Tips From The Top: One On One With Doug Melville

I spoke to Doug Melville, Chief Diversity Officer of TBWA North America and co-founder of the Disruptor Series podcast, about his best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Doug: My first two jobs after college might surprise people.  I started my career driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile as a ‘Hotdogger’.  For 400 days I crisscrossed through 48 states in a 27-foot long hot dog doing PR/Press for the brand. That led me (miraculously as my friends say) to my second job, the Assistant Tour Manager on Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time” tour.  It was an amazing moment.  I got to see the country for a second time, but this time with much better accommodations.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth? 

Doug: I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing mentors. People who believed in me, before I even knew I needed believing in.  After touring, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Tommy & Andy Hilfiger, who really helped me understand the fundamentals of fashion, branding, music & culture. They showed me how to turn an idea into a business.  They encouraged me to start a business before getting a full time job – because that is the best way to create the vision of what you want to do in life.  I experienced the “usual” challenges that business owners face: no safety net, learning as you go by trial and error, hoping you can cover payroll. You know, the basics.  But Tommy & Andy were right; starting my own company allowed me the freedom to create and chase my passions.  Five years later I was contacted by Magic Johnson’s office; he was looking to start a marketing company, and tapped me to lead that effort. He really helped me understand diversity, urban America, the value of opportunity and teamwork. TEAM: Together. Everyone. Achieves. More. He was like my Ph.D. professor.   

Adam: What have you learned from your experience building and hosting a podcast? What advice do you have for those thinking about entering the space and for podcasters building their shows? 

Doug: I always wanted to host a talk show, so I asked our CEO Rob Schwartz if we could start a talk show in our TBWAChiatDay New York lobby.  I wanted to shoot audio and video in front of a live studio audience, and knew it was important to create a warm environment for guests because it really effects the quality of the conversation. With that, we created the Disruptor Series podcast. My advice for those entering the space: you are only as strong as your guests. We’ve been fortunate enough to host Maria Shriver, Snoop Dogg, Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Al Roker, Charlamagne Tha God, Comedy Central’s “Broad City” co-stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, and more. Also, it’s important to really prep before each interview.  Part of my process is to watch every past interview that person has ever done on YouTube – start to finish — before we sit down.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Doug: Leaders don’t need to be the smartest people in the room, but they do need to be the most informed. To be an effective leader, it’s important to really listen, to be relatable, and to inspire rather than preach. Finally, leaders need to know what their unique superpower(s) are, and how to tap into them.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Doug: 1.  You pay for what you don’t know. So take the time to be well read. 2.  Your [digital] reputation always precedes you when you walk in the room.  Google yourself on a private browser so you’re aware of what everyone else can see. 3.  Progress over PR. The more work we put in behind the scenes, the better. As a bonus tip, I ask everyone in a position of influence to give difference the benefit of the doubt, i.e. be openminded about perspectives that might be unfamiliar or different than your own.  When evaluating something or someone – give the preference to the unknown, the unfamiliar and the diverse. It helps you grow as a person.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Doug: An executive once told me, “spend more time with your fans who believe in you, and less time trying to convince the haters to get on your page. It’s important to go where you are celebrated, and not where you are tolerated. It’s a much better use of your time.”

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Doug: Mentor someone. Formally, and also informally. It took a lot of people to get you where you are, so now it’s your turn to be an inspiration to someone else. I started as an intern, and if I hadn’t had great mentors in my life guiding and looking out for me, I can assure you I wouldn’t be here doing a Thrive Global Interview!

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

Doug: I love making things. I’m a maker. It keeps me curious and sharpens my skills in a wide variety of areas.  Growing up, my best friend and I used to sit around and create ideas, which is what eventually led me to TBWA and vice versa. Advertising, after all, is a maker culture. 

These days, there is no excuse not turn your idea into reality.  Your outside hobbies, passions, or entrepreneurial exploits many times can lead you to become an intraprenuer in your current career – and spur innovation in your day job.
For instance, most recently at TBWA we started – which is a first-of-its-kind a search engine for women and diverse-owned businesses that connects them to agencies and brands looking for services. It was an idea I came up with to help streamline and centralize diversity into the hiring process – and TBWA and I sat down to put it together.

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