Pivot Stories

Breaking into Product Marketing with Claisian Phillips of Disney

Claisian Phillips
Vice President of Marketing at Disney Streaming Services
Graphic Design to Product Marketing

Claisian Phillips started her career as a graphic designer, but quickly realized that she loved the combination of analytic challenges and creativity that went into Product Marketing. After working in marketing for a wide variety of industries, from garments and cars to the 2014 Winter Olympics, she made the pivot into tech. Claisian was one of the first hires at the media startup BAMTech, which was later acquired by Disney. Now, she’s a Vice President of Marketing at Disney Streaming.

What transferable skills are most important for a career in Product Marketing? 

There are two fundamental skills you need to hone before making the transition. The first is being very comfortable with large datasets and understanding how to turn them into actionable plans.

As a product marketer, you're working with the product team, and you'll have to work with tons of user and behavioral data to understand where people are coming in, what they're using, and how they're using your product. The data helps you understand what changes you need to make and how to position yourself in the competitive marketplace. 

The other key skill is on the creative side. You need to understand how to meet people where they are, in the most digestible way. Whether you're running messages across TV or you're doing a display ad on Facebook, you're constantly optimizing that experience to drive some sort of action. That’s why you need to understand how to take a very complex problem and distill it down to something people can understand and instantly act on. If your target customers are on Facebook, listening to podcasts, or watching TV, you need to make sure that you're hitting them where they want to consume. Those two things together will certainly make you a strong Product Marketing Manager. 

How did you make your pivot?

Before my current role, I was at Bloomberg Media and before that I was at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, where I had a couple of different roles. One of my roles there was in global partner marketing, where I was responsible for maximizing exposure to Disney content across Google. Another one of my roles was creating digital strategy for franchise management. It was my job to make sure that people who loved Frozen 1 came back for Frozen 2. That's not always easy, because there's multiple years that are in between each release, so you're constantly trying to reinvigorate the audience. But I’ve always worked at the intersection of technology and media.

After Bloomberg, I moved to a startup called BAMTech Media. I was one of the first hires there, directly under the CEO and then BAMTech was acquired by Disney. It was a very exciting time. We were working on the business plan for Disney Plus and we were just trying to conceptualize what streaming bundles would look like. Disney hadn’t acquired Hulu yet, so we were still trying to figure out how the market would move to that place one day. Then, with the full acquisition of BAMTech and Hulu by Disney, we had the Disney bundle. Now I own the marketing bundle for ESPN Plus, and I'm also a key executive stakeholder in all three services in the Disney bundle. 

That's where we are now. But on Day One, we didn't have a launch plan, we didn't have a marketing tech stack. We didn't even have the user flows. There wasn't a marketing person there to give us insight into that. We had to jump in feet first and make it happen. It's gratifying to see that all of the products are launched and they're doing so well. To know that I was on the ground floor making a lot of that happen, it was a great experience. It's still a great experience and a great challenge that I'm happy that I took on.

What does your day-to-day look like?

Depending on the kind of products, my weekly schedule can vary a lot. That’s especially true for digital streaming if we're launching on a new platform, like Roku. Our product marketers would be in the weeds with the Roku team trying to understand how our product is going to show up on their platform and how it is going to be positioned against the other products there. We need to think about the look, the feel, anytime we need them to take an action, and the kind of messaging we’re using. We also work with the different app stores to understand what the user stories are and comb through our products every day to make recommendations to the product team. We do competitive research across other products to get a feel for the pulse of the market. We look at our landing pages and think about what we could be doing better. On the product side, we’re looking at how we can simplify getting people to subscribe. We’re constantly figuring out the best way to sing our praises and make someone come on this journey with us.

Lightning Round

What about your personality makes Product Marketing a good fit for you?

Creativity, for sure. That’s always been a strong suit of mine. But I’m highly analytical too. I know I’ve mentioned this before, I can’t stress enough how important those things are. 


What are the top 3 attributes to be successful in Product Marketing?

  1. You have to be a team player. Product organization is made up of a lot of people. 
  2. You have to be willing to do the work. Product organizations typically work long hours. 
  3. You have to take the time to understand the world. You need to understand what the engineers are spinning up and making better. That enables you to sell the product. 


Don’t go into Product Marketing if …

You have an aversion to working long hours or if you’re not interested in technology. If you want to be in Product Marketing, you have to understand the nuts and bolts of it. Obviously, there is Product Marketing in consumer products—this is more towards the tech side. Don’t market a digital product if you’re not interested in technology.

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