Adweek introduces the 2015 class of Young Influentials, 27 individuals from media, marketing, tech and entertainment who are remaking business and culture. From Jessica Alba—the actress-turned-entrepreneur whose Honest Co. has become a billion-dollar retail force—to Mindy Kaling, Gigi Hadid and the brains, muscle and talent behind the likes of Periscope, Girls Who Code and Mr. Robot, these young people are all accomplished beyond their years. They also enjoy outsized influence in the industry and beyond.
PopSugar is Adweek's editorial partner on Young Influentials. Lisa Sugar, co-founder and editor in chief of PopSugar, served as selection committee chair alongside Adweek’s editors. Now, check out this powerhouse group and learn what makes them so influential.
Jessica Alba, actress and entrepreneur
Plenty of Hollywood stars have created their own lifestyle brands—Gwyneth Paltrow, Blake Lively and Reese Witherspoon, to name just a few. But none has scored quite the success that Jessica Alba has with her eco-friendly venture, The Honest Company.
Valued at more than $1 billion, Alba and co-founder Christopher Gavigan built a business focused on transparency, providing products made with natural ingredients to give parents peace of mind, something Alba, 34, herself needed after she'd become pregnant with her first child. Curious about the ingredients in the products she'd keep in her home, Alba found "there weren't the options in the marketplace that I could trust to be as responsible for my loved ones as I was," she tells Adweek. "The brand that I needed just didn't exist, so I had to create it."
While Alba's celebrity certainly helps, it is her mission to create a truly transparent company that helped boost The Honest Co.'s brand profile so quickly. It is also what made its first brush with bad publicity sting this summer after some consumers alleged that the brand's sunscreen was ineffective. That blip did not appear to have detracted from the brand's ascension. "It's assumed that celebrities only endorse products, but I'm here for the long haul to build a brand and grow a business," says Alba. "I'm fortunate to have a platform to amplify my message, and I communicate directly with our consumers. In many ways, our brand has been built organically by engaging our consumers directly. Communication in today's marketplace is a two-way street."
That communication is helping the company grow even more. Last month, it launched Honest Beauty, a cosmetics line that uses natural ingredients. Says Alba: "I know how important it is to listen [to our consumers] because the vision for this company came from my experiences." —Kristina Monllos
Jared Belsky, president, 360i
Jared Belsky has helped 360i, which generates more than $800 million in billings, evolve into a digital juggernaut in his seven years as president. The New York-based shop has aggressively expanded in the areas of programmatic buying, search marketing and social media, keeping clients like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Jameson, Nestlé and Red Roof Inn on the cutting edge.
"In this industry, you have to have the curiosity to constantly and continually read, learn, listen and grow," says Belsky, 38. "The changing media landscape is fueled by ongoing advancements in technology and consumer behavior, which means we must always be focused on what's next."
For Jameson, Belsky was instrumental in creating the first 3-D video ad for Facebook and Instagram this year. "He shares our vision for how we progress our path to reaching our customers at the right times and in the right places and in the right way," says Tim Murphy, vp, digital and media at Pernod Ricard USA, Jameson's parent.
Belsky's resumé reflects his status as a digital veteran. He honed his skills in the late '90s as a media coordinator at pioneering shop Avenue A (which became aQuantive) before taking on senior roles with Razorfish, Dynamite Plant Food and Coca-Cola. Though he could be forgiven if he had a seen-it-all attitude, he remains as excited as ever about advertising—especially when it comes to data.
"For Red Roof Inn, we're currently using road traffic data to determine the best time and most appropriate bid to target mobile advertising to the weary road warrior," he says. "What makes this possible is our tech Sherpa capability, a Navy SEAL-like unit comprised of cloud experts, database analysts, marketing technologists and technical directors who solve complex, unique problems for our clients." —Christopher Heine
Kayvon Beykpour, co-founder, Periscope
Being in Istanbul during the Turkish city's Gezi Park protests in 2013 inspired Kayvon Beykpour to create Periscope, the livestreaming mobile video app that has shaken up media and marketing.
"Those events served as a seed for thinking more broadly about how powerful, authentic and important it would be to see the world [in] real time," explains Beykpour, 28. "My co-founder Joe Bernstein and I became obsessed with the idea of building a teleportation machine—a way to see what was happening around the world, right now, through someone else's eyes."
Beykpour's team debuted the app at the beginning of this year before selling to Twitter in March when it was relaunched to great fanfare. Ten million people every month now use Periscope to broadcast their lives in real time, while brands including Dunkin' Donuts, St-Germain, Nestlé and Glidden have tested it as a marketing tool. "I think one of the reasons brands love Periscope is that they're understandably interested in new mediums that attract a growing ecosystem of users," says Beykpour. "We've seen some incredibly creative content from brands, and we're excited to see more."
