all the companies

that you’ve have worked in.

How do you tackle going and working at a new company

and smoothing out that transition

from role to role, from company to company?

Is there any research that you do,

any set of criteria or any set of steps

that you sort of as a ritual undertake

before and while you’re newly joining a company?

  • Yeah, you know when I was a student,

I was one of those sort of, you know,

pull all nighters cram before the final kind people.

And that’s the way I used to address joining a new company

was to kind of pull in all nighter

and try to learn everything you possibly could.

But I had some really great advice from a boss of years ago,

a mentor that, you know, you need to take

that pressure off yourself and realize

you’re gonna be working at the organization

for hopefully a very long time.

And to give it time.

You know, the organizations are very multi-layered

and nuanced and you’re probably gonna have better insights

and opinions on what to do after you’ve been

for two months or three months and you’ve had a chance

to really understand the organization

than you will on day one.

So don’t, you know, beat yourself up

thinking you’ve gotta know everything the day you walk in.

So I try to get myself time in the first couple of months

just to listen, you know, just learn and walk around,

meet as many people within the organization at all levels

and people who have been there 20 years,

people who are new and just try to understand

the anthropology of the place first

and then try to apply some of the lessons and, you know,

things that I’ve picked up over the years

and things I learned at Haas you know,

to the circumstance that I’m in.

  • So specifically for NPR, you undertook

this sort of approach.

What were some of the findings and who were some

of the people that you were speaking to

that helped illuminate your path forward?

  • You know, one of the first things I did

and when I was, before I started was I went back

and read a lot of thesis papers that students like,

you know, you guys have projects where you do, you know,

do cases on companies and there’s some really good ones

that student have done over the years on NPR.

And so I read some of them, you know,

analyzing the company and its history.

And I also looked at the, so the original founding documents

for NPR, the original mission statement.

And I realized that they were written by a guy

named Bill Siemering who created,

who was one of the first program director,

actually was the first program director for NPR.

And I, you know, just on a lark, just reached out to him.

He’s retired, he’s in his, you know, in his 80s

and he was so gracious to spend time with me

through email and just on the phone talking

about the founding of NPR and what his vision was years ago.

And it just really helped me again, back

the anthropology get to stand the sort of DNA

of the organization.

And then I did that with conversations,

through conversations with other long time people

on the journalism side and other employees

just to kinda understand, you know, where,

especially with an organization that’s been around

for a long time, you know, how we got to where we are,

which helps create just a better understanding

of the context in which whatever change we need to make

is going to occur in.

  • I like that you’re elaborating and articulating

on these themes of just listening, learning context,

understanding culture, sort of the environment

that you’re going into.

In this room where you’re speaking to it’s MBA students,

we’re all excited to be in this environment

and sort of learn as much as we can,

but half of us are about to go out into the real world

and graduate and get full-time careers.

What are some of the best takeaways

that you might have for us as we sort of go

into our next jobs?

And what do you think we should be thinking about

as we sort of look for that next opportunity,

or if we have secured that opportunity,

how can we sort of bring our best selves

to that new environment?

  • Well, I think the perennial challenge

for an MBA student is the, you know,

the edict of like follow your passion

is what people have always said, you know, for years.

You know, first find your passion,

hopefully in some time in business school

through your internships and classes,

you gotta find the thing that you think you really wanna do

and then follow your passion.

But then follow that within the constraints of,

you know two years of incredible expenses

and student and loans hanging over your heads.

So.. - We really.

  • So that’s, but I was a student that was, you know,

everybody was going to Wall Street

because that was where the big money was

even though might been have where their passion was.

You know, looking back years later,

I think what you really should do is find the thing that,

you know, if you had won the lottery tomorrow

and didn’t have to work for money, what would you just do?

You know, what would you just do

because you enjoyed it and try to find something closer

to that.

Because I think if you’re better motivated

and more excited about what you do

you’re probably going to have more success in that career

and ultimately more financial reward than jumping

at the thing that has the great starting salary

that you don’t really love but you think it’s gonna

pay down your loans.

That’s a career you might start and then sort of stall out,

you know, after a few years.

So I think it’s kind of figure out, you know,

there’s a book years ago called

“What Color Is My parachute?”

and it’s that thing about, you know, what, yeah,

what is the thing that really, you know,

makes you want to get up in the morning

that you wanna go do?

And, you know, that’s hard to find sometimes,

but hopefully, you know, the two years here in school

and through internships and through informational interviews

and networking with people, you can get a better sense

of that.

And then also don’t beat yourself up if you know

that first job or two, you know, after b school,

isn’t exactly the perfect fit ‘cause that’s also part

of that journey, figuring out where you really need to be.

  • But to that point then I guess,

so those are some of the successful things

we should be looking for.

But what about some of the mistakes that you’ve seen

from newly minted MBA grads or perhaps MBAs

you’ve seen in the workforce?

