Suzanne Kolb: Changing the Shape of Things

Whether for broadcast or cable, network or agency, big company or small, Suzanne Kolb has followed a devotion to brands through a career that has led to her current role as chief marketing officer for E! and The Style Network.

“I love being responsible for brands in whatever form that takes,” she says. “My goal is to always work with brands I believe in and that have growth potential.”

Kolb got into marketing after graduating from Northwestern University with a history degree and from the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication with a master's in communications. She worked during summers at a market research firm and at Lorimar Television's research department, helping prepare pilot reports as well as compiling ratings and demographic data.

That gave her the idea to work for an advertising agency that generated creative content for a television network. After a marathon eight-hour series of interviews with Grey Entertainment in New York, she got a job that night as an account coordinator focused on movies, miniseries, specials, theatricals and Good Morning America for ABC.

She worked with ABC programming through 1996, when she became VP and group management supervisor for ABC Entertainment, Corporate, Kids and Late Night, overseeing a multi-million-dollar budget and all of the creative and media planning for launching entire seasons of the network's TV programming. Through the course of that job, she met Ted Harbert, who years later would become her boss at E! and Style, and who was then at the broadcast network.

She eventually left Grey for The WB when that network was in its infancy, joining as VP of print advertising. The idea of working for an emerging net appealed to her adventurous side, especially since marketing was crucial to its success.

Over the next six years there, she saw the network through its biggest highs, making the most of a small budget to launch shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson's Creek, Felicity and Charmed, and implementing the network's first brand style guidelines. Working at a startup made all the victories that much more sweet, she says.

“I can remember the moment after Dawson's premiered and we just felt such a sense of accomplishment like, 'OK, we're secure, our lights are going to stay on,'” she says.

When she heard about the position working in marketing at E! and Style, it was an opportunity she didn't want to miss. It gave her the ability to manage both an established and an emerging brand, and put her back in touch with Harbert, now president/CEO of the Comcast Entertainment Group.

At the time, Harbert was new to his position overseeing the networks, and Kolb became a key lieutenant in shaping them into the success stories they are today. At the time, E!'s brand was dated in the minds of many viewers, who associated it with celebrities who hadn't been on the network in years as well as more somber graphics. One of Kolb's main priorities was lightening things up and making E! more escapist and fun—and bringing new well-known faces to the family.

She achieved that first through marketing Ryan Seacrest into the face of the channel's news programming, and then launching campaigns around newer stars like the Kardashians and Hugh Hefner's Girls Next Door. That has led to three consecutive years of record viewership domestically and globally. Also general manager of Eonline, she has been responsible for the network's “E! Everywhere” marketing initiative, which does what the name implies: It pushes the brand online and on wireless, satellite radio and other nontraditional platforms. A recently relaunched Eonline has increased traffic to 86 million page views per month, with an increase of 75% in length of time spent.

“At E!, my greatest sense of pride is being part of a group that's brought the network to a place that's as strong as it's ever been and poised for success going forward,” she says.

At Style, Kolb dipped into the skills she learned from her WB days to manage the smaller network with a correspondingly smaller budget. She supervised the creation of new branding guidelines, and a new look and tagline. These have led to triple-digit ratings growth in 2006 and double-digit growth in 2007, with new time-period branding including late-night's Style Nightcap and new shows like Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane.

She also helped differentiate Style from E!, focusing on grass-roots programs to push the brand to consumers, affiliates and advertisers and expanding it onto digital platforms, including a new Website.

“Suzanne is one of the most gifted executives I've ever met; she possesses a rare combination of superb creative skills and unparalleled managerial abilities,” Harbert says. “She really is in a league of her own.”

In addition to her work at the individual networks, Kolb led a multi-division “breakbusting” team, devoted to increasing the Comcast networks' audience retention and engagement, and she established several pro-social initiatives for both E! and Style, including E!'s “Play-a-Part” platform and Style's partnership with Dress for Success.

“It's been really nice to continue to build the relationship between the networks and the charities because I really believe companies have to give back,” she says. “For me, it's always been about believing in the work I do and the people I work with, and as I've come through my career, I've appreciated the fact that I've had the opportunity to work at places I loved and with brands I loved working on.”

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