"Periscope has already revived real-time marketing by turning brands into you-are-there reporters," says digital marketing consultant David Deal. "It will make marketing more unvarnished, authentic and urgent."
Beykpour grew up in the Bay Area and studied computer science at Stanford University before leading mobile at digital educator Blackboard. He knew he wanted to get into tech ever since his dad bought the family's first home computer two decades ago.
"I started playing computer games, building computers and eventually programming," he recalls. "I identify as a technologist far more than I do as a marketer." —C.H.
Ed Brojerdi, CEO, kbs+ New York
When MDC Partners' kbs+ promoted former president and co-chief creative officer Ed Brojerdi to the role of CEO of kbs+ in 2014, the agency was putting a veteran creative and "avid technologist" in charge of its general operations, and for good reason. Earlier in his career, he served as co-founder and COO of IPG's creative technology organization Split and later helped launch digital/technology organization Spies and Assassins at kbs+.
Brojerdi, 36, tells Adweek, "Being a creative business partner to our clients necessitates a depth and breadth of expertise across many facets of marketing: content, social, creative technology and so on," adding that kbs+ has "drastically expanded our offering in the past few years and will continue to bring forward emerging specialty practices across our global footprint as we go into 2016."
Brojerdi held a number of leadership positions within the MDC shop before replacing Lori Senecal as chief executive after she was promoted to the global CEO role.
Of the larger kbs+ organization, he says, "Our model fosters the entrepreneurial spirit that our agency was founded on and has propelled us to become New York's newest global agency, and I'm extremely excited about that." —Patrick Coffee
Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships, Instagram
Long before she joined Instagram as director of fashion partnerships, Eva Chen was a social media pro. In 2009, while working at Teen Vogue as the beauty director, Chen, 35, began using Twitter to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at her life as a Condé Nast editor. Chen soon added Tumblr and Instagram to the mix, attracting a loyal online following with everything from skin-care product reviews to candid career advice, plus the now-ubiquitous #EvaChenPose photo documenting her accessories of the day. Impressed with her social smarts, Anna Wintour handpicked Chen in 2013 to help relaunch Lucky magazine as a shopping magazine for the digital age, making her the youngest EIC in the company's history.
Though Lucky's revival was ill-fated—by 2014, Condé Nast decided to spin off the magazine and merge it with e-commerce company BeachMint—Chen's own star has continued to rise. This past April, when she announced (on social media, naturally) that she would be leaving the company, many in the publishing industry assumed that Chen would land another plum editorial role. But instead of sticking to her print roots, Chen made the decision to join Instagram as its first director of fashion partnerships.
It was a surprising hire for Instagram, perhaps, but also an incredibly shrewd one, as the platform has become an important promotional tool for designers, models and bloggers. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who bridged the worlds of fashion and social media more than Chen.
In her new role, Chen is helping individuals and consumer brands to build a robust Instagram presence and use the platform in new and creative ways.
"Eva understands all sides of the fashion community, from the craft of couture to street style, style icons to aspiring models, and storied fashion houses to emerging designers," says an Instagram rep. "She will continue our work to be the best possible partner to everyone in the fashion community." —Emma Bazilian
Katrina Craigwell, director of global content and programming, General Electric
A professed science-fiction geek and technology nerd, Katrina Craigwell has been on a mission to update General Electric's stodgy image, harnessing the power of social media stars to bring good things to life for the next generation.
The products GE creates—from jet engines to everyday appliances—are intrinsically cool, says Craigwell, 30. Communicating that coolness and the promise it represents in fun, accessible fashion is paramount. "There's incredible opportunity at a brand and a company like GE because there is so much to explore and so much to uncover," she says.
Since Craigwell joined GE four years ago, the company has enlisted an array of social celebrities and leveraged numerous platforms to deliver its message. In 2013, it tapped Jerome Jarre—known for his satirical (and, at times, silly) approach—to ride in a plane and create the first zero-G Vine. The goal was to inspire users to make Vines recreating Isaac Newton's famous apple experiment. A year later, YouTube's popular Slow Mo Guys shot videos based around themes such as "Super Hydrophobic Surface and Magnetic Liquid." That clip is like Bill Nye on steroids or an abstract work of art. Colorful water beads dance, strut and slither as if they've come to life—images guaranteed to fire the imagination.