What are things that we can be actively looking out for

that we should perhaps think otherwise about?

  • Yeah, I think sometimes people, you know,

will chase the herd like, oh, everyone’s going to work in,

you know, Web3 or everyone’s going to work in AI or,

and without saying, you know, what is it

that you really want to do?

And then also not researching the culture

of the organization is that you’re going into deeply enough

to make sure that there’s really a fit in alignment

with who you are.

I think that’s something I’ve seen change over the years.

I know when I was younger, it was more like,

you know, bootcamp.

We just figured just get a job at, you know,

one of these big name companies, because it’s,

it stamps your ticket for future success.

And you put up with a lot of things in the culture

and we worked with that you felt like

it was almost like a badge of honor

to just kinda get your feet in the door.

  • Right. - And I think now

people are demanding no, you know,

you know, I have a lot of knowledge, I have a lot of skill.

It’s, you know, it’s a tight labor market right now

so you guys have a lot of leverage

and let me be more selective and ask people about, you know,

what I’m really going be getting into.

  • So the media landscape as we know is constantly evolving.

And even when you started in your position,

the world, the pandemic had really taken full force.

How have these changes informed and shaped your strategy

and how do you think your strategy

is working out two years into the job?

  • Yeah, I think the pandemic has just accelerated things

that were already in motion.

You know, I think the two sort of meta trends

that have been going on in media, you know,

probably the last 50 years have been one,

the change in technology and how people engage

with the content.

You know, from whether it’s from broadcast TV,

to cable, to the internet, you know,

from movies to streaming.

And then the other big meta change has been

the increasing diversification of America.

I mean, when NPR started 1970, you know,

over 80% of Americans were white.

And, you know, I think less than 6% were,

you know, we’re Latin X and 9% we’re African American.

Today we’re in a country, you know, that’s about 60/40

and you look at people under the age of under 35, you know,

it’s a, almost a majority minority country.

So, those two things, those two forces have been,

you know, relentless through time.

And those are the things I think all media companies

are struggling to react to, you know,

the changing ways people consume

and the changing nature of the consumer.

And I think for NPR that’s been a challenge

and an exciting opportunity for us.

You know, our mission and why we were created,

it was really to, you know, provide an alternative

to commercial media and to sort of serve

the media needs of the country that aren’t being served

by the commercial system.

And to talk about the stories that, you know,

aren’t always covered, to represent groups who aren’t always

depicted and to really reflect America.

And so that’s, in fact that’s the north star

of our company strategy right now is to really,

really be a true reflection of the audience that we serve.

And then secondly, you know, we started as a,

primarily as a radio broadcast company.

And over time how people consume audio

has really evolved, you know, digitally.

I mean, it’s, you know, people string radio,

they listen to audio through smart speakers.

You know, they listen to podcasts and, you know,

we’ve been at the forefront of innovation in those spaces,

but that has been, you know, an important shift

that we’ve had to adapt and hopefully, you know,

can leverage towards our mission.

  • And do you find that in your search

to broaden and diversify the base

that you are navigating a difficult challenge

in retaining and catering to the needs

of your previous base whose demographics

and needs are substantially perhaps different?

  • You know the nice thing for us is that,

you know, we reach people through radio

but we also reach them digitally through stream,

through audio streams and more significantly

through podcasts.

And the audience is, if you look at the podcasting audience

versus the radio audience, they are very

different demographically.

And so it’s been nice to be able to serve a whole new

audience without alienating an old audience.

So, for example, you know, there are people

who are older and less diverse who listen

to Morning Edition every day on the radio.

But then there’s a whole new generation of people who listen

to Up First, which is our podcast morning news show,

which is, you know, one of the most popular

daily podcasts in the country.

But the audience of Up First is, you know,

our people in their 20s and 30s and 40s.

You know, it’s a very diverse audience,

much more diverse than the radio audience

which tends to be older.

So we’re able to, you know, introduce content

that serves the next gen audience but we also, you know,

put a lot of investment into the traditional Morning Edition

radio show that serves the traditional audience

at the same time.

  • And I think it’s an interesting point just to think about

even audiences and how different audiences are.

We’re at a really unique point in sort

of the entertainment landscape in this country

and around the world where there’s just

the proliferation of every single company

putting out their own type of content product.

How do you think NPR sort of stays independent

from all of that chatter?

Because I think consumers are probably expressing loyalty

to two or three services where they’re sort of getting all

their entertainment options from,

how do you envision NPR sort of staying independent,

sort of clear of all that chatter and that noise?

  • Well, I think being a nonprofit

and being mission driven really helps us because, you know,

we’re not just chasing clicks or chasing eyeballs

for just pure revenues sake.

We’re really, you know, chasing a mission

which is we have a belief that, you know,

the more informed and aware and intelligent

the American population is the better

it is for our democracy.

It’s better for civility. - Right.

  • And just in just the harmony within our society.

