The 2016 class of Young Influentials features an impressive lineup of mind-blowing talent, all game changers under 40 who've made waves in the worlds of media, marketing, technology and entertainment. Featured on our cover is actor, writer and musician Donald Glover, who also is the creator and star of FX's critically acclaimed dramedy Atlanta. Glover joins an impressive group of superstars, including Saturday Night Live cast member Kate McKinnon, social influencer Lele Pons, Annalect North America CEO Erin Matts and Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin. Identifying such a wide range of high achievers was no easy feat—crowdsourcing was key. This is the second year of an editorial partnership between Adweek and PopSugar in which co-founder and president Lisa Sugar served as selection committee chair alongside Adweek's editors.
Nick Bell, vp, content, Snapchat
If the first half of this year for Snapchat was about debuting its API, the second half has been about building up its content. It's batting two for two in that regard, and Nick Bell is the player who's getting the hits.
Last month, the 32-year-old vp, content enlisted Le Monde, Paris Match and L'Equipe to unveil Snapchat Discover in France. That was shortly after it added Vogue to the U.S. version of the app just in time for New York Fashion Week. These media brands became part of an impressive club of Discover players that also includes CNN, ESPN, MTV, Refinery29, The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed. What's more, the latest partners come on the heels of what may have been Bell's biggest coup of all: inking a multiyear deal with NBCUniversal that included Summer Olympics coverage and that will also involve programming like The Voice, E! News, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live.
"I'm constantly impressed by the way that [Bell] has been able to scale their premium content offerings and partnerships," says Nick Cicero, CEO of social influencer firm Delmondo.
Launched in 2012, Snapchat has grown to 150 million daily users—surpassing Twitter, which is six years older. Venice, Calif.-based Snapchat will make $1 billion in ad revenue next year, per eMarketer, and has become the toast of the digital media world. With his numerous content relationships, Bell has proved to be irreplaceable in the app's journey from curious startup to bona fide power player.
Adds Cicero: "It's not easy to convince the world's largest media brands to adopt new distribution channels, reallocate resources to produce daily content in a previously unproven format—vertical video—and even start new media brands." —Christopher Heine
Andrew Bosworth, vp, ads and business platforms, Facebook
When Andrew Bosworth first met Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard while teaching a class on artificial intelligence, even machine learning couldn't have predicted the power that the social network would someday have—both over advertising and everything else in digital media.
Bosworth, 34, Facebook's head of advertising and one of Zuckerberg's closest advisers, has been instrumental in the tech giant's transformation to mobile. According to Facebook's second-quarter earnings, mobile now makes up 84 percent of the company's $6.44 billion in ad sales, with total monthly active users continuing to skyrocket by increasing 15 percent year over year to 1.71 billion.
"Every time something comes to the market, there's a dance where people react and you shape the product and then they react more and then you shape the product and then you shape the product more," Bosworth says. "And that's both for consumers and advertisers. So it's funny to think of everything that's happened in a one-year time frame. There's this layering of value that adds up over time."
Those layers now include expanded features for Places, new uses of AI, additional people-based targeting and, of course, plenty of video. Bosworth said the evolution of video reminds him of his early days as one of the inventors of the Facebook newsfeed.
One of Bosworth's next missions is to develop more generalized forms of artificial intelligence, which could help solve problems having to do with much more than ads.
For example, Facebook has already created a way for users who are visually impaired to understand photos, videos and text.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm industrywide over [AI]," he says. "It's incredible how much depth there is and how early we are with some of this technology."
Molly DeWolf Swenson, CMO, RYOT
Molly DeWolf Swenson's job as CMO of digital media company RYOT goes far beyond marketing. As the young 360-degree video and virtual reality media company ballooned from three to 30 people while shooting films in countries across five continents, Swenson, 28, has become a much-sought-after speaker around the world when it comes to dissecting the future of a bourgeoning medium that many haven't even tried.
Along with RYOT co-founder Bryn Mooser, Swenson led negotiations of the acquisition of the company, which was bought by AOL earlier this year to become a part of The Huffington Post. And just last month, she helped lead a team of creators to Rio for the Olympics, where they shot dozens of 360-degree videos to showcase the city outside the games.
It's also been a busy awards year for RYOT. The company has been nominated for a trifecta of high-profile prizes for films highlighting some of the most hard-hitting and heart-wrenching topics. It received an Oscar nomination in the Best Documentary Short category for Body Team 12, a film about the Ebola crisis in Liberia. The Crossing, a VR film about Syrian refugees crossing the Aegean Sea, was nominated for an Emmy, and Gardeners of Eden, about elephant poaching in Kenya, was up for a Peabody.
"We've always thought to use storytelling, and in particular storytelling in new mediums, to get people to pay attention to issues that they might not have otherwise," she says.
It's not all serious stuff. Last month, RYOT announced a VR sketch comedy series starring Nora Kirkpatrick from The Office and Mike O'Brien from Saturday Night Live and Portlandia. That series, along with a VR world news show, will premiere this fall on Hulu's VR app. —M.S.