This year, vlogger Sally Le Page teamed with GE on a three-month YouTube series dubbed Creator-in-Residence—which among other things, made Darwinian theory seem as mainstream as a sitcom. In a bid to immerse viewers in a world of wonder, GE fashioned a jaw-dropping virtual-reality experience touting below-the-sea-floor technology used to collect oil and gas deposits.
In a way, Craigwell has become a studio chief, with GE's scientists and researchers providing the scenarios for elaborate productions. That's in keeping with her training and background, as she started her career at the Independent Film Channel. At GE, she has been able to tell stories about important developments that promise to impact all our lives. —David Gianatasio
Lauren Crampsie, global CMO, Ogilvy & Mather
For Lauren Crampsie, 34, there have been many firsts. In 2008, just four years after joining Ogilvy & Mather, Crampsie became the youngest new business director in the agency's history. She also holds the distinction of being Ogilvy's youngest partner ever, as well as senior partner. Then, in 2010, she was named the agency's first chief marketing officer for North America, quickly rising to global CMO in 2012. In that role, she launched Ogilvy's first worldwide marketing plan.
Crampsie points to helping land the Tiffany & Co. and Ikea business as among her key accomplishments at Ogilvy. She is also proud of the fact that she has achieved a retention rate among her staff at what she estimates to be 90 percent. "To see my team every day and their energy, I think that's what I'm most proud of," she says. "The energy that they have and the chemistry for each other, any one of them would lay in front of traffic for another one."
Crampsie's highest priorities at the agency have been to create a more modern brand identity for the nearly 70-year-old shop, while still maintaining crucial components of its storied history. The agency now has its own global content hub run by a team of writers and editors where visitors can view its work and the agency's culture.
Even after 11 years there, Crampsie still has much she wants to accomplish at Ogilvy. "Because we have so many different disciplines," she says, "there's so many toys to play with in the company, so many great people, and still so much to learn." —Katie Richards
Sam Esmail, creator, Mr. Robot
USA Network's execs didn't know what they were getting into when they agreed to let Sam Esmail make Mr. Robot, his drama about a mentally unstable cybersecurity engineer named Elliot (Rami Malek) who moonlights as a master hacker.
Esmail, 38, admits that his pilot script "feels like there was this procedural element where we're going to see Elliot do this hack of the week. But when I pitched out the season, I pitched out to pretty close what we saw air, and then they realized, 'This is not going to be anything like that. In fact, it's going to get even more bizarre and out of the box.'"
Thank goodness, because Esmail created a brilliantly subversive drama full of exhilarating twists that shook up summer TV, while it also gave USA the kind of critical acclaim that has long eluded the network. Still, the screenwriter and director, who had envisioned Mr. Robot as an independent film before realizing his story was better suited to television, kept waiting for his good luck to run out. "I felt like every episode, somebody was going to be like, 'OK, this show has jumped the shark, and we all should collectively stop watching now,'" he admits.
There seems little chance of that. Esmail has already sketched out Mr. Robot's broad storylines to their conclusion—which, he is adamant, will arrive no later than Season 5. "I didn't create this character and world so that I can start off the kernel of a story and then drag things out for years and years," he explains. "I want to stick to this one story."
Esmail is fully aware, meanwhile, that he will lose his underdog status with Season 2. "Expectations are going to be higher, and we have to not only meet those, but exceed them," he says—meaning his anxiety level will only continue to rise. "I'm still thinking the other shoe is going to drop at some point." —Jason Lynch
Rob Fishman and Darren Lachtman, co-founders, Niche
Two years ago, Vine was the hottest app around, with a burgeoning group of creators who quickly mastered producing six-second videos for brands while building up millions of followers. Fast-forward, and marketers now work with many influencers to crank out sponsored content across Snapchat, Periscope, YouTube, Meerkat and Instagram.
Recognizing the massive opportunity to make it easier for brands to work with social media stars, Rob Fishman and Darren Lachtman co-founded Niche in 2013, a platform that lets brands cherry-pick the top social talent to work with. "The motivation here was never to create a talent agency or collective," says Fishman, 29. "From the beginning, we wanted to build tools for anyone on the planet who uses social media professionally."
The initial focus on Twitter-owned Vine pushed the microblogging site to snap up Niche for a reported $30 million this past February with the goal of linking up ads across Twitter, Vine and, later, Periscope, which launched in March.
Now, with a network of 15,000 creators working with the likes of Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard and Pizza Hut, one can expect more brands to buy into the notion of social media stars as the new celebrity pitchmen.
