All her life, Stephanie Campbell has been a traveling gypsy of sorts. Her father, who ran sales offices for a tractor-trailer company, was transferred a lot.
“When I was a child, I went to nine different schools before I graduated from high school,” says Campbell, DirecTV Inc. executive vice president of programming. “I always swore if it were up to me, I wouldn't move again. But then I went into the television business. So I was destined to move some more.”
Campbell, 56, embarked on a career path that took her to Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Miami, Washington, Denver, London, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and now, Los Angeles. To date, Campbell says she has relocated roughly two dozen times. Her 11-year stint at DirecTV on the Left Coast “is double the time I've lived or worked any place in my life,” she says.
The Kansas City, Mo.-born executive is one of the most powerful programming gatekeepers at a distribution company, determining which networks get launched on DirecTV's nearly 14-million subscriber platform.
Campbell, who was part of the DBS provider's launch team, is responsible for the planning, acquisition and scheduling of programming, as well as managing ad sales. But she doesn't dwell on the clout that she wields.
“The best way to bear it is not to think about it that much in those terms,” Campbell says. “I'm certainly cognizant of our position in the marketplace. I mean, it's my job. I don't know how else to say it. I know what I have to do.”
Sometimes, that means being cruel to be kind. She's not afraid to make the tough choices about which networks DirecTV carries. Ex-Fox Broadcasting chairman Lucie Salhany, who worked with Campbell at Taft Broadcasting, “used to call me Dr. No,” Campbell says.
That's because Campbell took to heart the advice she got early in her career: “If the answer is no, say no. It's the nicest thing you can do to a salesman. I have never forgotten that.”
Campbell is the first to admit that she has had a convoluted career path. She has toiled in the advertising and TV industries, with duties that have ranged from writing chewing-gum jingles and ad copy to handling traffic, production and programming duties at TV stations.
After earning an associate's degree after two years of college, Campbell decided to bag any more formal schooling in 1968.
“I actually registered at Southern Illinois University, and driving back from that I said to my mother, 'I'm not going,'” she says. “There weren't as many women getting into the advanced areas anyway, and I just viewed it as two more years that I was going to spend taking English classes.”
So Campbell took a job as a secretary at a large Chicago ad agency, intrigued by that industry. “I thought it was glamorous,” she says.
Campbell moved up the ranks at the agency to be a writer and producer. She then took a job as a traffic manager at a TV station in Philadelphia that Taft was converting into its first independent outlet.
Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television, knows Campbell from their stints together at Taft stations. “She's a phenomenal person,” he says. “She's always been a step ahead of everybody. In her early days she worked in independent television, and helped that business. When you run an independent television station … you have to go out and create your own schedule, create your own programming, create your own marketing campaign. All of us who started in that side of the business appreciate how hard that is.”
From 1980 to 1987, Campbell held a variety of posts, including program manager, at Taft-owned stations in several markets, including WDCA in Washington. There, she oversaw the launch of a service that was evolving from a three-hour program block to a 24-hour cable network in 1980: Black Entertainment Television. Campbell was running WDCA's production facility, which was creating and supplying programming for BET.
In 1987 Campbell took a job in Denver as director of programming and promotion at Fox's KDVR-TV. She left the station in 1992 to go to London as vice president of programming and program controller for TV3.
But Campbell soon wanted to come home and open her own company. She was visiting her sister in January 1994 in Telluride, Colo., when she got a call from a headhunter about a job at a start-up satellite company in Los Angeles. Campbell borrowed some business clothes from her sister and hopped on a plane for an impromptu DirecTV job interview in Los Angeles.
She spent the day in Los Angeles before flying back across the pond the next day. On Feb. 12, Campbell was about to leave London when the phone rang with a job offer from DirecTV. Mosko says making that move took a lot of moxie.
“She jumped over to DirecTV when satellite television really was just an afterthought to everybody and just worked hard,” he says. “And now you see where DirecTV is. She had a lot to do, in the early days, with growing that business.”
Campbell proudly describes the launches of BET and DirecTV as “the two most unbelievable things I've ever been involved in.”
Campbell's job duties and DirecTV have “morphed” during her time at the company. “It remains not only interesting but challenging,” she says. “At first it was very entrepreneurial and we were a startup, and we were technology that was unproven. And obviously that sort of moved over time to more of a mass-market business. But as all of that has changed, my role here and responsibilities have grown, so it's allowed me to keep growing.”