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Bossing It: Making It Happen with Marlene Bartos


Executive producer and managing director at Yessian on thriving on chaos and pushing to do more

Bossing It: Making It Happen with Marlene Bartos

Marlene Bartos is the executive producer and managing director at Yessian, the global music, sound design and audio production entity in New York, Detroit, LA and Hamburg. She currently sits on the National and New York boards of AMP (The Association of Music Producers) and has served as president of each. She has also been a long standing member of the AICP Show Committee, a past participant on the AICP Curatorial Committee. and is a head judge for this year’s Shots Awards The Americas. Her work experience at advertising agencies includes a number of senior production titles, including  partner/co-head of production at Gotham and VP, executive producer at Y&R. In her career Marlene has been involved in the production of content for all formats of media - commercials, documentaries, TV promos and experiential installations, which have involved overseeing teams that record and mix music with full orchestras and well known artists for brands such as Lincoln, Macy’s, Budweiser, Pepsi, One World Observatory and Hudson Yards (The Edge).

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Marlene> When it comes to guiding a group of people toward a common goal, a large part of being a leader is innate and intuitive for me. Many of us do that at different points in our lives – even starting as early as the sandbox or with school mates. I was always that person who said “let’s do this” and made it happen. Or the person that others would come to for advice. Over time, being that person in a group of friends or on a team or a committee just happened organically.


LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Marlene> I’ve worked for people at extreme ends of the leadership spectrum. In succession. Early in my career I went from working for a gracious, calm, empathetic and fair woman at one end, to another that I thought was rather bonkers, had a proclivity for inappropriate language, and generally thrived on chaos at the other end. It was very easy for me to figure out which example would be best to follow. (Hint: It wasn’t the one that was bonkers).


LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Marlene> At the risk of sounding rather new age-y and trite, I think all my experiences are cumulative and have brought me to the moment I’m in now. The people around me teach me something new all the time, and the way we work and live isn’t static. There’s never a shortage of new ideas and challenges that come from surrounding yourself with good creative people, elevating them, and learning to accept and adapt to change.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Marlene> I only knew I wanted to work in production. By the time I got through NYU’s film school, it was very clear that the career path most suited to me was being a producer which led to my early career as an ad agency producer.

Every agency producer is the team leader on any given project. It’s the person who is the anchor for an ad hoc team with varying creative personalities and skills who guides a project with a singular focus on keeping everyone moving toward the same finish line. 

Leadership wasn’t really a personal goal per se, but getting promotions, along with additional responsibilities and raises, definitely was. By the time I was asked to co-head a production department I was able to define that as a leadership role and realised that managing creative people was a naturally good fit because I had already been doing that for years. 

All of which led to my decision to join Yessian and work with the partners to bring in, nurture and lead a team of smart and talented people upon an existing core group. Doing so in order to grow the company into a creative powerhouse in the area of music and sound.

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Marlene> Well, everyone is different and human beings can be incredibly resourceful and adaptable, while having different abilities at different times in their lives and careers. There is so much published work on becoming and being a successful leader but a lot also depends upon who is being led and to what end goal or purpose. It’s important to step away from the old association of “leadership” with men who have power and large egos – which often are mistakenly equated with good leadership - because we work in a creative industry and talent needs to be recognized, rewarded and nurtured.  With creative teams, group dynamics are constantly shifting so there isn’t a one size fits all way to lead. Personality does play a role, but so does intelligence, integrity and a genuine desire to surround yourself with people who are smart and challenge you to be better.  

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Marlene> Every day brings new challenges, and managing expectations of eager young people while keeping them motivated is a fine balance. Having to provide constructive criticism can be daunting, especially if someone is resistant to accepting the need for improvement. Deciding when someone isn’t a good fit and having to tell them can be crushing experience, but in the few instances in which it’s been necessary, I can take much comfort in knowing each of them has done better than they would have if they remained stalled in a job that wasn’t right for them. 

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Marlene> Everyone makes mistakes. I try to be pragmatic, learn and move on. It’s pointless to dwell on something you cannot change.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Marlene> Honesty is key to being trusted and it’s impossible to lead a group of people who do not trust you. My preference is for as much transparency as possible, understanding that some projects are confidential and we may have to limit some information. I do try to be circumspect in addressing difficult issues or unsuccessful outcomes because creative people in particular can be extremely sensitive about their work. 

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Marlene> Early in my career I was fortunate to be part of an all female production department that was run by a woman head of production. She was extremely competent and comfortable in her role and she engendered a real sense of esprit de corps with such grace and joy. It was the first time I fully understood that in our industry a leadership position could be held by a woman, and that a job had the potential to be rewarding in more ways than as a career path or a pay check. Decades later, I still count some of those women as my cherished friends. 

As far as being a mentor myself, I have always put an emphasis on giving back and being open and available to people who are starting out or just making a career shift – or anyone who wants advice and feedback.  One of the great joys in my career has been giving young people a start and then seeing them succeed and flourish. It’s more rewarding than any other personal accomplishments or awards. And over time, it adds to a strong extended network, the value of which is an undeniable part of having a long and successful career, especially in a leadership role.. 

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Marlene> Empathy. Trust. Regular group meetings. An open “door” policy. Each person has a different life situation so allowing for flexibility for everyone to work in the way that best suits their needs, within a set of parameters, has been vital. Every project has at least two people assigned to it, with one being the clear lead. This provides support and back up at a time when work/life boundaries have been blurred. Everyone on the team has the ability to step away, take time if needed or divide the hours if late nights or time zones are involved. It also enables us to move quickly and seamlessly and spread the work load around as needed. 

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Marlene> Yessian has had a great track record when it comes to gender diversity - each of our locations has had a history of hiring and promoting women. We are now working to foster greater diversity in other areas. We have had to dig a bit deeper into a pool of talent that isn’t yet very robust when it comes to experience in our industry.  

Because much of the work at Yessian enables us to bring in people on a project basis, we have found some really exciting new talent who bring fresh perspectives to our work. We are proud of progress we have already made, but we are very aware of the need to keep pushing to do more.

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely?

Marlene> At Yessian, we are passionate about pursuing creative excellence, so culture plays a significant role. People here work in teams and we blend those based on the needs of each assignment. This way, everyone has a chance to connect across projects to work to support each other and share in the more visible and successful work. We doubled down on efforts to work across offices in our different locations to allow for a greater cross pollination of ideas and to keep everyone busy and motivated. We make a very big point of celebrating our successes, and crediting all the people involved. It hasn’t been easy, but we are now entering a new hybrid situation after having just ended one of the most successful years we have ever had. 

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey? 

Marlene> People. Conversations with people who’ve been there before me and people who are there with me now. I have found most people are more than happy to share their opinions and experiences if you are willing to take the time to listen. 

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Yessian Music, Thu, 24 Mar 2022 08:13:16 GMT