"Even as part of Twitter, we still support creators on every major social platform—the major boon for advertisers is that content creation and promotion is now seamlessly integrated," explains Lachtman, 33. "We're also able to offer way more data to our creators and much more nuanced research to brand partners."
What's next? Expansion into London and Brazil this month, and a new mobile app that lets creators manage their own accounts.
"We've worked with just about every great brand in the world," Fishman says. "But the most rewarding part for us is firing up Vine and seeing our creators wearing Niche T-shirts." —Lauren Johnson
Jared Grusd, CEO, The Huffington Post
Jared Grusd served as chief strategy and business development officer of AOL when it bought The Huffington Post in 2011, and in that role played an important part in the headline-making acquisition.
So it seemed only natural in August of this year when Grusd was recruited from Spotify to become chief executive of HuffPost following Jimmy Maymann's move to a new post overseeing AOL's consumer brands, reporting to CEO Tim Armstrong.
As Arianna Huffington wrote in a staff memo announcing the hire, Grusd, 39, "was part of my first discussion with Tim that led to the acquisition of HuffPost. Jared brings an incredible range of experience to the role, and the timing couldn't be better as HuffPost continues to expand around the world and innovate in every way."
Prior to joining HuffPost, Grusd was head of corporate development and general counsel at Spotify, growing the company from a fledgling startup into the world's leading streaming-music platform. Earlier this year, Grusd sold Shake, a venture-backed legal technology startup he co-founded, to Legal Shield.
As if he didn't have enough on his plate, Grusd also teaches a course at Columbia Business School on the convergence of media and technology. It ranks among the school's most popular classes.
In a rapidly changing media world, among Grusd's priorities now are HuffPost's expansion into 17 markets by the end of this year and, of course, mobile. "Consumers are going to different places to find content and, very importantly, going from their desktop computers to mobile phones," he says. "We're really focused on how we evolve and play in that space." —Tim Baysinger
Gigi Hadid, model and Instagram star
Seemingly overnight, a new type of celebrity has conquered the notoriously insular fashion industry: the social media model. She (or, occasionally, he) is young, well-connected and genetically blessed. She's just as likely to be found in the pages of Us Weekly as on a Paris runway. And most importantly, she commands an army of millions of Instagram followers.
No one represents this phenomenon better than supermodel Gigi Hadid. While the 20-year-old California native didn't exactly appear out of nowhere—she first appeared in Guess ads as a child, and her mother, former model Yolanda Foster, is one of the stars of Bravo's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills—it's her own social media savvy that has helped her become one of fashion's most in-demand faces. Whether she's hosting "Ask Gigi" Q&A sessions on Periscope or posting selfies with celebrity BFFs like Kendall Jenner and Taylor Swift, Hadid makes sure to keep her nearly 8 million social followers (including 6.4 million on Instagram) constantly engaged.
It also doesn't hurt that in an industry known for bad behavior, Hadid is as clean-cut as they come. And all this has made Hadid invaluable to marketers looking to connect with millennials. Over the past two years, she has signed lucrative contracts with major consumer brands (Maybelline) and luxury designers (Tom Ford), appeared on numerous magazine covers (Teen Vogue, W) and walked the runway (Chanel, Versace)—all of it, of course, posted, shared and liked along the way. —E.B.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, creators, Broad City
Bringing a hit series to life took time for Abbi Jacobson, 31, and Ilana Glazer, 28, the creators, writers, producers and stars of Comedy Central's Broad City. The show's success—attributed to its joyous celebration of female friendship and stoner slackerdom—has everything to do with Jacobson and Glazer's commitment to their distinct comedic voice.
What started as a Web series in 2009 became a TV show with the help of queen of comedy Amy Poehler as an executive producer. In 2011, the team landed a development deal with FX, but ultimately the network passed on the project, whose irreverent tone, it felt, didn't fit its brand. Eventually, the show found an ally in Comedy Central, on which Broad City made its debut in January 2014.
"Abbi and Ilana connect with young people not only because they are smart and funny, but also because they have a very strong point of view that reflects the world young people live in—a world that is different than preceding generations inhabited at their ages," said Kent Alterman, president of content development and original programming at Comedy Central.
Now in production on its third season, the pair have the ear of A-listers like actress Natalie Portman, who recently championed Broad City even as she expressed embarrassment about its jokes at the expense of her character in the film Garden State.
It helps that the show isn't "about rich, Sex and the City girls," says Rob Gregory, chief revenue officer of WhoSay. "It's about real-life, struggle-to-pay-your-rent girls, and it takes risks to be edgy and real." —K.M.
