Shannon Ryan is a true Hollywood success story.
She started her career as a publicity assistant at Fox, promoting such shows as The Simpsons, Arrested Development and Glee. She moved steadily up the ranks until she emerged from Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets as president of content marketing, Hulu and general entertainment, including ABC Entertainment and News, Disney Television Studios and Freeform.
“The impact that Shannon has had on our business cannot be overstated,” said Dana Walden, chairman, entertainment, Walt Disney Television, in a statement. “She has impeccable creative instincts and is a masterful strategist as well. She understands how to connect with creators, talent and, ultimately, our audience.”
Ryan is the first to admit that managing this many brands takes a village — a big one. “It really comes down to finding incredible people — smart, strong leaders — and putting them in the right roles. You have to find superstars, trust them, support them and give them what they need to do their best work,” Ryan said.
That includes Naomi Bulochnikov, whom Ryan promoted to oversee all publicity at ABC and General Entertainment. “Shannon has not only been an incredible boss, she is a mentor, a friend, a therapist and my daily voice of reason,” she said. “Watching her lead this team during a time of tremendous change and disruption in our industry has been so inspiring.”
With lieutenants like Bulochnikov in place, Ryan is free to focus on the organization’s top goals. “Prioritization is key,” Ryan said. “With so many titles across so many brands, you have to focus as much as you can on the big picture and then trust your team.”
The big picture is to get the widest possible exposure and engagement for the massive amounts of content on the platforms Ryan oversees. And while she’s thinking big, she’s also thinking about how best to market each and every program under her purview.
For Hulu’s hit comedy Only Murders in the Building, Ryan’s team staged an experiential marketing stunt in New York, in which actors dressed up as “tie-dye guy” from the show and roamed the streets in their hoodies. They were eventually joined by trucks loaded with LED screens, promoting the program. The stunt ended at an event with stars Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez.
For the September 2021 premiere of ABC’s The Wonder Years, the team created a pop-up retro diner and gas station offering free burgers and gas for 34 cents a gallon that — unsurprisingly, considering those prices — nearly shut down Hollywood traffic.
With the pandemic less of an issue, the team has been able to resume in-person events, such as a celebration of Black-ish at the African-American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and Emmy “For Your Consideration” events at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater.
“We talk a lot about meeting our audience where they are and we try to be very surgical about the creative we serve up to different audiences, making sure we are sending the right message to the consumer at the right time,” Ryan said.
The result of such on-the-ground campaigns, in combination with linear, digital and social efforts, has been tangible, with rookie shows The Wonder Years and Abbott Elementary among those breaking out. Abbott Elementary has become the only comedy in ABC history to quadruple its rating after 35 days of multiplatform viewing. Meanwhile, Hulu saw a 6% lift in hours watched in 2021 versus 2020 and a 15% gain in active subscriber engagement.
“Shannon is a talented leader with a deep understanding of the media landscape,” Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment president Craig Erwich said. “She is relentlessly enthusiastic about the content, and always pursuing the most innovative approaches to marketing. Her ability to capture audience attention and drive viewership through a curated marketing approach and industry leading campaigns is unrivaled.”
Ryan has established programs that encourage collaboration and inclusivity, including a multicultural committee of staffers that reviews marketing materials through their own cultural lenses. “It’s incredibly important to foster a culture where everyone is supported, respected and heard,” Ryan said.
Even though her job is big, Ryan is good at keeping it simple. “I always tell the team that our job is to be the best storytellers for our storytellers — whether that’s a piece of key art, a 30-second spot, social asset or even a press release,” she said. “At the end of the day, that is truly our biggest task.” ▪️
Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.
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