Michael Dubin, founder, Dollar Shave Club
Sometimes the best ideas come from getting pissed off. Like many men, Michael Dubin was frustrated with the process of buying shaving razors. "I was tired of overpaying for a pack of blades after trekking to the store to find them locked behind a razor fortress," he says. "Everything about the experience was primitive."
But instead of walking off in a huff, Dubin went home and hatched an attack plan: sell razors for a buck apiece—brutally undercutting dominant players like Gillette—with an easy, online subscription.
When Dubin, 38, started Dollar Shave Club in 2012 (initially running it out of his Venice, Calif., apartment), investors were skeptical. Then came a now-famous YouTube spot starring Dubin, a guy in a bear suit, an employee named Alejandro and memorable one-liners like "Our blades are f***ing great." The video, which cost $4,500 to produce, notched more than 20 million views.
After that, investors came calling, and consumers followed. In 2015, the company posted $152 million in sales. Earlier this year, Unilever snapped it up for a reported $1 billion.
What Dubin saw four years ago is now clear to everyone. He zeroed in on an unpopular, change-averse industry, replacing it with a good idea and even better marketing. "That video addresses a real frustration in a relatable, humorous way," he says. "The key is to find a universal truth and tee off on it."
Dubin is older than your average tech whiz, but that's also part of the formula. He credits his experience in various marketing jobs—and a stint with the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe—for his marketing panache.
"I don't think we'd have been as successful if I'd started in my 20s," he says. —Robert Klara
Matt and Ross Duffer, creators, Stranger Things
The Duffer Brothers have come a long way since getting their first Hi8 video camera from their parents in third grade. The 32-year-old, North Carolina-born twins have now made their first big splash in Hollywood with Stranger Things, a sci-fi thriller full of throwback pop culture and timeless adventure.
The Netflix series quickly gained the affection of millions with its '80s references and endearing characters—which might be described as a love child of The Goonies and The X-Files. (A recent analysis conducted by Netflix found it only took three episodes to get viewers hooked.)
It wasn't always a clear path from the Upside Down (the dystopian, alternative universe of the series) to a major Hollywood deal. The Duffers got rejected by 15 networks before Netflix decided to give the show a chance. That bet has more than paid off. The first eight episodes averaged more than 14 million viewers 18-49, according to Symphony Advanced Media. That makes it the third-most-watched season for a Netflix original in the past year, behind only Orange Is the New Black and Fuller House.
On social media, the show proved wildly popular. According to TickerTags, social mentions of Stranger Things were 37 percent greater than those of the hit Making a Murderer and on par with those of House of Cards and Jessica Jones. —M.S.
Donald Glover, actor, writer, musician
Donald Glover tried to keep expectations low while making his new FX comedy series Atlanta.
"In the writers room, I kept repeating, 'It's OK if we get canceled in the first year. I just want to have a show that we're proud of, that we can say, this is the show I would watch if I was not on it,'" says Glover, who serves as creator, showrunner, writer, occasional director and star.
Instead, Glover, 33, got to make a series that resonated both personally and culturally. Atlanta had the highest-rated 18-49 debut of any prime-time scripted comedy on basic cable in more than three years, and it grew its audience over the next two weeks.
While Glover is thrilled about the response to the series (which was already renewed for Season 2), he's also a bit conflicted. "I don't want to ever get caught up in making people happy," he says. "I'd much rather get caught up in making culture, and making something that lives on forever."
The quest for innovation is what drives Glover. Instead of signing on for other audience-pleasing parts in the vein of Troy, his breakout role on NBC's Community, Glover focused on Atlanta, which is more layered and inventive than its premise might suggest. "I Trojan-horsed it a little bit," he admits. "The setup is pretty easy, but we knew this show isn't going to really be about two cousins trying to make it in the rap game."
One reason the show doesn't feel like anything else that's on television: Glover assembled a group of writers, plus a primary director, who had never worked in TV before. "I just hired people who had the point of view I had," Glover says. "Also, we shared similar tastes as far as, we like cool stuff."
Together, they crafted a show concerned more with tone than story. "Good music is all tone. It's like, 'This just feels good,'" he says. "And I felt like in television, it's important to try that, especially if we're going to be tackling a lot of black perspective."
Glover—who records under the name Childish Gambino—approaches his music career much the same way. Last month, he debuted his still-untitled third album at the Pharos music festival in Joshua Tree, Calif., where attendees had to keep their smartphones in sealed bags.
"I wanted to give people an experience," says Glover. "I remember going to Japan, and I felt like I was like 6 again because I was completely out of an element that I understood. I think telling people to put their phones away really forces a person to be present, as yoga-friendly as that sounds."
As for when everyone else will get to hear his new music? "I approached the album the same way I approached the show, which was a test in feeling," he says. "So I'll probably release it when it feels right." —Jason Lynch
Jorge Granier, CEO, Latin Everywhere
In 2011, after his family's Venezuelan station, RCTV (Radio Caracas TV), was taken over by the Chavez regime, Jorge Granier had a wild idea: amass the digital rights to the shows in RCTV's library, with a particular eye to the "underserved" U.S. market.