Mindy Kaling, creator, writer and star, The Mindy Project
This year, Mindy Kaling decided that Mindy Lahiri, the character she plays on The Mindy Project, needed a new challenge. So Kaling created a surprise pregnancy for her. After all, the character had a great job and a dream boyfriend, "and we never want her life to be too easy," Kaling, who serves as the show's creator, showrunner, writer and star, tells Adweek. "At a certain point, why do you want to root for this person?"
Just as her TV alter ego has thrived under adversity, so, too, has Kaling. After Fox passed on a fourth season of her sitcom in the spring, Kaling, 36, took her show to streaming service Hulu, a move that "has been so liberating creatively," she says. The series' splendid new season—at 26 episodes, its largest order ever—premiered Sept. 15, the same day as the release of Why Not Me?, which topped The New York Times' best-seller list. The prospect of launching two big projects at once would have overwhelmed most people, but Kaling was happy to double down: "I'm such a worrier and perfectionist, so it felt like it condensed the amount of time I could worry into one compact, ultra-intense time of anxiety."
Kaling doesn't have time to panic, between overseeing The Mindy Project (after filming all day, she spends her nights editing the show), tackling her book projects (she's already at work on her third novel, which she is writing with B.J. Novak, her co-star and co-writer from The Office, as well as her onetime boyfriend), appearing in campaigns for Nationwide and American Express, and squeezing in films like Disney/Pixar's summer hit Inside Out, for which she voiced the character Disgust. "People ask me, when do I sleep," she says. "But when you're living your dream, why would you want to sleep?" —J.L.
Ezra Klein, editor in chief, Vox
The story of Vox editor in chief Ezra Klein, not unlike the stories of so many other stars of the digital age, begins in a dorm room. It was in 2002, as a college freshman, that Klein started his first political blog. The future policy expert didn't have much of a plan then—and even less of an audience.
"I think there was this period after 9/11 when it didn't matter if you were or were not interested in politics, because world events were interested in you," says Klein, 31, who is also policy analyst for MSNBC. "There was one war going on and one potentially about to start, so it focused attention in a way that is unusual for American politics."
After graduating from UCLA in 2006, he landed at The Washington Post, but it was at The American Prospect where he would amass a devoted following. After rejoining the Post in 2009, Klein's Wonkblog quickly became one of the paper's biggest online traffic drivers. But for Klein, it wasn't enough.
"I felt that we were doing a really good job at Wonkblog of getting people great coverage of what happened today in Obamacare or today in finance regulations or today in economics policy, but I'd get these emails from readers and what they needed to know about was very rarely what happened today," explains Klein. "I found it really frustrating that I didn't have a way to connect the broader body of knowledge we were building on these topics with the people who needed it at any given moment."
So last year, Klein left the Post to launch Vox, whose trademark info "cards" provide readers with context for a story.
From 18-year-old political blogger to changing how politics and policy are covered by 30. What will Klein do in his fourth decade? —Carrie Cummings
Josh Morse, head of integrated production, Barton F. Graf 9000
Josh Morse grew up with a passion for film, working in video stores throughout high school and college, studying filmmaking at Cornell University, and serving as a production assistant on movie sets. Post-grad, Morse worked at an equipment-rental agency—a gig he says helped him land his first agency job.
"I quickly realized the only people who wouldn't argue with me about the cost of rentals were people filming the commercials," says Morse, 33.
Morse was willing to go to great lengths to get a job in advertising—even offering one agency camera equipment in exchange for a job interview. That agency was JWT New York. While his bartering skills didn't work initially, a few months later the shop did offer him an associate producer position.
Morse later moved on to Cliff Freeman & Partners, followed by a stint at TBWAChiatDay where he built an impressive portfolio and lasting industry relationships. "I've had a chance to work with some of the best creatives throughout my career," he says. "I'm only really as good as the people I get to work with."
Morse joined Barton F. Graf in 2012. Just two years old at the time, the agency was still finding its way, and Morse used his experience to build the agency's production unit. After taking oversight for integrated production, projects included work for Keep a Child Alive, Kayak and Supercell. Under Morse's direction, the agency's Clash of Clans work for Supercell has achieved viral stardom—the brand's Super Bowl spot starring Liam Neeson has amassed nearly 73 million YouTube views to date.
"It really comes down to that fact that I got lucky," Morse adds. "I've met really cool and talented people and that has led to great opportunities." —K.R.
Anush Prabhu, partner, chief channel planning and investment officer, Deutsch
Anush Prabhu attributes his success in the agency world to one thing above all: big data and the insights drawn from it. Yet Prabhu, whose agency pedigree was built up during stints in planning and analytics at JWT and mcgarrybowen, insists that data is what you make it and that its applications go far beyond media buying strategy.
