The Hit Maker: Liz Meriwether, creator and writer, New Girl
It’s a cerulean-sky February afternoon in Los Angeles, just days after a particularly revelatory episode of Fox’s New Girl left fans of the show fumbling for the Ativan, and Liz Meriwether is giving a master class in smooching.
To be clear, no lips were locked in the making of this profile; rather, the 31-year-old Meriwether is fastidiously deconstructing what we will refer to from here on in as simply “The Kiss.” Like a cloudburst ringing down the curtain on a long, hot day, the on-screen clinch between Zooey Deschanel’s Jess and Jake Johnson’s Nick offered succor to viewers pining for these two kids to get together, while spattering more jaded observers with unwelcome memories of Sam and Diane, of Ross and Rachel.
But the long and short of it is, The Kiss had to happen. “It took me by surprise, and it took [Jess and Nick] by surprise, too,” Meriwether says. “We spent the season watching them get closer as friends and it was just kind of organically the right moment for them.” Given that so much of New Girl’s humor is mined from the characters’ artless fumbling through their lives—the cheerfully stunted loft mates are the kind of thirtysomethings who still play elaborate drinking games (True American!) and get intoxicated at the zoo in order to gather inspiration for their stalled zombie novel—The Kiss can only compound the fun. “Kissing people who you’re maybe not supposed to kiss or who you weren’t expecting to kiss just adds even more awkwardness to the mix,” Meriwether says. “One of the things that’s great about Fox is there’s never any pressure for these people to get their act together. They can all remain as gloriously messed up as they are—so if anything, The Kiss will only create further problems in their relationships and the loft dynamic.”
As delightful as New Girl is (Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone round out the best ensemble on broadcast TV), we wouldn’t be talking about it here were it not such a success. The show makes short work of its Tuesday night comedy competition and, with an average unit cost of around $325,000 per :30, it stands with ABC’s Modern Family as the most valuable scripted series on TV. For all that, Meriwether won’t know for certain whether the show has been picked up for a third season until spring. “I haven’t heard anything, but I am optimistically planning into next year,” she says. “I’m not working on anything else. I mean, it’s such an overwhelming job getting the show on the air every week that I’m rarely showering as it is.”
Of course, there’s no way Fox won’t bring Jess and the boys back. Despite laboring under a lead-in that only delivered a 1.3 in the dollar demo, New Girl’s deliveries are roughly twice that. It also reaches one of broadcast’s dewiest audiences, drawing a median viewership that is a dozen years younger than its direct competition.
For her part, Meriwether claims to not agonize over ratings. “As a showrunner, you just have to keep your head down and let the creative part of your brain do all the work,” she says. “Besides, it’s hard to really know what the numbers mean at this point.”
Meanwhile, she excels at meeting fans’ expectations. When informed that “sad, drunk Nick” essentially functions as this writer’s spirit animal, she laughs and promises that the next several episodes of New Girl will not disappoint.
As she assures us, “You’re going to get all the sad, drunk Nick you want.” —Anthony Crupi
The Girl: Lena Dunham, creator and star, Girls
One could be forgiven for thinking that Lena Dunham, 26, who writes, produces and stars in HBO’s hit Girls, is some version of her character—a self-absorbed, brainmeltingly pretentious hipster-writer wannabe. But in person, Dunham is friendly and modest and seems perpetually surprised by all the attention—despite being heralded as "the voice of her generation." (Adweek has talked to her a few times in the past, but HBO currently has the multihyphenate sequestered following a post-Golden Globes press marathon). “Nobody learns faster than Lena,” says Jenni Konner, who writes and produces for Girls.
Konner has supported Dunham both on and off the set—defending her vigorously in Adweek's sister pub, The Hollywood Reporter, after a particularly nasty New York Post column criticizing Dunham’s looks. “[What makes the show good is] her honesty in sharing sort of the darkness in her life and the humor of humiliation and terrible mistakes, and I think everyone can relate to those kind of feelings,” Konner says. The show has plenty of other advocates, among them Ryan Seacrest, who tells Adweek: “I think all guys should watch it so we can glean from it and learn more about girls.” —Sam Thielman
The Boy Wonder: Chris Hughes, publisher and editor in chief, The New Republic
With his meteoric career arc and status as social media royalty (he was, famously, one of Facebook’s founders before going on to help elect a president and buy The New Republic), it’s easy to forget that, despite his fresh-faced look, Chris Hughes is only 29—notably because he lacks the hipster posturing and ironic worldview of so many of his peers.
