In the October 2022 issue of “A Minute with Membership,” AWM’s members-only newsletter, we heard from member Zena Burns, SVP, Content and Special Projects for Futuri.
Why are organizations like the Alliance for Women in Media important today?
Real talk: I wish organizations like the Alliance for Women in Media weren’t necessary. I wish women at all levels of media organizations stood on equal footing with men. But while we’ve made incredible strides over the years, we’re not there yet, so organizations like the Alliance for Women in Media are crucial for helping to level the playing field. As you say, the Alliance for Women in Media connects, recognizes, and inspires women across the media industry, and I love that AWM has so many different ways for women to learn, grow, and support one another. Because if we don’t support one another, we’re never going to get to that place of equal footing.
What inspired you to become a member?
As I was progressing in my career in media and getting to a place where I had some juice, I felt that I had a responsibility to other talented women to help them move forward as well. I’d benefitted from that support from other women as I was moving up the ladder, and I wanted to pay it forward.
Also, I’d been unbelievably lucky to develop a strong network of personal and professional friends in the industry where we could have candid conversations about our experiences and help each other strategize on how to overcome gender-related obstacles in the workplace. This is not something that everyone has. When I learned more about the Alliance for Women in Media, I saw that it was a way for me to grow and learn from a broader community, and also give back by sharing my own experiences and helping others avoid some of the many, many mistakes I’ve made over the years!
What is your greatest advice, to women or men, no matter where they are in their career?
This is something I learned from Martha Nelson, the former Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc, when I was Music Editor at Teen People Magazine back in the day: “Long life, long career.” There are so many different ways to use that advice. On one hand, it’s a way to put setbacks in perspective. I use it primarily to remind myself that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. Professionally, if you have an opportunity to advance by stabbing someone in the back, or by being less than truthful when trying to get a deal done, it’s going to come back to you in a negative fashion one way or another. Like Warren Buffett says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to destroy it.” So with me, what you see is what you get, like it or not, and I sleep well at night. Have I missed a few opportunities to advance because of that? Sure. But beyond the fact that it’s just not who I am, the stress and pressure associated with acting like that just isn’t worth it. It goes back to a cheeky but useful phrase my dad started using with me as early as I can remember: “You don’t have a good enough memory to be a liar.” I don’t want to have to remember what story I told what person!
On the advice front, I just launched a new podcast on this topic — My 23-Year-Old Self: True Stories From the Come-Up. It features conversations with successful women in media, entertainment, and technology (and some good male allies) about the advice they’d give their younger selves as they were growing their careers. It’s designed for young women in those industries, and really anyone who’s interested in hearing great stories and advice from accomplished and amazing women. You can follow or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love to hear feedback on the teaser and ideas for women you think should be featured on the show!
Zena Burns has spent more than two decades at the forefront of developing iconic brands in the media, entertainment, and technology spaces. As SVP, Content & Special Projects at Futuri, Burns runs content creation efforts tied to its innovation initiatives; known for its groundbreaking software solutions rooted in AI, Futuri helps its thousands of broadcast and digital publishing partners worldwide grow audience and revenue through wise use of technology.
Before Futuri, Burns was SVP, Programming Partnerships, in iHeartMedia’s NPG team, having started at then-Clear Channel NYC in 2006 as the radio industry’s first Digital Program Director. She’s also a proud alumnus of TEEN PEOPLE Magazine, where, as Entertainment Director and Music Editor, she played a key role in driving pop culture and giving early looks to countless numbers of today’s superstars.
Radio, audio, television, video, digital, content creation, programming, journalism, strategy, communications, writing, marketing.
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