"I knew that with the growth of the Latino population in the U.S., there needed to be something else there. We have so much talent and IP that has rarely been looked at," says Granier, 35, who first made a splash here by selling the rights to RCTV telenovela Juana la Virgen, which became The CW's Golden Globe-winning Jane the Virgin. "As we started gathering these assets, we said, wow, there's a real opportunity here and no one's paying attention to it."
Jane the Virgin's success opened doors for Granier and helped him and partner Rich Hull launch, in 2014, Latin Everywhere, a worldwide digital content and distribution company for Spanish-language content. The company's Pongalo ("play it" in Spanish) is now the largest Latino-focused film and TV network on YouTube, with more than 2 billion views last year.
While other companies target English-speaking Latinos, Granier—who also has partnerships with Hulu, Netflix and Amazon—instead makes content for the two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population that is either bilingual or Spanish-speaking only. He curates shows that "talk to Latinos here in the U.S. and what their life is about," along with "nostalgic" content from Latin America. By early next year, the U.S. should overtake Mexico as Pongalo's largest market.
This fall, Granier is rolling out a subscription, ad-free service for Pongalo, which he hopes will cement his company's dominance as other studios and firms chase advertisers who are seeking that demographic. "We're glad to have a leg up on all those guys," he says, "because we already have a library that's huge." —J.L.
Misha Green, co-creator, Underground
During her three-year journey to find a home for Underground, her WGN America drama about slaves on the run via the Underground Railroad, Misha Green faced her share of skeptical and nervous TV executives, who outside of Roots had rarely shown an interest in tackling slavery on the small screen.
"We're not used to the subject matter having nuance: having slaves who have full lives, and seeing that they love to laugh, and cry, and cheated," says Green, 32. "That opens that world up; we've never seen these stories told that way." And certainly not with a contemporary soundtrack from artists like Kanye West and John Legend (who is also an executive producer).
WGN America bet on Green and her co-creator Joe Pokaski's vision and hit the jackpot: Underground's first season drew 3 million viewers each week, becoming the cable network's most-watched original series ever, and bested WGN America's average 18-49 demo rating last season by 1,100 percent.
Its success has been a huge vindication for Green, who is one of TV's few female African-American showrunners. "One of our costume designers is like, 'Misha, when you walk into a room, you just command the room. Everyone turns to you.' I'm like, 'Yeah, they're turning to me going, who's that? Why is she here?'" says Green, laughing.
Green previously wrote for Heroes (where she met Pokaski) and Sons of Anarchy, but nothing that had the cultural impact of Underground, which screened at the White House and was the first public program presented last month at D.C.'s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"A lot of the conversations that Joe and I have when we're sitting down to write these scripts were very important, and I've grown as a person just by having them," says Green, who is filming Season 2 and has a five-year plan for the series. "If this show is opening up those conversations, to me, that's the most exciting part about it." —J.L.
Paulo Fogaca, managing director, David Miami
Paulo Fogaca's 18 years in the ad business have put him in outposts around the world, picking up new skills and experiences in Brazil, France, New York and most recently, Miami. While working for Ogilvy & Mather New York in 2014, Fogaca, 36, got a call to join a team in Miami to help set up David, a sister agency named after ad legend David Ogilvy.
Since opening the doors two years ago, Fogaca has helped David Miami secure an impressive roster of clients including Coca-Cola, Burger King and Kraft Heinz and has helped deliver impressive work for each, including the viral "Proud Whopper" campaign for Burger King, which featured a limited-edition sandwich wrapped in rainbow paper to mark Gay Pride in San Francisco.
One of the high points since opening the shop, Fogaca says, has been its work on one of the most-talked-about commercials in this year's Super Bowl, especially considering how young the agency was at the time. Its spot for Heinz ketchup—which, you will recall, featured a pack of cuddly wiener dogs dressed up as hot dogs running to humans dressed as condiments—stole America's collective heart. And the spot lives on via YouTube, having amassed more than 7 million views since its February debut.
Michael Heyward, CEO, Whisper
Anonymity is what people both love and hate about the internet, and that strange duality is what makes the ascent of Whisper particularly intriguing. Over the last 16 months and under the guidance of CEO Michael Heyward, the dark-social app has gone from 10 million monthly users to more than 30 million by offering them a safe haven to express their deepest secrets, greatest fears, loftiest life aspirations and other personal details.
Whisper has become the go-to digital diary of millennials, complete with GIFs, memes and videos that are thinly veiled references to their personal lives. Brands like Coca-Cola, Disney, 20th Century Fox and Pandora have become repeat ad buyers, and a big reason is that Heyward, 28, and the Silicon Beach startup have made a massive effort to clean up bullying on their online properties so that the incognito crowd no longer seems dangerous to brands.
"We've been heads down developing some groundbreaking ad products working with world-class brands," Heyward says.
To support the continued expansion of its ad platform, Whisper recently opened a New York office, and it further strengthened its ad sales apparatus with a number of key hires. In addition, the app has run goodwill campaigns for Coke and the Ad Council, underscoring how the company and its clients collaborate on reaching the app's young demo.
