Creating game-changing conversations with Google
Creating game-changing conversations with Google
Adrienne Lofton is no stranger to breakthrough storytelling. Armed with accolades including Adweek's Brand Genius Award, Nike's former VP, Head of North America Marketing is now shaking things up at Google as Vice President, Global Consumer Marketing. In a candid and powerful conversation, Adrienne unpacks the critical importance of culturally connected content, building a team from the ground up in a tech giant, why she believes companies need a soul, and more.
Heather: Today, I’m speaking with the incomparable Adrienne Lofton, a marketing powerhouse who has been celebrated for her work that has resulted in breakthrough storytelling, transformative experiences and new market domination for some of the world’s best brands. Adrienne is vice president of global brand marketing at Google, an expansive role that has her leading the end-to-end marketing funnel for Google’s platforms and ecosystems portfolio. Adrienne is an unabashed supporter of diversity, equity and inclusion, opening the door and amplifying the voices of minorities to create highly inclusive and dynamic teams. I am so excited to sit down with this inspirational leader, an icon in her own right, to talk about her cross-industry career, what she sees on the horizon for brands and the uncompromising principles she takes with her wherever she goes. Welcome, Adrienne.
Adrienne: Thank you for having me, Heather. I’m excited to have this conversation.
Heather: All right. Well, let’s start off with your pivot from fashion to tech. You were head of North America marketing for Nike, the amazing Nike, Under Armour, Dockers, Levi’s. You felt you were doing more teaching than learning at some point and were ready to supercharge your own personal growth. Why Google, and what has been most rewarding about this pivot so far?
Adrienne: I think about it often. I’ll say a couple of things. First, I never thought I would leave sport. And when I go back to the beginning of my career—I’m a graduate of Howard University School of Business, marketing concentration—I was one of those rare humans who knew what I wanted to do since a young girl, I think. I remember, and I tell this story lots to my old team at Nike, when I was a young athlete trying to find my confidence and my way, there was a “Just, do it” spot that ran in the world—this had to be ’92, maybe ’93—and I saw this woman who was a long-distance runner. It had nothing to do with my sport, which was volleyball, and looked nothing like me; but she was a woman. And I saw myself and there was this emotional unlock of confidence that I never saw coming. It was at that moment, I think, that marked in my mind that, not only do I want to be that athlete one day but I also want to do that thing that made me feel the way that Nike made me feel.
And so, as I was moving through my career—you know, coming out of undergrad, going into the first marketing role—I thought my career would end at Nike once I finally got to the top of the mountain. And I did all of these different roles, had all these amazing experiences that you mentioned, got to Nike and got the invitation to run North America—which, arguably, is all love to all of the Geos at Nike and the most important, because it is the founding geography, the biggest geography and just drives a lot of the influence.
So, this was the dream job. And I was certain I would retire at Nike. Then, out of nowhere—and I think maybe some of us would relate to this—I had a pandemic awakening. I was doing so much work with our team, pulling us forward, pulling the business forward, digitizing the brand, doing all these amazing things, and I started to go to bed at night thinking: What did you learn today? What did you move forward for you—not just for the team of 500 that I was leading or the brand that I love so much? And the answer far too often was ‘probably not enough.’ Am I pushing myself to get uncomfortable like I had always done for the last 20 years in my career?
And while I loved where I was, I was comfortable. So, I knew it was time. I didn’t know where, and I wasn’t looking. At the same time, there’s a wonderful human—former CMO of T-Mobile that you guys should all look up if you don’t know him—by the name of Nick Drake. He called me for a very different reason, a reference for one of my old leaders, and we just hit it off. And he started to talk about, ‘What about tech for you?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, Nick, no, no, no. This is where I’m meant to be. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at this very moment.’ And he and I started talking about what could be in tech. And the reality for me when I started thinking about the potential switch was, in this industry, if you’re not constantly learning, you obsolete yourself.
If you don’t deeply understand tech, we all work adjacent to tech. We all write big checks to a lot of the big companies we all know about. I won’t even name them all, Google included. But I never worked inside of this industry, and I frankly thought it was maybe too late. And after talking to Nick and getting this spirit driving in me again, it felt like 10 years prior—where I was constantly ready to think about what I didn’t even know what I needed to know. I started leaning into the idea. And then I met a woman by the name of Lorraine Twohill. And she, if you don’t know her—and I did not know her, I knew of her—is worldwide CMO of Alphabet. She is brilliant. And seeing a woman leading an organization this big, this powerful, this influential and knowing every detail that’s happening in this company… Lorraine is special.
