Karen Phillips Karen Phillips Karen Phillips
May 6, 2024 In The Office With
Karen Phillips on Paramount’s Advertising Advantage

Karen Phillips, EVP and head of agency partnerships for Paramount Advertising, on the partnerships and integrations connecting our content to clients.

Our In the Office With... series, gives Paramount executives the opportunity to reveal a little bit about who they are, how they lead, and what drives them in the day-to-day.

Paramount held its New York City Upfront dinners this Spring, focusing on its full-funnel approach to advertising—utilizing its cross-company portfolio and performance-driving ad innovation to serve client needs from awareness to conversion.

Karen Phillips, EVP and head of agency partnerships for Paramount Advertising, joined the company in 1996 under the MTV umbrella and has steadily rose through the organization to her current role, which she started in 2019 after the Viacom and CBS merger. Phillips is championing the sales team’s main objectives this Upfront: Underscore the company’s mass reach, spotlight our advancements in measuring performance, and showcase the premium content that differentiates Paramount, including hits like the highly anticipated new season of Yellowstone, Paramount Pictures’ exciting film slate, and the successful premium schedule from CBS, which is the most-watched broadcast network for the 16th straight season.

“We have the best mix of broadcast, cable, theatrical, and premium streaming across both free and pay with Paramount+ and Pluto TV. We use this as a foundation to create one-of-a-kind opportunities for brands on a global scale,” says Phillips. “It’s about driving outcomes, and our capability to deliver both brand awareness and performance for clients set us apart in the marketplace.”

Phillips spoke to the Paramount Newsroom ahead of the Paramount Upfront dinners about the company’s advantage in digital, our leading partnerships and integrations, and her career advice. 

Nicole Bitette: What’s Paramount’s go-to-market strategy at the Upfront?

Karen Phillips: This year, we're making sure that our clients understand that TV is a full-funnel delivery vehicle—not just a top-of-the-funnel awareness generator.

Of course, from an awareness perspective, we have the best and most engaging content – broad-reaching high-impact shows, premium live events, and the biggest moments in sports. Going beyond that, our groundbreaking tools and services transform our expansive premium content into shoppable, measurable, and targetable opportunities. We make it as simple and transparent as possible for our partners to measure how their spend performs. All of this is possible due to innovative partnerships with EDO, Mastercard, The Trade Desk, Walmart, Kroger and others.

It’s about driving outcomes, and our capability to deliver both brand awareness and performance for clients sets us apart in the marketplace.

Karen Phillips Karen Phillips

NB: What are the needs of clients right now?

KP: All of our clients are interested in live and high-impact TV. Sports and live events are hotter than ever. From the GRAMMYs and the VMAs, the Golden Globes’ new home on CBS to our record-smashing NFL season leading to Super Bowl LVIII, we have our clients’ needs covered.

We have the best mix of broadcast, cable, theatrical, and premium streaming across both free and pay across Paramount+ and Pluto TV. We use this as a foundation to create one-of-a-kind opportunities for brands on a global scale. CBS has 10 shows with more than 10M viewers and is home to television’s four most-watched entertainment programs, including TV's new number-one show Tracker with over 14.8M weekly viewers. The Season 16 finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race was the highest-rated episode of Drag Race. Last year was MTV's highest-rated VMAs in three years, with adults 18 to 49 seeing nearly a 40% growth and the GRAMMYs were up +34%. At our Upfront dinners, clients were on the edge of their seats watching a first look at the latest from the Taylor Sheridan universe, including the new series Landman. We have it all!

Karen Phillips Karen Phillips

NB: How are we utilizing partnerships and integrations to meet client needs?

KP: Through creative and thoughtful integrations, we’re enabling advertisers to connect with consumers by seamlessly featuring their products or services within the most popular programming on broadcast, cable, theatrical and streaming. Brands can tap into cherished intellectual property, Paramount talent, and existing fandoms. We integrate brands meaningfully and then look to amplify across our ecosystem.

Our live tentpole events are also a must-buy for our partners – giving brands and audiences alike a front-row seat to culture. With music at the core of so many of our tentpoles, we can connect the GRAMMYs, the CMT Awards, the VMAs and even the EMAs into an opportunity for a client to “own music” throughout the year.

Something I’m especially proud of is the work our CBS Sports Creator Studio does to connect brands with sports influencers and creators. For example, we worked with Mars/M&Ms to create branded content around the Super Bowl for their Almost Champions Ring of Comfort campaign with anchor Amanda Guerra, former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Red M&M. This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched ever, so that was huge exposure. We’re thrilled with the early success of CBS Sports Creator Studio and we’ll build on it next year.