"[Anonymity is] kind of a core human need," Heyward notes. "This is an idea that has been around for many centuries." —C.H.
Laurel Hodge, director, creative strategy, Imgur
Growing up, Laurel Hodge didn't like advertising because, as she puts it, "I didn't see how it could be anything but an intrusive interruption. However, I was drawn to truly entertaining content that's rooted in cultural truths."
Today, Hodge, 31, is charged with bringing that belief to reality by building creative ads targeted at social app Imgur's ad-adverse following of millennial men for brands including eBay, SoFi and Old Spice.
As director of creative strategy, Hodge analyzes Imgur's 150 million monthly active users and works with advertisers to create viral-oriented custom content geared to the meme-loving app's self-described geeky users.
The goal? "Help brands crack the code of marketing to Imgur's massive audience of millennial men," says Hodge.
For financial startup SoFi, for example, Hodge was the creative force behind a sponsored post that used GIFs to explain to readers how to ask for a raise at work.
"My favorite thing about working at Imgur is that it doesn't seem like a job," Hodge says. "It's part of the job to browse hilarious pictures, heartwarming stories and informative posts. Then I create creative strategies and content that aspires to be next to the most viral content on the internet."
Working closely with brands to help them understand the nuances of Imgur appears to be paying off. Since launching Imgur's promoted post ad unit for desktop last year, 30 brands have run campaigns with engagement rates reaching as high as 20 percent. Now the company is working on mobile ads and is staffing up its in-house creative and sales teams.
"One of the problems we see across the landscape today is advertisers try to make something that appeals to everyone, and in turn it appeals to no one," Hodge says. "Advertising on Imgur should be just as good as the organic content, and that's the bar we hold ourselves to." —Lauren Johnson
Karlie Kloss, fashion model
With countless magazine covers (Vogue, Elle), runway appearances (Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs), a social following (5.4 million followers on Instagram, plus a YouTube channel) and lucrative brand contracts (L'Oréal, Victoria's Secret), one might think a superstar fashion model like Karlie Kloss would be quite contented.
But Kloss isn't most models.
The statuesque St. Louis native and NYU freshman, who got her start in the fashion industry more than a decade ago after being discovered at a local runway show, is making it her business to redefine the role of the modern model by using her platform to embrace causes that go beyond the typical charity fundraisers.
Over the past few years, she's helped create awareness around everything from ending hunger to creating positive body image, but her biggest endeavor to date has been helping young women break into the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of tech and coding.
In 2014, Kloss, now 24, enrolled in a two-week coding course at New York's Flatiron School. "Technology touches so many aspects of our lives, including my own work in the fashion industry, and I was curious to learn how it worked on the back end," says Kloss.
The experience proved to be a turning point for the model. "After taking my first coding class, I realized how understanding code opens up incredible opportunities to build the future, especially for women," she explains. So she created the Kode With Klossy scholarship program, which allowed 21 young women to take the same course. Since then, Kloss' focus on the topic has only increased, culminating in the launch earlier this year of Kode With Klossy, a summer camp for girls ages 13-18 in New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis. Every month, Kode With Klossy also gives away a scholarship to the Flatiron School program. —Emma Bazilian
Leland Maschmeyer, CCO, Chobani
Marketers and media people talk a lot about disruption. But Leland Maschmeyer has actually lived it.
Since earning a degree in marketing and psychology from the University of North Carolina in 2003, the 35-year-old chief creative officer of Greek yogurt superbrand Chobani has experienced the greatest disruption the business world has seen since the industrial revolution. And to hear him tell it, chaos has been good for him.
"My professional career has been defined by the era of disruption—everything was changing for us," he says. "I was forced to be flexible in my thinking. It's helped me in my career."
Maschmeyer already boasts a resume one would expect of executives twice his age. Maschmeyer first worked as a strategist for McKinney, then co-founded consulting firm Collins, where he rose from creative director to CCO in three years. His clients—including Target, Instagram, Microsoft, Virgin Atlantic and Facebook—read like a who's who of 21st century business. Maschmeyer's work—including Spotify's global redesign and an interactive music video for Azealia Banks—has set new standards for brand identity.
At Chobani, Maschmeyer found himself at the front end of another trend. When the company parted ways with agency Droga5 in 2015, it hired Maschmeyer as its first creative chief—a clear shift away from the agency-of-record model in favor of producing creative in-house.
As for his plans for Chobani, which has signaled it intends to become a lifestyle brand, Maschmeyer says he will continue to rely on agency partners for major national campaigns. "But when it comes to engineering the [brand] experience—design, community engagement—that's the lifeblood of what we do," he says.
So as marketing continues to evolve in terms of content and experience, Maschmeyer will no doubt be a force behind that change. "It's a big challenge," he admits, "but it's exciting." —R.K.