That’s the core of why I think public media exists.

And so our, you know, higher goal is to grow

the amount of people that engage and are touched

by our content and to make sure that that we’re reaching,

you know, the full spectrum of America.

And it’s, you know, not about, you know,

being the number one service or, you know,

competing with this guy or with, you know, with that guy.

It’s really about making content that we feel like can,

you know, enrich people and making more people aware

that it’s out there.

We feel like we’re really a really unique moment in time

where you know, we think about the polarization

in the United States, all the misinformation,

the low trust in media that, you know, people

are looking for, you know, accurate,

trusted, respected, you know, balanced fact based

enriching content.

And I think the surprising thing I think

to me when I came to NPR was that when you think

about the brand awareness of NPR it’s, you know,

it’s in the 30s.

You know, almost 65% of the Americans

are not aware of the brand which will surprised

a lot of people probably, you know, in our circles

and kind of more highly educated circles.

So there’s a huge swath of the population

that we need to reach by just making them aware of,

you know, this really quality content that we have.

And we found that when we put it in front of people,

they’re, you know, they’re presently surprised,

like I never heard of that but this is amazing stuff.

And so that’s what gets me excited every day.

  • That’s an interesting point because I think of,

I highly encourage everyone in the room

and those listening to follow Michael on LinkedIn

because he’s an avid LinkedIn poster

and really enjoys posting about entertainment trends.

And Michael you posted recently about CNN+

and sort of how there is a larger awareness

for a different demographic.

And I think it’s interesting how you’re kind of delineating

that NPR is mission driven versus CNN is obviously driven

by being a publicly traded company as part of the larger

Warner Bros. Discovery entity.

So I’m curious just as Americans consume news

and NPR strives to sort of be that independent

mission driven oasis for those that seek it,

what would you say does the next five

to 10 years look like for that?

  • Well, I think the next five to 10 year years for us

is about getting our content onto more platforms

and also kind of rethinking the formats of our content.

You know, we were pretty, we had one format for almost 35,

almost 40, our first 40 years

which was a long form radio show.

And one in the morning called Morning Edition,

one in the afternoon, you know,

called All Things Considered.

And now we’ve really been innovating with different forms

of content that still provide the same benefit

and sort of the same mission.

So whether it’s, you know, a 10 minute podcast

or a 30 minute podcast, or Insta,

a one minute Instagram video, or a two minute TikTok video

which are things that we’re doing right now,

you know, in the culture space,

we’ve always been a place where you could listen to,

you know, and discover outstanding artists,

sometimes undiscovered and underappreciated artists.

And we would have radio shows where you would hear,

you know, jazz concerts or classical concerts.

And we’ve really been innovating on YouTube

with short concerts and concerts in a very unplugged,

unstructured way.

And we started a series where the concerts

are actually performed in front of a small desk

in our office called the Tiny Desk Concerts.

And that’s, you know, become one of our most popular

content outlets.

So I think that more video, more short form,

things in different kinds of platforms,

just experimenting with all the ways that you can enlighten

and enrich and inform people.

  • One last question before we switch gears

just pertaining to entertainment and media.

So again, Michael, I’ve talked to you about how this room

and sort of the broader Haas community in general,

their aspiring consultants, folks interested in product,

big tech, real estate, finance, you name it, social impact.

What would be your elevator pitch to Haasies and beyond

for entering a career in this space

where this is perhaps more of a smaller industry

preference and choice for those entering.

How can we convince Haasies and broader MBAs

to sort of consider a career in entertainment and media?

  • Well, I think entertainment media,

if you think about the impact that it has in people’s lives

and how that’s grown over the last say 30 or 40 years,

you know, you’re definitely working

in a part of industry that, you know, makes a difference

and really has an influence of on the world.

And it’s a growth industry.

You know, I, you think about the number of people.

I think the US Labor Department data would back this up

who worked in media entertainment say in 1972

to who work in it today.

I mean, it’s exploded.

In fact, you know, the Nielsen data shows,

I don’t know if this is good or bad for our culture,

but the amount of time people spend with media, you know,

is I think it’s over eight or nine hours a day.

You know, when do they work, when do they sleep?

But that continues, you know, that continues

to grow continually.

I think as people have, you know,

more devices in front of them, you know,

they’re on their phone while they’re got Netflix streaming

in the background, you know, while they’ve got

their AirPods in their ears listening to a podcast.

I mean, it’s crazy.

So there’s, so you’re in a business that is, you know,

exploding in size and scale with an increasing

societal impact and importance.

So I think that’s one of the exciting things

about being in the business.

  • Here’s a fun one Mike,.

In your LinkedIn profile you state that, you know,

a little about many things and a lot about

what you still don’t know.

What are some of those topics that you are not

very knowledgeable in and how do you go

about bridging that knowledge gap?

  • Oh yeah.

I think NFTs.

