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Leading Like a Champion - A Leadership Talk with Melanie Washington

FUTURE NOW kicked off 2023 with a Leadership Talk with Melanie Washington, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Contract Advisory at MediaLink. Nicknamed the “contract whisperer," she leads the company’s Contract Optimization and Risk Evaluation (CORE) advisory practice and counsels global chief legal officers at brands and agencies through legal challenges around data compliance, risk mitigation, and quality assurance. In 2020, she negotiated a whopping $8 billion in contracts for clients such as Nissan, Disney, and Mattel.

Washington graduated with a degree in communications and media studies from Northwestern University. After spending a decade in the marketing industry post-graduation, she enrolled in law school with the hopes of better understanding the legal complexities of the advertising industry.

“Contracts are the most important part of the entertainment industry…. We’re no longer in the age of handshake deals or verbal agreements,” Washington explained. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, she believes it is crucial that marketing leads and Chief Marketing Officers understand the ins and outs of contracts and that fostering a culture of collaboration across different departments can ensure a company’s overall efficiency and performance.

“Restructuring business goals and integrating them into global contracts is a lucrative practice for driving growth and incentivizing agency partners while holding them accountable.”

This conviction is how Washington came to develop her current role at MediaLink. “I now work on both sides of the business: on the brand side, advising media businesses on how they’re structured, as well as on the legal affairs side, providing counsel on how new agreements are drafted through the lens of operational efficiency.”

According to Washington, creating this new business at her firm is her greatest career achievement thus far. She had only been with the company a few months when she pitched the idea to the executive team, articulating the concrete ways in which this new venture would help optimize operations and drive company growth.

To convince people to take a chance on her, Washington was relentless yet humble, admitting that she didn’t have all the answers but was willing to learn, and she demonstrated the value she could bring to the company.

MediaLink under the leadership of its Founder and CEO, Michael Kassan, has always encouraged an entrepreneurial mindset, creative thinking, and a culture of innovation. For Washington, it has been a place where she has thrived, surrounded by some of the smartest people in the business.

Washington shared with listeners that being an entrepreneur isn’t just about starting your own business; you can be an intrapreneur, an employee who channels that same creativity and innovation to find new revenue streams and identify ways to expand the business for an employer. The entrepreneurial mindset is having the courage to put yourself out there even if there is no blueprint to follow.

The leadership talk came to a close with a question from the audience: “What is the best thing we can do as students or alumni given everything that’s going on in the economy, entertainment industry, and the world?” Washington gave three responses.

The first was to “find a way to differentiate yourself.” With an overwhelming number of candidates competing for the same jobs, she encouraged the audience to consider what they bring to the table and how they will contribute to the companies.

Washington’s second tip was to “just ask; the worst answer that you can get is a no.” People are often so afraid of asking questions that they miss out on opportunities. Whether it be going back to past employers for job inquiries or asking your mentor to reach out to someone on your behalf, remember that people will try to help if you ask. You have to take a chance on yourself in order for them to take a chance on you.

Lastly, Washington suggested “speaking dreams into existence.” Presenting your goals with the spirit of success can help turn your aspirations into reality. You also don’t have to keep your dreams a secret. In fact, the more you talk about it, the more you will be held accountable for it. So, say it out loud. Be intentional about how you talk about your goals and get excited about the future.

She attributes much of her success to her mentors and colleagues. Though she didn't know exactly what she wanted to do post-graduation, she was very intentional about the people she surrounded herself with. Being in the presence of ambitious, proactive, and talented minds opened up networks, fueled new ideas, and led her in the right direction. But, the greatest influence on her life?

“I’ve engaged with many inspiring people throughout my career, but I have to say it all started with my mom.” Raised by a single parent, Washington says she saw her mother work tirelessly to give her and her sister the best education.

“Although my time with her was cut short, I learned so much by watching her. She taught me to always champion and uplift others.”

And, Washington does that in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is through her service as a board member of the FUTURE NOW Media Foundation and as a mentor to future leaders.



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