Wonder Women of New York 2023: Annie Howell
Chief Communications Officer, Hallmark Media
Last year, Crown Media Family Networks became Hallmark Media and concurrently, Hallmark Channel rebranded with a new tagline: “Where Love Happens.” For Annie Howell, Hallmark Media’s chief communications officer, that tagline resonates.
Howell was executive VP of corporate communications and media relations at Hallmark Channel from 2010 to 2014 before starting her own executive coaching and strategic communications consultancy, Punch Point Group, with which she remains involved today. But a piece of her heart remained at Hallmark during her six years away, so when the opportunity arose for her to return in a bigger role — even though it requires a weekly commute to New York from her Kensington, Maryland, home — she took it.
“I love being on a leadership team and I love running a team,” Howell said. “This is what I’m meant to do, this is what I’m really good at. It’s what fuels my joy.”
After being away from the company for six years, Howell returned to consult when Hallmark was radically transforming itself in early 2020 after it apologized for pulling ads featuring two women sharing a kiss at the altar. By that summer, the channel had blown up its entire leadership team, naming Wonya Lucas, formerly president and CEO of TV One, as CEO and adding more stories that included diverse points of view.
Howell consulted on the transition for the first seven months of 2020 and then joined as chief communications officer that September.
“That first year was hard because we really found ourselves dead center in this polarized debate about race, sexuality and who we are,” Howell said. “The Hallmark brand is so near and dear to the hearts of so many but we decided to walk through the fire and keep going. We had to make a decision that we were going to widen the circle and tell stories for more people. We’re all humans and we’re all worthy of love and happy endings and that kiss and everything else. That was a hard shift the first year for certain parts of our audience to accept.”
Howell’s job at Hallmark — where “Countdown to Christmas” dominates cable ratings every holiday season and beyond — is to consistently communicate that brand message.
“My job is to really put the purpose into what we communicate about ourselves and each other,” she said. “It’s managing that reputation and perception.”
Howell accomplishes that by positioning the brand externally and by making sure everyone is on point internally.
“I think that she makes people better, which makes the team stronger,” Hallmark Media executive VP, ad sales and digital media Ed Georger said. “She has a phrase that she uses often: ‘Words matter.’ One of the things I have learned from her is how to choose your words, be articulate and know that words matter, whether that’s talking to your co-worker, your mentee or your boss.”
Another part of Howell’s job, and a big piece of her career in general, has been mentoring others, whether people on her team, other women in the industry, or kids in her neighborhood.
“As a leader, I love to teach and guide and get people to realize their potential and see them strive and thrive,” she said.
Champion of Connection
One example of that is Catherine Frymark, who worked for Howell at Discovery and is now executive VP of corporate communications at Mattel.
“Annie has a way of connecting with people on both a professional and emotional level that is very rare,” Frymark said. “She’s a champion of this industry, of women in this industry and she’s very supportive and active in it. Mentorship is something that comes as second nature to her.”
Prominent in cable network public-affairs organizations for years, her continued leadership is seen in her role as co-chair of the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM)’s Gracie Awards and chair of the AWM board of directors.
Howell started in public relations after graduating Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology in Toronto and making her way to Washington, D.C., where she worked for Jody Powell, President Jimmy Carter’s press secretary. She was a founding member and VP at Powell Tate and an account executive at Ogilvy & Mather Public Affairs.
“I instill in my team the same things that were instilled in me,” Howell said. “If I can’t tell journalists the truth, then I try to help them. I’ve always been of the mindset — and Jody drilled it into my head — that journalists matter too, what they need matters and that relationship matters. The minute you break that trust, it’s over.” ■
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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.