2015–16 Davidson Lecturer Danielle Lee ’93 | photo by Ben Carmichael
Ask Danielle Lee ’93, vice president of commercial marketing at Vevo, what drives the world’s leading all-premium music video and entertainment platform, and she’ll tell you it’s as much about creating communities around content as it is about serving advertisers. In an age when viewers have little tolerance for pre-roll advertising, content marketing is the new frontier. Ultimately, says Lee, “It’s about bringing fans closer to the artists they love.” The scale on which the company operates is staggering: Vevo videos garner more than 12 billion monthly views. As the 2015–16 Davidson Lecturer, Lee spoke at Concord Academy on Thursday, December 3, about the rapidly developing digital media industry, and also about her own career path and the lessons she took from her time as a student at CA.
Long gone is the scene of a family hurrying to a living-room television set to catch Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” whenever it happened to air. When MTV moved into reality-TV programming, the Internet became the place for music videos. But access for everyone quickly turned into sorting through clutter. That’s when Vevo entered the picture. The company just celebrated its sixth anniversary, but already its brand is synonymous with official music videos. And Vevo’s model of syndicating content with publishers across the Web has made videos watchable any time, anywhere, on any screen. At the convergence of two high-growth market segments, streaming music and on-demand video, the company distributes more than 150,000 high-definition videos, plus original programs and live-streamed performances. It also delivers brand content to audiences much more finely targeted than through traditional segmentation by age, ethnicity, and gender. Though even in those terms, with more than half of viewers millennials and 20 percent Hispanic, Vevo’s demographic is young and diverse.
Just recently, said Lee, “the world stopped” to watch Adele’s new music video, “Hello.” Within 24 hours, it was viewed more than 20 million times; reaching 100 million views in just five days, it became the fastest-certified video in history. That opportunity for immediate exposure is appealing to brands, which are now integrating into pop culture experiences through sophisticated in-video content and “shoulder programming,” such as related online shows about artists. Within three years of launching its app, mobile accounted for half of Vevo’s traffic, and now mobile amounts to more than two-thirds of U.S. traffic across the media landscape. Companies succeeding in this exploding industry are the ones that are adapting. And it takes a nimble thinker to keep up with constant evolution.
Danielle Lee speaking about perseverance | photo by Ben Carmichael
In October 2015, Business Insider named Lee one of the “30 most powerful women in mobile advertising.” But she didn’t always have her sights set on becoming a digital and emerging media executive. Encouraged to be an attorney, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Columbia University before working at AOL, where as a project manager she discovered an affinity for marketing. That realization led her back to Columbia for her MBA in marketing and media management. As she moved through Showtime and AT&T, where she became vice president for marketing and innovation, Lee took each position a step at a time. “I’m just a person who is wired to get to the next level, not to be complacent,” she says. She makes career decisions as opportunities open up, and also grounds herself in setting individual and family goals each year.
Reflecting on her time as a student at CA, she shared four qualities that have allowed her to thrive in her complex and fast-changing industry.
1. Perseverance: As a young woman of color from Harlem, Lee experienced a drastic cultural shift at CA. It was so disorienting that soon after she arrived, she wanted to go home. But learning the most she could before moving on served her well not only at CA, from which she did graduate, but also in many situations in which she was the only woman, the only person of color, or both. “You don’t want to run from your present situation,” she advised. “You want to run to the right opportunity.”
2. Agility: CA’s academic rigor and emphasis on moving fluidly among arts, athletics, and extracurricular activities fostered an agile mindset — “an ability to flex different muscles,” Lee said. “My eagerness to accept change, my comfort with the unknown, and ability to learn as I go …those characteristics were already incubated here.”
3. Voice: Lee valued CA’s focus on individuality and freedom of expression in the classroom and in senior chapel talks. In her own chapel, she spoke of herself as wearing a mask. She remembered it as the first time she publicly spoke her own, unpopular, truth. “It began a bold and valuable process for me,” she said. “I’m delighted to see that tradition continue here today.”
4. Integrity: Doing the right thing when no one is looking, owning mistakes and taking a role in fixing problems, choosing based on values instead of personal gain — Lee credited integrity as a core leadership skill that enabled her to survive layoffs and switch industries seamlessly. Far from discounting networking, she suggested that it’s about who you know, but also how you work. “Your network gets you opportunities, but you have to deliver results,” she said.
On small screens, music videos are bigger than ever | photo by Ben Carmichael
“What do you want your personal brand to be?” she asked as she concluded her talk, before students crowded around, eager to speak with her. When asked whether it felt like putting pressure on teenagers to brand themselves, she said simply, “Whether you want to have a brand or not, you do. It’s your reputation. I think everyone is managing it to some degree: ‘I want to be known as this person, and this is what I’m going to exude.’”
The Anne E. and Jane S. Davidson Lectureship Fund was established as an endowed speaker series in 1966 by Mr. and Mrs. Davidson to honor their two daughters, Ann Davidson Kidder ’66 and Jane E. Davidson ’64. Over the years, the Davidson Lecture Series has brought a diverse array of speakers to CA, including Dr. Helen Caldicott, author Jonathan Kozol, New York Times immigration reporter Julia Preston ’69, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin P’84, and Rhymes with Orange cartoonist Hilary Price ’87.