"If there's one thing that I've done across my career, it's try to figure out how larger data-driven insights can affect how brands go to market," says the partner and chief channel planning and investment officer at Deutsch.
He adds that the principle can apply to creative work as well, explaining, "Data can be the marriage counselor between creative and media in many ways today. I have been able to move data way up in the process to inform not just media but also the creative brief" by using it to determine the most effective direction for ensuing campaigns.
Prabhu says that most agencies, both media and creative, fail to properly leverage their combined power because the two departments are "not connected at the hip" and do not use data as a guiding post for future work.
Just shy of his 40th birthday, Prabhu has spent most of the past 15 years with Deutsch, starting as an account executive and quickly moving into data strategy. He is credited with introducing Web analytics and site evaluation offerings to Deutsch clients and encouraging the use of testing initiatives in the interest of improving the performance of the agency's campaigns.
"The brave thing my boss did was to put a data guy in charge of media," he cracks, adding "the best evidence is the work itself. At the end of the day money talks, whether for our clients or ourselves." —P.C.
Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO, BroadbandTV
When Shahrzad Rafati was studying computer science in the mid-aughts at the University of British Columbia, she could see a change in how media was being distributed. "At the time, audio was shifting to digital distribution and I could see that video was going to be next," she recalls.
So Rafati did what came naturally for her: She drafted a business plan that would eventually serve as the DNA for BroadbandTV, the multichannel network that was launched in 2005 and has since become one of the largest in the digital space.
BroadbandTV has evolved into the world's second-largest multiplatform network (MPN), with 37,000 creators amassing 5.7 billion monthly views spanning verticals including gaming, music, entertainment, kids/family and news. According to comScore, BroadbandTV is the fastest-growing MPN since September 2014, recording 10 percent growth per month and outpacing its nearest competitor by 8 percent.
The company recently partnered with The Huffington Post on a new online video network, Outspeak, devoted to news and journalism.
"No two days are the same," says Rafati, 36. "Every day we face new challenges and enter territory that hasn't been tackled before. It's incredibly fast-paced and it's exciting to be shaping the future of entertainment."
In addition to the HuffPost alliance, BroadbandTV provides end-to-end channel management and technology solutions for independent content creators and media companies for boosting their presence on YouTube. Current clients include the NBA, FremantleMedia, Sony Pictures and A+E Networks. Rafati's work with the NBA serves as a model for large sports and entertainment entities and fans who upload premium content.
"Ultimately, the users redeploying the content online were the biggest fans of the content," she says. "At the same time, we understood the concerns of the big content owners. We wanted to put them back in control of the content and open up new revenue streams."
Beyond the small screen, Rafati has a foot in the yoga industry, co-founding the Chopra Yoga Center with Deepak Chopra in her home of Vancouver. —T.B.
Brendan Ripp, publisher, Sports Illustrated
Brendan Ripp's career came full circle last year when he was named publisher of Sports Illustrated. The son of Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp, the younger Ripp, now 37, started his career as an intern at the iconic sports title in 1996.
He hasn't slowed down since.
Before his current post at SI, Ripp held several other leadership positions within Time Inc., serving as publisher at Time magazine (where, at 33, he was the youngest publisher since founding editor Henry Luce) and Money before moving to Fortune as vp, sales and marketing.
Though SI's print business continues to deliver a weekly audience of around 18 million, Ripp's sights are firmly set on digital. "[It's] incredibly important that we continue to diversify the Sports Illustrated brand to maintain overall growth," as he puts it.
This year, SI.com carried out a redesign featuring a heavy push into video, helping spur the creation of some 11,000 pieces of video content this year. "To put that number in perspective, the 2015 goal [announced at the Newfronts] for Time Inc. as a whole was 10k pieces," he notes. Ripp plans yet another redesign around mobile products.
Under his watch, SI.com also launched a successful stand-alone vertical featuring NFL content and directed by longtime scribe Peter King, plus the verticals in Campus Rush and Golf GOLD.
"SI Digital will continue with our successful vertical strategy," notes Ripp, who says plans are to keep launching verticals in 2016, including one on the intersection of sports and technology. —T.B.
Cris Rivera, director, Miller Lite
Cris Rivera has brewed up some unconventional methods to reach millennials. A few months ago, the director at MillerCoors' Miller Lite unit noticed that typography and design were trending big time on Instagram (nearly 3 million photos and videos carry #typography and related hashtags), and that the platform was attracting more millennial dudes than ever before. So, Miller Lite ran a summer campaign on the photo-sharing site that spoke to men 21-34 with specially styled fonts designed to make a splash.
