TITLE: Executive Vice President, Marketing, Creative and Communications
COMPANY: Crown Media Family Networks
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: From her beginnings with Turner International in Hong Kong, McAvoy was part of building such influential brands as Oxygen, Comcast Spotlight and Bravo.
QUOTABLE: “I feel like the people I mentor today can really teach me a lot about how they perceive the world, how they perceive technology, even down to what some of the [social media] acronyms are.”
I look at the women over the years and it seems a little surreal to have my name be on that list,” Susanne McAvoy said of being honored among the 2017 Wonder Women. “There’s a lot more that I want to do, and then I think, ‘Wow, does that mean if I do more I’m all of a sudden a hall of famer?’”
If so, McAvoy just might have a spot. As executive vice president of marketing, creative and communications for Crown Media Family Networks, McAvoy has led the marketing and communications efforts for the company’s key entertainment channels, looking to keep them up to date while ensuring they stay in sync with the 106-year-old Hallmark brand.
Her first charge was the 2012 rebranding of Hallmark Channel. “For us, it was a repositioning in that we really needed to look at what we represented to the consumers,” McAvoy said. “We know that Hallmark represents this huge range of emotions — we know that from the brick-and-mortar brand [and] from what people say about Hallmark. So how do we in television contemporize the brand knowing we can’t change the logo, we can’t change our heritage and pedigree?”
GETTING TO THE ‘HEART’
After working through various taglines, she said, “It was kind of like this obvious duh! moment: We’re the heart of TV. We’re all about emotions. Then we went through the whole thing: Is ‘TV’ antiquated? And no, the word TV isn’t antiquated. People say ‘I watch TV on my iPad,’ or ‘I watch TV on my Android.’ We looked at other things like, ‘Hallmark Feels Right’ or ‘Hallmark Makes You Feel Good.’ No, we represent ‘The Heart of TV.’ ”
The rebranding of Hallmark Movie Channel to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in 2014 proved a different challenge. For this, McAvoy liaised with the principals at Hallmark Cards — representing nearly 4,000 Hallmark Gold Crown retail stores — who were not thrilled with the prospects of including “Mysteries” in the brand title, despite whodunits carrying some of the channel’s highest-rated dayparts.
“They really felt like mysteries and Hallmark didn’t belong together,” she recalls of those exchanges. “It was like: What doesn’t belong? Cat. Dog. Squirrel. Apple. Hallmark and mysteries, in their mind, just didn’t go together.”
Along with Crown Media president and CEO Bill Abbott, McAvoy went through “a long exercise of explaining” the benefits to the brand, to advertisers and to distributors, she said.
Two and a half years later, HMM is another jewel in McAvoy’s rebranding crown. “Because we’re still Hallmark,” she said. “We’re very true to our viewer. We’re not trying to be edgier or younger, we’re just trying to be contemporary in the entertainment space today.”
Said Ian Karr of McAvoy: “She knows what the brand is and she understands how to build that brand with her audience.” Karr, founder, producer and director at IKA Collective, has worked with McAvoy to launch series promos, behind-scenes packages and programming stunts for Hallmark Channel and HMM. “Susanne is about growing the audience organically, not just by having the next Kardashians show, but by deepening our ties with our viewers because she’s representative of the audience.”
A career in communications had long been on McAvoy’s trajectory. While a senior at Vanderbilt University, the Mobile, Ala., native did a full-semester internship on the news desk during the 1992 Bush-Clinton presidential election, with dreams of becoming the next Katie Couric.
“But what I learned from that internship is that I didn’t want to be the next Katie Couric — the news doesn’t stop; the news doesn’t work 9 to 5 — but I did have this passion for the television business overall,” she said.
After a year touring Asia, she landed a job in international marketing with Turner International in Hong Kong before moving back to the headquarters in Atlanta. After that, McAvoy was director of affiliate marketing at Oxygen Media and senior manager of affiliate marketing for MTV. She then moved to Comcast Spotlight, where was director of corporate marketing, managing the company’s advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt, and developing and creating consumer ad campaigns, on-air spots, direct mail campaigns and sales videos.
After years of corporate busyness, she left to forge out on her own. “I freelanced at a few different places. I got married during that time,” said McAvoy, who celebrates her 10-year anniversary this summer. The couple has 7-year-old twins. “It was a nice break from the full-time capacity that I had been operating at that point in my career. It got me in a place where I was really clear about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.”
A few months at Bravo helped solidify her decision. “That was the very beginning of Real Housewives; it was the first year, Top Chef was on fire and the beginning of branded entertainment and integrations,” she remembers. “That time spent at Bravo — seeing how the upfront and the ad sales worked — got me ready to come here.”
Said Abbott: “I could see right out of the gate that she was a star and was going to be with us for a very long time.”
‘HALL OF FAME’ WORK
Recently, McAvoy worked on the “brand refresh” for the 65th anniversary of the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie franchise. “That was almost like a rebrand in and of itself,” she said. Its most recent film, Love Locks, aired this month starring real-life couple Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell. McAvoy also led the ad campaign featuring Glenn Close as the voice for Hallmark Hall of Fame. “There are some other projects that Crown Media has in the works,” McAvoy said, “so there will definitely be more of the Hallmark brand out there in the press.”
And keeping Hallmark’s entertainment brand identity strong with viewers — whether via linear or streaming service — will continue to be McAvoy’s priority. “Strong network brands will potentially be in a more powerful position given all of the fragmentation because people are going to consume their content one way or another,” she said, “and they’re going to want know exactly what they’re going to get.”