(everyone chuckles)

Crypto, I would say cryptocurrency.

  • Wallets. - Yeah.

CRISPR gene editing.

I mean there’s a lot of different,

I have a real, you know, polymath who just,

I just curious about a lot of different things

but I think because I’m so curious about so many things

I tend to not go deep on many things.

So I have a long list of things I wish, you know,

like books I wish I could read or lectures

I wish I could attend, but I’m really,

I’ve always been fascinated by,

that’s why my undergraduate degree was

in what’s called science, technology and society.

So I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection

of culture and tech.

And so that’s why things like, you know,

the metaverse are, you know, super interesting to me.

And just having time to go deep on that stuff though

because it is, you know, so nuanced and complex.

  • So as we think about our careers long term,

something that Elsa and I talked a lot about

in preparing for today is we both come from environments

that were largely homogenous in the entertainment

media industry.

And as both of us as professionals of color

coming from the entertainment world, it was tough.

It wasn’t easy to sort of look around and not find people

that look like us or executives that sort of were advocates

and champions of our own progress.

And so we’re even more delighted that you’re here with us

to sort of share on your journey.

I’m just curious to hear from you about,

especially for candidates of color dealing with primarily

homogenous environments, what types of questions should

we be asking of our future employers,

whether it be entertainment, media, or anything beyond,

any industry beyond to ensure our own psychological safety

in the workforce, and to ensure that we are set up

for success to continue growing

and being the best versions of ourselves?

  • Yeah, I think we’re at a really exciting time because,

you know, when I got into the business in the late 80s,

early 90s, I mean, you know, there weren’t a lot of

Mukundha’s does and Elsie’s.

You know, even just the names, you know.

  • So true. - Like Bobs and Carols.

So it’s just, it just the feeling of inclusion

was so different then.

I mean, we were just people, you know, my generation,

I think we were just happy to have a foot in the door

and not even, you know, be at the stage to say,

what you’re saying, like to demand that, you know,

that there be inclusion or what are you doing

to make people like me feel safe and comfortable.

We were just like, just happy that we’re the first ones

to even be in these companies.

But, you know, hopefully we paved away

to where you’ve gotten to a stage where yeah,

you can ask those kinds of questions.

You can say, you know, wait a minute, it’s not just about,

do you have a few people in your company,

but, you know, what’s your culture?

You know, is it just part, is it woven into the fabric

of your culture, inclusion and diversity.

And I think the thing that I’ve noticed too

that’s it’s so much nicer today,

is that just the way people dress, the way they speak,

the, you know, the hairstyles,

to that you can just show up as yourself

And it’s really about just the work.

So if you’re, you know, you’re mate is it a good podcast?

Is it a good movie?

Is it, you know, are you making things

that resonate with the audience and who cares about,

you know, how you, you know, how you dress or,

you know, or all these other sort of superficial things

that people used to use to really segregate

and discriminate against people.

So that’s, you can kind of tell when you walk into companies

too, do they feel very homogenous,

or do you just get, do you just see,

but, you know, a sense of diversity?

I mean, one way to dig deeper is just beyond, you know,

the company website and the couple people

that you interview, you know, ask, you know,

to speak to a few different employees in the company,

three or four different employees.

If you can ask if you can come on site, you know

and walk into the lunchroom and just look

around the company and get a sense of who’s there.

You know, seek out people maybe on LinkedIn, who, you know,

were former employees the company to get, you know,

a perspective.

Yeah, I think it really be, do the due diligence

to understand.

  • And to that point, I guess, how do you as Michael Smith

show up authentically to work every day at NPR as a CMO?

  • You know, yeah, I, it’s one of the places

that I felt that the ability to be the most authentic

because I’m kind of a, you know a,

I guess we call me kind of a nerdy sports fan guy

who likes to, you know, wear this kind of casual clothes

but be sort of brainy too.

And I dunno if you guys watch Food Network,

there was a guy named Alton Brown who’s on Food Network

who’s sort of very similar, I guess,

sort of to the personality of myself.

And when I came to NPR I found there were a lot of people

that were just naturally like that.

There was, NPR is sort of like a company of like,

it feels like graduate students and college professors

who couldn’t get tenure and ended up making radio shows.

But you know really, you know, really,

and really committed, dedicated journalists,

just people who are committed to helping other people

understand the world better and are just comfortable

with being themselves and doing that.

And so it’s a really, I feel a fantastic organization

in being able to show up as yourself.

But not all, yeah all companies are like that.

  • And it’s really reassuring to hear that,

that you can find that in future corporate environments.

Something that we talk a lot about at Haas

especially within the student body

is sometimes just the feeling of imposter syndrome,

feeling like you don’t belong or feeling like sometimes

you maybe not be as good enough as your peers

or your fellow classmates, and that can often get

to your head and it can cripple you.

