Jennifer Frommer on having an open mind

Jennifer Frommer joined Condé Nast in November 2014 as Head of Production and Talent, leading a team that develops integrated branded content for various clients across the portfolio of publications. She started out in advertising and then worked in the music industry for many years connecting brands with entertainment platforms. I was lucky enough to spend time with Jennifer in mid-February to learn about her views on self-confidence and having a clear direction.

Jennifer on a panel with Russell Simmons

Jennifer on a panel with Russell Simmons

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a rock star. I fancied myself a female Bruce Springsteen because I wrote songs and played the guitar. I wanted to be a deep and serious artist (not like Miley or Taylor). If you think about it, there still isn't really any female artist like that.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Mick Jagger, Oscar Wilde, Steve Jobs, Sandra Berhnardt and Kate Moss. I’d like some controversy.

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. I’ve read it ad nauseum my entire life. It had a very big impact but probably not in a great way because I sided with Holden Caulfield. I always had his bad attitude and thought everybody was phony.

The other book that I love and have read a million times is The Magus by John Fowles. It's very magical and takes place on a Greek Island. It's about relationships and love and the idea that anything can happen.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
If I’m home, I go to bed by 11:30pm. I love watching stupid TV in bed, that's how I go to sleep. I get up around 7:30am. 

What is your favorite time of the working week?
I like Monday at midday, that time after I've gone through the motions of getting into the week and things start to gear up. I'm also very productive at 6pm in the evenings. I get very focused.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
As I mentioned I had my heart set on being a rock star so I really wanted a career in the music industry.  This is going back to the 90s when I graduated but I struggled to get a foot in the door. I went door to door to record companies asking for a job and was told that I had to start as an assistant. I thought I was too good for that because I had been to college.

I ended up working in advertising at DDB and it was my favorite job ever. At the time they called me "The Computer Chick". I was in the creative department and taught everyone how to start story-boarding, typeset and how to use a computer to create ads. I still had this music bug and wanted to work in the music industry so after a few years I started cold calling music companies. I became really good with computers and, bear with me cause it was the 90s, I could create multi-media presentations.

I called and called and finally got through to the Head of Sony Music and said I was a Multi-Media Executive (which I really wasn't, I was a kid looking to make a change from advertising to music). He was receptive and invited me to meet him. It was right at the first dotcom boom when everybody was excited about technology and nobody really knew anything about the internet. So they offered me a job as a freelancer and I ended up building Sony Music's digital division. That's really how I got my start.

From there I had some jobs in various media companies. I was at Seventeen Magazine, Spin Magazine and Condé Nast. Then I went to Universal Music to be Head of Creative Content and Partnerships where I was for several years.

I recently went back at Condé Nast as Head of Production and Talent. It's a new group and a new role. It involves developing integrated multi-tiered branded content campaigns for our clients that live across the Condé Nast portfolio of brands.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
I was recently given a book called The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. I don't usually read these types of books but I have realized that despite appearing very confident and in charge, underneath I don’t always believe in myself. Even now after working for 15 years or so, the obstacle is how to realize that I’m great. The book says that confidence is not a belief it’s created by action. So it's self-fulfilling. The more you do, the more confident you become.

What motivates you?
Doing new things. I want to know every single thing that I can in the world of media and technology.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of their career?
One thing I would say is that you don't have to rush. I've been working since I was 21 and got super serious really early on. I've always been striving and trying to get the next job at the next level. Take your time. You don't have to do anything until your 25 at least. You can enjoy yourself, see the world, do whatever it is that you're into. Do that first. But, if you do do that, try to be a little cognizant of what interests you and what you want to do so you can gain experiences that may be relevant and useful further down the line.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I really came into this industry from nowhere. My parents are professors and I didn't know anyone in media or entertainment. I had no “ins” but still managed to establish a career for myself. I’m proud that I've achieved a lot with a little.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
I have a really open mind. I've always wanted to know everything and everyone. I've always been open to whatever comes my way even when I don't know where it's going to lead.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be open-minded and adaptable. As best you can, embrace change. Change is hard. I've been in a lot of corporations where there's a state of flux. You have to be able to ride the wave and expect that things might fall apart and not beat yourself up over it. In today's world, across all industries and companies, this will continue to be the norm.

What do you believe are the personality traits of people in leadership positions within your line of work?
Being organized, having an agenda and going in one direction.

Of the great bosses I've had, they've all had a plan and a focus. A bad leader is all over the map. In one of my jobs (I won't say which one) I literally sat there for 4 months with nobody directing me with their mission. If I wasn't a self-starter and I didn't care, I could have literally sat at my desk and done nothing.

Great leaders have a path and a plan, and share that plan so they can bring people along with them.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
I turn to my husband all the time. He’s an amazing strategist, not in the traditional “strategy” sense as in our business, but an amazing strategist, almost like a political strategist because he comes from the entertainment world and he's worked with some very top artists. He has been, without a doubt, my man. A lot of my girlfriends turn to him for advice too. We call him the puppet master!

What's next?
I just started at Condé Nast and I'm really excited about what I can build and create here. I'd also really like to develop some creative work in my spare time. I started writing a novel several years ago when I was at Spin Magazine and I'd like to go back to it. When you work in media/marketing there's a tendency to block yourself into all that's going on in the industry and I believe it's important to keep an open mind and extend yourself intellectually. I'm going to put pressure on myself to do that.

As told to Caroline Hugall at Condé Nast Head Offices in New York on Tuesday 17th February 2015.