In the following Q&A, we chat with Isha Sesay, OkayMedia CEO and former CNN journalist, to get her thoughts on the rise of female leaders in media, emerging media trends that could make an impact in 2022 and more.
AW360: What are you most excited to accomplish at OkayMedia as their first female CEO?
Isha Sesay: I’m excited about building out our brands to capture the length and breadth of black people’s interests and experiences. The goal is to focus on bold, original, and thought-provoking storytelling. For example, in the case of OkayMedia brand, OkayAfrica, I’m most excited about expanding our lifestyle, culture, and entertainment coverage to include broader news, with a strong focus on being a place young Africans can turn to for stories that have specific relevance to them.
AW360: How did previous professional milestones (i.e., graduating from Cambridge, working at CNN International, etc.) prepare you to take the reins at the company?
Isha Sesay: 13 years as an anchor and reporter for CNN was the perfect training ground for developing a keen news sense and understanding how to present news in a compelling way. But it also gave me a great foundation for legacy media and the ways in which a narrow range of voices have traditionally dominated the conversation – very often leaving minorities on the sidelines. And it has made me hyper-focused on correcting that imbalance and making sure that our voices are front and center at OkayMedia.
AW360: You are amongst a cohort of minority women who are leading prominent media companies. What does this rising trend tell us about diversity and female leadership in the media? Additionally, what advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?
Isha Sesay: Firstly, I think it points to the fact that there is a growing recognition of the central role played by minority women in society. Within the media landscape, minority women have often worked from the bottom to the top, in varied positions, which brings a deep and unique knowledge of the business. I also think our pathways to leadership make many minority women much more inclusive leaders.
As far as advice for young aspiring female leaders – seize opportunities even if they don’t make sense at the time. Also, don’t be afraid to take on opportunities where you’re needed to lead and above all else, don’t let fears of “imposter syndrome” hold you back. After all, it never seems to stop men from seizing the reins.
AW360: More and more millennials are coming into this industry as media leaders ready to inspire change. What is OkayMedia’s approach to fostering a relationship with this younger audience and what does this say about how the future of media could be presented to the public?
Isha Sesay: In the days and months ahead, OkayMedia is going to be focused on being a video and visuals first company. Video consumption has risen exponentially and played in this space is key to fostering a deeper relationship with a younger audience. I also believe that engaging with our audience on social media is critical – you’ve got to be where people are and build a brand that young people can actively engage with.
For the future, I think it means digital media companies must look at the balance between writers, editors, and designers on their teams. It’s no longer enough to just “write” a great story and basically concentrate on one pathway for engaging with your audience. You’ve got to think of it as a constellation and look at how you can convert that article into video or audio content across your website and social channels.
AW360: What emerging trends in media do you foresee having a significant impact in 2022?
Isha Sesay: I think we’re going to see further expansion of VR and AR in 2022, with more media brands looking at ways to incorporate technology to enhance engagement with their audience. I also think TikTok is going to experience even more growth next year and will play an important role for growth-minded media companies.
2021 has been the year of realignment in the media landscape – Buzzfeed launched a SPAC, Reese Witherspoon sold Hello Sunshine and Axel Springer bought Politico. So, I think there will be more realignment and consolidation going into 2022.
About Isha Sesay
Seasoned and award-winning journalist Isha Sesay has covered global events and major breaking news of the past decade, with a special interest in stories of social injustice and their impact on women and girls. Reporting from Nigeria in 2014, Sesay led the CNN team that covered the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in north-eastern Nigeria.
In addition to being OkayMedia’s CEO, Sesay is also the Founder and President of W.E. (Women Everywhere) Can Lead, a non-profit organization working in her native country of Sierra Leone that empowers teenage girls to become Africa’s next generation of dynamic female leaders.