An Empowerment Mindset Creates Opportunity at BET Her
By Lauren Streib
“There are still not enough decision makers in the industry that look like the changing face of America,” says Michele Thornton Ghee. She’s worked in media and entertainment for two decades. As a speaker and author, she’s an advocate for female empowerment. As the Senior Vice President of Media Sales at BET Her, she’s an executive tasked with proving the value of an underserved audience and the power of a diverse sales team. As she explains, “no matter what stage I stand on, I’m representing women, as a steward of my business and a steward of this company.”
Thornton Ghee came to Viacom to lead media sales for Centric in 2012. After just 18 months, she was promoted to SVP based on her success driving revenue for the channel. In a defining move, she pushed for the rebrand of Centric to BET Her to target a female, African-American demo-graphic. “I knew that black women had enough spending power, enough influence, and I knew how much TV they were consuming,” she says. “There was a lot of qualitative research to prove that this audience deserved a network devoted to them.”
When she discusses her success, she’s quick to credit her team, mentioning that her administrative assistant, Brittney Dorsette, even crafted the initial designs of the network’s logo.
Her hiring process started by looking at internal candidates who had a strong work ethic and a proven ability to think quickly. It was a chance to elevate talent who hadn’t been able to get ahead within the traditional networks of the media industry, who have had to prove themselves repeatedly, even in the aftermath of success. “I gave them an opportunity—one I know they wouldn’t have anywhere else,” she says. “’09 I was able to launch my career by going someplace that was out of my comfort zone and her perspective is the result of her own unconventional path to leadership.
She cleaned houses and worked the front desk at a hotel to put herself through college, earning a degree at 31. After a stint in the finance department of a telephone company, she moved to media sales at The Weather Channel. “I was like a unicorn there,” she once described. “I was able to launch my career by going someplace that was out of my comfort zone and didn’t look like me.”
When asked how she’s seen diversity lead to a competitive advantage, she mentions this year’s inaugural BET Her Awards. The channel was looking for a presenting sponsor. She was connected to Bumble, the social and dating app, which was interested in reaching more women of color. The foundation of the eventual partnership was built on a mutual respect for the audience.
“When clients are honest about needing help reaching a demo in the right way with the right voice, we have an opportunity to bring our talents to life in a way that’s magical,” she says. “It can be an amazing experience.”