In February, BET Networks rallied such prominent national organizations as the National Urban League, Color of Change and the Legal Defense Fund to coalesce around a new social change campaign, #ReclaimYourVote, in an effort to help increase African-American participation in the 2020 Census and election.
Leading the charge around the groundbreaking effort is BET Networks’s chief social impact and communications officer, Jeanine Liburd. Her impressive background as a public policy administrator and media communications executive has paid dividends for the programmer, in front of the camera and within its targeted African-American community.
“Jeanine’s unique background and experiences are a tremendous asset to our brand, and she serves as an inspiration to so many other women — and men — within our BET family,” BET Networks president Scott Mills said.
The Brooklyn, New York, native said that growing up she wanted to pursue a career in acting. She turned her sights to urban studies while earning a bachelor of arts degree in the discipline at Vassar College, with a stop at Atlanta’s Spelman College for her junior year.
Started in Politics
After college, Liburd took aim at developing a career in politics and public policy. “I wanted to be mayor of New York,” she said. “Coming out of college, I knew I wanted to work and further my education in public policy, so I earned my masters from the New School University for Social Research in their public policy program, where I worked for the City of New York.”
In 1995, Liburd would take her leadership skills to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Department of Health and Human Services. In 1996 she joined the White House as a policy analyst in the Clinton administration. During her time there, she began to work with the administration’s press team to get coverage of policy issues.
“I began to understand the power of news, TV and the power of partnerships with media entities,” she said.
Liburd moved back to New York in 1997 to hone her media skills working for strategic communications firm Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery. As part of her stint there, she would work closely with then-upstart women’s network Oxygen. Working with female executives such as Geraldine Laybourne, Liburd said she learned life lessons that would serve her well in her future endeavors.
“I learned that you don’t have to be mean or aggressive to be successful, effective or strong,” she said. “You can be a passionate leader and lead with compassion.”
In 2000, Liburd transitioned to MTV Networks as VP of corporate communications, handling public-relations duties for such emerging networks as Nickelodeon, VH1 and MTV. Unlike at Oxygen, where she worked more on the content side, Liburd said she learned the corporate component of the entertainment industry at MTV.
“On the corporate level, you have a chance to see things from a different perspective,” she said. “While you didn’t have the openness in the same way that you do when you’re deep into the brand, I did have the flexibility of digging into a brand when there was an issue.”
There were many issues to deal with during cable’s growing years, particularly on the distribution side. Liburd recalls one dustup in the mid-2000s with satellite service Dish Network, which eventually dropped the MTV Networks suite of services. “When [Dish chairman Charlie Ergen] pulled the plug, I learned so much in the process about the strategy around communications with the affiliates and the consumers,” she said. “I hadn’t had that experience, and I realized that there was still so much of the business that I had to learn. No day was like the previous day.”
As part of the Viacom corporate media team, one executive who Liburd would regularly come into contact with was Debra Lee, BET Networks CEO. Lee eventually approached Liburd about working for the African-American targeted network.
Initially, Liburd said, she was apprehensive about going back to working for a single brand after her years in corporate communications. But Lee presented a vision for the network — including an expansion into scripted content on-screen and more social outreach into the African-American community behind the scenes — that matched Liburd’s career aspirations, she said.
Under the leadership of Lee and Liburd, BET built upon what was already arguably the most popular African-American entertainment brand, transitioning what was a music video-dominated network into an outlet that presented successful scripted series such as The Game and Being Mary Jane, as well as news and entertainment content.
BET’s Mills said Liburd’s tenure is synonymous with the network’s overall success. “Jeanine’s leadership and drive have been a pillar of BET’s success over the past two decades of entertaining, engaging and empowering black communities,” he said.
Liburd has been able to extend BET’s brand beyond TV into becoming a true social leader within the African-American community.
She cited a saying from former MTV Networks chairman and CEO Judy McGrath: How can we use our superpowers for good? “We have this great platform and we would be remiss if we’re not ramping up the work that we’ve always done, but to do it in a much more intentional and purposeful way,” Liburd said.
The married mother of two teenagers is enjoying the opportunity to make a difference with her talents through the BET brand.
“To take the first portion of my career in terms of the public policy piece, and to match it with the entertainment piece and the utilization of our big platform is really the perfect place for me to be,” she said.
Career Highlights: Liburd began her BET Networks career as chief marketing and communications officer before advancing to chief social impact and communications officer.
She also served as an executive with Viacom Corporate Communications and MTV Networks.
Prior to her entertainment career, Liburd worked on local and national urban and family policy at the local and national levels. She held positions in New York City’s Department of General Services under Mayor David Dinkins, and with the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House under President Bill Clinton.
Quotable: “Every relationship is an important one so treat it as such, and always take the time to think of the other person’s perspective. It’s not always about you.”