Bozoma Saint John: The Daring Girl Uber’s comeback Requirements

Posted by on October 19, 2017

Who would leave a job working with some of the music industry’s legendary talents, to attempt to correct a brand in the middle of a series of public scandals?

Bozoma Saint John did just that in June when she left her job as an advertising executive in Apple Music to become the first chief brand officer of Uber. She brought with her what she describes as an “inherent fearlessness.”

“First of all, I really do know what the hell I am doing, so that’s great,” she said.

Ms. Saint John talked to The Globe and Mail during a trip to Toronto on Wednesday.

You have been a marketer in some heavy-hitting brands — Apple and Pepsi — which put you in meetings with some of the greatest minds in entertainment. At Pepsi, you have to work with BeyoncĂ© on the Super Bowl. What draws you from functions like that to a business such as Uber?

It’s the exact same kind of opportunity. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that on paper, but it is. When I looked at BeyoncĂ©’s Super Bowl halftime show, there was not a black lady on that point since Janet Jackson. What was going to be new about not only that moment for her, but for a heritage? That’s the exact same thing that I look at here. We’ve got a situation. We will need to address it by a really serious perspective, culturally, internally.

But we must also diversify the storyline. How are we going to link to people, and leave a legacy that’s much better than what’s already been presented?

That diversity issue — with everything from Susan Fowler’s Of why she left the business, the talks that began and more recently the shift in direction — I had friends, I am certain you did too, asking, ‘If I boycott this service?’ How can you fix that relationship with the brand?

You have got to show it. This is show and tell, for real. How are we creating this environment better? I am fine with folks giving us pause, and saying, ‘I wish to be certain that is real before I return.’ I am okay with that. Hold us to this standard. I want us to hold everyone to that standard, incidentally. We are not making the sound just so we can return to the same old way in a couple of years. We need to make real change.

Sometimes the advertising department is tasked with telling an outside narrative but does not have influence over those inner things. Do you play a role in those changes?

I am telling you, I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t going to be able to have a seat. If the culture does not change, how am I going to be successful? I can not be in an environment that’s not conducive to me as a black woman. I can’t alter this skin. I can not change this sex. If I can not function in this environment, then, what the hell? I have got to be a part of that also. I joined the board of Women Who Code, that’s the first company to which we allowed money to change the way we look at women in engineering. It is very near and dear to my heart, though I do not code myself. It’s essential to be an ally. You don’t need to be a black woman to believe we ought to have more black women in technology. I do not have to be an engineer to know that we need female engineers. I am not just trying to find female entrepreneurs up in here, I am trying to find female engineers up in here.

So many men and women are making buying decisions with an eye on what reflects their values, their integrity.

That’s vital. That’s changed so much. As recently as 20 years back, people weren’t necessarily making decisions based on a provider’s values. Now, you can not escape it. That is why these questions about diversity and inclusion are so significant. Who is sitting at the table, and making those choices? We care about that. It’s an unbelievable place to be.

What lessons in your advertising and marketing functions at Pepsi, Beats and then Apple would you bring to Uber?

I arrived to Beats through catastrophe. My husband had passed away in December of 2013. I met [former Interscope Geffen Aamp;M Records chairman and Beats co-founder] Jimmy Iovine in February, 2014. I had been successful at Pepsi. It is not like I wanted to stop and hide in a cave — although some times I did want to do that, the truth is, my daughter was 4, I must support myself and her — and Jimmy was like, ‘You just gotId jump.’ I have always done that, but in the moment I wanted someone to remind me. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I am going to do. I will quit my job, move throughout the nation with my four-year-old.’ Everybody thought I’d lost my mind. My mom clearly thought I was having a breakdown — she came with me, to just be sure. Jimmy reminded me about fearlessness and trusting your intuition. When we were acquired by Apple, I was sitting in the board table with Tim Cook and Eddy Cue, and Jimmy and Dre and Trent Reznor and Ian Rogers, and everybody turns and says, ‘How are we going to advertise this thing?’ You have got to measure up. Even if it is a brand new thing and you do not even know what it is. My fearlessness in my craft was honed with these experiences.

A great deal of marketing is all about data analytics nowadays. As a business run on mobile devices, you have access to lots of data. What is your perspective on how that shapes your communications?

My job is all about emotion. My job is all about feeling. This may be controversial to say, but I feel like sometimes data gets in the way of that. You begin to find the numbers and say, ‘Ok I want to monitor this way because that is what these amounts are telling me{}’ I am trying to de-couple out of what the data is saying and feel what people are saying. Data will lead you wrong if you listen to that and do not listen to people.

Uber has had growing pains with regulation in a variety of markets — London most lately. There has been a struggle with the cab drivers in Toronto. Does that complicate your job as a marketer?

Yeah, it will. Any conflict complicates the job. However, I don’t shy away from it. This is a tumultuous brand. I can’t behave like this is ice cream. I need to embrace disruption and convey that this can be disruption for great — when it’s good — and use my colleagues to make sure it is not disturbance for bad.

This interview was condensed and edited.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Posted in: Market Place


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