Stephanie Plasse thought law school would be a good background for a career in journalism: She would focus on public policy, legal journalism and First Amendment issues. It made sense, since journalism was her first love. She was on the newspaper in both high school and college (which is something of an understatement, as she was the editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News).
Things didn’t go quite as planned. After graduating from Stanford Law School, Plasse began working in corporate law at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. And yet, she sees a direct link between journalism, law school, corporate law and her current job as senior VP and deputy general counsel, global revenue, partnerships and distribution, at A+E Networks.
“At law school, I became interested in telecommunications policy and shifted my focus to the media entertainment business,” Plasse recalled. “Then I went into corporate law because it’s a great training ground, you get a lot of resources and learn a lot. That corporate skill set was valuable later in drafting, negotiating and research.”
Plasse soon moved into entertainment law at Greenberg Traurig, but ultimately decided she wanted to be on the inside, making decisions. “At a law firm, it’s about offering alternatives and it’s more of an academic exercise,” she said. “I wanted to be part of the stakeholders.”
An Unemotional Negotiator
She jumped to HBO, where she became VP of networks business and legal affairs, learning crucial lessons from a mentor there, veteran counsel Tom Woodbury. “He impressed on me the importance in negotiation of the force of intellectual argument, of explaining what our needs are in a way that’s thoughtful, not confrontational,” Plasse said. Using the facts that way “builds integrity and takes emotions out of negotiations,” allowing for a stronger relationship with partners, which, “in a positive cycle, then makes it easier in the next negotiation to stay focused on the facts.”
Those skills have served Plasse extremely well at A+E, where she oversees legal support of global distribution, digital, over-the-top, subscription and ad-supported video-on-demand, international, corporate, corporate development, technology, music and consumer products deals, as well as regulatory affairs.
“Negotiations can get heated, but she is phenomenal at communication and is very creative at finding ways to make things work,” A+E president of distribution David Zagin said. When Plasse handled her first large negotiation for the company, he said, she was so impressive that the celebratory dinner that night “became one person after another toasting her.”
“She has impressive command of a complex area, but one of her secret weapons is that she is humble, so people trust her and respond positively to her suggestions,” A+E chief legal officer Henry Hoberman said. “So when things get bogged down, she can find the path forward.”
Plasse jumped to A+E from HBO because she liked that it had great programs and content innovation but also offered the challenge of ad-supported networks and a wide portfolio of brands. She provides legal and strategic support for U.S., Canadian and Caribbean distribution of 10 networks, including A&E, History and Lifetime, and oversees legal aspects of partnerships and content licensing related to those networks on all global platforms.
“I also love the culture here,” she said. “I have a team of talented problem-solvers and I'm always learning from them.”
Learning is central to her success in a field that is constantly changing with new technologies, distribution avenues and business models. “I’m very interested in learning how things work and understanding the details,” Plasse said. “I’m pretty adaptable and open to trying things in new ways.”
Plasse describes herself as neither an early adopter of new technologies nor a Luddite, which makes her a “good proxy for our customers,” adding that having twin 8-year-old sons tends to keep her aware of major trends. “I found out about Fortnite a year before most people.”
Lawyers are trained to manage risk, Plasse said, and therefore sometimes get too comfortable with doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Keeps an Open Mind
“I keep an open mind so I don't get stuck in the ways of the past,” Plasse said. “Then, we work with stakeholders to collaborate and break new ground.”
Plasse went through the Women in Cable Telecommunications Betsy Magness Leadership Institute in 2012-2013 and has been an active leader at A+E. She serves as a mentor both within the legal and business affairs department and beyond, and was instrumental in forming a new internal mentoring program (Spark) to identify and retain high potential mid-management females by pairing them with senior executives who completed the Betsy Magness program. Her commitment led to Plasse being selected to join The Executive Women’s Forum at A+E Networks, a mentorship program comprised of senior executives under the oversight of Abbe Raven, chairman emeritus and former CEO of A+E Networks.
“I’ve been more of a recipient than a giver at this company when it comes to mentors,” Plasse said. “This company has great role models and leaders and a supportive environment for women. I participate to have the opportunity to pay that forward. I hope I’m having an impact.”
Career Highlights: Plasse helped lead the negotiations for the transition of the H2 linear network to Viceland with distributors in the U.S. and Caribbean.
She launched the A+E portfolio across vMVPDs including Sling, Hulu Live, Philo and Fubo.
Helped strike A+E portfolio library deals with streaming platforms such as Netflix and Peacock.
Led the launch new digital products H Vault, Lifetime Movie Club, Crime Central and Lively Place.
Quotable: “All experiences are personal but with mentoring people can realize that others are having variations of the same experience, facing similar dilemmas and challenges. Mentoring is a great opportunity to have a safe place to discuss issues like leadership and work-life integration and that elusive balance.”
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