A+E Networks' Christine Olson on Embracing Challenges, Collaboration and Community

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For Christine Olson (pictured above), Senior Vice President, Ad Sales at A+E Networks, success is all about meeting tough situations head on, but with a great deal of team support. Olson was the featured guest at last week's FUTURE NOW Leadership Talk hosted by FUTURE NOW Media Foundation founder and CEO and HISTORY Channel programming alumna, Margaret Kim.

Addressing a highly engaged audience of future media leaders -- including current college students and recent graduates -- Olson noted her team's work developing relationships and creativity in the face of a pandemic. At the same time, they've stayed ahead of developing media trends.

"What I love about it is the collaboration, finding solutions, overcoming the hurdles of a challenge," she explained. "The community of the business."

When she graduated from a small liberal arts college in Indiana, "I had no idea what I wanted to do," she recalled. "All I thought was, 'I want to be in an industry I'm excited about.' I leaned in -- and I've enjoyed every step of the way."

Olson moved from a small direct-response agency job to roles at Chicago-based ad agencies BBDO and Starcom. During those 20 years, she used every opportunity to build up her leadership and management skills. She sought out mentors and enrolled in special initiatives, such as Starcom's Top Gun training program. When she joined A+E Networks almost nine years ago as a New York account executive (rising to her current position in 2019), she participated in the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute program.

All that training, coaching and mentoring gave Olson the skills to develop a team that can produce consistent, outstanding results, she explained. "Mentors and leaders, even challenging ones, will teach you something," she said. "You learn to pay less attention to you and more to your team. You have to do your own homework and take your best swing."

At A+E Networks, Olson encourages her colleagues to be more engaged, creative and entrepreneurial with their clients in order to meet the increasing speed of industry transformation. "There's more opportunity for that than ever before," she noted.

"I am motivated by seeing other people succeed," Olson added. "Understand what drives you and how to implement that for success." She also advised attendees not to let day-to-day struggles be an overhang on performance. Have them be an inspiration, a catalyst for people to work together and collaborate. "The growth comes when there is a struggle," she said. "Real stuff happens when you deal with change and shifts."

Having a life beyond the workplace is another critical success factor for Olson, a belief that's strengthened since she and her Chicago staff started working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. Virtual meetings are kept short and include appeals to take work breaks and schedule vacations or other getaways.

"You have to find ways to navigate so it doesn't paralyze you [or your team]," Olson reflected. "Have people champion you, build you up when you need it. That's what gets you over the hump."

The top priority for Olson and her team now is gearing up for the Upfront advertising season. In play: her company's vast catalog of content, including linear networks A&E, The HISTORY Channel, Lifetime and VICE TV as well as digital and other cross-platform campaigns. She expects more interest among advertisers for campaigns that feature interactive commercials and commerce options.

Flexibility is likely to be an even more important factor than in past Upfronts, she said. "Relationships give you the intelligence for adapting to the needs of a client. You have to figure out where to push in and pull. You have to follow through on the info you get. Be clear and concise with the people you deal with."

For students looking to break into the ad and media industries, Olson offered two pieces of advice. First, explore as many opportunities for a first job as possible, whether ad sales, marketing, social media or freelance. "You may not know exactly what you want to do at this early stage, but pursuing something that interests you and being focused in the interviews could land you in an industry or with a career you love," she said. Second, "ask about a company's culture if that's important to you.

"You can't teach passion," Olson stressed. "Focus and know the company when you walk in the door. Understand the scene -- the mechanics as well as the creative. Let people know what you aspire to."

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