Bozoma Saint John on Netflix Exit, Criticism of Her Personal Brand – The Hollywood Reporter
It’s rare for a marketing executive scrambling to inspire the kind of coverage that succeeded when Netflix confirmed that marketing chief Bozoma Saint John would be leaving the streaming business after less than two years at one of the loudest and most demanding marketing jobs in Hollywood.
Following the release of cordial statements from both parties – “I have enjoyed working with Boz and have been inspired by her creativity and energy,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos with Saint John added, “It was a transformative two-year experience for which I will always be grateful” — reports the friction behind the scenes. Some have accused her of focusing too much of her time on personal branding and side activities like the Badass Workshop and teaching a Harvard University class. Others pointed out that a move to Paris could cause a rift with Sarandos. There are other stories, like The Hollywood Reporter reported last summer that senior employees in Netflix’s marketing department were fired after complaining about management on Slack. (Netflix has denied that the messages targeted members of management and instead said they were about colleagues.)
Saint John is used to attention. She has 388,000 followers on Instagram, a platform she used in the days following her exit to add to the swirl by declaring her freedom. “I am free in every way… physically, emotionally and mentally. That’s my super power. I fought hard for it, and believe me when I say it’s still a daily struggle to maintain my freedom. Especially when the world tries to make me feel like I have to change and change to fit other people’s standards,” she wrote on March 7th.“ I refused to bow because I was in the middle of my own life. Active revolt, so I extended. ”
A few days later, she celebrated being selected by the Marketing Association of America’s Marketing Hall of Fame. “Them: She went out. God: No, bih. She joins. The fact is, she’s in the POPULAR MARKETING HOUSE,” she posted in honor. “Btw, for anyone who is contemplating your journey and wondering how/where/when YOU… do it now. Live life in a hurry. I am a living, breathing, walking and sashaying proof that you can do it all on your terms. ”
Saint John practiced what she preaches by stepping out on Tuesday for an EMILY List panel at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where at one point she literally dashed across the stage while showing off her uniform, a neon pink jumpsuit. Before she did, Saint John walked the red carpet and stopped for a short interview The Hollywood Reporter in which she opened up about exits, responded to critics about her personal brand, and shared the “cathartic” creative work she’s focused on.
This is your first appearance since leaving Netflix. What can you say about why you left and how you are feeling right now?
There’s a lot going on in the world, right? There’s a change happening for all of us, and if you’re doing something you love, it’s amazing, keep doing it. For me, I was doing all the things I loved. Entertainment space has always been very interesting to me. I came to it after working in music, advertising and working at PepsiCo, a company that makes consumer packaged goods. Netflix is a great place to work, especially during a pandemic when everyone is staying home and looking for new ways to entertain themselves or in ways they might not have thought of. It connected the world. Think about Squid fishing game and how a show can come out of Korea and entertain all over the world. It is just miraculous. But now, I also need a pivot in my own life, and there are many other things I want to accomplish. You have to know when the time is up and keep it moving.
As with anyone leaving a senior job, news stories will follow. Some reports cite criticism that you over-promoted your personal brand while at work. Can you respond to that criticism?
Here’s the problem: I live a noisy life. I realize that there are not many black women in these positions. Do I wish that I could be “like everyone else” sometimes? Of course, who doesn’t want to? But the truth of the matter is, I’m not. In these spaces, nothing about me is the same as anyone else. I realized that I would be talked about and sometimes, negatively talked about because I didn’t understand where I came from, the culture I represented, my path. And those things are like friction.
My hope now is that many of us are different. And, by the way, that doesn’t just apply to Black women. It applies to everyone. I think everyone wears masks, figuratively, so I wish more of us could [take it off] and really exactly who we are. That way, I won’t seem strange and such other.
Did you read those stories? Can they reach you?
OH that’s right. I have read everything. That’s the challenge of a marketer, I use so much information all the time that I can’t avoid it. I also want to know what people are saying. Sometimes I use it as fuel because I’m like, look, if you want to talk about my personal brand and you want to talk about the things I’m doing, I hope that can shine a light on that. would encourage someone else. It may feel negative to me, but maybe it encourages someone, who is like me, I want to do what I want to do, I want to say what I want to say. If more people were allowed to do that, perhaps then I wouldn’t have been seen as so different.
Other stories tell of friction between you and Ted Sarandos over the possibility of moving to Paris. Was that ever a problem?
Oh no. Oh my God. I love Paris. No, never, never. In fact, I thought my first trip at Netflix was to Paris, but the pandemic happened and it didn’t make any sense. The long answer is that I tried and then we went into another lockdown so it doesn’t make sense to stay in Paris while stuck at home. I have a 12-year-old daughter and won’t be able to manage all of that. That is the long answer.
Return to the axis of rotation. What does the future hold? Did the phone ring yet?
A little bit, yes. Yes.
Can you give me any insight into what you want to do next? Have you made any decisions yet?
I’m resting. There are many other things that I want to explore. I am writing a book that will be published early next year. That’s my memoir, called Emergency life [from Viking]. It covers the last months of my husband’s life before he passed away from cancer. I will share what I learned through it in the hope that people can learn something from my experience. It is very interesting for me. Above all, I have [The Badass Workshop] as well as my Harvard class. But for now, I’m resting.
If and when you decide, do you think it will be another marketing job?
I love marketing. I don’t do it just because it’s a job or a career. I do it because I really love it. I wake up, I think about it. I watch TV, see commercials, and think, they should do X, Y or Z, or I think, God, that’s awesome. My mind always works that way. We’ll see if something else pops up, maybe in a new industry. I’m already six.
We are here today for a political organization, have you considered politics?
I’ve loved EMILY’s List for as long as I can remember. I organized an event for them while I was in Endeavor. My father was a politician in Ghana, so I was a 12-year-old kid talking about the differences in the political systems in Venezuela and Argentina. That’s us at home, so I’m always involved in politics. Currently, I am working with the president of Ghana on the diaspora. He made me an overseas ambassador. [Political work] always something worth looking into and I don’t know if it will ever become a major thing for me but I’d definitely like to be into any possibility.
The edited interview is long and clear.