Women to Watch 2009

Tina Sharkey

Chairman and Global President, BabyCenter

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Tina Sharkey is a woman with an uber-mission -- and she'll not be constrained by legacy business models.

Tina Sharkey

That mission: to make BabyCenter the world's parenting partner. The challenges: an increasingly global footprint, in which consumer internet and media habits vary from region to region, and a site with a Web 1.0 heritage that's fast becoming a community- and utility-filled digital brand.

Ms. Sharkey, 45, rattles off BabyCenter's challenges in India, for example: 20 million births a year make it a huge market, and despite BabyCenter's rapid growth -- it was the No. 1 baby site six months after its Indian launch -- it was reaching fewer than 5% of moms. That's because fewer than 5% have regular internet access, not to mention there are high rates of illiteracy and uncorrected vision, making a traditional website less viable. There's got to be another way to reach those millions of moms, she thought, and today BabyCenter is piloting a program in which its e-mail newsletters are delivered by voice to mobile phones. And why not?

"Every market drives a different insight," said Ms. Sharkey, who joined the company as CEO after 10 years in the internet space, co-founding iVillage, heading up AOL's instant-messaging platform and running the online arm of Sesame Workshop. In her time at BabyCenter, she's acquired and integrated into the site online-mom community Maya's Mom, shut down BabyCenter's e-commerce operation and turned the site into a fully ad-supported media property.

In doing so, she's demonstrating she understands what many publishers -- online and offline -- are just figuring out: that to really become a valuable marketing partner, you have to offer clients not only ads but also consumer insights, custom research and sponsored tools. Today she's also working on new baby-related services and utilities, such as the BootyCaller, a fertility and ovulation SMS-alert service.

"We're not just working with agencies of record for advertising but also communications, public-relations and promotions agencies," she said.

In fact, her supporters praise her ability to see all sides of the business. "Tina is a very interesting mashup of consumer marketer, technologist, strategist, leader and doer; she blends all of these traits seamlessly and is considered a very thoughtful and charismatic executive," said Ted Leonsis, vice chairman emeritus of AOL.

The mother of two lives in Northern California with her husband, Seth Goldstein, himself a digital-media exec as CEO of SocialMedia.com. How often do they talk about work?

"Very little," she said. "It's usually about 'Where's the Little League game today?' 'Who's home tonight?' 'Are we the "snack family" this week?'"

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