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MCNWW 2015 Courteney Monroe: A CEO With Brand Ambition

Finding Success — and Fun — at Helm of Nat Geo’s Cable Empire 1/26/2015 8:00 AM Eastern

COURTENEY MONROE

TITLE: CEO, National Geographic Channels U.S.

AGE: 46

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Before becoming CEO, Monroe was Chief Marketing Officer at NGC U.S.; following her tenure as EVP, Consumer Marketing and Digital Platforms, at Home Box Office. Earlier she held marketing positions at American Express and Salomon Brothers and worked in account management at BBDO.

QUOTE: ”Everything happens for a reason.”

 

It takes a strong will to leave a dream job in the capital of the world to spend more time with your family. But that’s exactly what Courteney Monroe did after 22 years in New York City and a top job at HBO.

 

Three years ago, Monroe left her post as executive vice president of consumer marketing and digital platforms for Home Box Office. She moved to Washington, D.C., and took a job as chief marketing officer at National Geographic Channel, where she was tasked with all aspects of brand strategy, consumer marketing, digital platforms, social media, ad-sales marketing and licensing and merchandising.

 

“It was the hardest decision of my life,” she recalled. But more family time — being with her kids, an ailing mother and a husband with a new career, all back in D.C., also her hometown — persuaded her to make the move.

 

These days, she said, she couldn’t feel more satisfied. Last spring, Monroe was named the CEO of the network. She is responsible for all operations of the domestic National Geographic Channels — the National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo — owned jointly by the Fox Networks Group and the august National Geographic Society.

 

‘KILLING JESUS’

Last year, NGC celebrated its highest-rated and most-watched year in primetime. With Monroe’s emphasis on digital and social initiatives, the network widened its social footprint by 161% and grew overall traffic to NGC websites by 146%.

 

Under Monroe, NGC launched marketing campaigns for Killing Kennedy, which got the highest total viewership in network history; and the Emmy-nominated Brain Games, the highest-rated series launch for the channel. She’s also led the promotion for the popular franchises Wicked Tuna and Doomsday Preppers.

 

Perhaps one of the biggest marketing efforts with digital came to bear on the Killing Kennedy movie, when the website offered visitors an immersive experience, complete with historical footage, music and text, through the eyes of President John F. Kennedy and his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

Recent management changes at National Geographic Channels are a big vote of confidence in Monroe by Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Peter Rice. “She intuitively gets the brand,” Rice said. “She has strong ideas, but a very collaborative style.

 

“In a world of infinite choice, you have to have strong brands that people navigate to,” Rice said.

 

Monroe’s challenge now is developing hit nonfiction programming that draws a big enough popular audience — and still honors the iconic, 127-year-old National Geographic brand.

 

Monroe and her team hope to produce hits which are also educational. On the heels of the popular Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which enjoyed one of the largest launches for a TV series last year (90 National Geographic Channels in 180 countries as well as 120 Fox-branded channels in 125 countries); Monroe is bringing back TV host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson for a late-night talk show series on National Geographic Channel called Star Talk. And she has high hopes for the upcoming Killing Jesus after the ratings blockbusters Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, movies based on books by Bill O’Reilly.

 

Monroe has also put a big emphasis on digital by spearheading the launch of a fully redesigned website and rolling out their authenticated TV everywhere product, NatGeoTV.

 

Monroe’s colleagues credit her with motivating people of varying personalities and skills with a team ethos. “Leadership is an intangible thing,” said HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler, who worked with Monroe during her time at the premium network. “But whatever it is, Courteney has it in droves.

 

“She walked into a room with great presence and communicated passion and authority … which was very infectious. She had that here, and she’s carried that and then some in the position she has now.”

 

Monroe began her career at HBO as manager of advertising in 1998, overseeing the campaigns for all HBO series and sports programming. In her second week there, she was handed 13 scripts for a new show called The Sopranos.

 

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said. “That was my first project.”

 

FAN OF THE BRAND

Monroe quickly became a fan of the brand — something she hadn’t felt in previous jobs at American Express and BBDO Worldwide — fueling much of her inspiration then and since. “HBO satisfied my desire to apply my interest in marketing to something I was super-passionate about, which makes the day more fun and makes you better at your job.”

 

Monroe went on to oversee award-winning marketing campaigns for some of HBO’s hottest properties, including Sex and the City, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones.

 

She rose quickly through the ranks at the premium network and was named director, then vice president over all HBO advertising campaigns.

 

By 2008, after assuming increasingly more responsibility in digital and licensing, she was named executive vice president. More recently, she led the marketing of HBO Go and MAX Go, the company’s digital streaming services.

 

Her title now is a far cry from where she’d thought she’d be growing up as a kid in D.C. In middle school, Monroe sat in front of a mirror with a hairbrush as a microphone, dreaming of the day she’d become a broadcast journalist.

 

“I was convinced I would anchor the Today show,” she said.

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