I knew that not only moving to tech could I learn a space that I know you need in your back pocket, but I can learn from brilliant human leaders. And it was time for me to not just try to be that leader and emulate that for all my teams of teams but to actually see that as I look up and continue to be that, as I continue to move our teams forward. So when I put it all on paper, it became a no brainer. I think about this constantly. It is the best decision I think I’ve ever made in my career full of big decisions that were smart-risk decisions that have always moved me forward in my career and just being a better human, a more well-rounded human than I always goal to be.
Heather: Oh, my goodness, what an amazing story. First, I’m still picturing you looking at that ad and saying, ‘I want to be that athlete, and I want to do that thing.’ And then, like check, check…right? As you said, you get to the top of the mountain, and it takes courage to kind of recognize that there is more. What are you doing right now at Google that you’re really passionate about?
Adrienne: I’d say one of the things I’m most excited about is really being able to be an entrepreneur, very much like the DNA of Google, inside of this massive organization called Platforms and Ecosystems. I was hired to build an organization that I have named the integrated marketing team, formally the brand team. But the intention of that team was to really start to think about end-to-end experiences for the consumer. And, to take a step back, there are multiple PAs, product areas, verticals inside of Alphabet.
The areas you would know and love are spaces like YouTube, Search, Cloud, the first-party team, Pixel, Nest, Watch…all of the things that are truly made by Big G. And then there’s everything else, and that’s Platforms and Ecosystems. That’s our team. We actually power products that you don’t even know we are powering to make your lives better. A Volvo, a BMW, a Peloton, mobile devices, laptops…we are in everything, but the consumer doesn’t always know it. One of my jobs is to bring emotion to the benefits that we’re driving, day in and day out: Google TV, the entry into a very cluttered market; when you think about Google Play, a competitor to the App Store. I’ve got all of these—what I would call, no matter the revenue—”challenger brands.” And the reason why I was hired was to take this beautiful portfolio of challenger brands and bring them into the human’s awareness—bring a little bit of emotion and reason for being—to those brands.
So, what I’m excited about is a couple-fold. One, I was asked to build the team. From renaming the team to really thinking about our charter, it was all up to me as the entrepreneur of this organization to think about what we needed to do to move our brands forward in the hearts and minds of consumers. Just for stats, I left an organization where I led about 500-ish amazing humans. I joined a team of 17. And so, when you talk about smart risks, that was a hard one for me to wrap my brain around. You know, I continue to grow and lead massive organizations; but this was the time to take a step back and think about: Is it about the number of people or the remit that you could actually build? And these 17 folks are incredible. But what we needed to figure out was our reason for being inside of this massive world of Google. How do we think about end-to-end consumer storytelling?
I have built the operating model with our team—really a small team—of leaders. I’ve built the organizational structure. We’ve rolled it out to the organization with Lorraine and Nick’s support, and that’s never been done before inside of P and E. The fact that this company can be so big and so impactful in the world, but there are still things that have never been done before that I have had the honor to help lead, is one thing I’m super-excited about.
The second thing, I’d say, is just rethinking about how we tell stories and build experiences for Google, bringing culture into the conversation, really bringing in an emotive high ground and a North Star that consumers can believe in. We are about being a helpful company, a helpful organization; and that’s exactly right. But there are some provocative conversations I think that are out there for us to grab inside of Platforms and Ecosystems. We’ve not really done that before. So, bringing that into an organization of highly capable, incredible, product marketers has been the yin and the yang that our team has been able to bring into the conversation. And that’s why you’re seeing some of the conversation we’re starting to provoke in the world. I feel like a kid in a candy store. There’s no wrong answer. If you have the right data behind it, you have the right idea that’s clear, crisp and simple. This organization supports it and will push you forward in order to see what’s possible. And that’s just a lot of fun.
