Kaufman Turns Nick Brands to Gold


TITLE: CMO, President of Consumer Products, Nickelodeon

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Spearheaded marketing and consumer product plans for more than 20 Nick shows including Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Has led Nick’s marketing efforts in digital, mobile and social media as well as merchandise, events and theme parks.

QUOTE: “I always tell people to try and be open to new opportunities. You want to be the person that says yes to anything people are asking for. You want to be the person who raises your hand, volunteers, shows up with energy.”

— Pam Kaufman

Pam Kaufman has learned plenty during her 18-year rise to the chief marketing officer job at Nickelodeon — but one of her most enduring lessons happened long before she arrived in an executive suite. It occurred in high school, in fact, in the Nanuet, N.Y., mall where Kaufman worked as a waitress — “probably the most important job I ever had” — and discovered her gift for sales.

“I can sell anybody an extra piece of cake,” Kaufman said.

That sales talent has propelled Kaufman from her first job on an ad-agency liquor account to her current portfolio as chief marketing officer and president of consumer products for Nickelodeon, the 36-year-old Viacom-owned children’s network. That puts Kaufman in charge of the powerhouse array of properties driving Nickelodeon’s billion- dollar consumer products business, including Dora the Explorer , SpongeBob SquarePants and the resurgent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She oversees licensing programs with toy giants Mattel, Fisher- Price, Playmates and Crayola, and handles partnerships with retailing behemoths Walmart, Kmart, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us.

“Pam has kept her foot on the pedal by constantly imagining new experiences for the fans and by bringing in out-of-the-box partners to create everything from high-end fashion with Moschino and Jeremy Scott, to sold-out SpongeBob fan conventions and best-selling Band-Aids,” Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami said. “Pam’s greatest achievement has to be her unflagging ability to create thriving partnerships that really grow and extend the reach of our beloved characters and shows.”


Kaufman has spearheaded consumer product and marketing efforts that go far beyond stuffed animals and branded lunchboxes to include the Nick Universe theme park at Minnesota’s Mall of America, the Kids’ Choice and HALO awards, a partnership with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and digital initiatives such as the Nick mobile app introduced in 2013. Her portfolio also includes Nickelodeon’s newer popular shows such as Blaze and the Monster Machines, PAW Patrol and Bubble Guppies.

“It’s my job to set the vision and make sure everybody knows what the priorities are,” Kaufman said, as she extended credit to her “extraordinary team of very seasoned leaders.”

Raised in Nanuet and educated at American University in Washington, D.C., Kaufman started out as an account executive at Grey Advertising, where she worked on Chemical Bank and Gordon’s Gin. In 1993, her knack for being “persuasive” led to her creating the first promotions team for Turner Broadcasting System and its animated properties, including Scooby- Doo and The Flintstones.


In 1997, she came to Nickelodeon as vice president of promotions marketing. During her first week on the job, she attended a colleague’s 10th anniversary celebration. The new hire’s reaction: “No way” would she be at the network that long.

But the power of Nickelodeon’s properties kept her interested. “I have been really fortunate to have had an incredibly diverse career here,” with “new opportunities” offered regularly. Jumping at those opportunities is Kaufman’s trademark.

Her biggest job, Kaufman said, is to understand Nick’s audience — the 9-year-olds and their parents who are Nick’s viewers and buyers — and to keep them at the center of the network’s business. Kaufman insists that Nick do its own consumer research, so the network doesn’t “rely only on our partners to understand our consumers.” When Nick licenses merchandise, “we want to make sure that they understand who they are making a product for.”

That consumer insight helped Nick’s reboot of the 28-yearold Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which Viacom acquired in 2009.

“Millennial parents love to share their experience with their kids and kids want to share experiences with their parents,” Kaufman said. Parents who remembered watching the Turtles’ original TV series in 1980s and ’90s now wanted to introduce their kids to Nick’s version.

Her own experience as the mother of two children doesn’t come into her decision-making about Nick’s products and marketing — “we try not to use our own kids as the consumer ” — but it has strongly influenced her management style and her mentoring of women coming up in the cable industry .

Being a parent “gives me empathy,” she said. “Knowing what it’s like when [someone’s] kid is sick — it just makes you a better leader. It goes such a long way when your employees hear, ‘Listen, just go be with them, I understand.’”

That’s crucial because the cable industry still needs more women in top jobs, Kaufman said. “The industry’s in a good place, not a great place. I’d want to know why we’re losing a lot of women, why women aren’t staying in the workforce.”


Kaufman extends her efforts for working women beyond cable: she is a board member of Bottomless Closet, a New York City-based nonprofit that helps women go from public assistance to the workforce. Her advice to working moms: “Stay in [your career]. I know it’s really hard, but in five years they’ll be in school and you’ll be really glad you have your job and your paycheck.”

“Kaufman loves to travel with her husband Scott Drath, a business consultant, and their college-aged son and daughter. Their most recent adventure was a safari in South Africa. Music festivals — the Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam — are another passion. But “priority No. 1,” she said, is “connecting to the posse”: keeping close touch with her core group of friends that date back to high school and college. After all, they’re the ones who knew her when she was learning how to pitch that extra dessert in a job where a bigger meal meant a bigger tip for the waitress.

“It was the cappuccino pie at Houlihan’s for $7.50 a slice,” Kaufman said. “You know what that does to your check? It’s unbelievable.”