Ukonwa Ojo, Prime Video's CMO, on Creating a Pipeline for Diverse Creators

How a new Clio Entertainment partnership reflects an urgent mission in the industry

Prime Video's comedy Harlem

While there is still much to be done, the entertainment industry has made strides of late in telling more diverse stories from more underrepresented creators. Importantly, the challenge isn't just about broader representation within the stories themselves—but representation in terms of who is telling the stories, and who is promoting them.

Prime Video has been a leader on both fronts. Its programming has been pioneering in raising up unheard voices, through dramas like The Underground Railroad and comedies like With Love and Harlem. And it's also working to improve diversity in its own ranks, including the hiring in fall 2020 of Ukonwa Ojo as CMO of both Prime Video and Amazon Studios.

Ojo, who joined from MAC Cosmetics, is the first woman of color in the role. And she brought with her a passion and commitment to representation that has energized the marketing team and the way it approaches projects.

Prime Video/Amazon Studios and Clio Entertainment recently announced their partnership for an Emerging Creative Award, in which next-gen creatives (anyone who has not held a professional role in the entertainment industry) are encouraged to submit ideas for the 2022 Prime Video holiday campaign: 

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Prime Video and Amazon Studios
Brand Twitter
PrimeVideo

In the conversation below, Ukonwa speaks about the Emerging Creative Award, as well as Prime Video and Amazon Studios' ongoing commitment to reflect the diverse communities it serves through content and marketing.

Muse: What kind of work are you hoping to see in the submissions for the Emerging Creative Award?

Ukonwa Ojo: Our brand tagline is, "See where it takes you." We believe we are unique at Prime Video. We're able to get people into the entertainment world, but entertainment doesn't end at the credits. If you love a song, you can continue to stream it on Amazon Music. If you love one of the outfits on Making the Cut, you can buy it on Amazon.com. With X-Ray, you can go much deeper and see other places that an actor has appeared, and really go down the entertainment rabbit hole, and we love that. So we're looking for emerging creatives to help us with our 2022 holiday campaign that tells that story: When you come to Prime Video, there are so many places you can go, and you can deepen the immersion of the entertainment experience.

We can't wait to see all the different ways they're going to do that. We're looking for them to inspire us. We're looking for them to expose us to things we've never seen before and ways to tell the story that we've never thought about before. They can get immersed in the Prime Video world, and hopefully that inspires them to tell some really cool, compelling stories for the holidays.

What appealed to you about partnering with Clio Entertainment?

Clio is such an incredible brand and really just sets a high mark for creative excellence, and not just in entertainment. I was a judge with Clio before joining entertainment, and always had an incredible respect for the brand and its mission to raise the bar when it comes to creativity in the industry. So Clio felt like such a great partner for us as we set out, as an organization, to say, "We not only want to make our current team more diverse, but we also want to ensure we are creating a pipeline of talent that could potentially serve Prime Video in the future, and most importantly, serve the entire entertainment industry."

What are Prime Video and Amazon Studios' overall goals for creating a more inclusive world of entertainment?

The most critical thing for us is that our work, our content and everything we're part of reflects the communities we serve. We want to make sure it not only reflects the folks who are in front of the camera but those who are behind the camera as well—who are integral to the Prime Video organization, as well as the creators we work with, the agencies we work with, the creators who partner with us to create marketing as well as content.

At Amazon, we talk about being customer obsessed, not competitor obsessed. And if we look at the makeup of our customers, we want to make sure we are highlighting content that reflects their lived experiences and their communities. And that also needs to be reflected in the teams that work on those marketing assets and creative campaigns. We want to make sure that when they see it, they know the people behind it know about their lived experience, and that's reflected in the insights and in the work. And when we do produce work, that it resonates with them and connects with them in an emotional way.

We also want to create a pipeline, so it's not just something for the leadership that exists today, but ensure the next generation is getting the skills they need, and the experiences they need, so the industry can continue to be inclusive and live beyond this single point in time.