Keeping up with younger consumers can be a challenge, admits Rivera, 34, because "they're constantly evolving." Marketers must "stay on top of trends, changes in the media landscape, evolving values and beliefs and consumption behaviors."
Mixing traditional and digital media maximizes reach and boosts engagement, he says, noting, "These opportunities, when well-targeted, allow brands to provide the needed depth and interest to connect with consumers in a way that traditional tactics would never allow."
Last summer's "Show Us Your Miller Time" campaign is a prime example. A photo contest on Twitter rewarded participants for their creativity, with winning images appearing in a Miller Lite TV commercial and creators getting cash prizes. The program generated 500,000 tweets and precipitated "a significant increase in brand health," Rivera says, giving the Miller Lite brand some cool cachet among young people in its struggle to regain market share from craft beers.
But Rivera has been doing things differently for a while. In 2012, he led a successful mobile campaign for Coors Light Hispanic targeting Latino sports enthusiasts. Listening to fans, he says, helped create Fanáticos del Frio, an app that provided game broadcasts and related information.
Campaigns must add value but also must blend in, he believes—because intrusive or self-serving ads will quickly fall flat with millennials. —D.G.
Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO, Girls Who Code
By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computing-related jobs in the world, but women are only on track to claim a measly 3 percent of those roles. Even as women increasingly nab top executive jobs and corporate positions, the technology industry remains heavily weighted toward male employees. Reshma Saujani wants to change that.
After discovering how wide tech's gender gap was while campaigning for Congress in 2010, Saujani opened Girls Who Code in New York's Flatiron district in 2012 to steer girls toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
"The schools I visited in New York City had a remarkable disparity in the way boys and girls approached technology education," says Saujani, 39. "Our country's competitiveness in the 21st century will depend on our ability to diversify and broaden the technology sector."
Saujani's first class offered 20 students a seven-week crash course in programming and Web development. Three years later, the company has grown to include 57 summer programs and 500 Girls Who Code clubs. By the end of this year, the organization will have reached 10,000 girls.
The courses prep teens by combining hands-on experience (building robotics, mobile apps and Web programs, for example) with a mentor program that involves the industry's top engineers and entrepreneurs. Seventy-seven percent of girls who participated in last year's summer program said that they changed their career plans because of Girls Who Code. Buoyed by those numbers, the company now focuses on yearlong programs to provide 40 hours of instruction to teenage girls in 25 states every school year.
Saujani's advice for fellow female entrepreneurs?
"Embracing failure is the most important trait I've developed in my career," she says. "As I tell our students at every opportunity, learning from your failures will make you stronger, more confident and more resilient for whatever comes next." —L.J.
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, co-creator, UnREAL
While developing Lifetime's riveting drama UnReal—set behind the scenes at a Bachelor-esque reality dating show—Sarah Gertrude Shapiro worried that audiences would see it as just satire. Then, "we had a week where we were reviewed in The New Yorker and Us Weekly, in equal measure," says Shapiro, 37. "That was the amazing thing about this show. You can have a lot of fun with it, but people are also getting it on a really deeper level."
The show's critical acclaim and popularity with audiences (with a median age of 43, it is the network's youngest-skewing drama ever) validate the gamble Shapiro took after toiling as a Bachelor field producer in her mid-20s before literally fleeing California to get out of her contract. In 2005, she joined Wieden + Kennedy as a content producer. There, with support from W+K head of entertainment Sally DeSipio, she made a short film, 2013's Sequin Raze, and pitched it as a series to Lifetime.
Shapiro and co-creator Marti Noxon channeled themselves as they invented the show's two leads, executive producer Quinn (played by Constance Zimmer) and producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby). "There's so much of our life experience in those characters that there's no way we could have written them one-note," explains Shapiro.
But she is proudest of navigating UnReal's stunning midseason twist, in which one of the show's contestants—who had unknowingly gone off her meds—throws herself off a roof. "Digging ourselves out of that plot turn," she says, "was like extreme sports for writers." —J.L.
Katherine Thomson, U.S. editor, Daily Mail
From House of Cards to boy bands, America is no stranger to borrowing things from the British and making them our own. Whenever something from her majesty's kingdom washes onto our shores, there's no shortage of consumers, it seems, eager to gulp it down like a cup of Earl Grey.
Such is true of tabloid journalism. While the U.S. has long indulged in the guilty pleasures of political gossip, celebrity shenanigans and oddball news stories via our own headline-blaring outlets—the New York Post, Us Weekly, TMZ—somehow the edge that comes so easily to our cousins across the pond was largely missing.