As everyone knows, Hughes had the good fortune of being Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard, then Facebook’s front man (he retains the title of co-founder). Popping by Adweek’s offices Feb. 4 to talk about the TNR relaunch, Hughes related that Facebook was turning 9 that very day. He took a moment to marvel at its humble beginnings. “We went live that night and sent an email to 20 people,” he recalls. “By the end of that day, we had hundreds of people signed up. There were no photos, no wall. It was so incredibly basic.”
Hughes would earn an estimated $600 million from the Facebook IPO. With a portion of that, he is aiming to make over the venerable but challenged TNR for the digital age and to preserve the thought-shaping political journalism that made it an institution.
Hughes is no mere caretaker. His mission is nothing short of making TNR once again a must-read for the Establishment by dramatically overhauling its coverage beyond politics. “The audience was hardcore political aficionados and people who are into the arts,” he explains. “We want to continue to serve those people, but broaden that.”
Other magazine publishers finally finding a path to revenue from digital content is a promising development for Hughes, as he bets that pairing an enhanced print product with digital access plus events will attract more subscribers.
With the debut of a glossy new magazine and expanded digital features, TNR , at 98 years old, is feeling more like a startup than an old Washington hand these days—also good news for Hughes. As he puts it, “I feel like in a lot of ways we’re just getting started.” —Lucia Moses
The Fashionistas: Emily Weiss and Nick Axelrod, Founder (Weiss) and editorial director (Axelrod), Into the Gloss
Three years ago, Emily Weiss was working as an assistant to Vogue contributing stylist Elissa Santisi. But after enlisting Web designer Michael Harper, her beauty blog Into the Gloss was born. Since then, Weiss, 27, has convinced everyone from top editors to fashion icons to provide intimate details of their beauty routines.
Marketers like Lancôme and Bumble & Bumble have jumped on. Last summer, Weiss hired old friend Nick Axelrod, 29, away from his job as Elle’s senior fashion news editor to be editorial director. Since then, monthly unique visitors have grown 70 percent to 230,000—a relatively small following, but an incredibly fashionable and influential one.
The Journalist: Ben Smith, editor in chief, BuzzFeed
Hype aside, Smith’s influence on social media-driven journalism can’t be denied. At 37, he has helped shape the “article in 140 characters” ethos reporters adopted en masse over the last year. But perhaps his biggest contribution as BuzzFeed’s EI C is his assembled corps of equally obsessive, hungry young scribes, who’ve demonstrated they can ably occupy— even drive—the 24-second news cycle. —Charlie Warzel
The Turnaround Guy: Dolf Van Den Brink, president, ceo, Heineken USA
When van den Brink took the brewer’s top U.S. job in late 2009, the 39-year-old Dutch exec, a lifelong Heineken man, had his work cut out: sales softened during the recession years, as the brand was perceived as high-end. So more emphasis was put on creating a portfolio of brands that include Dos Equis and Tecate. Also, the marketing budget was upped, and hot creative agencies Wieden + Kennedy and Droga5 were enlisted. Now, sales are up, and innovation thrives— including a makeover of the flagship brand next month that includes a bottle redesign sporting the ultimate feature, one that helps keep the beer cold. —Noreen O’Leary
The Brand Man: Jesse Coulter, co-cco, CAA Marketing
Creating a piece of pop culture, as the 36-year-old Wieden + Kennedy alum has learned in his nearly seven years at CAA, takes time. The “Cultivate a Better World” campaign for Chipotle took a year and a half from concept to execution, encompassing a charitable foundation, loyalty program, food festival and an animated film. Last year, it earned a slew of honors, including two Grand Prix awards at Cannes. Says Coulter: “It’s about getting to the truth and creating as much art as you can that helps move the brand along.” —Andrew McMains
The Network Exec: Cesar Conde, president, Univision Networks
Conde took an unorthodox path to the top ranks of TV—through Wall Street and the White House.