Is this a business goal, or just the right thing to do? Or a combination of both?

It's a combination of both. For sure it's a business goal, because at the end of the day, how we measure our success as a business is the number of customers who choose us around the world. So it makes it more likely for us to connect emotionally with them, to be resonant with them, to be relevant for them, if we understand the insights that are meaningful in their lives and entertainment choices and we reflect that in the work we do. We want team members who are part of that community, who understand innately what those communities are looking for, who can reflect a lot of the nuances we may not be aware of, but who can have a seat at the table and make sure we're asking the right questions, picking the right creators, using the right language, music and visual design elements that will be appealing to the diverse communities we serve. 

But it's also the right thing to do to make sure every member of our society and community has access to the capabilities and tools they need to live their ambition and dream to be creators in the entertainment industry.

With shows like The Underground Railroad and others, you have a history of amplifying voices that might not be heard otherwise. Do you feel like you're already perceived as a leader in this space through your programming?

We've always wanted to change the narrative on the stories that are told. Shows like Them, The Underground Railroad, With Love and Harlem—these are stories from a lot of underrepresented communities that we get to show in 240 countries around the world. There's so much power in that. In addition to the content, we want to make sure the folks who are working on the marketing and the creative that introduces that content to the communities share the same lived experiences and the same passion.

As a Black CMO yourself, how invested and passionate are you personally in this vision of a more equitable, inclusive entertainment industry?

Obviously, I'm evidence, and other CMOs of color are evidence, that you can be incredibly successful as a business when you have folks in the team who are of different backgrounds, who allow the businesses and the brands to look at things from a different perspective and allow folks in the community to be connected to the brand in different ways. We want to create more opportunities for creators of color to be part of our marketing, part of our organization and part of the entertainment industry, whether that's with us or with any other company. If this initiative inspires more people of color to be a part of the entertainment industry and part of the creative industry, we think that sets the stage for a greater diversity of thought, for greater diversity in storytelling, which ultimately our customers and our communities will enjoy.

You've worked in many different industries. Do you feel you have a louder voice and a bit of extra power in your current role, given the cultural resonance of entertainment?

I wouldn't necessarily call it a louder voice. While I have been part of different industries, the human that makes choices across all those industries is the same. I, as a customer, will make a choice in beauty and then make a choice in entertainment and then make a choice in food, and it's the same human. So what I've always challenged myself to do—and this was one of the things that drew me to Amazon—is to have an incredible amount of passion and empathy for the end customer and really understand their journey and how they make the choices they make. If I understand that, then I can translate that in ways that will cut across geographies and industries. 

I've been very fortunate that my inherent curiosity and empathy for the customer has allowed me to have a career that spanned different industries. It's been great transitioning into entertainment. I had quite a bit to learn coming in, but I was also surprised there was quite a bit I didn't have to learn—because, as I said, that human was the same as I transitioned from one industry to the next. A lot of things I thought would be resonant, we tested and learned it was really resonant. And we've had a lot of successful launches as a team as a result of that. So, yes, really good learning, lots of opportunities to partner with my team and get the benefit of their decades of experience, but then also bringing a fresh perspective and giving them the opportunity to see things in a different way as well. I think that balance has been great for the Prime Video business.

It's a good point that this isn't just an Amazon thing. It's an industry-wide issue that needs to improve. Are you encouraged by things happening lately with diversity across the industry?

Obviously, I'm evidence of some of the change that's happening. You don't see a lot of CMOs of color in the entertainment industry. So I think that's the beginning of change, especially when you think about the communities of color that participate in the entertainment industry. It's only right that you have voices around the table that represent those communities. How can we make sure across the entire chain that we create content that communities enjoy, and really pushing ourselves to make sure it reflects the diversity of the community that we live in, and we love? It will only make our stories more relatable, and enjoyable to our audiences.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. He is the former creative editor of Adweek.

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