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Anna Hill: My media life

Anna Hill is senior vice president and general manager of WW (formerly Weight Watchers) UK. She began her career working with brands from Smirnoff to Cable & Wireless Worldwide before joining The Walt Disney Company as general manager for Disney Channels, then vice president and chief marketing officer (CMO) for Disney UK, Ireland and Nordics. There she worked on campaigns to make a positive difference to society, a grounding that would stand her in good stead for her current role.

My first media love was Jackie magazine. My grandad used to buy it for me and my cousin, and it was a highlight of our week. Then I moved on to Just 17 and Blue Jeans. Magazines were huge for me.

I had a massive passion to get into media and marketing, so I applied to everything after university. I even mocked up a cover of Campaign magazine with a reason why ad agencies should employ me.

Ive always been really positive as a person, so whatever job was thrown at me I took it. It enabled me to move from agency to agency, and that’s how I spent the first eight years of my career – and I loved it.

Disney is an amazing company. I joined at a time when TV was in its boom years and viewership was really high, so I got very involved in the marketing side of things and working with the programming teams. We developed new show concepts, such as High School Musical and Hannah Montana, shows that became iconic. I had a thoroughly great 20 years there.

We started challenging the status of different people in society and changing peoples perceptions through entertainment. Frozen, for example, had two female leads, and the filmmakers really thought about their qualities and their powers. The guys were very much background in the story; the sisterhood and strength of the female characters was really important. We were trying to develop characters that were much more representative of what we want girls and women to aspire to today. After Frozen, we did it again with Tangled and Brave.

We also tried to address some big issues out there. One of them was the challenge of obesity. Children were being less active, and we knew that the power of our brands was incredible, particularly from a kids’ perspective. They’d listen more to a Disney character then they would to their mum or dad – so how could we use that for good? Could we encourage kids to think about trying different foods if their favourite characters tried different foods? Or do more activity if Mike and Sully were able to do star jumps? Healthy eating was a big focus for us.

There were a number of reasons I moved to WW (formerly Weight Watchers). I’d done 20 years at Disney and I didn’t want to be with the same company at 50. I wanted to learn more and was looking for a new challenge. I’d been really fortunate to have been chosen to do The Marketing Academy’s fellowship programme, called CMO to CEO, where they take 20 CMOs each year and support their training. Someone mentioned there was an opportunity going at WW – a brand that has purpose, that changes people’s lives – and that massively excited me. To be able to have an impact is really fantastic.

WW is run as a global organisation and our CEO, Mindy Grossman, is phenomenal. She is incredibly empathetic and incredibly supportive of her employees, and she’s very decisive. As soon as we saw the pandemic coming, she pulled all the general managers together and said we needed to act immediately to protect our employees and our members. We stopped running physical workshops (even though we could have carried them on for a few more weeks) and put all our efforts into moving our business online. Within six days, we had put 5,000 workshops on Zoom.

I joined a brand that needed transforming. WW is seen as a brand that mums and grans go to in church halls. And that’s so far from the reality of the business, so we’ve got a big job to do. To then have the fact that there appears to be a link between Covid and obesity could make you more likely to contract Covid has meant everybody is now much more aware about their health and wellbeing. There’s a need for people to think about their weight – and everybody put weight on during lockdown! Everyone’s starting to really address that now and look for solutions. We are very relevant right now.

Im learning about myself the whole time, good and bad. Lots of bad and hopefully some good, but a bit of pressure and crisis kind of works for me. I’m very calm and I remain incredibly positive, which is really important as a leader of a team because your emotions and delivery will set the tone, give people faith and help set their mood.

There are a few brands who have been clever through this crisis. One of the problems is that everyone has been drinking too much during lockdown and Guinness did a great campaign around sensible drinking, which was really brave of them. It’s not about filling your pint with Guinness; it’s about making sure you pace yourself and knowing you don’t need to drink all the time.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is just to be true to yourself. I think the more authentic you are, the more you can inspire other people. I’m also very, very good at admitting when I’m wrong. It makes other people feel comfortable admitting their own weaknesses, so we’re all on a more level playing field.

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