Erin Matts, North American CEO, Annalect
Erin Matts joined Annalect, Omnicom's data technology platform, in 2013 as its first chief marketing officer—and by the beginning of this year had worked her way up to North American CEO. Since then, she has proven to be a powerhouse within Omnicom, helping its agencies win clients like Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Volkswagen and, of course, the recent, much-publicized McDonald's win by DDB.
Outside those successful pitches, another thing Matts, 39, is especially proud of is the way Annalect has been able to demonstrate the value of data-driven creative ideas to those on both the creative and client sides. "No less than three or four years ago, if you introduced yourself as the data person to a creative director, they would clutch their pearls and send you from the room," says Matts.
She says she wants to continue working to put data and analytics front and center "in all aspects of the managing services that Omnicom provides," seeing it as "the right strategy for us at Omnicom. This is the direction we are moving all agency partners toward."
Matts says she first became energized by bridging data and creative in the mid-2000s in the media department of Wieden + Kennedy. Her wide-ranging experience also includes a brief stint on the client side at Anheuser-Busch InBev and the role of chief digital marketing officer at Glam Media, giving her an understanding of the needs of each side—client, publisher and agency.
"There's a way that data can inspire creativity, and there's a way it can limit it," says Matts. "We want to be inspiring creativity and show how we can expand what creatives know is possible in that territory." —K.R.
Kate McKinnon, actress, comedian
As the reigning MVP of Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon is always surprising and cracking up audiences with her brilliant celebrity impersonations and original creations. But she knows her sixth season on the show will boil down to just one character: Hillary Clinton, whom she'll be channeling each week leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
That's why she's keeping on top of Clinton's campaign, alongside SNL co-head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who handle her Clinton material. "We usually watch the debates at Chris' house and order food, so I'm beyond excited about being involved in this historic moment in even the smallest, most peripheral way—and also the food," says McKinnon.
It's been a triumphant, hilarious and now Emmy Award-winning year for McKinnon, 32, who embraces characters as delightfully off-kilter as she is. In this summer's all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, she stole the film right out from under more seasoned comic veterans like Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig.
But it's on SNL where McKinnon is really in her element, with her pitch-perfect takes on Clinton, Justin Bieber and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Last month, she won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, making her the first SNL regular honored since Dana Carvey in 1993. "When I'm playing Hillary, or really playing anyone, I try to tap into what they're gleeful about and passionate about," says McKinnon. "If a character is having fun doing whatever they're doing, odds are the audience is going to have fun watching them." —J.L.
Pooja Midha, svp, digital ad sales/operations, ABC
If you're a brand that's still uncertain about finding your way in the digital space, you couldn't find a better guide than Pooja Midha, who has overseen all direct, programmatic and data-driven sales for ABC digital, on all its platforms, since arriving from Viacom Media Networks in 2012.
"I'm super-nerdy; I love puzzles. One of the things I like about digital: It's always changing. You get a new puzzle to solve. It never ends," she says.
Midha, 38, has proven herself to be a master puzzle solver, helping clients maximize scale and reach across all of ABC's platforms, and tripling its digital revenue growth over those four years.
Her approach: "We build initiatives for clients around things that they want to surround," including the network's tent-pole programing—the Academy Awards, New Year's Rockin' Eve, TGIT and the Wednesday comedy block.
"We're building for them across platforms because that's where their consumers are and that's where there is opportunity," she says. "And when you think like that, in a multiplatform way, the digital audiences become so much more valuable."
In addition to enjoying tremendous growth in the VOD and OTT platforms, this summer Midha has had her hands full handling sales for ABC's newly relaunched streaming app, which also includes several digital short-form series and full seasons of 38 older shows like Ugly Betty, Brothers and Sisters, My So-Called Life and Felicity.
Such opportunities have helped Midha bridge the linear vs. digital battle that broke out this spring during the industry's NewFront and upfront events.
At ABC, "we think of ourselves as a multiplatform television company. We're not TV, we're T-slash-V," says Midha. "So I think that we just have a different way of looking at the world." —J.L.
Amy Odell, editor, Cosmopolitan.com; director, editorial strategy, Redbookmag.com
Despite having only recently celebrated her 31st birthday, Amy Odell has amassed a list of achievements that any of her older publishing industry peers would envy. She began her career as a freelancer for New York magazine where she would eventually help launch its well-regarded fashion blog, The Cut. In 2012, she was hired by BuzzFeed to help build a women's lifestyle vertical. The following year, Hearst's digital chief Troy Young brought Odell on board to oversee a full relaunch of Cosmopolitan.com. (She has since added oversight of Redbook's digital efforts as well.) She also penned her first book, Tales From the Back Row: An Outsider's View From Inside the Fashion Industry, which was published last year by Simon & Schuster.
Under Odell, Cosmo has become the template for other Hearst brands, boasting a staff of 45 that operates from a dedicated space next door to Hearst Tower and an audience of 17.5 million across web, mobile and video, per MPA. One of Odell's biggest achievements to date has been adding more serious reporting to the mix at Cosmopolitan.com, which covers politics (the site recently published a headline-grabbing interview with Ivanka Trump), LGBT issues, abortion rights. Odell says of Cosmo's readers: "We have to give her things that feel really new and fresh."
