bSMART Guide

Global Head of Strategy and Design at MediaVest, Claudine Cheever is an award-winning advertising executive and media expert with over 20 years of brand management and marketing experience.  Believing that brands should do things for people, not say things to them, Claudine’s work has been recognized with four gold Effies for her work with Comcast, Doritos, Nortel, and Miller High Life.  Formerly the Chief Transformation Officer and Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, Claudine has been lauded for her work in connecting brands with consumers while empowering creative problem solvers to share stories through content.  Learn how to authentically share your brand promise, how Claudine became a woman leader in digital media, and how you can rock the C-level too!


Creating valuable content is about respecting the consumer while appreciating the brands potential.


Meaningful Media

What is the key to creating valuable content for consumers and brands?

Creating content between consumers and brands, in various iterations, has been my work for my entire career.  The key is understanding the power of both.  I’ve had the great privilege of working with incredible and iconic brands such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors, as well as more cultural and fashion brands.  There’s a lot of talk now about the pace and power the consumer has over the content they’re creating.  That’s great because it raises the bar very high in regards to the content we create.  We have to understand all of the ways consumers are creating content, because oftentimes, it’s the consumer leading the way forming new patterns of content consumption. 

In my heart, I’m a brand geek, so I always remember the power a brand has to lead people and to show them something they didn’t expect or aren’t creating themselves.  It’s about finding the right balance between what people want and what the brand is offering.  Creating valuable content is about respecting the power of the consumer, but also appreciating that brands have great potential and understanding how we can fulfill that.          

What are the biggest challenges for brands in connecting with consumers?

One of the biggest challenges brands face in connecting with consumers is the number of choices they have for the ways they can connect.  While it can be really overwhelming, we advise our clients to remember what the brand fundamentals are for determining where and how to connect.  A brand could have a hundred conversations on a daily basis, but should the brand be having all of those conversations?  Maybe there are only five conversations that brand should be having with consumers that more accurately reflect their mission. 

I urge my clients, especially in terms of social or digital media, to not be that annoying person at the party who comes up to everyone saying, ‘Hey! What are you guys talking about?  Can I join the conversation?’  You want to be relevant, not only with what people want to hear, but with sharing the brand’s promise.  Not every brand should tweet on the night of the Oscars.  It’s important to have the focus and discipline to make sure you’re doing the right 36 degrees of activity versus being concerned about all 360 degrees of connection opportunities.  


If you’re going to share your brand, make yourself a part of the community culture.


How can brands (big and small) make an impact in digital media?

Ten years ago digital was considered ‘the d-word,’ but now brands of all sizes are recognizing the importance of digital and social media.  There are parameters we encourage our clients to follow such as: if you’re a big brand, act small.  If you’re going to have a presence on social media, find a channel and determine how you want to behave within that channel that’s organic to the content people are creating.  If you’re going to share your brand, make yourself a part of the community culture. 

General Electric does an incredible job of this by posting beautiful photographs on Instagram while remaining true to what and who they are.  They’re not trying to be cool and hip.  They’re being themselves, but they’re bringing the art of photography to a social channel that appreciates that art.  Another point we share with our clients is how to tap into influencers.  YouTube stars are more known to my children than television stars.  If brands want to partner with these influencers in an authentic way, then both honesty and transparency are key.

There’s a term we use, ‘native advertising,’ which is bespoke content that’s about the brand as a commercial and paid-for post, but there’s no trickery or trying to hide that.  The New York Times, who we partner with, is doing amazing things with native content.  Everyone knows it’s a paid piece, but it’s also a great piece of content people want to read.  They produced an amazing native piece on Orange is the New Black as a journalistic look at women in prison.

What are the current trends in advertising, digital media, and technology?

Regarding trends that are connecting products with people, I’ll start with something very techie - virtual reality.  Virtual reality has finally reached an obtainable price point and our client, Samsung, produces a very affordable VR headset.  There’s a real opportunity to commercialize and monetize virtual reality and create meaningful content for consumers. 

What tends to happen when a new technology platform comes out is that advertisers and marketers pull formats from the last platform and plug it into the new one.  For example, in the early days of the Internet, web content was marketed like a digital magazine before people recognized you could use hyperlinks.  I’m really excited to see where the creative thinkers at MediaVest take VR and utilize the commercial story-telling form that makes virtual reality valuable and sharable for our clients.


If brands want to partner in an authentic way, then honesty and transparency are key.


What is the future of advertising and digital media 10 years from now?

Bill Gates once said, ‘We tend to overestimate the amount of change that’s going to happen in the next three years and underestimate the amount of change that’s going to happen in the next decade.’  I think this goes beyond the technological platforms we’ll be using.  I believe we’ll have reached a point where the value exchange between brands and consumers is totally transparent and there’s mutual control on both sides.

In ten years, I believe the terms of the value exchange will be out on the table.  Then we’ll be able to design what we want to experience and how the creators of that content get compensated.  I’m raising two children and I’m able to see their inability to discern between ads they love or a short film on YouTube.  For them, either way, it’s great content.  A lot of old rules are falling away.  Five years ago it was not cool if you were in a band and your song was in a commercial.  Now, it’s a legitimate way to launch a career.  Going forward, look for huge changes within the value exchange between brands and consumers and the transparency of those business models.    


Watch Claudine's bSMART interview here!

One of the things I did early on was work for bosses and not for jobs.


