Maureen Polo of Fullscreen: “I’d like inspire a movement to help kids better understand the power of their social handles and inspire them to use that power for positivity”

I would inspire a movement to help kids better understand the power of their social handles and inspire them to use that power for positivity. I have seen first-hand the power of social creators, like Aija Mayrock for example, who use their social profiles to share their struggles and motivate others with their messages of […]

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I would inspire a movement to help kids better understand the power of their social handles and inspire them to use that power for positivity. I have seen first-hand the power of social creators, like Aija Mayrock for example, who use their social profiles to share their struggles and motivate others with their messages of hope and success. I have also seen how quickly social media can destroy one’s self-esteem and self worth. As a community, I want to help kids and their parents learn smart, simple, responsible ways to make social media work for themselves and to their communities’ advantage.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maureen Polo. Maureen leads Fullscreen’s national branded entertainment initiatives as General Manager, Brand Studio. With a wealth of experience in managing and scaling content marketing strategies for brands, upon joining Fullscreen she was charged with launching and developing Fullscreen’s Influencer Marketing strategy, activation and sales teams. Since then, Polo and her teams have been responsible for driving the development of ground-breaking and award-winning marketing campaigns with key clients such as AT&T, Mattel, GE, Revlon, MARS, and Kohl’s. Prior to Fullscreen, Maureen served as director of marketing services at Hearst Integrated Media, where she led the development of Hearst Connected Content Marketing division.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Maureen! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While it looks like the majority of my career was spent working in traditional roles at traditional media companies, when you go beyond the surface, it’s clear that there is more at play. I have always worked within (or built) the innovation arms of traditional companies by helping them build new business units or products that drive more meaningful connections with customers.

While Fullscreen was my first official start-up, I’m most at home growing new business and building new models; whether it was launching a new magazine (like Domino Magazine), building the business around a community based web-site (like, or helping to build a branded content business by merging the unique offerings of two companies (like Hearst and iCrossing).

In 2010, I started to believe that traditional advertising as we all knew it was broken. We needed a new model in which the consumer was part of the process, and real emotional connections could be forged through the actual brand messages themselves. I believed this next frontier was ‘friendertainment’ — brands that create content so relevant and compelling it almost feels human. This led me to Fullscreen. What began as a concept morphed into an entirely new strategy — where we create programs that tackle real-life issues the audience is experiencing (such as bullying, teen anxiety and under representation in media) while inspiring positive change through branded content. After years in publishing at the likes of Conde Nast and Hearst, I found my place at Fullscreen helping brands own their voice and drive authentic engagement.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As a leader at Fullscreen surrounded by digital creators that amass massive fandoms on a regular basis, it can be easy to forget just how powerful this next generation is. I was powerfully reminded of this concept while doing lunch duty at my daughter’s school. I was sitting at her lunch table having small talk with a bunch of ten year olds when one of her best friends told the group that I worked with lots of the world’s biggest superstars like Ninja, Tifu, Aija Mayrock and Eva Gutowski. Suddenly the whole room circled around our table asking me questions like ‘have you ever played a video game with Ninja’ or ‘how can I become a digital superstar’? One kid even asked me if I could help his mom get a job working for me. For a minute I felt like a celebrity. That was actually the moment when I realized I could use my unique role at Fullscreen to help my daughters friends use their social media for good.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on in my advertising career, I worked for months developing and selling a cross platform marketing program to the ad agency that represented KitchenAid, the first program of its kind across print, television and digital, and a hefty investment for the brand. When we finally sold the program, I took the senior leadership team out to celebrate — and it wasn’t a cheap meal, to say the least. I was already outside my comfort zone as a young sales executive hosting a meal at a super fancy restaurant and drinking wine from a region of the world I couldn’t even fathom visiting at the time. When the bill came, I realized that my wallet (with my corporate credit card in it) must have been stolen earlier that morning on the subway. I didn’t have a dollar on me — all I had was a checkbook, but of course the restaurant refused to take checks. I was mortified and tried haggling with the restaurant to let my clients leave without learning I couldn’t pay the bill. I even offered to wash the dishes if they just let my clients leave while we tried to figure it out.

