First Mover: Carolyn Bekkedahl

After startup life, Meredith’s digital svp is glad to be back at a ‘real business’


Age 52

New gig Svp, digital media, Meredith

Old gig Chief revenue officer, Gilt City

You spent many years in magazine sales before jumping to the digital media and startup world a few years ago, first at Mochila, then Gilt City. What’s it like returning to a traditional media company?

What you have in startups is what I call chasing shiny objects. Once in a blue moon, someone hits it big, like Facebook. I love operating a real business. Why I’m here is, Meredith’s time has come. It’s about iconic brands, the reach to women and great content and social sharing. When we go to advertisers, we’ve got that whole waterfall through the funnel.

Where do you see the biggest digital revenue opportunity for Meredith?

Meredith has made video a big priority. Another area of sharp focus is mobile. Fifty percent of the [user-generated cooking site] AllRecipes audience is accessing recipes in the store, on the phone. That provides interesting ways to reach marketers.

What’s surprising about Meredith’s heartland female audience when it comes to how they’ve adopted digitally?

That they really have. We have so many moms; they’re busy, they’re active. They’re not sitting in front of their computers.

There are a lot of decisions to be made about where to put your resources digitally. Do you bet on the browser or on apps?

I’m not sure if we know the answer, so we have to play in both. Even though it makes it hard for the product team.

You weren’t always a techie person, were you?

They used to make fun of me [atMochila]. Luckily, I hired a lot of really smart people and fed them a lot. It was like boot camp-slash-MBA. It was creating a whole network of people. And at Gilt, I stepped into e-commerce. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever coded anything, but it’s enhanced the conversation I have when developing products online.

Are you a media person or a tech person now?

This is one of those businesses where the two have so converged. But I didn’t train as an engineer, so I would have to say media. But to be media is to be technologically savvy these days.

Your husband’s temporarily based in Jordan for work and your daughter’s in college in Montreal. How do you stay connected?

Because my family’s so far-flung, I’m a Skype junkie. It’s through this [iPhone] that we stay in touch.

Two of your three sisters are in media, MaryAnn at AdKeeper and Barbara at Bravo. Did you ever compete head to head with them?

When MaryAnn was at Rodale, she had Men’s Health and Women’s Health and Prevention, and I had Men’s Fitness, Natural Health and Shape [at American Media Inc.] We would find ourselves in the same lobby at pitch time. MaryAnn’s at AdKeeper now, so we’re not competing anymore.

Did you have any rules about talking shop?

We would never discuss our rates or discounts. And we would never force each other to say if we got the business until it was confi rmed. You didn’t want to leak that because it could be pulled back at the last minute.

Your father was in the Navy. What was it like traveling around a lot?

It was good and bad. You travel a lot. You can talk your way into anything because you’re always the new kid at school.

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