Heather: It sounds amazing. And I have so many questions to the follow up. You know, you had ended a bit with this idea of being part of culture and being part of conversation. So maybe we pivot to the notorious Green Bubbles. The Get the Message campaign has come out. You’re kind of hoping that your users will stop being blamed for ruining messages between iOS and Android platforms. It’s pretty bold, and it really puts Apple in the hot seat. Tell me about the inception of that. What led you to give Android the microphone at that time and what we might see in terms of the brand and the ecosystem of these brands?
Adrienne: It’s an awesome moment for us inside of this building. And the first thing that I realized coming into tech was that there was a whole level of language and product that I needed to learn quickly. You can’t have a Get the Message campaign unless you deeply understand the problem and deeply understand the product behind it. To make a long story short, the first time that I experienced mobile through the lens of Android was joining Google. I got my Samsung Flip, I got my Pixel and I still have a ton of friends and family with iPhones. And I realized my iPhone fam would say, ‘Oh God, here you are again. You’re messing up my text chat.’
And this was part of the cultural truth, right? So, where it started was that there would be things happening in culture. An NBA coach kicked a player out of the group chat. An upcoming Emmy award winner felt bullied because she had an Android phone and tweeted about it. There were all these moments. Drake dropped an album that had a track called Texts Go Green, and it was a negative sentiment about what it is in the relationship; but he related it back to this Green Bubble thing, and it was the fault of Android. Then you watched the Twittersphere blow up laughing at their Android friends with an Android phone.
So, our reality was: One, the interoperability happening with your mobile device if you have an iPhone and you’re texting with your mother, your family, your friends with an Android device is Apple’s doing with intention. There is a program called RCS—and everybody else in the mobile industry has adopted RCS— which makes a seamless communication no matter what phone you have, except for Apple. And Apple’s goal—love them, they’re amazing marketers—is to lock you in and to make sure that your experience, Apple to Apple, is amazing; but any other experience just isn’t. And that’s not fair. And from a Google perspective, we believe deeply in equality, the fact that accessibility must be first and always that there should be no reason that anybody should know what phone you’re holding, because that’s exclusivity at its highest power.
So, there was no product to write this brief about other than the truth that’s been in the world for a long time—and we decided that enough is enough. We are not going to be the punching bag any longer. And this is exactly what we talked about earlier. If you’re going to get into culture, you have to be brave enough to lean into the conversation even when there’ll be haters. There are iPhone loyalists that will never understand, but we’re going to stand up for our Android users. We’re going to stand up for the truth, and we’re going to push Apple to get the message.
It was such a fun brief and development of a campaign, because we needed to go all the way up to Sundar to have this conversation to ensure that we can go into the world with something this provocative—and have these tough internal conversations around how do we do it. How do we keep a tone that is lighthearted but truth? How do we educate while provoking the right conversation? At the end of the day, I’m targeting iOS users to actually go to their beloved brand to say, “Be the change, no more bullying, we’re done.”
And what was amazing is that at every level of the organization, every conversation we had, it was this is the right thing to do. We need to make sure our users, consumers all over the world—whether you have an iPhone or an Android device—you deserve the best experiences. Let’s go.
And the part that was probably the most rewarding was having a very small, nimble team of cross-functional partners cross Google and seeing their passion wake up. You saw the fire in their bellies around this campaign. You’re able to bring a rallying cry inside of the Android family and inside of the Google family on what could be and begin a new conversation inside a culture.
The day we launched, we broke Android social records, we broke Android engagement records, we created a conversation in the Twittersphere about what needs to be true with technophiles and we educated the world—and there’s a way to do things that don’t have to be so technical. We can make the conversation human and full of truth and get the same results that you would if you go through all the features and benefits of RCS and why it should matter. That has been wildly successful internally and, I’m excited to see, a positive move externally; but it just shows us what can be. And it’s just getting started.
Heather: Well, congratulations to you and to the team. It’s kind of like marketing brand at its best. Yes, I love more than anybody else a beautifully, kind of scored commercial or ad that’s inspirational. There’s something that’s very simple about this idea but kind of profound in the same way because of the connection to this idea of exclusivity and what Google stands for and the experience—and then, also, the importance of, as you said, all of these product categories; but if we kind of band together horizontally, it’s amazing. And, honestly, it had me as an Apple user think about it differently and how they’re operated. So amazing.