The restaurant manager refused and rudely explained what happened to my client — who quickly agreed he would pay the bill…on his personal card. I explained to my client that I must have been pickpocketed earlier that morning and I convinced him to let me give him a check that I would expense since it was a client dinner. I had no idea that giving him a check was a serious breach of corporate policy. I was later required to sit in front of our CFO to explain what had happened, and assure him I wasn’t paying clients off for business. Additionally, my client had to explain this very fancy meal on his personal card to his wife. The whole ordeal wasn’t actually super funny at the time — but a few weeks later, my client and I traded stories and we laughed so hard we both had tears in our eyes. I learned three very important things through this experience:

1. Being vulnerable is an easy way to forge really strong connections with people, even in business

2. People are still just people no matter how senior they are in their jobs and it’s the real human experiences (like this) that can actually drive a business relationship forward

3.The importance of forging really positive relationships with your finance department

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Fullscreen’s approach merging art and science in order to create data-driven storytelling that is specifically tailored to a client’s audience. The work we are doing with AT&T on their Hello Lab series is a great example of this. We’ve created 19 original series rooted in our research findings that deeply connect with millennial consumers through highly entertaining and informative series of documentaries. This includes the “The Bright Fight” — an original docu-series created with influencers that lived on the social channels of youth audiences including YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The thing that was totally different about this documentary series? Fans were invited to join #brightfight army alongside their favorite influencers in the fight to make the world a brighter, better place and their actions were featured in our real-time series showcasing the power each of us have to make a difference.

“The Bright Fight” behaved like an authentic internet movement rather than as “branded content.” In fact, many of the series’ videos broke industry norms by overperforming on influencer channels: One even went viral, performing 90% above the influencer’s average video views on her channel.

Over the course of eight episodes, three immersive activations, and 296 social posts, “The Bright Fight” garnered more than 127 million impressions and more than 60 million views. In the end, the show garnered more than 6 million organic engagements.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m really passionate about the future and understanding how different generations think, feel, and interact with each other, with brands, and with the world around them. One project I’m really excited about is our upcoming culture report, which will be released in July. The report looks at the “social media hangover” many 18–34-year-olds feel; and how screen time has impacted their relationships, their sense of self, their dating lives, and their identity.

I believe this report is going to inspire brands to rethink the way they market to consumers and create content and partnerships that add real value in the consumers lives- to help them live happier, healthier, more optimistic and more balanced lives.

On a personal level, I have been using the data in this report to help inspire change in my local community. I am a mother of three and live in a suburban town where many of my friends don’t have the same depth of understanding on the effects (good and bad) of social media. I spend a lot of time sharing what I learn through all the progressive insight work we are doing at Fullscreen to ensure our community and children thrive and use social for good.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Teams thrive when employees are encouraged to own their voice and know their opinions are valued. As women, we are often made to feel that vulnerability is a weakness, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the only C-level female executive in my organization, I find the best way to encourage this is to lead by example. Being vulnerable and owning my voice instills a culture of bringing one’s full self into the workplace. Listen to your employees, and be an advocate for positive change. Your teams will thank you for it, and you will likely see better results as a byproduct.

I would also tell other female leaders to try not to overthink the idea that they are female when they walk into the board rooms and executive meetings. Don’t change who you are or try to act differently. In my first few months of being in C-level meetings at Fullscreen, I found myself cocooning and sharing more data than necessary to prove my point because I allowed myself to feel different. I earned my seat at the table by just being who I am. I reminded myself to take a breathe, slow down and be myself. Once I did I saw better results.

