Entertaining Empowered Women

WE's Martin finds her niche running an upstart network
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Growing up in little Milledgeville, Ga., where the biggest employers are a mental institution and the prison system, Kim Martin wasn’t exposed to many female overachievers.

“Unfortunately, there were not a whole lot of jobs for women,” says Martin, general manager of women’s entertainment network WE. But that didn’t stop her from achieving big things—and inspiring other young women to do the same.

Martin stayed in Georgia for both college and grad school, earning an M.B.A. from Georgia State. While her classmates were hunting for brokerage positions, she saw possibilities in the cable industry and focused her job-search energies there.

She earned a spot in sales and marketing at Discovery Communications while the company was in its infancy. Just the 34th person hired, she worked her way up to senior VP, affiliate sales and marketing, in 12 years.

Martin then took that experience to New York to manage sales, distribution and marketing for Cablevision-owned Rainbow Media’s cable networks, which include WE, AMC, IFC and Fuse. Drawing on her experience in growing emerging networks, she helped boost WE’s distribution from 12 million viewers to its current 55 million in fewer than five years, an impressive feat considering that most cable networks already carry women’s networks Lifetime and Oxygen.

A CREATIVE SIDE

Martin had something of a revelation in 2003 while attending the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute’s year-long fellowship program, which is organized by Women in Cable & Telecommunications (WICT). It was there that she reconsidered her career path, deciding she wanted to do more than sell ads.

“I had a creative side I wasn’t really using,” she says. “As much as I loved sales, I wanted to be involved in the hands-on.”

Martin rallied her sales skills to convince the Rainbow team that she was the best candidate for the general-manager job, sticking it out through a six-month interview process with rounds in programming, marketing and ad sales.

Promoted nine months ago, Martin is focused on keeping WE in growth mode. Her goals include refining the brand, generating unique original programming and, of course, keeping ratings climbing.

Thus far, she has been successful on all fronts. With Martin at the helm, the network has increased its original programming 30%, introducing reality series American Princess and this December’s Daddy’s Little (Spoiled) Girl. She also brought live programs to WE: a special following the Desperate Housewives finale, a comedy special during the Academy Awards, and exclusive coverage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles’ wedding.

The results are in the ratings: WE’s prime audience was up to an average 190,000 total viewers in July, a 10% jump over last year. That includes 61,000 in 18-49, up 13%.

Martin describes WE viewers as a unique breed: “We do love to watch Desperate Housewives, but we chuckle at it. We’re upbeat, irreverent and fun—and we like to be entertained.”

It hasn’t been all business for Martin. Last spring, she launched WE Empowers Women, an outreach program that supports charitable organizations chosen by viewers. “Women have such a hectic schedule, and they want an organization that speaks to their modern lives,” she says. “Everybody wants to feel connected to their community, and it’s nice to know you’re watching a network that feels the same way.”

The first beneficiary is Girls Inc., which supports research and public-education efforts for girls—some 840,000 in 2003 alone. WE will name more beneficiaries in the coming months. U.S. Disabled Ski Team member Sandy Dukat is the initiative’s spokesperson, and the advisory board includes WICT President/CEO Benita Fitzgerald Mosley.

When Martin can sneak away from the office, she enjoys tennis, skiing and jogging and proudly mentions completing a half marathon last fall. She encourages activity—and connectivity—in her staff. This summer, the WE crew (which is 95% female) took a work-day retreat to Long Island’s Jones Beach for barbecuing and volleyball. “I want all the people here to feel like this is the best place they’ve ever worked,” she says.

WHERE EMPLOYEES ARE SUCCESSFUL

Martin embraces the opportunity to serve as a mentor to staffers. Her advice to aspiring professional women: Ask others for help when needed, learn all you can about an organization before trying to change it, and don’t be afraid to take risks and make hard decisions.

“The goal at the end of the day is not to be everybody’s best friend,” she says. “The goal is to create a really successful network where, as a whole, employees are successful. You have to make some tough calls sometimes.”

Her own mentors include Discovery chief of affiliate sales and marketing Bill Goodwyn, former Rainbow Entertainment Services President Kathleen Dore, former AMC Networks President Katie McEnroe, and her current boss, Rainbow Network Services President Ed Carroll.

The respect is mutual for Carroll. “In a very short period, Kim has built tremendous momentum at WE,” he says. “Her experience in affiliate sales gives her keen insight into what our distributors value. Her leadership style has also been a great morale booster: clear, direct and fun—and everything done with a bit of style.”

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