Adrienne: Heather, you said one thing that I just want to double down on. First of all, call your local Android friend or fam and apologize.
Heather: Yes. I will. I will.
Adrienne: Everybody listening, thank you. Thank you. Number two, the ability to create nimble, low-cost, high-impact work is the yin and yang of what I have always believed in. I am a sucker for big, beautiful, elegant film. We have done it at Nike; we did it at Under Armour. It is the name of the game in our industry, by and large. But there’s something very special about understanding the way Gen Z and Millennials communicate, which is not through big, elegant ’60s, ’90s. It just simply is not. It’s through easy, nimble, low, out of pocket, because it’s all about content and what you’re actually delivering— culture, right, content. So, what I’m saying to my team is that we want to get to a space where we’re almost a publishing model, where we’re understanding with our fingers on the pulse of the conversation happening in the world, where we aren’t posing at all. We’ve figured out what are those spaces that we actually belong in, what is the narrative that we want to drive and go, go, go, go. Read, react, iterate, scale. And that—coupled with your big, beautiful moments—is the magic that I think we can build inside of Google and inside of Platforms and Ecosystems, most specifically.
Heather: It’s awesome. You mentioned one of the things when you first came on board about the rebuilding, restructuring of this group and a shift from brand to integrated marketing. Tell me about that. Again, we all have connotations of words…and, well, is brand the umbrella? What was behind that, and then what does that really mean?
Adrienne: You know, I have a lot of biases when it comes to how marketing can be type casted into a corner. At the end of the day, incredible marketing organizations are demand-generating leaders. We are business leaders. We must have a seat at the table. We must report to the CEO, not to some level underneath the decision makers in the organization. Far too often, folks who don’t sit inside our function see us as the squishy things that make pretty pictures that are not easily measured and are hard to directly correlate to demand. And I say, ‘Rubbish.’ And I say that it’s time to start to think about how we can ensure that our business partners understand our value, both the art and the science. I am a brand human through and through. I started in brand management. I won’t ever leave it, at my core. But brand is nebulous. What does it really mean?
One of the things that Nick and I talked about—really, day-minus-30 before I even joined—was that we’ve got to be open to thinking about what is the right operating model inside of P and E? And how do we ensure that we are the partners, my team is the partners, to product marketing, PMM and product at the level that’s expected—and I mean, the demand-generating, full-funnel level that it’s expected, not just upper funnel, not just the 90 that make you cry, but everything. So, the first thing we did in the first six months of my gig here (I’m only a year in) was listening across the organization, finding out what operating models have worked in other product areas like in YouTube, like in devices and services.
There are other areas that are doing it that are amazing. We decided that integrated marketing is the right title, based on the work that we’re going to do. It’s not one moment of work; it is the connected journey for the consumer. It is from driving awareness to leading to interest, to driving the transaction and then coming right back up again. We won’t do it all. We will partner deeply with product marketing. We will make sure that the performance marketing that we’re delivering is exactly what it needs to be; but we’ve got to see that journey all the way through. It may be seen as optics but, for me, it’s so much more important than the name. It’s just understanding the value, if we do our jobs, that we’re bringing to this organization and what should be expected of us.
Heather: I love that. And certainly, as a marketer who tries to bring that forward, I very much hear that. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. And I think it’s a really smart shift. You know a lot of what you were talking about before with regards to Gen Z and Millennials and what they want…I think everyone is trying to figure things out, and things are moving so fast. Is there anything else, both within this role and the other roles that you had at Nike and Under Armour, that gives you a sense of where things are shifting toward—in addition to culture?
Adrienne: I think about this quite a lot. Every generation adds a different dimension of impact from the last, right? Now, all we’re talking about—most of us—are Gen Z; and I’m forcing an alpha conversation into our rooms, because eight-year-olds are choosing their brands of choice, okay? It’s happening now.
Heather: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Adrienne: So, the thing I would impress upon all of us to think about is not just the product differentiation that we’re all aiming to bring to the table, bringing to the ether, but also being a purpose-driven brand—and not creating purpose but actually having a central soul that is values-driven. That has always been my jam, has always been what I believe in. When you look at Gen Z, it’s how they’re choosing their brands for life. And when we’re thinking about lifetime value, not a short-term transaction, it’s product all day—but it’s always being values-driven.
You know, Nike is best-in-class at it. I don’t even have to go through their values. You see it in everything they do. And I would say Target, by the way—where I gained a ton of base-level understanding of what it is to be consumer first—does an incredible job of thinking about and leading with education, with diversity. I mean, we started the multicultural team at Target before multicultural was a buzzword, because they knew it was the right thing to do. Google is probably the most values-driven company I have yet to work for that I don’t think enough people know, that I don’t think they even understand. Google is about accessibility. Google is about equity. Google is about sustainability and safety, but we are such a humble massive organization. We don’t necessarily face that out to the consumer for all the right reasons; but I think that there’s going to be somewhere in between where we’ve been to where we need to be, as I push to move our values forward. I think that’s the unlock to the heart’s minds and then, ultimately, the wallets of this next generation of consumers. And I don’t think we talk about it enough. I think we talk about it at a surface level. But when it gets down to what does it really mean to be values-driven, you can’t say it; you’ve got to be it, you’ve got to do it. That’s where I think Google is delivering, day in and day out, but the world just doesn’t know about it yet. And that’s going to be one of the key initiatives that I start to bring into the room, as I continue on in my career at Google.
Heather: That’s awesome and I think, also, part of that horizontal connectivity—certainly across he portfolio that you’re overseeing. But how do you know that the consumer doesn’t care that here’s Platforms and Ecosystems, and here’s this other product line and here’s this other product line. It’s just how you happen to be oriented. It’s hard though; and having this amazing kind of proof point that’s centered on this idea that’s centered on a truth was amazing, but it is hard.
So, tell me about that and what you’ve seen that helps move the needle toward more collaboration and seeing eye to eye with product and design and engineering and marketing—and anything that you have in terms of advice for those that are trying to do what you’re doing in their organizations.
Adrienne: It’s something that, as I mentioned when we started, we were in 2023 planning, and I’m sitting with my PMM partners talking about the world as we see it for 2023. And my reality is that I partner with incredible (what I call them) CMOs of their businesses across Android, Google TV, Google Play, education and developer, Chrome browser, Android, the operating system…it goes on and on, right? They’re all around the table with me, and I have the honor to be the one that can see it all horizontally. So, as they’re all sharing their needs with me, I’m starting to aggregate what needs to be true across the playing field.
The first thing that I would say is, our consumers are smart as heck, as we all know—savvy and moving fast. They are connecting the dots between our vertical businesses. So, my simple job is to break down the walls and make sure that I’m coming to the table with a unified strategy with the consumer at the center. We talk about the consumer through the lens of use cases. That’s such a tech term. I learned that when I got here. I remember my first day, and I was, like, “Use cases, user, tell me about that.” And it’s true. Tech speaks to consumers through the lens of the user and what are they doing? They’re obsessed with the user in all the right ways; but I think about it as the consumer, the human. When she or he or they wake up and go to bed in the morning, how are they interacting with our products, and how do we bring that to life through how we tell our stories and build our experiences seamlessly?
What’s been amazing is bringing that horizontal view into the conversation as recently as two days ago. You see lights come on, and you see the team say not only ‘Yes do I want to double down in Android,’ but ‘GTV, do you want to do this together with Play? How about if we do this together?’ And the win is when you introduce an innovation that our consumers don’t even know that we create and that they didn’t even know they needed.
Hum to Search is a great example of that. We have a spot that just rolled out that talks about having a song in your head and you can’t remember the name, so hum it into your phone. We’ve got you. There’s just a lot of fun that you could do by creating through this publishing model— daily storytelling around the innovations that we’re bringing just to make your life easier.
Heather: I love it. And, I’m sure, when coming out, it’s like a lot of buzzing about all the possibilities. Anything that has kind of stuck with you from those conversations that you just are now thinking about as you reflect?
Adrienne: I am starting to think about the world as our new normal. I’ve been thinking about it this way, and that’s both internally on how we work and live together as teammates but also externally for the consumer. To your question, I’m constantly thinking about what this seismic shift has led to in the world of technology.
So just a couple things: One, at home we may be in our back-to-back GVC meetings, our video meetings, and your kid may be schooling behind you. You may need to shop on Instacart, get some groceries. It’s all happening at once, and it’s all digital. So how we think about making sure our devices work seamlessly together to where a consumer, a human, a person, doesn’t even have to think about the connectivity—that’s number one, 1A, in my mind.
The second thing I’m obsessing about constantly is that we want to continue to be the brand that stands for accessibility. There are about three billion active users of Android devices around the world. I just want to say that again, three billion users of our product.
Heather: Unbelievable. Yeah.
Adrienne: The United States is where there’s a challenge in the brand perception; but all around the world, Android is beloved. So, how do we make sure that we continue to celebrate the products we’re bringing and putting in the hands of our consumers? There are also moments where it’s not about joy, right? There are COVID messages, when you’ve been exposed, that come from us. The idea that an earthquake’s coming—how can we actually give you prior notice? There’s so much technology that our organization is able to offer into a world that’s been hard.
All I keep thinking about is how we can make it easier in your daily life, whether it’s the joyful moments or the moments where you need help. How can we be there? And that shifts how we tell our stories. That shifts how we serve up our stories. That shifts the fact that we don’t need to take six months to build a 90. We could take three days to build an eight that finds itself in your mobile device to just remind you of that thing we could do for you. Always being curious, always saying nimble, always asking the what if—every day—I think is the opportunity that we’re thinking about for 2023.
Heather: What’s amazing is that idea, as you were saying, of purpose and of values; but what does it really mean that we do? How do we show up, and how do we acknowledge that it can be fun, it can be playful, but that it’s not always? And just figuring out that balance and really being true to that North Star?
You recently joined the board of Alaska Airlines…I’m totally pivoting the conversation right now…but, first, kudos to them for recognizing an intelligent, experienced, diverse woman to join the board. What are you hoping to get out of that experience, and what are they hoping that you can provide to them in that experience?
Adrienne: Awesome question. This is my first public board seat. While I was at Nike, their CEO was a guy by the name of John Donahoe—who comes from tech and also a wonderful human—was just full of nuggets of insight as I was thinking about career progression. And one of the things he and I talked about was board seats. And I was, like, ‘John, I don’t know if I’m ready. How do you know?’ And he was, like, ‘You don’t know. You just do.’ So, the first thing was remembering. And I would send this message to anyone listening and not yet thinking about a board seat. There’s not going to be a moment where you think, ‘Light’s on, it’s time.’ I think back to the theme that, I believe, was coming out of that conversation: Always keep yourself moving forward. Continue to think about what you don’t know yet and how you can learn it and push yourself to be uncomfortable.
So, then, we identified board time, and he said, ‘What kind of boards do you want to sit on?’ I started naming Fortune 50s, big consumer brand companies, and he said, ‘Stop right there. You need to go to the exact opposite. You’ve got to go somewhere that you have no experience in.’ They will need from you, to your first question, brand experience, consumer experience, digital experience, how to think about innovation through the lens of the consumer. There’s nothing you can’t offer any industry any size, but what do you need to learn? So, I started thinking about tech.
That was the first thing. And the second thing was, I started to think about industries that I’ve got no experience in, and aviation kept popping up in my mind. If you think about aviation, we are responsible for souls. It can get no more serious than that. And how they’re thinking about operations and safety and how to drive an efficient airline that’s keeping their souls safe is their number one, 1A, priority. But what they’re so interested in is continuing to be the consumer-first brand that, if you’re an Alaska flyer, you’re a loyalist for life. We need to find more loyalists for life as we go global, but how do you hold onto that secret sauce that is Alaska and grow it? And that’s where I can help.
The last thing I’d say is the two committees I serve on, which are so epic to why I’m doing what I’m doing, are safety in which I know nothing—so I sit and I listen and I ask questions as a flyer versus an expert that’s coming from the FAA (I’ve got an FAA ex leader sitting on the board with me)—and in an innovation, which is where I belong. And so, the yin and yang of the conversations I get to help lead, think about, advise an organization versus being knee deep in it, which helps me for my daily job. There’s just so much benefit to this board that I’ve joined and the humans I’ve gotten to know. It is, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Heather: Amazing. Well, there’s been a lot of them over the last year.
Adrienne: That’s true.