Finally, I would tell other female leaders to spend time mentoring other women at the stage of the career that I call “the meantime” — when they are building families or balancing other personal passions and are comfortable and complacent in middle management positions and have so much potential to get to the next level, but are afraid to step outside what’s comfortable because of fear of failure and fear of personal life disruption. I have found that many women (myself included at that time) just need other great examples of women who keep moving up and don’t give up all the other parts of their life that make them happy. I believe that if more women stuck in the “meantime” had dedicated support and coaching to navigate this stage of career and life we would have more women in the board rooms.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

As a leader, my job is to inspire my teams to deliver on goals and drive the business into the future, so it’s imperative to continually help my teams see the big picture, understand the company mission, and realize the impact of their contributions. To do this effectively, leaders must have a consistent cadence of communication with their direct reports and broader teams and must share the right information to evoke passion and empower them to push us all forward.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been so fortunate to have been surrounded by so many incredible people — and to have been raised by my amazing parents — but professionally, I have to acknowledge a brilliant former manager and mentor of mine, Linda Mason, whom I worked for in the earlier yet pivotal stage of my career when I was first becoming a leader and working for a brilliant but challenging CMO with incredibly high and not always realistic expectations. Linda believed in me, even more than I believed in myself, and taught me to find my voice, to have conviction for what I believed in, to trust my gut, and to push back in a very respectful but assertive way. She coached me through some of the most challenging situations and empowered me to really be the leader she knew I would be.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Absolutely. I am incredibly proud of the role I play mentoring other women to help them navigate their careers, connect them to other like minded women, to support them in juggling work and family life, to support them in building teams, gaining thought leadership, and finding new roles. In addition to leading my teams at Fullscreen I volunteer as a mentor through three other organizations to ensure that I am creating a world where more amazing women have the opportunity to thrive professionally.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

My five leadership lessons are as follows:

  1. The best leaders know themselves and are not afraid to share their true selves with the teams around them. I have found that by being honest and vulnerable as a leader I have been more successful in inspiring my teams to take risks and motivating them to succeed.
  2. The higher you climb up the ladder, the more your success depends on making your teams successful. As a member of the “overachievers club” I had a hard time letting go and pulling myself up out of the weeds as I moved up the ladder. With experience I found the more I can set expectations and support the leaders that work for me and stay out of their day to day, the more engagement I saw and the better results we experienced.
  3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. We are operating in very complex times and the landscape is changing at the speed of social — the more able you are to adapt, to reshape your business and to evolve the more successful and happy you will ultimately be.
  4. Be an empathetic, graceful leader. Leaders that operate with grace and empathy have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s situation. They help develop the people on their team, give constructive feedback, and are great listeners. In my experience, you build deeper bonds and more loyal teams.
  5. Never stop learning. Be a curious leader who believes that there are always new ideas to consider, new insights to glean, new approaches to take, and inspiration around every corner. I have found that by immersing myself in new insights, trends, books, podcasts, seminars, and etc.. I am usually a few steps ahead and always open to the next great opportunity when it lands on my desk.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire a movement to help kids better understand the power of their social handles and inspire them to use that power for positivity. I have seen first-hand the power of social creators, like Aija Mayrock for example, who use their social profiles to share their struggles and motivate others with their messages of hope and success. I have also seen how quickly social media can destroy one’s self-esteem and self worth. As a community, I want to help kids and their parents learn smart, simple, responsible ways to make social media work for themselves and to their communities’ advantage.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is likely my favorite life lesson: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” I always say my life is an experiment and I am in a constant state of testing to ensure the most positive outcome. I have worked really hard to be comfortable with change, comfortable with making some mistakes, and comfortable not knowing all the answers. Essentially, comfortable being on a never ending path to shaping myself, which all comes down to making well-informed choices and being confident. Choice is a really powerful word. Every action we take in our lives is a choice and those choices define us.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I have always admired her and think my adoration of her has trickled down to my ten year old daughter who even dressed up as her for Halloween this year. Obviously I admire her for the role she played as Supreme Court Justice and all she has done for women’s equality, but even more so for the amazing example she is as a working mother. She created a new model for others to look up to; pushing the boundaries on the father’s role in raising children. She had this amazing marriage and her husband played such a massive role in creating a family environment that allowed for her to be so successful in her career and as a mother. There just aren’t too many examples of this, even today, and I would love to pick her brain and soak up all the various ways she was able to do it all.

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