I’m curious in your role as a CMO

of such a large organization, have you ever felt

that imposter syndrome or that feeling

of fear of how can you keep up with sort of the demands

of the role, and what are some ways

in which you’ve overcome that if you have felt it?

  • Yeah.

Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about that

when you guys provided that in advance

about imposter syndrome.

And I think maybe it’s a factor of just the age we’re in.

When I was coming up, I didn’t feel a sense

of imposter syndrome because there was so few people

like myself and it seemed to be such a challenge

to overcome pre, you know, preconceived biases

against people of color into what your potential could be.

So it, I didn’t have the luxury of people thinking

that I was more than I was and I was an imposter.

It was more, they, you kind of had to prove

to them that you weren’t what they thought you were

and that you actually were smarter than and were capable.

You could say that today, there are so many

more opportunities.

You know, I think it’s never been a better time.

You know, it’s don’t long from perfect

but it’s never been a better time to be a person of color

going into business and companies really are, you know,

leaning in and looking to diversify and looking

for, you know, highly qualified people of color.

And so, you know, sometimes that focus and,

you know, people patting on the back and saying, oh,

we’re so glad you’re here.

And, you know, and you know, we’re trying to diversify

and we really need you and then you get brought in

and you probably do feel like, oh my God,

you know, am I really as good as I think that I am?

But yeah, I wouldn’t worry about that.

I mean, I still think that the general tenor

within the American industry is to still underestimate and,

you know, somewhat marginalized the abilities

of people of color.

So you’re still gonna need to, you know,

to prove people wrong.

So don’t ever, you know, feel like you’re not worthy,

‘cause you are, and you’re more worthy than probably

most people believe, around you believe that you are.

  • One other question since we spoke about having done

due diligence prior to working at a company,

certainly you did.

You spoke to employees but you were still

from the outside looking in.

Definitely not the companies, but I’m speaking

specifically about NPR.

What were some of the findings that, you know,

you only really gained insight to once you’re in

that may have surprised you that you didn’t expect?

  • Oh, and within NPR.

You know, one of the things that surprised me was

the length of tenure that people,

a lot of companies in media and if you read, you know,

“Variety” or “Deadline Hollywood,” or, you know,

a lot of the trades, there’s a lot of turnover

in the industry.

People jump from company to company,

people tend to, you know, work in someplace

for a couple years and then they…

And I found that just, you know, anecdotally that like

the average tenure of an NPR employee

was at least eight years.

You know, many people 10, 15, 20 years.

So that was a surprise to me.

It’s like, you know, what is about,

what is it about this place that people

are working here for such a long time?

You know, because, you know, it’s a nonprofit

so it’s not necessarily that people are making, you know,

outrageous salaries, but there’s some reason

why they’re dedicating, you know,

the majority of their careers to this place.

And so that was intriguing.

And, you know, as I found out, it’s really,

really about that emotional and sort of spiritual reward

that you get about knowing that the work you’re doing,

you know, is having such a positive impact on the world,

it has a, you know, a meaning,

you know, a deeper meaning.

  • Yeah.

We’re almost at time for audience Q&A,

but before we do that I just wanted

to thank you again Michael for always being

such a consistent advocate for people of color,

for executives, for sort of amplifying talent

in any way you can.

It really, it just, it’s so wonderful to see and experience.

And for those who may not know,

Michael just casually responded to a LinkedIn request

that we had sent him and sort of that’s how

he participated with us today.

So it’s just so lovely that you’re such a wonderful

source of support and guidance and mentorship for us here

at Haas and we just really appreciate

all that you do for us.

  • Well, thank you very much for having me

and you know, what a great credit to the two of you

and the rest of your teammates on having these kinds

of opportunities for students to, you know,

to hear other perspectives and hopefully get some advice

that helps them.

  • Thank you.

(audience claps)

  • So Michael, we don’t want, we’re hoping you can stay

with us a little bit longer because we wanna give

the students in the room or the audience

the opportunity to ask some questions.

Would that be okay with you?

  • Yeah, yeah.

I loved questions.

I was one of, when I was a student,

I was one of the ones in annoyed my professors

with endless questions.

So- - So if you’d like

to ask a question, you can go to the mic behind you

and identify yourself.

If someone would like to…

While she’s walking towards the mic,

let me just say in my own words

how much I appreciate NPR and everything that you’re doing.

I cannot tell you over the years the number of times

I’m in my car listening to an episode,

I get home and I just stay in my car riveting, you know,

by whatever it is I’m listening to.

I just can’t leave, you know, what I’m hearing

on National Public Radio.

So over the years it’s just been so amazing

and we’re just so grateful for NPR.

So on that note, did you wanna ask a question?

  • Hi, my name is Nina.

Is this on?

  • Is the mic on?

  • Hi, my name is Nina.

I’m a second year full-time MBA student

And you I’m just feeling very triggered

about having to graduate in a month or so.

