Sabrina Crow's career took a turn when a certain son of a certain vice president started stopping by her cubicle after his daily jogs. It was 1986, and Crow, now 44, was an editor at Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based trade publishing company.
George W. Bush, then known best as the son of Vice President George H.W. Bush, was friends with Hanley Wood CEO Mike Wood and would visit the company's offices and chat with the employees. The young Crow had a well-located cubicle where the future President spent much of his time while in the office. Crow impressed Wood with how she was able to banter with Bush.
Wood put Crow into a strategy role at Hanley Wood. She went on to land jobs in advertising sales and marketing at Knight Ridder, then took publishing roles at Freedom Communications and Reed Business Information. She's currently senior vice president and managing director of local media client services at The Nielsen Co., thought to be a $500 million business.
Moving from editorial to publishing to media measurement, Crow, who has a bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and a master's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that she always had a passion for media.
FINS spoke with Crow about career transitions, how to deal with a new boss and why she misses journalism.
Jeremy Greenfield: You started on the editorial side of the business. Why did you go over to the business side?
Sabrina Crow: Several years after my first media job after college, the owner of the company saw that I had a proclivity for businesses issues and suggested that I become part of a team that was looking at acquisitions for the company. During that time, I saw that I could help make businesses stronger by helping them invest in good journalism. It was a hard decision to leave the editorial side, but I understand that content provides the foundation.
JG: You were moved quickly from editorial to strategy, virtually plucked by the head of the company, Mike Wood of Hanley Wood, to serve in a relatively important role. Why you?
SC: They noticed early on that I was good at putting together different pieces of the puzzle, yet I didn't have a core background in business. They saw something in me that I didn't even see in myself -- because I speak my mind and I share and I'm solution-oriented and I don't have a shy bone in my body, it allowed me to feel that my voice was heard in that company. At the core of it, kudos to Mike Hanley and Mike Wood for creating an inclusive environment where an entry level associate was valued for her ideas and her voice and was given an opportunity that they wouldn't normally be given.
That's a philosophy that I've taken with me in my 25-year career.
JG: Do you miss being a journalist?
SC: Yes. I am a seeker of information to help inform and make decisions. In my own small way, I'm still tied to that. The difference being the writing is not part of it. The insatiable curiosity is still there.
JG: When you came to Nielsen, trade magazines were recovering but a recession in the industry was looming. There were a lot of problems. How did you approach that situation?
SC: I went from running five brands online and in print and with events attached to them to about 26.
What I did was listen, learn and act. Scope the market of today, understand as much as possible about the business model of the future for our clients and then make sure the right leadership was in place to execute.
JG: You have a new boss, with long-time Nielsen executive Dave Thomas stepping down and being replaced by Mitch Barns, president of Nielsen Greater China and reportedly a potential heir to Nielsen CEO David Calhoun. How are you handling that?
SC: There are three things you have to do when you have a new boss. First, lead and run your business. Second, ensure you are useful to him. Third, create an open, clear and forthright line of communication with him that will allow you to grow together as you work together.
And understand that this person -- a top executive changing roles -- has many obligations on their plate, so be circumspect about their time. As you use time together, make sure you are very, very focused. Make sure you listen and understand what he is thinking and how he is viewing business situations.
JG: Speaking of the business, what's the future of the media measurement business?
SC: I think it will evolve to become a multi-platform business, extended screen across different mediums will be critical to the future of media measurement.
The television ratings business will morph as audiences morph in the way they view television. There will be some part of the panel business that will be part of some overall measurement. Nielsen is at the cutting edge in delivering new ways of measurement. We work very closely with our own customers in that pursuit.
JG: What advice would you give to people trying to break into the media business today?
SC: Don't be shy about asking for informational interviews. Be willing to do the most basic functions to make a difference. Take an active role in your company, your industry and your community. Be yourself and be true to yourself. And understand what your moral compass is and stay with it.
JG: Who are you mentors? What have you learned from them?
SC: Jim Batten. He was the CEO and chairman of Knight Ridder and he had been a civil rights reporter early in his career. He believed that people make institutions. People are what makes the difference. He invested in people, he mentored people. Those are core values that I bring to every day of my life.
He tragically died quite young -- in his late fifties. There are people all over the world who were touched by him during his tenure at Knight Ridder.
My brother is also one of my mentors. I learned from him to focus on what you're doing and you ought to love it every single day -- and if you don't, don't do it. I've been fortunate enough to love what I do.
Joe Natoli was another mentor. He was the president of the Miami Herald and was later the publisher of both the San Jose Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He gave me so many great life lessons. Lessons of fairness. Lessons of inclusion. Lessons of making the tough decisions when it just isn't easy. Lessons of communication and being repetitive. Lessons of not shying away from the tough decisions. And have a darn lot of fun while you're doing it.
Mentors have been critical. They are critical because they are people that you can learn from, that you can talk to openly about your aspirations, your successes, your failures, what you've learned, how you want to give back. They will be unguarded in their advice and so honest that you wish everyone could emulate that.
JG: Speaking of giving back, you're active in diversity programs at Nielsen.
SC: At Knight Ridder, I led several core diversity efforts over the decade that I was there. And at Nielsen, I started a mentoring program that has led to employer resource groups that are active inside and outside the company and open to anyone in the company.
The idea is to over time have those that work at our company be more reflective of consumers around the world.
JG: What did I leave out?
SC: I am very much dedicated to not only the companies I choose but to people and ensuring a diverse workforce. It's been a hallmark of my leadership and continues to be. I believe in hiring smarter better and faster and developing the heck out of people. I believe in taking well-thought-out risks. And so my career path is not what one would see as completely traditional because I've led both in large multi-national companies as well as in smaller entrepreneurial environments. And yet in each case it all comes back to the people, our customers, and making sure what we deliver is top value.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield