Fifth Estater

Forging Success at Style by Balancing Head and Heart

President will use numbers, instinct, flair to rebrand, expand reach 2/13/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Salaam Coleman Smith

Title:

President, Style Network

Education:

Stanford U., B.S., industrial engineering, 1991

Employment Highlights:

Manager, international programming, MTV Networks/ Nickelodeon International, 1994-1996

Director, international programming, MTV Networks/ Nickelodeon International, 1996-1999

VP, programming & acquisitions, Nickelodeon/ Nick at Nite, 1999-2002

VP and Senior VP, programming, E! Entertainment & Style Network, 2003-2006

Exec VP, Style Network, 2006-2008

Current title since 2009

Personal:

b. Dec. 28, 1969; married to Dr. Christopher Smith; children, Asa, 8; Nina, 4

One of Style Network president Salaam Coleman
Smith’s most formative memories is the very
first interview she had with Viacom’s MTV
Networks upon her entry into the television business.

Coleman Smith came directly from
Wall Street, where she had found her
two years spent in investment banking
far too monotonous.

As the elevator doors opened on the
Nickelodeon floor of MTV Networks
headquarters, she was amazed that “everything
was orange.

“I felt like I went from more of a generic
day-to-day [environment] to color,”
she says, noting that her arrival on
each brand’s floor offered its own clear
look and distinction. “It is incredibly inspiring
to think through how cable has
offered so much brand diversity.”

Coleman Smith took that experience
to heart; the Style offices are similarly
expressive in that employees are encouraged
to decorate their offi ces and dress
the way they wish.

“She encourages people to be self-expressive
with their styles,” says Frances Berwick,
president of Bravo and Style Media.
“That is a very powerful brand message.”

Named to her position in 2008 after
having served as the network’s executive
VP since 2006, Coleman Smith’s emphasis
on living the Style brand is perhaps why
the NBCUniversal cable network celebrated
its most successful year in 2011 under
her leadership. And while it delivered double-
digit increases across all key demos and
passed 75 million subscribers, Style is currently
in the process of a rebrand.

This rebrand is not a repair, says Coleman
Smith, but a way to “strengthen and
deepen engagement with the viewers we
already have” and reach the growing Hispanic
and African-American audience with
a “positive portrayal of these underserved
multicultural audiences and [represent] in
a way that is uplifting, stylish and positive.”

The network’s most successful series—
which Coleman Smith is responsible for
launching—are of the style ilk, such as
Jerseylicious and Big Rich Texas, both of
which return Feb. 19.
And positivity and optimism
are a big part
of the “stylish lifestyle”
brand message: Another
of Style’s most successful
series, Giuliana & Bill,
stars Giuliana Rancic,
who recently underwent
a mastectomy to battle
breast cancer.

Successful and aspirational
women form
a key component to
Style’s programming,
and these women have
been an influence in
Coleman Smith’s career as well. As a
worldwide board member for the nonprofit
organization Dress for Success
(with which Style has had an ongoing
media partnership) and a member of
the Women in Cable Telecommunications
board, Coleman Smith credits
the industry for allowing strong female
leadership to emerge at a time when
“broadcasting was king” and cable was
a fledgling business.

When Coleman Smith joined Nickelodeon
in 1993, the network was run by cable
vet Geraldine Laybourne, along with other
female executives including current Disney
Media Networks co-chair and Disney/
ABC Television Group president Anne
Sweeney, Nickelodeon president Cyma
Zarghami and FearNet president Diane
Robina—all powerful industry leaders.

“The cable industry has always been
an environment that has nurtured strong
female leadership, and I think I have
been the beneficiary of those early pioneers,”
Coleman Smith says.

She developed her leadership style during
nearly 10 years at MTV Networks before
moving to E! in 2003 as VP of programming
and acquisitions. But Coleman
Smith’s decision-making
abilities are strongly
rooted in both her education
and upbringing.
Encouraged to explore
the math and sciences
fields in which she excelled,
Coleman Smith
graduated from Stanford
with a B.S. in industrial
engineering, a field that
is, at first glance, seemingly
in opposition to
the creative arts.

“[Running a network]
is built on gut instinct,
emotional connection,”
she says. “But it’s also built on hard-core
data analysis, understanding audience segments
and quantitative data. I think the
balance of head and heart is something I
got from my parents,” who supported her
decision to shift her career focus.

Coleman Smith brings that balance home
to her husband and two children, making
sure to separate her identity as Style exec
from, as she puts it, “Mommy regular.”

“My plate is full, but it’s full with the
exact things I love,” Coleman Smith says.
“I work 24/7, I’m a mom 24/7 and I’m a
wife 24/7. There are just certain things
you always are.”

E-mail comments to lindsay.rubino@gmail.com and follow her
on Twitter: @LindsayRubino

Salaam Coleman Smith

Title:

President, Style Network

Education:

Stanford U., B.S., industrial engineering, 1991

Employment Highlights:

Manager, international programming, MTV Networks/ Nickelodeon International, 1994-1996

Director, international programming, MTV Networks/ Nickelodeon International, 1996-1999

VP, programming & acquisitions, Nickelodeon/ Nick at Nite, 1999-2002

VP and Senior VP, programming, E! Entertainment & Style Network, 2003-2006

Exec VP, Style Network, 2006-2008

Current title since 2009

Personal:

b. Dec. 28, 1969; married to Dr. Christopher Smith; children, Asa, 8; Nina, 4

 

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