Nicole Browning, president of affiliate sales and marketing for MTV Networks, has made a career in television. But when she was growing up in Stamford, Conn., her parents severely limited the time she could spend in front of the boob tube.
"The irony was that I was not allowed to watch TV on school nights," Browning recalled. "So now, it is always my joke that TV Land is premiere material for me. I go, 'So those are the shows all my friends were talking about.'"
Browning, like her parents, has been attempting to crack the whip, trying to enforce the old "no-TV-on-weekdays" rule for her own 11-year-old twins and 14-year-old daughter.
"I have to say that I'm failing miserably," Browning jokingly admitted. "But every once in awhile I do dig in."
Browning, as distribution diva for Viacom's sprawling cable unit, is now in charge of ramping up carriage for not only retro TV Land, but also core services such as MTV: Music Television, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, and VH1; as well as newer offerings Noggin and MTV2. Browning's most recent mandate is to jumpstart distribution for the acquisitions TNN: The National Network and CMT: Country Music Television.
Now that they are coming of age, Browning's three kids are thrilled that her work involves the youth-culture beacon MTV, a favorite of theirs and their friends.
"They're very proud to say what I do," she said. "And that means a lot to me."
Browning, who joined MTVN in 1986 as Southeast regional director for affiliate sales, now has 120 people under her wing, after a recent MTVN restructuring merged affiliate marketing into her affiliate sales unit.
A Brown University graduate, Browning started out in sales, but not TV sales. She went to Atlanta to work for Union Carbide's Eveready battery division, and gained seasoning dealing with charged up customers. At the time, silver prices had skyrocketed, and batteries have a high silver content, so Browning had to placate some irritated customers.
"There were a lot of agitated clients on the phone because of the huge price increases," she said.
Her next gig was at Xerox Corp. selling copiers, where she went through the company's "fabulous" sales training. But it wasn't a bed of roses there, either.
"I was going into doctor's offices trying to sell them toner and being kicked out for soliciting," Browing said, laughing. "And I'm thinking, 'This is what I did with my great college education?'"
Sandy McGovern had also been at Xerox around that time, and left to join Rainbow Media Holdings. She brought Browning over, and they ran its Southeast region out of McGovern's house. Browning loved the notion of selling Bravo, but was a little less enthusiastic about selling Escapade, the adult service that would eventually evolve into The Playboy Channel. After a stint at The Weather Channel, Browning joined MTVN and later relocated to New York City.
Whether at Union Carbide, Xerox, Rainbow or MTVN, Browning thrives on the challenge of sales.
"I really love the art of persuasion," she said. "I love getting people to the same outcome as I have, because you're meeting their needs as well."
At MTVN, the creative and entrepreneurial atmosphere continues to stimulate Browning.
"Sales is hard," she said. "You have to at some fundamental level like being able to navigate through a course of being rejected and having to go back and be rejected and having to go back. That's not always easy for people. There's just something in that process that suits me."
But Browning said that's just a small part of what she does on a day-to-day basis.
"What most attracts me to my job is the very stimulating environment," she said. "There are changes constantly in the marketplace, constantly internally, that keep me intellectually stimulated. Everyday there's a different problem that's been posed. Everyday there's a different objection. So it just keeps your mind active."
Browning also enjoys developing relationships with clients, helping MTVN start new businesses and guiding the company in terms of new opportunities.
"It is very hard," she said. "You spend a lot of time working, making sure that you are setting up your company and considering all these future opportunities that don't exist now. In deals, you have to incorporate how the world could look in the future . . . But I like that. If I didn't feel that every day I came into work I wasn't learning something and my mind was stagnating. I would hate it."
She considers her proudest accomplishments her role in guiding MTVN into the digital age with The Suite, and the collection of talent she has gathered as part of her team.
Most of her free time is spent with her three children. "They keep me very busy," she said.
Browning also enjoys working for charities relating to breast cancer, and hobbies such as swimming, reading, playing piano and knitting.
"I am a huge knitter," Browning said, jokingly adding. "I'm not really sure I want that known."
While some parents may find MTV's fare, both its videos and programming, racy, Browning doesn't see it that way. She said that MTV's messages and information, about topics ranging from AIDS to diversity, can't be found on any other network.
"I want my children watching MTV," Browning said. "It helps me as parent to introduce my 14-year-old to a conversation about AIDS, or talk to my kids about Muslims. I have a very different skew on MTV than I think you would hear typically from other parents."