One of my questions is when you’re a news organization,

you’re obviously tasked with having to deliver

some heavy news, like, you know,

the world is kind of dark right now,

but NPR seems to do a beautiful job of centering joy

and connection and empathy in its voice,

even while it’s talking about really complex topics.

And I’d love to know as future leaders of organizations,

how does that joy and empathy and connection translate

to things you you’ve seen take place, you know,

in the office and what can we do as future leaders

to ensure that no matter what industry

we’re working in, we’re also, you know,

carrying ourselves in ways that honor empathy

and joy and connection?

  • Yeah, I think one of, (clears throat)

one of the hallmarks of NPR’s journalistic style

is to, you know, tell stories through the voices

of the people who are experiencing

the thing that you’re talking about,

you know, rather than from just the reporter editorializing.

You know, it’s one of the unique things you can do

with an audio because of the intimacy of the medium.

And so we let the stories unfold, you know,

through the people experiencing it

which I think that allows you to you know,

feel the poignancy but also feel the hope

in the people who are telling the story,

you know, whether…

And I think that’s something you can translate into,

you know, how you work with your peers

and your employees is to, again, going back

to that listening thing and just platforming

the voices of people internally.

And it’s something that, you know,

NPR really does walk that walk internally.

You know, that the number of what we call

sort of listening spaces that we have

within the organization where we get employees together

to talk about, you know, whether it’s diversity issues

or the hybrid work issues, work-life balance issues,

just have spaces where employees can moderate

and spaces to talk about issues amongst themselves.

And it just, you know, creates this culture

where no matter what your role in the organization

you feel like there’s a place for you to have your voice,

you know, recognized.

And so I think keeping an eye on that as a leader

is important.

  • Awesome, I thought that was an awesome question.

Thank you, Nina.

My question is a little bit different.

It’s about competitors.

So you mentioned talking about TikTok and you mentioned,

and kind of some other players who I was

a little bit surprised about actually.

So I was kind of curious how you think about NPR

in terms of various competitors,

especially new ones like Spotify and others

who are kind of popping up as content creators,

new content creators?

  • Yeah, the competition thing is, you know, to me,

is very nuanced because it being,

as a nonprofit we’re not necessarily, you know,

competing against the “New York Times”

or the “Washington Post,” you know, for our audience.

I mean, if you step back for a second and you say, you know,

if our mission is to create a more informed public

and sort of fill the gaps that commercial media, you know,

doesn’t fill, you could argue that

if somebody already has a “New York Times” subscription

or an “FT” subscription and reads the “Washington Post,”

you know, they’re a person who’s pretty well,

they’re well educated.

So that’s not really well, you know,

the core of why we’re here.

We’re here to help that person,

you know, doesn’t have access to that information,

you know, who can really be empowered

by having that kind of information.

And so, you know, where we compete with them

is more in terms of the resources to do what we need to do.

So we do earn a significant amount of resources

through sponsorship sales or advertising you call it,

the sponsors to fight messaging in our content.

You know, we do get membership donations from people.

So to the extent that people are consuming

the “New York Times” and not us, then that may, you know,

harm our advertising revenue to the extent

that they’re paying for “New York Times” subscriptions,

you know, maybe that this reduced the amount

of money they have to donate to NPR.

But it’s not as, you know, direct one to one,

like we’re sitting there paying attention

to how many clicks they’re getting

versus how many clicks we’re getting.

  • Thank you for that.

Hi, Michael.

This is Dimple.

I’m an alum of the Haas School,

and also have looked at Michael as a mentor over the years.

I come from the media industry.

We met in New York a number of years ago

through are the Haas alumni network.

So I definitely encourage you all to stay in touch

with the network.

My question for you Michael today

is one thing I know about you is that you’ve always

been super innovative wherever you’ve been

in terms of pushing strategy forward

in a very unique way that hasn’t necessarily

been introduced to C-levels in the organizations

you’ve worked for.

And I think that part of your magic there is this sort

of quiet charisma that you have and as leaders

and future leaders in this room, you know,

we’re all gonna have to work with folks

who we have to find strategic ways

to getting through to them.

How have you done that?

You know, what are those, you know, personality traits

or, you know, maybe there’s a story

of a time you were trying to get something pushed through

and, or an idea accepted.

How did you go about that?

Thank you.

  • Oh, thanks there Dimple.

Definitely, yeah.

Great to see you again.

The key list lesson I’ve learned is the value

of relationships and just human connection.

I think when I came outta school,

just give you guys guys some perspective.

You know, I went straight through from undergrad

into business school.

So I hadn’t worked at all, you know full time

when I got into the business world.

So I believed you know, my success had been

because of my academic success.

You know, I have the smartest idea and, you know,

biggest brain and then that’s gonna win.

You know, that’s kind of happens when you’re in school.

And I learned the hard way over years

that it’s not having the best strategy or the best idea

and just trying to, you know, pound your fist on the table

and drill it in the people’s heads.