Enter the Daily Mail, which for 119 years has been the top dog of the British tabs and which started up an online edition in the U.S. five years ago, since garnering 79 million uniques with irresistibly tawdry content (e.g., "Short men have fewer sexual partners than their taller peers," "Sharon Stone goes braless as she steps out for glamorous dinner date") as well as hard news coverage.
When it launched out of New York, the Mail tapped an American, Katherine Thomson, an editor at The Huffington Post, to help mold it into the sensation it is today. Thomson, 36, who moved to the Mail's top edit job two years ago, spends her days and nights in front of a computer, monitoring headlines from around the world and shepherding content for a site that ranks as the 38th best-read by comScore—just behind The New York Times. "I'm really proud of how much we've grown," says Thomson. "We started with about 10 people in a SoHo loft and now have over 100 journalists in our new office in Astor Place."
The Mail's startup environment was not unfamiliar to Thomson. "When I got to Huffington Post [in 2007], there was just one homepage, a one-room loft office in SoHo—and not a lot of respect," she recalls. "And with a lot of smart, hardworking people and years of gutting it out seven days a week because we loved it and we believed in it, it became an 'overnight sensation.'"
While her strategy doesn't stray too far from that of the U.K. parent (though she admits that without her, there would be fewer stories about Bravo and TLC shows), Thomson has overseen tweaks to the design, plus the addition of a new CMS and an analytics tool that provides real-time updates.
As for what's next? "More of the same," the editor affirms. That means we can all look forward to more stories about political sex scandals, the weight-loss struggles of reality TV stars and braless celebrities.
And if that bothers you, just close your eyes and think of England. —C.C.
Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, co-founders, theSkimm
Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin were terrified. It was 2012, and the friends, who first met at a study abroad program in college and reconnected years later working for NBC News in Washington, D.C., had just quit their jobs. “We had worked so hard to get our foot in the door and felt that we had grown up at NBC News,” recalls Weisberg. “We saw, though, that our friends—who are smart, on the go and well-educated—weren’t watching anything we were producing for a living.”
So the pair, both now 29, started up theSkimm, a morning e-newsletter that tells its young female readers what’s going on in the world in terms that connect with them. “We looked at what we do first thing in the morning—grab your phone, turn off the alarm, and read email from friends and family first,” says Weisberg. “We never set out to create a newsletter company, but email was the quickest and easiest way to build up an engaged following,” adds Zakin.
Zakin—who says she fell in love with news at age 5—has, besides the network’s D.C. bureau, spent time in CNBC’s prime-time development unit and produced documentaries for MSNBC. Meanwhile, Weisberg has covered everything from elections and inaugurations to TARP hearings and healthcarereform rallies. She also was a producer on MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell.
Today, theSkimm reaches more than 1.5 million subscribers, most of them females 22-34 who live in large cities, while its staff has grown from just Weisberg and Zakin to 16 people. “We had no clue how big it could be,” says Zakin. “We have big plans for where to take theSkimm’s voice and
community next.” —T.B.
Tristan Walker, founder and CEO, Walker & Co.
Tristan Walker had already built an impressive resumé by the time he finished his MBA at Stanford in 2010, having cut his digital teeth at Twitter and developed some of Foursquare's first ad products.
The story behind getting the Foursquare gig is worth a little ink all by itself, entailing a dose of good, old-fashioned persistence as well as a plucky sense for adventure. From his California home, Walker emailed the startup's CEO, Dennis Crowley, eight times before getting a response. "When he finally emailed back, he asked if I was free to grab a coffee the next day—in New York," remembers Walker, 31. "I was in Los Angeles and said to my wife, 'How do I respond to this?' I emailed him back yes, booked a flight that night, met him the next day and hung out with him for the next week."
While helping lead business development at Foursquare, Walker pitched American Express with the idea of syncing offers to consumers' credit cards in what became a revolutionary campaign blending social media and mobile commerce.
Today, Walker leads a 2-year-old startup, Walker & Co., which focuses on making health and beauty products for people of color. Its flagship brand, Bevel, is a shaving system for men with coarse and curly hair that is gaining steam. For $30 a month, subscribers are sent a brush, razor, blades, priming oil, shaving cream and restorative balm. Though he wouldn't disclose revenue figures, Walker reveals that 95 percent of its business are repeat customers.
Bevel seems just the beginning. Walker's ultimate goal, he says: "I want to build something with the legacy of a Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson or Unilever." —C.H.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 5 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.