TITLE: Executive VP, Global Product Leadership, Nielsen
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Since joining Nielsen in 2004, Clarken has held such posts as managing director of media client services in APMEA (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa), and managing director of Nielsen’s digital businesses in both Asia Pacific and Australia.
QUOTE: “The trick is to make sure you’re not introducing things too early. We’re often asked why did mobile only get introduced into our digital ratings 18 months or two years ago … If it was introduced any prior to that, we might have been measuring BlackBerrys. ”
— Megan Clarken
Ask people about Nielsen executive vice president of global product leadership Megan Clarken and a lot of words come up in the conversation — smart, no-nonsense, fearless, knowledgeable, confident, driven. Those qualities first came to the surface in what Clarken thought would be her first and only career as a world-class track and field athlete. But they’ve proven to be even more valuable in her current role as the point person for what is arguably the most anticipated measurement product since the People Meter: Total Audience Measurement.
A native of New Zealand, Clarken left school at 16 to pursue her track and field dreams. A long-jumper who once held New Zealand’s women’s national record at 6.52 meters, Clarken qualified for the New Zealand Olympic team and was preparing for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul when she injured her ACL in an accident, effectively ending her career. For the next decade, she worked to get back into Olympic form before deciding in her 30s to finally abandon that career and focus on what had become her new passion — information technology.
“I fell into IT because I was interested in data entry and shiftwork so I could train during the day,” Clarken said, adding that her initial goal was to find another sport she could pursue at the Olympic level.
“It didn’t work out,” she said. “I could never get to the same standard with the knee that I was left with.”
DRIVEN TO SUCCEED IN TRACK, IT
Clarken said she then turned her focus on her business career, using the skills and determination she had developed through athletics.
After a stint at the Microsoft Network in Australia, where she said she “fell in love with digital media” while working on a joint venture between Australia’s Channel 9 and MSN, Clarken steadily moved through the digital ranks, consulting for News Corp. and holding leadership positions at several tech firms including Akamai Technologies. She was hired by Nielsen in 2004, taking roles in leading commercial and product development and later heading up Southeast Asia operations. That’s where she attracted the attention of Nielsen global president and chief operating officer Steve Hasker, who joined the company in 2010.
Hasker said he had tried for years to bring Clarken to New York to run Nielsen’s media operations, finally succeeding in 2013. Clarken’s deep understanding and appreciation of the media business, operational excellence, fearlessness and drive made her perfect for the job, he said. “A lot of people give great presentations,” Hasker said. “She’s the one who gets it done.”
He recalled a recent meeting of about 200 top Nielsen sales and media executives, where Clarken took the stage to the tune of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.”
“That really encapsulates Megan,” Hasker said. “She will talk it through, but she’s much more comfortable getting it done than she is talking about it, and much more comfortable moving on to the next program rather than celebrating the last one.”
LEARNING FROM ROCK STARS
“I look to learn something from everybody I work with,” Clarken said. “And I have been fortunate enough to have a team of people who are absolute rock stars and teach me something that will aid me every day. Both my direct manager and our CEO are both brilliant and bring a set of skills to me every day that I can learn from. There’s not one mentor, just everybody that I surround myself with. Where I can find nuggets, I’ll take them.”
Hasker, a former Australian track and field athlete himself, said Clarken’s sports background has given her confidence and a fierce competitive instinct that have helped her succeed.
That background convinced Hasker that Clarken was the right person to head up the TAM initiative, which will enable Nielsen to track audiences over multiple platforms and devices. Set for widespread launch later this year, TAM will be watched by every media buyer and network looking for a new currency to quantify TV’s evolving audience.
Nielsen plans to put digital content ratings into syndication (meaning they are no longer proprietary, everyone can see each other’s data) in late Q1 and total content ratings are scheduled for syndication in the second half of this year.
While Nielsen had mapped out the TAM strategy and a digital audience product before Clarken took over, the initiative needed the right executive to steer it, Hasker said. “We had the beginnings [of a TAM product], but we needed someone who was a world-class programming executive and a leader,” he said. “That’s a pretty rare skill set.”
TACKLING TAM CHALLENGE
Putting together a new ad currency isn’t something that gets done overnight, though, and Nielsen has had to deal with criticism on several fronts concerning the product.
Total Audience Measurement is not a simple concept to understand, Clarken acknowledged, but she believes people are beginning to get the idea that pairing panel data with big data will lead to more reliable measurement.
“We didn’t dream this up over the weekend,” she said. “It has been a vision we’ve been pursuing for some time. We’re getting better and better at articulating it, which is no mean thing; it’s complicated. But the trick has been to simplify it as much as possible.”
Clarken added that in order for TAM to be successful, it will require the backing of large and small industry players.
“Measurement is a team sport,” she said.