Cosmo has also set itself apart by embracing new platforms. When Snapchat launched its Discover platform in early 2015, it chose Cosmo as one of the brands to be given its own channel. Cosmo is the fifth most-followed magazine brand on Facebook with 8.3 million likes, and boasts another 1.8 million followers on Instagram and 1.5 million on Twitter. Cosmo was even a livestreaming veteran long before that became a trend, streaming weekly digital edit meetings online in 2013.
"I'm really proud of the loyalty we've engendered in our audience," says Odell. "It tells me that we've created a digital media brand that's addictive." —E.B.
Sean Peters, president, Zenith USA
Sean Peters, president of Zenith USA, calls his ascent through the media and agency ranks a somewhat "nontraditional" rise. The 34-year-old kicked off his career at Zenith over 10 years ago on the business development side, and while he's jumped around a bit in terms of career path, he has remained at Zenith from the beginning.
From his time in business development, Peters says he was able to "see all sides of what we do in marketing. You see strategy, you see buying, you have visibility with all of these exceptionally talented people we have at Zenith. It really gave me a different and nontraditional perspective on the way that the agency operates and more importantly what clients are asking for from their agencies."
He would go on to lead one of the agency's key accounts, Verizon, then took on clients like Farmers Insurance and Kohl's—both of which Peters helped Zenith secure.
In his new role, Peters is responsible for managing over $1 billion in investments, along with overseeing close to 200 team members. And while he's still just six months into his new job, Peters has big plans for Zenith's future—mainly ensuring that the agency delivers on its pitch as the ROI agency that "continues to be rooted in accountability and that we are building the agency of 2020 by the end of 2016."
To fulfill that mission, Peters said he plans to not only lead by example but also rely heavily on the "extremely fantastic talent that we have within this organization. It's not only a thanks to them but everything that we are looking to build, all the work we are doing to shape our culture, to ensure that we are giving talented people the best opportunities to do the best things on behalf of our clients." —K.R.
Lele Pons, social media star
Lele Pons started posting videos online to make her friends laugh. Now the 20-year-old, Los Angeles-based social media star makes her 9.2 million Instagram followers and 1.7 million YouTube subscribers laugh, too.
"I decided with my friends to start making Vines and content," says Pons. "We were having a little competition of who could make each other laugh the most, who could get more followers, and then my content started becoming really big."
When it comes to creating the slapstick comedic content that's made Pons famous, she writes, stars in, edits and directs the work—no small feat. Her work has grabbed the attention of major brands like Audible and UNO Magnetic.
"I like to do brand deals with big companies," says Pons. "I like to do deals that are also good for my audience so that I can give back to them somehow, something that I know that they would like."
Often her work for brands will be short videos, something she'd typical create, with a shoutout to the brand and a link below.
For Pons, making sure her fans are happy is crucial. She makes sure she's consistent with her social posts (two to three Instagram posts per day, plus one highly produced effort for YouTube each week), and original content is key. "I never repeat my videos," she says. "Every single one that I do, the ending has to be very strong—people look for the ending on my videos because it's always something that you don't expect."
Next up, Pons, who is also an author (in April she published Surviving High School: A Novel), would like to direct and star in a big Hollywood production.
Saneel Radia, svp, business transformation, R/GA
Throughout his advertising career, 37-year-old Saneel Radia has been at the forefront of invention. He headed up BBH Labs beginning in 2010. Then in 2013, he founded Publicis Groupe's incubator for hire, Finch15, serving as its president for three years. Now, as svp, business transformation at R/GA, Radia helps clients like Walmart, Siemens and Campbell's Soup build new and innovative business models.
Depending on the client, Radia will assemble a diverse team of creatives, strategists, producers and experience folks within R/GA to find new solutions, business models, visuals or whatever tools the client might need. "A lot of the work ends up being helping to design digital ecosystems," Radia says, especially when working with some of the large analog companies where digital is "a component part of their business versus a core part of their business." That could be anything from helping a CPG company rethink its entire data platform "to be able to sell those good in various digital environments" to helping a company build a unique subscription model. No matter the client, Radia stresses, one thing that remains consistent is making sure the R/GA team is making the best decisions for its clients.
Going forward, Radia will continue to work to deliver innovative ideas to his agency's client roster. He is also energized about serving as a consultant for some of the companies.
"The opportunity that got me here, that I am excited by, is the idea that a place like R/GA is actually more uniquely qualified to serve as a consultant than a traditional management consultant," he explains. "That doesn't mean we do what they do; what it means is, as we look at the need from traditional consulting models from clients, there's a shift in innovation consulting models." —K.R.
Sara Sindelar, co-leader, Millennial Corps, IBM
Sara Sindelar is at the forefront of IBM's efforts to connect with millennials, both internally and externally. She was one of the architects of IBM Watson's cognitive dress, designed with fashion house Marchesa and worn by model Karolína Kurková at the Met Gala. The dress, which changed colors in real time based on public conversations about the Met Gala on Twitter, was designed to show how Watson gives artists and designers new ways to approach creative thinking.