It really is about winning their hearts

and understanding okay, I’ve got an idea.

I think it’s the best idea but how can I connect

with this person and you know just listen to them

and understand and where they’re trying to go.

And, you know, we can kind of get there together

in coming to this understanding that was…

And a lot of it is building that relationship capital

with people through just, you know, popping your head

in someone’s office, having coffee with them, you know,

shooting a breeze about North Carolina Duke,

you know game or what happened on “Real Housewives”

or whatever, just building that equity with people

will get you to, you know, get your ideas through

a lot more than, you know, fantastic PowerPoint

and a great, you know, explanation.

‘Cause people tend to do things I think a lot because of,

you know, their hearts over their heads.

  • Hi, Michael.

Love the conversation so far.

My question’s a little bit more so

on the creator economy per se.

There are a lot of content creators,

whether you’re TikToks or podcasts, whatsoever,

and they have very different ways of making a living,

making money and being more mainstream.

What are the ways that you have seen creators

make this living and sort of what revenue streams

have been there and how do you see them changing

over the past few years and maybe in the future?

  • Yeah, I think the revenue streams around entertainment,

you know, have not really changed in principle from,

I tell students this all the time, if you go back to the,

the ancient Roman chariot races.

You know, they had the kind of two

or three key revenue generating things

if you look at those races in the Coliseum,

they sold tickets to the event.

They had banners like, cloth banners hanging

in the Coliseum with names of little,

you know, little businesses on them.

And then they, you know, sold little statues

of the chariot racers outside, little wood cart statues.

So, you know, if you make great content,

you can monetize it either by charging people for it,

you know, subscriptions.

You know, if you’re a creator, I guess,

you know, you have a Substack

or you’ve got a Patreon channel.

You get people give you money.

Or you can because of the attention

that you draw based on what you’re doing,

you can get other people to pay for that attention,

which is advertisers, sponsors, you know,

people that wanna reach your audience.

And then the third is, you know, you can use your,

you know, brand and IP and likeness to create other kinds

of products, you know, merchandise.

T-shirts, hats, you know, other things, you know,

experiences and that kind of monetization model

has been around I think, you know,

as long as entertainment has been.

It’s just that now, you know, technology enables

more complex ways to do that.

So instead of selling a T-shirt or a hat, you know,

a Jackson Brown concert which is something

I bought 35 years ago.

Now you’re buying, you know, an NFT from, you know,

a Kanye West livestream, you know.

So I think it’s just understanding

that the, if you do make content,

you’ve got those three different ways that you can monetize.

  • Hi, my name’s Emily.

Thank you so much for being here.

This has been great.

As a marketer I had a question for you

about brand awareness which you had mentioned earlier.

I was really surprised to hear how, you know,

relatively low the brand awareness of NPR is.

I was curious as CMO, how do you go about increasing

brand awareness especially considering

the increasing political polarization of people in the US

and the separate media bubbles that people live in?

  • Yeah, it, well, I think the biggest

for brand awareness for an organization like us

is just financial resources.

I mean, you can get huge brand awareness if you,

you know, spend the money to buy, you know,

the access to see people’s time, so buying advertising.

We have more limited resources so we’ve gotta rely more

on taking the things that people are already engaged with

and cross-promoting other things that they might be

interested in, you know, trying to use

other people’s platforms.

The great thing is people do have a lot of trust

and respect and for our brand.

So, you know, things as simple as having our reporters

and hosts on other people’s shows.

You know, getting social shares of our content

in front of new people.

So, but to your question about

the bubbles and the polarization,

I have a kind of contrarian view on this whole bubble thing.

You know, I think that, you know,

we have more diversity in media outlets and media sources

and access to media than in ever in history.

I mean, everyone can be a publisher.

Everyone can have a Twitter feed.

There’s more discourse, public discourse

than there’s ever been in world history.

So the fact that there’s dispute

and polarization and people have different opinions to me,

is not new in the world.

I mean, that’s what we had civil war in the United States.

I mean, you know, we’ve had, you know,

we had colonization and empires.

I mean, it’s not like a thousand years ago

the world was this honky dory place

where everybody just agreed and sang kumbaya together.

So I actually look at it the other way.

I think that we are at, we actually have more,

you know, diversity and more inclusion

and more harmony than ever before because I think that,

the image people have in the past is that, yeah,

we didn’t have a lot of, you know,

dispute between the Republicans and Democrats

or there, you know, between mainstream American

and within mainstream American culture.

But what they forget is that there were big groups of people

who were just excluded from mainstream American culture.

So yeah, you know, all the, you know,

cisgender straight white men all agreed

but you didn’t was no, you know,

Native Americans didn’t have a story.

You know, gender non binary people didn’t have a story,

African Americans didn’t have, nobody else was at the table.

So you could say, yeah, we all agreed.

It was a great American.