Born in Miami to Cuban and Peruvian parents, he began his career in the mergers and acquisitions group at Salomon Brothers—and then came a particularly meaningful brush with greatness, and a shift in career. “I did a program called the White House Fellows between 2002 and 2003,” the 39-year-old relates. “They pick 10 or 15 professionals from all walks of life, and they assign you to work for a cabinet member. And I worked under Colin Powell.”
Coming up on a decade with what is by far the largest Hispanic network group in the U.S., it is a time of achievement as well as challenge for Univision.
Two key developments defined the last year: the creation of Univision’s first English-language network—a news channel developed with ABC News—and its first digital network, which is bilingual.
Conde now must fight back media giants from NBCUniversal to News Corp. aggressively targeting the Hispanic market.
But he remains laser-focused on the future—and likes his odds. Univision’s standing is formidable, after all, and getting more so.
“Today, we are 12 TV networks,” Conde points out. “By the end of next year, we’ll be 14 networks.” —S.T.
The Innovator: Ophir Tanz, founder and ceo, GumGum
Consumers would rather look at a picture than read a thousand words. That would seem to bode well for picturesque banners adorning the sides of Web pages—and yet those ads lose their appeal as images take up more and more online real estate. Photocentric services like Instagram and Pinterest have catalyzed the conversion of the Web’s currency away from text, and companies like GumGum are taking advantage.
The L.A. startup—founded by Ophir Tanz in 2007 when he was 25— specializes in outfitting publishers’ photos with in-image banners. ABC’s Good Morning America used GumGum to overlay a rich media promotion for its Oscar coverage adjacent to a photo of George Clooney in a tux.
As Tanz tells Adweek, “Our mission is to meaningfully disrupt and improve display advertising in a way that really makes ads more sticky.”
The ads may appear intrusive, even unsightly, as they mask the bottom-fourth position of an image. But publishers like Meredith Corp. and Alloy Digital and advertisers including Toyota, Disney and Clinique have embraced the units, which reach more than 150 million monthly users, 58 percent of whom are female and 60 percent of whom average an HHI of at least $50,000. GumGum claims its ads notch a clickthrough rate 10 times greater than traditional banner ads.
Banners may only be the beginning for GumGum, whose real value lies in metadata. Online images are black boxes for Web crawlers like Google. The search giant can process all the text on a page and convert it into categories for advertisers to target against. It has no idea what’s going on in a particular photo, though products like Google Goggles suggest that won’t be the case for long. —Tim Peterson
The Global Force: Shirley Au, global president and coo, Huge
Huge wants to dominate the digital business—and Shirley Au is its lieutenant. When Au, now 36, joined the agency in 2004, she was the Brooklyn startup’s first project manager and just its sixth employee. Nine years later, she’s the second in command of an IPG-owned powerhouse with more than 500 staffers worldwide.
The shop has created hits like second-screen streaming app HBO Go and counts Comcast and American Express as key clients. In 2012, it broke the $100 million mark in global revenue, per Adweek estimates. “Shirley’s really grown into her role to a tremendous degree,” says CEO Aaron Shapiro. “That’s been critical to making Huge a success, and it’s really allowed me to be much more focused externally, both in terms of working with clients and the broader strategy of the company.”
Au is vital in the execution of that strategy. Managing directors leading each of the agency’s eight offices report to her, and she oversees all the agency’s finances. Late last year, after 15 years in New York, Au parachuted into London to take the reins of the agency’s year-and-a-half-old, 28-person U.K. operation, where key clients include Unilever and Diageo.
“In order for this office to get to the next level, we really needed to make sure we have the right leadership in place, and that’s not just me,” says Au. That means she’s focused on hiring a balanced mix of talent—locals and transplants, user-experience and client-services experts. —Gabriel Beltrone
The Booster: Rick Cordella, svp/gm, digital, NBC Sports
Last year, headed by digital svp/gm Rick Cordella, NBC Sports set streaming records for its Super Bowl broadcast and streamed more than 3,500 hours of Olympics coverage— at times handling as many as 61 concurrent live streams.
It also forged a partnership with Yahoo Sports to boost its fantasy and college sports presence. For Cordella, 36, who joined NBC in 2006 by way of NBC Sports. com’s acquisition of the fantasy sports site Rotoworld, the last, busy year was part of a mission by NBC ’s digital sports operation to catch up to giants like ESPN .
