SBJ/May 14-20, 2012/People and Pop Culture

Laurel Richie, WNBA president



When I was growing up, I didn’t know about advertising. If somebody would have said to me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” an advertising executive never would have been on the list.

I spend a lot of time mentoring young women in marketing just so that they see someone doing it, so that it’s on their radar screen.

Photo by: SHANA WITTENWYLER
One of my observations coming in [to the WNBA] is we had 100 initiatives that we were trying to move one yard, rather than five that were moving 20 yards. And I think that’s true of almost every organization.

We have a really multifaceted audience. … I did come in thinking as a classic marketer: Focus on a really specific and narrow audience, and milk it for all it’s worth. And I have actually changed my thinking now that I’ve looked at the data and been in-arena.

The difference between a brand and a product is someone’s relationship to it. The very definition of a really strong brand is that the ownership is given to those who use, partake and love it.

The basketball being played in the WNBA is different from the NBA but not less than.

My job is to create an environment where good things happen.

It’s less about my telling people how to do it and more about setting the vision for what we’re trying to do.

I love when people don’t feel like they’ve got to fit into a mold, but they feel very clear on what they can uniquely bring to a team.

I had just become a vice president at Ogilvy, and to celebrate, I went on a beach vacation. … I come back and find out that my entire team has gone to HR and said, “We’re done.” … What the team said is, “I know that we’re successful, I know we’re sort of the darlings of the agency, but we just don’t feel really good that Laurel is managing this process so tightly.”

My perception [was] I’m a great leader, because look at the metrics, and the reality was I was a really bad leader because the team didn’t feel good. That was the moment when I said I’ve got to shift. … I bought Silly Putty, and for a year as people were creating and thinking about things — when I was very clear on how I would do it and could do it very well and very efficiently — I played with Silly Putty just to keep myself occupied while people did their work.

The greatest compliment is somebody said to me at the end of a year, someone who actually stuck with the team and came back, said, “I would walk through fire for you.”

You’ve got to close the gap between what you say and what you do.

Integrity is really important to me, honesty is really important to me and transparency is really important to me.

I just really believe in walking the talk. That’s a lesson that came from just working for several people who didn’t walk the talk, and working for people who did walk the talk.

I grew up in a household where you didn’t sugarcoat stuff, so I am very, very direct. If you ask my opinion, I will give it. I don’t think I’m mean, or I don’t think I’m mean-spirited, but if you ask an honest question, you’ll get an honest answer.

I don’t like working in an environment where I don’t know where my bosses stand.

Positive feedback I give in front of as many people as humanly possible, and constructive feedback I give in front of as few people as possible.

There are moments when I just cannot send or read another email. So I’ll pick up the phone.

I’m not afraid to let people see my weaknesses, or to actually tell them what they are, so that as a team we can manage around all of that.

I have relearned the importance of having a vision and a point of view and communicating it over and over and over again.

I really rely on people to create an environment where people can be really honest with me
and say, “You’ve got a problem over here that you need to go fix.”

You can always come to me three times, because the first time I might say, “Thanks, I think we’ve got it.” If you really feel strongly, come back again, and then if you really, really feel strongly, bring that third one.

Some of the things that I have been challenged on, where it took some fortitude by that challenger, got us to a better place.

Honesty is a badge I will wear.

I think it’s almost a crime to have a half-hour interview with somebody. I think it needs to be at least an hour.

I’m looking for high self-awareness, because I think the more self-aware somebody is, the more I can figure out how best to utilize them.

It’s the little things, like do they look you in the eye?

I think the biggest generational change I notice is they come in ready to run the show.

I notice people will come in and think nothing — in a good way — of scheduling a meeting with me as the president and saying, “I’ve got some thoughts.”

My experience is not that this is an industry that doesn’t embrace women; it’s just an industry that a lot of women don’t think about.

I chose policy studies because it was the broadest major and it was the study of how people make decisions.

Advertising that I am drawn to has something at its core — it just feels authentic.

There are others where it just doesn’t feel authentic. It’s the kids opening up the microwave really excited about the snack they just cooked.

If you get me on a beach, all is right with the world. I’ve never met a beach that I couldn’t relax on.
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