Apr 10, 2019

Cheryl Family, SVP of brand strategy and creative for Viacom Catalyst, on how she turned a one-week gig into a decades-long career.

In the Soundbites series, Viacom employees describe a project or experience that has influenced how they approach their work.

I came to Viacom right out of college and—believe it or not—I was hired for a week. It was a freelance gig to proofread the MTV Music Video Awards' program guide. I was 21 years old. At that age, I appreciated, even though it was my first job, that I was at a place that let me be who I was. I didn't feel like I had to hide who I was. I was a quirky, creative person who just loved ideas. I was attracted to the company because I love pop culture. It was a really interesting time because the company was just starting to explode globally.

From Entry-Level to SVP

I started as an editorial assistant in what was called creative services, and I really was under no illusion. It was entry-level. I knew I would have to answer some phones. It was a starter job, but I really felt like if I could get my foot in the door and show them what I could do, particularly around creativity and writing, that I could move up. And that's what happened. I moved up pretty quickly.

I had a longtime boss who left the company. It's times like that where you go, "This could be a pivotal moment. What do you really want to do?" I realized that my group on the editorial side had been doing more of the strategic work for our clients, as well as the creative.

I pitched a role, I didn't even know what to call it, to my then-new boss and she said, "Oh, like brand strategy?" She went to the powers-that-be and they came back and said, "Sure. Try it." That gave me the ability to work with some of our clients on more longer-term work.

"It was a starter job, but I really felt like if I could get my foot in the door and show them what I could do, that I could move up. And that's what happened."

It just kept expanding until one day they asked me if I would take over the whole department. I know everyone thinks that's the moment you go, "Yes! This is what I was waiting for." I actually had a lot of trepidation about it, mainly because I really was fearful it would take me away from the work, and what I call “juicy projects.”  I wanted to change the name. So we went from being creative services to being Viacom Catalyst: Creative and Strategy six or seven years ago.

My Favorite ‘Juicy Project’

A recent project that I love, because it honestly was the culmination of several years' work, is the Viacom Brand Book. For the first time, we were really able to crystallize who we are as a company in a way that could be shared with everyone. It was important to me to be able to create something that says, "We're Viacom. This is who we are. And this is how we express it.”

The Importance of Spark

Spark to me is Viacom creating a TED-like conference that is just for Viacom employees. It gives access to all of our 10,000 employees around the world to these amazing thought leaders, brand leaders, and creative thinkers. The fact that they're all together for you to hear, live-stream, or go in-person and ask questions, or participate in workshops … it speaks a lot to the culture of Viacom.

The fact that Spark happens globally is really important because one of the things that we really tried to communicate under Bob Bakish's leadership is this idea of “one Viacom.” I think the beauty of Spark is that it's so flexible and so localized. So, we have some things that come from New York that are for everyone, such as Bob speaking with Shari Redstone, which is relevant for everyone. But then you have things happening in Africa, or Amsterdam, or London, or Los Angeles, and those are very relevant for those markets.

Why I Stay At Viacom

One of the reasons I've decided to stay at Viacom and build my career is opportunity. The projects that come up are so exciting, invigorating, and experimental. I like that I get to be innovative. I like that I get to work with a team on topping ourselves time and time again with what we do. My team at Catalyst is so talented and they inspire me every day with their fantastic ideas and collaborative spirit. I constantly get to work with amazing people from all around the company, which I love. I get exposure to people internationally and people in our other offices and people in all the different divisions. And the brands … I love the brands.

The core of creativity at Viacom is really important to me. If you have a good idea—and this has been proven time and time again—it doesn't matter your title, Viacom gives you the opportunity to make that idea a reality. If you can get support, if you can build that support, if you can show how it's going to positively impact the business, you're going to get your shot to do it. And I think that's a really exciting place to be.


— As Told To Nicole Bitette —


Cheryl Family is senior vice president of brand strategy and creative at Viacom Catalyst, the company’s global creative agency, which works to advance Viacom’s business objectives through creative executions across all media. She has been with the company since July of 1991.

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