Creative Career

How can young women become women leaders in their industry?

Climbing the career ladder as a woman in the workplace is becoming a more and more complex issue.  I made a lot of mistakes, so I don’t know how good I am at giving advice, but one of the things I did early on was work for bosses and not for jobs.  I had some strong, female bosses and that was incredibly influential.  Even in graduate school, I was always drawn towards the female professors and worked to learn whatever I could from them.  Make sure you’re working for the boss just as much as you’re working for the job. 

Getting a variety of experience is important, but don’t be quick to jump around too much.  One mistake I made when I was starting out is that I would allow myself to get bored and leave before I properly invested myself in the role.  It’s good to try new things and get a variety of experiences, but the only way to learn to be a leader is to learn how to work with people and overcome challenges and challenging relationships.  Stick with a company when it’s doing great and when it’s not doing great.  The morale of the place you work is married to the energy you’re projecting.  Good morale doesn’t just happen.  It comes from you.  I didn’t always follow this advice early in my career and had to learn hard lessons from those experiences.    

How have you experienced a failure in your own career?

When I was first starting out as a Chief Strategy Officer for an agency, I was brought in to be a change agent and shake things up.  I didn’t listen to the team, I didn’t get to know the place and culture, and I went in guns blazing with the mindset, ‘I know everything.  I’ve been hired to do this.  I’m really going to shake things up.’  I ended up alienating a lot of people in the department and I lost people. 

When you’re a leader and you begin to get promoted, the responsibility you’re taking on is to actually to help the people around you more.  It becomes less about you and more about the team as you move up.  That was a huge lesson for me.  It doesn’t matter how great your product or the technology is, if you’re not taking care of your people, your company will fail. 

With clients, it’s about being upfront and honest.  In the business I’m in, clients change agencies a lot.  You have to be transparent with mutual expectations, but also stick up for yourself when you feel like you have an opinion that’s important as well.  The client wants us to push back and have an opinion.  With clients, it’s about finding the right balance of acknowledging mistakes versus standing up for what we believe is the right thing to do.  Quick admission, quick conversation, and being open are the ingredients to a successful client/business relationship.


The way to be a leader is to learn how to work with people and overcome challenging relationships.


What is your advice for managing a team of creative employees?

I love talking about working with creative people because I’ve been fortunate enough to work with creative people for most of my career.  A mistake people make when working with a creative team is thinking you have to let them do whatever they want.  Actually, when working with creative talent it’s important to be very specific about the problem they’re solving and to give them a very focused assignment.  Good creative people within professional fields are problem solvers.  They’re not artists, per say, they use their art to solve business problems.  Give them a brief layout of what they need to do specifically, and their brains will fill in the gaps. 

Also, it’s important when you’re giving feedback to creative people to evaluate ideas and concepts in terms of where they can go next.  If you have three ideas presented to you, rather than saying, ‘I don’t like any of these ideas,’ say, ‘I love where this idea has the potential to go next.’  If you join the creative process with only a critical eye, you’ll find yourself invited less and less.  Give advice, but make sure it’s advice that propels the idea forward.  If that’s your tactic, creative people will become your best friends and they’ll come to you early to show you things that aren’t even done and that’s exciting!

How do you define success as a working mother?

I have a seven year-old and a nine year-old, so I’ve been a working mother for a decade.  For me, it’s about getting over the myth of work-life balance, because if your work and home life are somehow balanced, then you’re constantly exhausting yourself trying to find that perfect ratio.  Someone once told me, ‘It’s about work / life integration,’ and that means finding ways for those things to exist and work together.  When you’re doing any kind of integration with creative people or with technology, we all know it’s messy, complicated, and iterative.  My relationship with my work and family is about integration and it’s iterative.  I might have to miss a birthday party this year, but I won’t next year.  It’s about doing the absolute best that I can, but knowing the perfect balance doesn’t exist.     


It doesn’t matter how great your product or the technology is, if you’re not taking care of your people, your company will fail.


How can we be smart as women leaders and digital marketers?

Be a user of everything - every new technology and every new app.  Don’t think you’re not the target audience.  Download it and use it.  That’s my practical advice.  On a more personal side, remember you’re the one you’re waiting for.  If there’s a problem at work, it’s about you, not about someone else.  The next job isn’t going to solve your problem.  You have to take responsibility and fix things around you, no matter where you are.  It’s up to you.  If you want to change things, you’ve got to go for it for yourself.  Remember, you’re the one you’re waiting for.  Take risks and make it happen.  At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make yourself happy.    


You’re the one you’re waiting for.  Take risks and make it happen.


Spotlight on Claudine Cheever

Neighborhood: Apartment in Gramercy Park and barnhouse in the Catskills

Twitter: @auntieclaudine

Instagram: @auntieclaudine

Women I Admire: Hillary Clinton, Samantha Bee, my son’s first grade teacher

Look of the Season: Wide legged trousers and slim sneakers

Ultimate Accessory:  LOADS of pearls

Favorite Store: Warm in NoLiTa

Can't Live Without Product: Dr. Hauschka’s Rose Day Cream

Signature Scent: Chanel Gardenia

Beauty Essential: Lipstick every waking moment

Cocktail of Choice: Anything my husband is mixing up

Best Date: Mad Men bar tour in midtown

Travel Destination: Big Sur, CA

Current Craving: Biscuits and grits




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