"At IBM, we're really trying to connect with younger audiences and showcase the relevancy of the IBM brand," says Sindelar, 27, co-leader of IBM's Millennial Corps. "We've tried to tailor the dress and our other projects to a younger audience. The dress is a great example of capturing those conversations, and it was so fun to see it on the red carpet on E!"
Millennial Corps is a 5,000-person group that meets regularly to address the concerns of younger IBM employees and discuss ways to create a better work environment for millennials. The group so far has helped revamp IBM's performance review system and improve career coaching.
"It has both millennial and millennial-minded members, and it bridges the voice of the next-gen audience within the company into bigger workstreams that are going on," Sindelar explains. "It's important to get the next generation engaged with other IBMers, and each other. We want to make sure they have a voice and a seat at the table." —Christine Birkner
Jason Stein, CEO, Laundry Service; Liz Eswein, executive director, Cycle Media
Laundry Service was founded five years ago by Jason Stein as a social-focused agency, and his timing couldn't have been more savvy as the space truly took off big time shortly thereafter. Led by the 32-year-old's creativity—he'd rather read screenplays than attend marketing conferences—the company now services clients across all major social platforms and has grown from 60 employees to 250 in the last couple of years.
Headquartered in New York, it has opened offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and London.
Liz Eswein, 27, helped Stein build the agency by being a veritable superstar in attracting social talent, and she's now executive director at Cycle, a Laundry Service spinoff. Wasserman Media purchased Laundry Service last year, and now it and Cycle work with 2,000 athletes—including NBA stars Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook—as well as influencers to create content for brands like LG, Beats by Dre, Jordan Brand and Hennessy. Laundry Service recently ran the first globally promoted lens on Snapchat for Beats by Dre.
"We ask ourselves what we can create and distribute that will positively impact everyone it reaches, by entertaining, educating and inspiring," Stein explains. "To answer that question, we use data to learn about audiences, understanding their interests, what channels they engage on, and what motivates them to take action. We then create relevant videos and distribute them to the people for whom they were created in the first place. That approach allows us to deliver the best user experience and performance for advertisers." —C.H.
Rachel Tipograph, founder, MikMak
Two years ago, Rachel Tipograph saw a massive shift happening in digital marketing as Gap's global director of digital and social media. Instead of going to the websites of publishers or brands to shop or consume content, people were increasingly getting all of their information from personalized newsfeeds.
Seeing an opportunity to "transform shopping for anyone who grew up with a smartphone," Tipograph, 29, quit Gap last year to start MikMak, a mobile app that works with brands like Pepsi, L'Oréal and General Electric to create 30-second, shoppable videos dubbed minimercials.
"I would argue that ecommerce is the least emotional place on the internet," Tipograph says. "Just look at the two giants, Amazon and Alibaba. They have made ecommerce all about lowest price, fastest shipping. When I was at Gap, I always felt that Gap.com should feel more like Netflix and Snapchat than Amazon and Alibaba."
With a team of six and a 3,000-square-foot Brooklyn headquarters that doubles as a studio for shooting and producing content, Tipograph hires comedians and social media celebs to star in short videos featuring products consumers can buy straight from the content. For marketers, the process is aimed at creating sponsored videos that people—particularly millennials—will watch.
Expect the number of brands going all-in on mobile video to grow in the coming months. In August, MikMak, led by Gary Vaynerchuk's VaynerMedia, raised $3.2 million to build technology that will enable brands to plug MikMak videos into their own websites and mobile sites.
"We get people to watch 20 minimercials back-to-back—that's unprecedented for a world where millennials have ad blockers," Tipograph says. "We have an enormous amount of data, and we know how to create videos that drive intent and sales conversions." —L.J.
Ivanka Trump, evp, development and acquisitions, The Trump Organization; founder, CEO, IvankaTrump.com
From his beginnings as an outspoken New York businessman to his current spot atop the Republican presidential ticket, Donald Trump has for decades been a polarizing figure (to put it mildly). There is one part of Trump's life, however, that both his biggest fans and harshest critics are quick to praise: his 34-year-old daughter, Ivanka.
After graduating from Wharton in 2004 (and managing to avoid the tabloid headlines that besieged many of her privileged peers), Trump went right to work in property management, eventually joining the family business, the Trump Organization, where she currently serves as evp, development and acquisitions.
Beyond the real estate world, she also found success in fashion, launching an eponymous line of apparel, footwear and accessories that are carried by major, high-end retail chains like Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom.
In addition to her business acumen, it is Trump's personality that has made her such a popular figure. Often singled out for both her poise as well as her passion, Trump has become something of a role model for young working women, appearing to effortlessly balance her high-profile job with her home life (she's married to New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, with whom she has three children, the youngest born earlier this year)—and always looking flawless in the process.
Trump has embraced her role as a cultural and social influencer, regularly speaking out publicly about women's issues like maternity leave and equal pay and launching her own lifestyle site, IvankaTrump.com, which spotlights women in the workplace.