Nickelodeon’s weekly NFL Slimetime show is a perfect partnership model, delivering the game in a unique way to entertain the entire family. From our first Wild Card game in 2021 to this year’s Super Bowl Slime-ulcast, Nickelodeon has been instrumental in bringing an increase in K2-11 share to the NFL, and the NFL has been instrumental in bringing adults to Nickelodeon. We’ve worked with partners including Lego, Kellogg’s and Hasbro to create branded content and strategic integrations into Slimetime.

Lastly, we’ve created a deep partnership with Fritos and Yellowstone. The brand recognized the power of Yellowstone IP and built out a 360 partnership under the umbrella of "Feeding the Cowboy Spirit" that includes a limited-time offer (LTO) ranch-flavored chip, custom content and a partnership with Taylor Sheridan and 6666 Ranch. Beyond the media investment, we benefit from increased awareness and tune-in both at retail and across other paid media platforms.

"I'm constantly challenging myself to be an inspiring leader during times of change.”

NB: Can you talk through our recent partnership with Shopsense AI and its advantage to Paramount?

KP: We’re very excited to be a launch partner with Shopsense AI. It’s a new mobile shopping experience that bridges the gap between entertainment and commerce by introducing a second-screen device to allow browsing and purchasing without interrupting the viewing experience.

The partnership kicked off at the CMT Music Awards, and fans could purchase red-carpet-inspired looks. Our content creates culture and our partnership with Shopsense allows fans to shop where culture is created. And, we've created a better and more entertaining viewing experience. Stay tuned for more opportunities with Shopsense and other partnerships in this space.

NB: What was your first role at then-Viacom and how have you ended up in this current one?

KP: I started in 1996 as a planner at MTV. After a few years, I became an account executive and then a director on MTVU, which was our college network at the time, and a fun on-the-ground selling experience for me because we were reaching college students on campuses. Recognizing the tremendous value of our collective audiences, we eventually started selling cable as a portfolio, combining our music, entertainment, and kids and family networks into a unified go-to-market sell to better serve our clients. I became an SVP leading a team to sell under that model.

Fast forward to today, where I was tapped to be EVP, Head of Agency Partnerships. I lead an all-star team that is focused on enabling our clients to effectively and efficiently capitalize on Paramount’s leading multiplatform reach and ad offerings across broadcast, cable, digital, and streaming.

Karen Phillips Karen Phillips

NB: What are some of the biggest struggles/challenges you face in your job, and how do you overcome them?

KP: I'm constantly challenging myself to be an inspiring leader during times of change. It's important to me to always support my team and foster a collaborative culture, especially through evolving circumstances. Throughout my career, I have learned that leaning into change and tackling it head-on is the only way forward. Instead of viewing change as a negative, we try to see it as an opportunity for growth and innovation. That’s not always easy!

But by remaining laser-focused on client relationships and being the easiest partner to work with, we make sure we’re empowering our partners to reach their objectives. That’s how we ensure we’re always delivering maximum value through ongoing change.

Karen Phillips Karen Phillips

NB: Outside of your day-to-day, what are you focused on at Paramount and beyond?

KP: I'm motivated by the positive impact mentors have had on my career, and I have always strived to pay it forward. I co-founded and now help run our women's leadership program, The Exchange, and bring together women leaders in advertising—both team members and clients—to create meaningful connections.

Outside of Paramount, I am a member of a nonprofit called Futures Ignite, which works with underserved New York City schools to ensure that high school students get support as they navigate their path to college and beyond. I'm also an executive board member at the Villanova School of Business, my alma mater, and I'm very committed to helping students there understand different career paths within media, sales and marketing.


What was your first job EVER?

KP: I worked at Cannoli Corner on the Ocean City, New Jersey, boardwalk, filling cannoli shells and making espressos.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

KP: My family and I are all scuba-certified and we love diving together. No matter how many dives we do, I still get butterflies right beforehand, but once I get down there, it's so peaceful and calming. It gives you an incredible perspective. I think it makes you recognize just how small we all are in the big picture and that is really liberating. Some of my favorite locations have been in Hawaii and Belize, but they are all equally beautiful.

What advice would you give someone looking to grow in their career?

KP: Define success on your own terms. Comparing your title, your salary, or your role with others can really divert your attention from acknowledging your personal victories. Success has a unique meaning for each person. Remember to celebrate your accomplishments. 

Focus on building your personal brand. Relationships and reputation are critical. And make sure you collaborate and surround yourself with people who think differently than you do.

What are you currently obsessed with?

KP : Lionness on Paramount+. It’s Taylor Sheridan’s new take on a military drama showcasing the value of determination, skill, and mental resilience over just sheer physical power. Nicole Kidman and Zoe Saldana are total badasses. I just binged Tracker. On top of being a great show, it has an amazing soundtrack. I’ve had it on nonstop. And I’m really looking forward to Landman.