GE’s Beth Comstock Shines Bright as “Industry Legend”

As we gear up to honor 2017’s Advertising People of the Year, we did a quick check-in with each of our honorees to get a snapshot of who they are, as well as their thinking on the evolution of our industry.

Our next installment is from this year’s “Industry Legend,” Beth Comstock. Beth leads GE’s efforts to accelerate new growth. She operates GE Business Innovations, which develops new businesses, markets and service models; drives brand value and partners to enhance GE’s inventive culture. This unit includes Current, GE Lighting, GE Ventures & Licensing and GE sales, marketing and communications. Prior to assuming this role she held positions within GE including Chief Marketing Officer from 2003, and President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal from 2006, which included the development of, Peacock Equity, and acquiring In 2008, she was named GE’s marketing and commercial officer and in 2015, she was named Vice Chair.

Read on to learn about Beth’s position on the value of “wallowing” in your work, the two most important innovations impacting our industry today, and giving yourself permission to set off into the unknown.

Q: What was the best career advice you ever got, how has it made you better at your job?

The greatest piece of advice I ever got about work was to “wallow in it” – meaning, take time to get to know people you work with instead of always just rushing off to the next project, next deadline, next goal. Information in companies doesn’t flow along official org charts, but informally along the lines of personal relationships. As with any other living system – you can only embrace working life if you choose to live in it and live with it.

Q: What are the most important innovations impacting our industry today?

Artificial intelligence and distributed energy generation, no question. A.I. is important because it’s allowing us to make big decisions faster and in the face of unprecedented complexity. Distributed energy generation is making it easier to take renewable energy and store it usefully and more flexibly in the grid. A lot of efficiencies and green technologies are going to get a boost from that.

Q: What inspires you to get up every day, and work in advertising?

If I have been part of a process that ends in a story with the power to cut through the noise and inspire action in people, I’m thrilled. It’s still as inspiring to do that as it was when I first started in this industry. And every day is a chance to try to be better, personally – to measure myself against my past self. That’s always a reason to get out of bed.

Q: What is the biggest challenge our industry faces over the next 5 years?

As we enter the later stages of the digital transformation of media, audiences are only going to get more fragmented. Reaching a critical mass of people to inspire action is going to become an ever-more complicated process and an ever-changing one, too, as smarter audience analytics mean that we can change our strategies in real time.

Q: Name an ad campaign that makes you proud to work in advertising?

I was moved by work BBDO did for Sandy Hook Promise. It’s a masterful example of powerful storytelling about a subject that requires both skill and tremendous sensitivity to discuss.

Q: How do you promote diversity within your organization?

A more diverse team produces better outcomes, period. There’s data to back that up. Whenever I can, I hire with an eye towards diverse mindsets and diverse past experiences.

Q: How do you foster creative and innovative thinking in your organization?

Organizational creativity isn’t that different from individual creativity—in order to make new things you’ve got to give them room to grow. That means setting aside time to be inefficient and time to be wrong at the outset. The only way I know how to discover new things is give yourself permission to set off into the unknown.