Leading one of the nation’s top media companies through seismic industry change, not to mention a once-in-a-century pandemic, is no small feat. Yet Linda Yaccarino is not one to shy away from a challenge.
The chairman of global advertising and partnerships for NBCUniversal is famously tenacious, unafraid to push the status quo and reshape advertising. In fact, her very presence is transformative: While the media industry is improving in terms of gender equality, there is still a disproportionate lack of women at the top.
To find out what is on the horizon, The Female Quotient spoke to Yaccarino, a former top executive at Turner who joined NBCUniversal in 2011, in a far-ranging conversation about the inspiration behind her #ShesMy campaign, how marketers can address a pandemic that has disproportionately affected women, and why the past year has, as she says, “given us permission to change things—within our companies and across society—that need to change.”
The Female Quotient: Tell us about the #ShesMy campaign.
Linda Yaccarino: #ShesMy is about celebrating the incredible women who’ve shaped our lives. The one thing I’ve realized is I am where I am today because of so many incredible women who’ve been enormously influential in my life. And I know many other people feel the same.
Everywhere you look, women are running countries, leading companies and breaking down barriers. They’re also taking care of their families, showing up for their friends and inspiring those around them. We wanted to celebrate all of these contributions—because women truly do it all. So on International Day of the Girl, we encouraged people to use the hashtag #ShesMy to share stories about the women who’ve made a difference in their lives.
The FQ: What is the inspiration behind the campaign?
Yaccarino: Like a lot of great ideas, this one struck unexpectedly. While I was preparing to receive the 2020 New York Women in Communications Matrix Award, I was thinking of all the people I wanted to thank, and one thing became clear: So many of the most powerful forces in my life and in my career have been women. We all owe something to the women who raised us, who challenged us and who blazed a trail so that we could have more opportunities—occasionally, all at the same time.
That’s when I realized this idea was bigger than one acceptance speech, because women are so multidimensional. One person’s mom might be another person’s mentor—and there needs to be a way to honor these amazing women and the many roles they play in all of our lives. So that’s how #ShesMy grew from a single tribute to a multifaceted social media celebration.
The FQ: Who are some special women who have championed you in your career?
Yaccarino: My full list could fill this entire page. But I’ll tell you about my single biggest inspiration: my mom. I owe so much to her—she’s not only our family’s matriarch, she’s my moral compass and my very own Kris Jenner all rolled into one.
As a first-generation Italian-American, college wasn’t an option for her, but she was adamant that it would be for me and my sisters. Growing up, she stressed the importance of a college education because she wanted us to become financially independent, and be able to seize opportunities she never had. And you know what happened? All three of us went on to pursue successful careers because of the lessons she impressed upon us right from the start.
The FQ: Amid a pandemic that has disproportionately affected women, it has never been more important to support and elevate female figures. How can marketers do this effectively?
Yaccarino: As my brilliant colleague [NBCUniversal Vice Chairman] Bonnie Hammer wrote so poignantly, women aren’t just contending with glass ceilings anymore; since COVID, they’ve been stuck in glass bubbles. Many are juggling around-the-clock childcare and household duties on top of their 9-to-5 jobs. The system has always been unfair for women, but now it’s untenable.
If we don’t want to continue to hamper women—and the economy—we need to build flexibility into our workplaces, invest in childcare solutions and help parents re-enter the workforce. This is our chance to effect lasting change for generations to come. Every leader in every industry, including marketing, needs to be thinking about these policies now.
The FQ: Has the pandemic changed the face of advertising for good?
Yaccarino: The pandemic accelerated trends we all knew were coming, and those changes are here to stay. But the pandemic has also given us permission to change things—within our companies and across society—that need to change. And advertising has an especially critical role to play in making it happen. Our industry cuts across almost every other industry. We have the power to mobilize millions of people, shape culture and even help jumpstart the economy. But this pandemic has taught us that we also have a shared responsibility to work together and be a force for good—not just for the sake of our businesses, but for our broader communities too.
The FQ: You were recently named chair of the Ad Council’s board of directors. Tell us about your goals in this new role.
Yaccarino: I’m incredibly honored to serve as chair of the Ad Council with the inimitable [Ad Council President and CEO] Lisa Sherman. For decades, the Ad Council has been harnessing the unique power of advertising for good. There’s no doubt in my mind that iconic campaigns like “Smokey Bear,” “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” and “Love Has No Labels” have won hearts, changed minds and made the world a better place. The Ad Council shows us all what’s really possible when we combine our industry’s responsibility, creativity, credibility and care for people.
Now I’ll be working with Lisa and her team, as well as some of the brightest minds in our industry, to tackle the challenge of our lifetime. We’re collaborating across the public and private sector to roll out a massive COVID-19 vaccine education campaign. The effort is going to take a lot of cooperation, but when the stakes are this high, we’re all stakeholders. Together, it’s clear we can do so much good.