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Marrying Creative With Data

NAME: Alison Hoffman
TITLE: Chief Marketing Officer
COMPANY: Lionsgate-owned Starz
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Led the effort to develop a performance marketing strategy and team around the Starz streaming app, including revamping the in-house analytics team in New York. Focused Starz on becoming more digital- and female-first.
QUOTABLE: “When you don’t get defensive, it’s exciting to see that you are moving the needle, that you have made progress with an audience. It helps you feel more in control in a very competitive environment.”

Alison Hoffman

Alison Hoffman

Most entertainment marketers didn’t get into the business because of their love of data.

But in this age of direct-to-consumer streaming offerings, many of them are now finding themselves leading teams of data scientists and analytics interpreters right next to their teams of motion-graphics designers and copywriters. The two skill sets aren’t often found together in the same executive, but that’s not the case with Alison Hoffman, Starz’s chief marketing officer.

“She’s probably the best left-brain, right-brain marketer in the business right now,” said Starz chief operating officer Jeffrey Hirsch, to whom Hoffman reports. “Our marketing continues to be some of the best in the business.”

Like so many entertainment marketers, Hoffman got her start launching shows. From 2005 to 2010, she served as vice president of creative and brand strategy at AMC, debuting such groundbreaking series as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. She joined Starz in 2012 as senior VP, originals marketing, and quickly climbed her way through the ranks, being named chief marketing officer in June 2016.

During that time, she has seen Starz through several iterations. When she arrived, Starz was a premium cable network with a business model much like HBO and Showtime, but like both of those networks, Starz has been forced to evolve. In 2010, with the arrival of former HBO CEO Chris Albrecht (who departed in February), the company started aggressively launching TV originals, with flagship shows Outlander and Power premiering in 2014. In April 2016, it launched the Starz standalone streaming app. And in December 2016, Lionsgate completed its $4.4 billion acquisition of the company.

Today, Starz continues to offer Outlander and Power, which ends this season and will segue into a spinoff starring Mary J. Blige. Along with those shows are Vida, American Gods, Sweetbitter and more.

When Starz decided to launch its app, that was a “trial by fire” for Hoffman and her team, she said. While entertainment marketing is about getting potential audiences excited about shows, performance marketing is about getting people to subscribe to your service and stick with it. Via real-time data, the results of those efforts come in immediately and constantly, providing a continuous feedback loop.

“I come from the world of entertainment marketing, of key art and trailers, and of bringing a show to life through a marketing campaign,” Hoffman said. “But to be able to get real feedback through acquisition marketing is really fun. We’ve had to pivot the mindset of the organization to be more digital-first. Before [we launched the app], we didn’t have that relationship with our customers.”

When Hoffman was given oversight of the app, no such performance marketing team existed at Starz, nor had Hoffman ever overseen that sort of marketing before. She learned quickly, though, and successfully got new teams up and running, including ramping up insights and analytics teams. In the past year alone, subscribership to the Starz app has grown by 62%.

“She’s been very good at understanding the marketplace and adapting to it,” Starz executive VP, affiliate sales Joe Glennon said. “Her adaptability is unbelievable. What we were doing even as recently as one year ago has changed dramatically.”

One thing that offering the direct-to-consumer app has helped Starz understand is that it appeals strongly to women. The network is intentionally leaning into that appeal with its programming and marketing, led by Hoffman, as it moves forward.

“Female audiences are driving the success of our content,” Hoffman said, an insight she has gained via all of the new performance-marketing analytics now at her fingertips. “When you look at us versus our competitors, we do skew female. Women love complex, interesting, character-driven stories. This is is a nice open field for us to play in.”

Another thing that so much data provides is constant feedback, and feedback isn’t always something people welcome. But Hoffman said her team has learned to embrace it.

“I feel really proud of my team that it doesn’t feel like something to get defensive about anymore,” she said. “I think people are really excited to see how things perform and move on to the next challenge. When you don’t get defensive, it’s exciting to see that you are moving the needle, that you have made progress with an audience. It helps you feel more in control in a very competitive environment.”

Encouraging and Creative

It’s that encouraging attitude — among other things — that Hoffman’s team likes about working for her.

“As a leader, she’s very creative but very collaborative,” Whitney Lee, executive director, originals marketing, said. “She listens to everyone in the room and she wants to hear from everyone. She wants to get to the best solution and that helps bring up the entire team and make them want to grow. That’s why she, to me, is a wonder woman: there are very few people who have both sides of that coin and can lead a team of people who don’t necessarily have that ability.”

“It’s very inspiring to work under someone like that,” Lee added. “She cultivates a culture of people who want to do the best creative work. She holds us all to a standard that is driven by passion.”