Heather: Okay, so you have, rightfully so, been recognized for the impact that you have had on the industry, on the community, on the people that you’ve worked with. Adage’s brand genius award, Adweek‘s most powerful woman in sport, Black Enterprise and Ebony magazine’s most powerful woman in business and soon to be inducted into the Howard University’s Athletic Hall of Fame…woo. Awards, accolades aside, what do you want your legacy to be?
Adrienne: When I think about my legacy, it’s just such a great question. I think the first thing is, I hope people remember how I did it. And when I say my ‘how,’ I mean it’s less about being a brand genius. It’s less about building these incredible campaigns the world, hopefully, will remember when I’m long gone; but I hope someone on my team brings to their team the kind of team-first leadership that I deeply believe in.
You know, you hear about folks saying that they are about servant leadership; but you don’t always feel it. My only objective is to make sure everyone sees themselves on my team, feels safe on my team, can be their authentic daily self without worrying about a thing. That’s how you get great work. That’s how you have fun. I hope they remember fun, because in some of the hardest projects—including the last one we just did, Get the Message—man, every day was not easy; but we always had fun. That’s one.
The second thing I want to always hope comes back to my name is the thing you said at the beginning, where the fierce protection of diversity and equity is deeply important to me—because I was the Black girl who was the only one on the volleyball team in high school. I was the Black young woman who was the only one in a room at the Gap, at Target. You name the company— only—and I know how lonely that can feel. Black women sometimes can get a stereotype in a room. And I, as you probably can imagine, have a point of view. And if I express that point of view too directly, too absolute, sometimes I’m labeled as aggressive.
I remember there was a role that I had—I won’t name the company or the leader—but in my review, I was told, “A, you’re just a little too aggressive, lean back sometimes.” And I used the example of my counterpart, who happened to be a white male, an amazing human, and he was told in his review—we have very similar DNA and profiles—that he’s a “go-getter.”
So, I had to learn moments to tease out when I take feedback and continue to shape myself—because, always on feedback, we are only as good as what we know folks think of us and how we continue to evolve ourselves—but also when to dismiss it. And I don’t want every young Black woman, young brown woman, young diverse human, woman period, from a gender perspective, LGBTQIA leader coming in…I don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t be exactly who they are. And that won’t be the case until there are more of us in the room. So, my fierce protection of DEI is to make the future look different from the past or the current.
Then, I think, the last thing regarding my work is that I hope I’m seen as a human that brought culturally relevant, game-changing conversations into the world that provoked people to think differently about what they think could be true and to give challenger brands a shot. Under Armour is such a great example of that. We nipped at Nike’s heels, Adidas heels for years because of our how, because we let people who were the underdogs be seen. And so, the empowering nature of the work I hope to be able to keep delivering to the world is the one thing in my work that I hope continues to be seen.
Heather: Wow. That’s really amazing, and you’re clearly well on your way to achieving all of those things. I’m going to have to go and call all my Android friends and tell them that I’m sorry; but before I do, one last question.
Heather: I ask this of you as an icon. Who is your icon?
Adrienne: There are tons that I look up to. Tons who are role models and mentors. For me, my parents and my aunt are my icons. My parents, because my father was a college graduate of Purdue University in engineering when diversity was not a word; he broke barriers in his career that did not come easy. And watching him move through corporate America with a perseverance that I didn’t know exists, I didn’t know what that word was yet, is why I am who I am.
My mother, who was the first college graduate in her family, is the glue of who we are and the soul of what we all desire to continue to be. And she broke through her own barriers to get to where she is today. My aunt, who is no longer with us, was a former 1968 Mexico City Olympian and a fierce advocate of equality. Those were the games where they stood on a podium and raised fists for equality in America. She was on that team; she broke her own barriers, and she showed me sport. That’s why I’m an athlete. She showed me what’s possible. She was the first leader of the NFL PA as a Black woman back in the heyday. So my family—my parents and my aunt—when I live this life and take my last breath, those are the three that are going to be the reason why I was able to achieve whatever I end up achieving in this world.
Heather: Wow! Well, I know that they are all incredibly proud, and this has just been such an honor, honestly. Thank you so much for taking the time. I’ve loved the conversation. Keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s making an impact on so many levels. Thank you so much.
Adrienne: Heather, thank you. Your podcast is amazing. I have enjoyed listening to it. And with your lineup this year, I’m honored to be beside them. So, thank you for having me.
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