This summer, NBC turns its focus to English Premier League soccer, which Cordella sees as a big digital draw. “Video is first and foremost for us,” he says. “Whatever is on your TV , we want to deliver across our digital platforms.” –C.W.
The Prognosticator: Nate Silver, statistician, The New York Times
In the early pages of his latest book, The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver notes that “prediction is indispensable to our lives.” After all the trolling, consternation and celebrity that befell Silver around the 2012 election, it’s pretty hard to disagree with the man.
While President Obama strolled to a second-term victory on Nov. 6, the media justifiably claimed the night for Silver, an unassuming statistician who appears more at home in front of an Excel spreadsheet than as the poster child for the triumph of data-driven prognostication. Correctly predicting the electoral outcome of all 50 states in the general election, Silver, 35, silenced critics with his aggregated, weighted polling models that achieved stratospheric popularity, at one point generating 20 percent of The New York Times’ traffic.
While Silver has no doubt enjoyed the spotlight since the election— appearing on The Daily Show, holding court at Google and ESPN corporate events—he is keenly aware that his postelection fame has as much to do with luck as with an understanding of data sets and probability.
In September, Silver told Adweek that “the presidential race requires a lot of humility,” adding, “It’s tricky, and you have to be humble about how much uncertainty there is in the long run.”
Speaking with Silver, one gets the feeling that he sees his work as fairly straightforward, possibly unremarkable.
Yet his career is anything but.
While still a consultant at KP MG, Silver built Pecota, to date the most advanced statistical projection system for the performance of Major League Baseball players (he sold it to Baseball Prospectus in 2003). Interested in exploring the imprecise but data-rich field of elections, Silver contributed his talents to politics and eventually to the Times.
His insights during campaign 2012 proved to be not just fodder for the chattering class, but also the last word on whether statistical analysis is in fact a more reliable predictor of national elections than Chris Matthews or Karl Rove. –C.W.
The Buyer: Laura Krajecki, chief consumer officer, Starcom Mediavest Group
Krajecki, 37, comes out of the creative side of the agency business, having joined SMG 11 years ago from Leo Burnett. But it’s in media where she’s found her most powerful tools. “I’ve learned how close media gets you to consumers,” she says. Krajecki has advanced SMG’s strategy discipline to develop data and tools around communities like moms and kids. Case in point: SMG’s Youth Human Experience Center, which studied the global impact of social media on youth—insight that inspired work like P&G’s 50th Anniversary campaign for CoverGirl. —N.O.
Mr. Hollywood: Chris Grant, ceo, Electus
Grant met Ben Silverman in the early aughts when both worked at William Morris Endeavor— Silverman as an agent, Grant in the mail room. “We got to talking, and brands were actually the first thing we talked about—the power of brands and the importance of the advertiser,” recalls Grant, 34, now CEO of programmer Silverman’s latest venture. Last year, the “21st century studio,” as Grant dubs it, launched its first broadcast series, NBC’s Fashion Star, in which brands like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and H&M were incorporated into the reality format. Next up: two new series green-lit by NBC and ABC. —G.B.
The Travel Agent: Brian Chesky, founder and ceo, Airbnb
You know you’ve made it when an entrepreneur takes to pitching investors and reporters by describing his startup as “the Airbnb of [insert industry].” For the brand Brian Chesky, now 31, founded in 2008, that industry was hotels. Since then, the San Francisco-based company has made a name for itself converting people’s homes into other people’s vacation spots.
The business model is almost too quaint. Somebody makes his spare guest room or vacant home available on Airbnb, then somebody else rents it out like he would a hotel room. It’s like going on vacation and staying at a friend’s house—only in Airbnb’s case, the friend is a complete stranger.
As of last summer, travelers booked more than 10 million nightly stays through Airbnb, which had grown into a reported $2.5 billion business. Airbnb has also become the face of the so-called “sharing economy,” spawning like startups in verticals from bike rentals to parking spots. Roughly 75 companies invoke Airbnb’s business model on AngelList, a Match.com for startups and investors. (This month, Seattle-based startup Rover raised $7 million in funding as the “Airbnb for dogs.”) Chesky’s company also pumped $56 million in San Francisco’s economy between April 2011 and May 2012, per a study by real estate consultant HR&A Advisors. Stats like those should help the company doing business in more than 33,000 cities in 192 countries unfurl still more welcome mats. —T.P.