Now all of a sudden where everyone’s sitting at the table,

finally, we’re starting to sit at the table

and people are upset that, well, wait a minute,

we’re polarized.

I don’t understand why we don’t agree anymore.

It’s like, well, because you didn’t let us

in the room before to disagree with you.

  • Yeah. - Thank you.

  • Hi, Michael.

My name is Tarik Glenn.

I’m actually an undergraduate student.

I’m a junior at Haas right now.

And first off, I just wanted to thank you for coming back.

It’s very motivational seeing a black man

come back and pour back into the students.

But I just wanted to ask you being in such a successful role

and being a black man, what would,

what advice could you give me for someone

like a young black man who’s aspiring

to be in a similar position like you but having

to overcome adversity during that process.

  • Oh, okay.

One thing you talked about, thank you for that comment.

You know, it just made me think about

how far we’ve come in terms of progress.

When I finished at Haas I remember being asked to come back,

it was maybe like only a year or two after finishing

to talk to students, to be an inspiration to them.

But this is a time when there were hardly any black students

at Haas and so some guy who is 26 years old,

who works in New York is considered to be an inspiration

to the few students that we had.

And now I guess it takes you know, being the CMO

of NPR to be…

(audience laughs)

So it’s great.

Shows that we’ve come a long, that there’s a lot more people

like you out there, which is fabulous.

But yeah, to your question about,

you know, how I guess keys to success.

You know, I think that the one lesson

this was taught to me years ago is that

there’s this arc that happens, especially for black men,

male leaders that we tend to not do as well in career

advancement early on but then tend to do well

later in our careers.

And that the paradox is because oftentimes

when you’re younger there’s this sort of

these preconceptions and you know, stereotypes about you

and so people tend to pass you over for opportunities.

But you keep your head down and you keep learning

and you keep getting better and you keep getting stronger

and people who get the chances ahead of you flame out.

And then what happens often, this happened in my career.

They come back to you later down the line and say,

oh, you’re still here.

Well, you know what?

We got this big, the house is on fire.

We tried everybody else and you know what?

Okay, put this guy in and you know.

And then because you’ve been preparing,

you actually knock it out of the park

and that’s, that’s happened to me

multiple times my career, but, you know.

So I think that that fact sometimes that we are overlooked

it though creates a quiet strength

and it creates something that people,

I think hopefully now are realizing that,

that we need to tap into more.

  • Thank you.

  • Hello, Michael.

I am also an undergrad student here at Haas

studying business and media studies.

Thank you so much for the pieces of knowledge

that you’ve shared with us this far.

A question that I have for you is,

as you have navigated your journey for over 30 years,

early on in your career what helped you develop a niche

and kind of have that clarity in pursuing your,

like the role that you’re currently at,

or do you see that come in and kind of,

how do you navigate that journey?

I would say personally for me, I’m currently, you know,

as an undergrad student seeking to develop

my marketing aspirations.

It’s been a bit of a challenge to kind

of find that niche and see where I can merge my passions

and my talents.

So what advice would you have for someone

who is currently navigating that space?

  • Yeah.

Oh, thanks for the question.

Yeah, I think that you can’t really understand

what you like to do unless you do a lot of stuff, you know.

So I knew I’d like being around entertainment,

but I did, I tried to just do it.

When I was undergraduate I started this group called

the Campus Entertainment Board where we just

we put on concerts with local bands that we would get

from San Francisco and bring ’em out to campus.

And we, put, you know, throw parties and put on plays.

And you know, I played in a rock band for a little while.

I just did a lot of things and then those things actually

kind of helped me get a sense for what my niche was.

I realized like I wasn’t the best musician.,

I wasn’t the best actor, I wasn’t the best, you know,

singer, but I was really good at like,

kind of putting together the thing, the event.

Like making the connection about like,

what’s the artist that we should have on stage

at this a party and how much should we charge

for the tickets and who should we invite

and how can we make it really popular?

So I realized I like the idea of how

to like connect people to entertainment,

how to make them like, like promoting it,

making people wanna like it and come and engage with it.

And by doing that, I got to be around people

who are much more talented than me,

better guitar players, better actors or whatever,

but my role was to like make a spotlight shine on them.

And so that’s how I found my niche.

Now, you know, maybe if I had found that I was, you know,

a super great musician then I would’ve decided

I wanted to be, you know, a producer or writer

or the creator themselves.

But so I think that’s where you kind of

can sense it by just trying stuff out.

Get involved in entertainment projects at the school level,

with your friends and other people

and then you kind of see where you shine.

  • Amazing.

Thank you so much.

  • Thank you.

Thank you so much, Michael.

I think we are out of time and I just wanna thank you

for your wonderful answers to all these questions

and also for your great optimism.

I mean, you’re really just have a vision

which is so inspiring to me and so positive in so many ways.

So thank you so much for coming back to Haas.

We’re very grateful to you.


(audience claps)