The Fishbowl: Heidi Linnebach, LA Times

The Fishbowl: Heidi Linnebach, LA Times
The Fishbowl

The Media Leader’s interview series asks the media industry’s top salespeople 10 revealing questions, drawn from our fishbowl. The questions will be drawn at random and contain some tricky posers set by the commercial chiefs themselves.

This week, it’s Heidi Linnebach, vice-president of sales, entertainment and sports at the Los Angeles Times.

Heidi Linnebach joined the Los Angeles Times in 2008 as a senior sales manager, working her way up to director of spirits and live entertainment over seven years.

She later became advertising director at The Onion for two years and then investor and chief marketing officer at MaeMae Jewelry. Linnebach was also owner and investor in Bach MG.

Linnebach rejoined the LA Times in 2021 as executive director for entertainment and was promoted to her current position this year, leading a team focused on entertainment sales post-strikes.

What was your first paid job and why did you do it?

I worked at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory as a barista and cashier. I did it because I wanted the freedom and flexibility of having my own income. It was also close to home and I like working with people. The chocolate wasn’t so bad either!

What are clients most excited about right now?

There seems to be a lot of excitement around brand storytelling and in-person activations again. Perhaps after the shift towards digital connections during Covid-19, marketers realise people are burned out on device-based experiences and are craving IRL moments.

Clients seem to be gravitating towards opportunities that connect with consumers and stakeholders through more memorable live interactions and content. There is also a lot of enthusiasm around ways to merge digital and in-person worlds through augmented reality, spatial computing, virtual stunts and social media content amplification of real-world experiences.

Clients are prioritising new creative ways to connect with customers around their passions, as they understand this can lead to meaningful and lasting impact.

Why are you passionate about media?

I’m passionate about media because it not only reflects our culture, it has the power to shift it.

Media content has the ability to change hearts and minds by conveying deeper empathy and understanding for other people’s experiences.

I’m specifically passionate about the news media space, aka the fourth estate, for its important role in informing the public so that we can hold our government and other powerful institutions accountable.

If you didn’t work in your current sector, which other media sector could you see yourself working in?

I would probably make the leap from entertainment news into entertainment, perhaps working more closely with the creatives telling stories, as a producer or writer in the film and television space.

There are so many voices that need to be a bigger part of the conversation and, with consumer attention being so divided these days, it seems entertainment has a critical role in driving cultural conversations.

What’s been your biggest challenge this year and what are you doing about it?

Since my work is so focused on the entertainment industry, the biggest challenge for me is the challenge facing the industry itself — the contraction in the business and the shifting of the ground beneath it after last year’s strikes.

We are addressing that by listening closely to our readers and clients, and leaning in to what makes us unique. We have invested in the expansion of our entertainment industry coverage with a revamp of our awards season flagship, The Envelope, debuting a new print and digital magazine design, expanding our video podcast and awards season roundtables, producing more live events and increasing targeted distribution to those who work in the industry.

Beyond that, we’re developing new solutions that meet our clients’ shifting needs, and refining and expanding on our digital product offerings in an authentic way. The key is trying new things without compromising our “special sauce”: the integrity, courage and tenacity that makes us such a trusted voice within the industry

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

If it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive. That phrase helps me keep things in perspective.

Peer question: What keeps you awake at night?

A significant number of people seem to be actively avoiding news or, more specifically, journalism these days. And many of them are instead consuming misinformation.

Opinions fly freely, but many consumers don’t have the media or tech literacy to recognise the difference between talking heads and legitimate journalism.

I worry that if people don’t better value the work that journalists are doing behind the scenes and on the front lines, as well as the fact-checking and accountability that we and other outlets hold ourselves to as an institution, our society’s access to the truth will become even more limited than it is already. This gives me a sense of urgency and purpose in my role and makes me so proud to work with incredible journalists.

Question from Ed Couchman, head of sales for the UK and Northern Europe, Spotify

Peer question: What moment was the biggest turning point in your career?

Being laid off from a job where I was a top performer was a big turning point and opportunity for reflection for me. It was shocking and destabilising.

I could understand the business reasons for why they went a different direction with their staffing, but so much of my identity and self-worth at that time was wrapped up in my occupation. It knocked me all the way off my rocker!

It proved to be a huge blessing in disguise, though, as it afforded me the first chance in my adult life to stop and reassess my values and goals. Rather than desperately lunging towards another job, I took improv classes, fed my spirit and lived a simple, low-cost lifestyle for a while. I started an organisation to empower and support female entrepreneurs, invested in some excellent businesses and started a podcast (who in LA hasn’t!?).

Most importantly, I gained a more balanced and healthy perspective on my unique gifts and talents, and got clarity on how I could use them to bring value.

Question from Sarah Goldman, director of advertising, UKTV

Peer question: What is the most fun you’ve had doing this job?

I am very lucky that I get to work with smart, passionate and purpose-driven humans — both internally and externally. We have a great, dedicated team here, both on the business side with my sales and marketing teams and also on the editorial side. These are people who really care about what they’re doing.

Beyond that, many of my clients have become genuine friends. I have the most fun coming up with ideas to meet clients’ needs and then seeing those expressed in the world. Being a contributor to Oscar-winning film campaigns and witnessing the LA Times receive its first Oscar on the big stage this year was pretty phenomenal too.

Question from David Wilcox, commercial director, News UK Broadcasting

Peer question: What is it like to work with you?

I’m a self-described “Hollywood hippie”. This place is known for the glitz, glamour and worldwide influence of Hollywood, as well as its beautiful landscape and the healing powers of the natural environment here. I take inspiration from both.

I balance my high drive for business success with a deep-rooted desire for peace, harmony and enjoyment of this little life I’m blessed to live. So I imagine working with me is dynamic, inspiring and, at times, challenging. I might ask you to develop a multimillion-dollar campaign for a new client, check out the wildflowers blooming in Griffith Park and attend a movie premiere — all in one day.

As the leader of a team, I believe in celebrating the wins along the way, being fiercely honest about what’s working and what’s not, and never being afraid to fail. I don’t take no for an answer and I’m tenacious in my desire to find win-win-win solutions. I’m constantly looking for ways to grow and evolve.

Question from Seth Hart, SVP, sales, Footballco

Read more Fishbowl interviews here and see what media’s top salespeople say about working in the industry and what concerns their clients. To suggest an interviewee, contact ella.sagar@uk.adwanted.com.

Media Jobs