‘Be brave and own your story’: Q&A with Marvel’s Mindy Hamilton

As senior vice-president of global partnerships and marketing for Marvel, Mindy Hamilton oversees the strategic development, negotiation, and execution of multi-platform global marketing partnerships. Throughout her career, she has successfully launched and managed partnerships with major brands including Google, Lexus, Audi, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Geico, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Kellogg’s, and Pizza Hut. Hamilton spoke with Globe Content Studio at The Gathering conference in Banff, Alta. The following is an abridged excerpt of their conversation.

Q: You’ve mentioned the importance of humility and refer to your mother’s advice ‘don’t forget where you came from.’ How does a small-town girl from Arkansas, head of partnerships at Marvel, stay humble?

A: I pinch myself every day and ask myself, ‘how the hell did I get here?’

Q: Humility doesn’t strike me as something that’s necessarily pervasive in Hollywood.

A: Unfortunately, there is not a lot of it in Hollywood. Arrogant and driven people have a vision of what they want and charge ahead regardless of the consequences. But for me, it’s always been about creativity and storytelling. And never losing sight of who you are. Showing basic respect and basic courtesy.

When I came on board, Marvel Studios was exploding. It was larger than life. But when I met the filmmakers behind these blockbuster movies and watched the light in their eyes as they spoke – whether it was about a piece of concept art or a specific character – I knew they were deeply committed and invested in what we were doing. These people are, in my mind, some of the best filmmakers in the business, period. And for them to be open to collaborating with me on a partnership level in humbling. I was like ‘wow.’ If you have a negative attitude, big ego or a lack of optimism at Marvel, they will sniff you out quickly and you’ll be gone.

Q: As phase four of Marvel’s cinematic universe unfolds over the next couple of years, how will your team grow the business while maintaining the integrity of its characters and stories that fans are so passionate about?

A: I always tell brands when they’re working with us, that we have a huge, highly engaged fan base, and they will spend as much time as possible with our brand. As much content we can produce, they will consume it. And we’ve found that the brand integrations have been embraced as an extension as opposed to a separate piece of advertising. Fans will be happy to consume it because it’s one more piece of information about the characters and stories they love, and they’re not afraid to share it. But that integrity is something we need to be vigilant about, probably more so than most.

Q: At one time, your team could be working on dozens of separate partnership deals of varying sizes and stages. How do you balance expanding the business keep your teams motivated given the volume of work?

A: It’s tough to keep my team motivated during these times. Every campaign has multiple parts, and it’s difficult making sure everything going out the door is awesome. But you’ve also got to keep pushing the envelope. In our world, I’m already pitching strategies for 2020 and 2021 because we have to lock down these partnerships early.

Most brands work anywhere from 18 to 24 months out, whereas traditional movie marketing you can, in some ways, wait until the last minute. I can’t do that at Marvel or I won’t have the Captain American cereal boxes on shelves and fans will be upset. So really, I think that’s the hardest part. Being able to navigate between the now and the future.

Mindy Hamilton, senior vice-president of global partnerships and marketing at Marvel, speaks at The Gathering summit about the importance of owning your narrative. (Photo courtesy of The Gathering)

Q: How do you select the right partners?

A: When we initially identify the partners we want to go after, we’re looking at shared DNA and the appropriate target audiences. But I also make a point of pushing my team to think beyond the usual suspects. Who are some of the partners we haven’t thought of?

Q: As a leader, you talk about the importance of keeping your periscope up and having whitespace in your life.

A: I kept hearing myself say ‘I don’t have enough time.’ That’s when I started realizing that I needed to carve out time to step back and survey. Our calendars are stacked with calls, meetings and travel plans, and suddenly that becomes your entire life. Whatever time you have left, you try to answer emails. But that’s not white space. That’s not creative time. I had to stop people going in and blocking my time. So, I started creating ‘faux’ meetings in my calendar where I read trades, go to pop culture sites, look a trending fashion and music, because it’s all inspiration at the end of the day. I need to know how we’re going to tap into the culture and if I don’t dedicate time to this, it won’t happen.

Q: What advice do you have for the generation of young, ambitious marketers out there looking to move up the ranks (and maybe land a job at Marvel one day)?

A: I would say don’t be afraid to take risks. By that, I don’t mean kicking down doors and being inappropriate. Be true to yourself. Own your story. Know when to take risks and be willing to fail. I’ve failed in the past, for sure. There came a point in my life where I realized things were not going well. I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do and wasn’t honest with myself. If you’re in a place in your life, you need to be brave enough to make a change. I did this many years ago and that’s how I landed where I am today. Be brave and be willing to say, “this is not my story.” I picked up and move to Los Angeles. My mom always said, “listen to your gut. Dig into your grit.”

Your gut will ping you. Just hang in there and be willing to listen.

Katherine Scarrow is the deputy head of Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national media organization. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.