The Pinup: Ben Silbermann, ceo, Pinterest
Silbermann saw his startup become one of the most talked-about social nets last year, nabbing a $100 million funding round at a $1.5 billion valuation. Now Pinterest must convert an estimated 28.9 million unique users and their countless pins into revenue. As Silbermann, 30, says, “Last year we built a foundation for the future”—hiring, building apps for various devices, launching business accounts.
This year, he adds, “We plan on growing each of these areas even more and continuing to make Pinterest a place where people discover things they love.” Until last August, someone could only join Pinterest if a registered user invited her. That velvet-rope approach could have backfired, but didn’t. The company seems to be taking a similar approach with advertisers.
Pinterest has worked directly with some brands, particularly during the fourth quarter, but hasn’t rolled out an ad platform—yet anyway. Last March, Silbermann tapped Tim Kendall, considered the architect of Facebook’s foundational monetization efforts. —T.P.
The Strategist: Brent Vartan, chief strategy officer, Deutsch N.Y.
This 36-year-old credits the critical thinking he developed during his Berkeley literary theory studies— along with a push from his dad, a former agency exec who would become a marketer for Gallo—for his move into advertising and strategy. (Growing up in Modesto, Calif., with his dad was like living in a full-time focus group, he recalls.) Vartan started as a media planner during the dot-com boom.
With the implosion of that era and business challenges facing GMO’s successor shop Hill Holliday, he began doing more communications planning and new business. After playing a major role in winning Microsoft for Deutsch in 2010, Vartan has helped triple the amount of work from the software giant. He’s also helped reel in HSN and Go Daddy.
Lately he’s been busy building the New York agency’s planning department, recruiting execs such as Shobha Sairam from Mother and R/GA’s Torsten Gross. “We’ve got ambitions to build upon seminal issues, and we’re already lighting fires,” Vartan says. “We’re not just talking about technology and socially connecting. We’re talking about building advocacy from the inside out. Our current customers can be our best source of growth.” –N.O.
The Funny Man: Donald Glover, writer/actor/rapper/comedian/producer
This 29-year-old multihyphenate faces an enviable conundrum. At a glance, Glover’s C.V. includes his role on NBC’s Community, a writing gig for the recently wrapped 30 Rock, a standup comedy act and four hip-hop records released under the sobriquet Childish Gambino. As if all that weren’t enough, he’s in the early stages of developing a sitcom for the Peacock based on his life. The trouble is, the fourth season of Community returned to such strong numbers on Feb. 7 that insiders are already anticipating a renewal. (Of course, there are worse problems.) —A.C.
The Entrepreneur: Jack Dorsey, co-founder and ceo, Square
Dorsey had the look of a typical tech hipster back when he created Twitter, favoring scruffy hair, casual attire. A few years later, the entrepreneur debuted his second project of note, Square—and his public image transformed suitably.
With a sharp haircut and stylish blazers now as his fashion calling card, Dorsey, now 36, began presenting himself as a man of transactions. Just as Square would help parties exchange money, he wanted to signal he was here for business.
Along the way, Twitter would become a staple of integrated marketing campaigns as well as the go-to social tool for everything from breaking news to political campaigns to sports events, with 21.4 million tweets about this year’s Super Bowl. It’s also evolved into a new customer-service channel for businesses big and small.
“His company has changed the way we get customer feedback,” says Daniel Gilmore, COO of Boston-based chain Rebecca’s Cafe. “We check it all day, every day, and we respond to negative feedback and communicate back to our customers.”
With Square, Dorsey is influencing the future of mobile commerce (Starbucks invested $25 million and implemented the mobile payment system in stores nationwide). Now everyone watches and waits to see whether Dorsey can win against a crush of players including Google Wallet, PayPal Here, Isis and LevelUp. —Christopher Heine
The Culinary Genius: David Chang, founder, Momofuku Group
Tending to a kingdom of 10 eateries, Chang, 35, has redefined fine dining with his food (lots of pigs, lots of pickles and homage to humble dishes like steamed pork buns) and egalitarian house policies: no VIP list, no fancy décor. Reservations are done online, so whether you’re a CEO or Joe Blow, wait your turn. Most guests do, and happily. —Robert Klara