She has long been sought-after for top magazine covers. Her first was in May 1997, for Seventeen, but since she has appeared on such titles as Good Housekeeping, Town & Country, Shape, Harper's Bazaar and Redbook.
With her father's entry into the political race, Trump has embarked upon her most important—and high-risk—job yet: lending a "human face," per Politico, to the Trump campaign as one of the candidate's closest advisers.
Whether her attempts to bring out a more levelheaded, compassionate side of her father will be a success remains to be seen, but win or lose, there's no question that Ivanka Trump will remain a formidable figure far beyond 2016.
Gus Wenner, director, digital, Wenner Media
In 2013, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner's decision to name his then 23-year-old son Gus head of digital for Wenner Media raised eyebrows across the industry. But consider this: Jann himself was just a tender 21 when he launched the now-iconic music magazine in 1967.
Three years after joining the family business, Gus Wenner, now 26, is continuing to prove that youth—and fresh ideas—can be an asset, especially when it comes to reviving a brand that has been struggling to maintain relevance among his own generation.
Since taking the digital reins, Wenner's main focus has been to imbue the company's websites, particularly RollingStone.com, with the same vitality and importance that the print product held in its heyday.
"The key thing for us is to hone in on our access, our brand identity, our ability to tell stories and the level of journalism that we're capable of and figure out how to leverage that in partnership with an advertiser in a meaningful, inspiring way," he explains.
Much of that has involved building the site's assets (RS has lagged in terms of web investment) and securing big-name sponsors like Google, which last year partnered with RS to open up its digital archives to the public for free (they had previously been behind a paywall) and sponsored RS' pre-Grammy Awards party in Los Angeles.
Thanks to Wenner's efforts, the size of RollingStone.com has more than tripled since 2013 (average monthly unique views are up 40 percent year over year in the first half of 2016 alone) and revenue has grown by better than 90 percent, according to the company.
In recent months, Wenner's focus has been shifting to the bigger picture (which has, inevitably, led to rumors that he'll soon be taking over for his dad).
"I spend a lot of time thinking about the broader focus of the business in general and where it's going and what moves we need to make," says the younger Wenner, pointing out his interest in live events and merchandising. To that end, he recently spearheaded an effort to secure an investment from Singapore-based BandLab Technologies, which purchased a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone. Once again, Wenner's age came to his advantage. He reportedly struck the deal after bonding with BandLab's CEO, 28-year-old Kuok Meng Ru, over a love of guitars and Bob Dylan.
Alex Zhu and Louis Yang, co-founders/CEOs, Musical.ly
Like the origin stories of many other social media companies, the beginning of Musical.ly is rooted in Silicon Valley where a few years ago co-founder Alex Zhu spotted a bunch of kids shooting videos and blasting music on a bus in Mountain View, Calif. (hometown of Google).
Zhu, 37, and Louis Yang, 35, decided to create a lip-syncing app that, since it was founded in 2014, has since grown into a music video social network with a massive following.
Shanghai-based Musical.ly in that short time has grown to 120 million users, including celebrities like Selena Gomez and Jason Derulo. It now has a presence in more than 20 countries and has achieved the No. 1 spot among free apps in Apple's app store.
Its massive user base is younger than that of many other social apps that are hot among Gen Y and Z. Its users are mainly between 13 and 20, according to the company. (Last month, The New York Times quoted VaynerMedia's Gary Vaynerchuk as saying that the app is "the youngest social network we've ever seen.")
Musical.ly has also begun partnering with brands, including MTV on the recent Video Music Awards and the Pittsburgh Steelers on a campaign featuring its players and rapper Wiz Khalifa.
Musical.ly has even created some mini-stars itself, including Ariel Martin, who has amassed nearly 13 million followers, and Amelia Gething, who, as The Guardian recently reported, was recognized by one of her 600,000 fans on vacation in Barbados. —M.S.
Zendaya, actress, singer
Zendaya rose to fame as a child star on the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up. But more recently, the actress and singer made a very different sort of impact on the culture when last year she called out E! Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic for saying on air that her dreadlocks at the Academy Awards reminded her of the scent of "patchouli oil and weed." Zendaya's Twitter rebuttal set out to debunk racial stereotypes about natural hair: "My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough. To me, locs are a symbol of strength and beauty." (The stir would lead co-host Kelly Osbourne to leave Fashion Police.)
Ever since, 20-year-old Zendaya has continued to be an advocate for multicultural beauty and positive body images and to speak out against racial profiling and discrimination. Brands like Michael Kors, Cover Girl and Chi Hair Care have developed relationships with her. Zendaya's ads for Chi, with the tagline "Real is beautiful," encourage women to make their own beauty rules. She also launched her own clothing line, Daya by Zendaya.
The multihyphenate, who in 2013 was a runner-up on Dancing With the Stars and released her self-titled album, currently stars in and co-produces Disney Channel's K.C. Undercover. And next summer, she'll join one of the most popular superhero franchises when she appears in Marvel's Spiderman: Homecoming. —C.B.
This story first appeared in the October 3, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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