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From The White House To Shark Week: Get To Know The Discovery Channel’s Chief Communications Officer
Before leading Discovery's corporate marketing programs, David Leavy served as the Deputy White House Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
As Discovery Communications Inc.’s Chief Communications Officer and senior executive vice president of corporate marketing and affairs, David Leavy has a long list of responsibilities.
He manages the company’s creative and corporate marketing initiatives, government relations and public policy, standards and practices, research and consumer insights, talent relations, and global corporate communications operations.
Leavy also leads Discovery’s in-house media agency, as well as the company’s nonprofit organization, the Discovery Learning Alliance.
Before managing Discovery’s corporate communications and marketing functions, Leavy served as Senior Director of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesman for the National Security Council and Deputy White House Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs during the Clinton administration.
He developed communication strategies for NATO’s military action in Kosovo, the State Visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, U.S. military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, as well as the Senate’s ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Under Leavy’s leadership, Discovery’s corporate communications and corporate affairs teams were named PR Week’s “Large Corporate Communications Team of the Year” and PR News “CSR Volunteer Initiative of the Year.”
What mobile device can you not live without?
Which apps do you use most often for work?
My iPhone and iPad are full of news apps. I was in politics for many years before coming to Discovery, so in addition to apps from NYT and WSJ and media industry trades, I still have to get my fix on Politico and a guilty pleasure is ESPN, especially when it’s NCAA basketball season.
What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?
Facebook – love seeing friends and their kids.
What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?
News about Discovery and news around the world – Washington Post, New York Times, Variety, Politico.
Take me through your typical workday.
It’s really varied… I can jump from a creative review to a discussion around big data to a standards and practices session to a research meeting on Millennial viewing behavior. I get to dip into a lot of different buckets throughout the day.
What has been the most exciting work development during the past year?
In May of 2014, Discovery announced the completion of our acquisition of a controlling interest in Eurosport International, Europe’s leading sports entertainment provider. It makes Discovery the ESPN of Europe!
What does your office look like – sentimental items you can tell us about?
Thanks to my irreplaceable executive assistant, Anne Gordon, it’s pretty orderly, though I do keep stacks and stacks of old notepads and files to reference as needed.
Some of the Millennials on my team make quizzical looks at my two huge rolodexes…call me old school or nostalgic.
How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?
I’ve been fortunate in both my career in public service, and since joining Discovery, to have the opportunity to travel the world.
With offices in countries all over the world, I love getting to meet and work with our employees in various regions…and while each of our offices has a distinct feel and culture – from London to Warsaw to Singapore – the Discovery DNA runs through each of our employees.
Everyone carries a passion for our brands and company.
What work challenge keeps you up at night?
Discovery has always been a purpose-driven company, producing great, blue-chip content. The challenge now becomes understanding how to effectively utilize new technology – analytics and big data – in a meaningful way for a business that’s not traditionally been driven by technology.
Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?
I’ve always been proud to work for Discovery, in large part because the company listens to our audiences about how they want to be nourished and entertained by our content.
In 2008, we relaunched one of our smaller networks, Discovery Home, as Planet Green. This was at a time of great cultural and mindset shifts in terms of focus on the environment, global climate change, etc.
I think environmental mindfulness exploded at that time, and has since become part of our culture and the way many people just go about living their daily lives, which is terrific, but we learned it wasn’t necessarily how a mass audience wanted to be entertained by our networks every day.
So we talked to our audience and found a broader programming white space in the Americana category that audiences were really interested in. In 2012, we rebranded the channel as Destination America.
Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career.
Dee Dee Myers is at the top of the list – I’m still in touch with her today. Working as her personal assistant right out of college gave me an incredible opportunity to be on the ground in the White House. She taught me a lot about the importance of humility, hard work and humor.
What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?
You have to be nice and effective. It’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it.
Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?
I made several appearances in the early 90s movie The War Room. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1994 – my 15-minutes of Hollywood fame.
Why did you go into marketing?
For me, marketing is about telling stories and shaping opinion…there’s excitement in eliciting loyalty and affinity for a brand you believe in.
What other career would you like to try and why?
Representing the United States as an Ambassador would be a great honor.
What’s the last business book you read & what did you think of it?
Creativity, Inc. by Pixar’s Ed Catmull. It’s not the latest I’ve read, but one of the most insightful.
I’d highly recommend it to anyone that’s ready to invest in building and nurturing their organization’s creative culture.
Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?
There are a few. I think most video game companies are doing a great job right now. Using Kevin Spacey for the “Call of Duty” campaign was really smart.
Everything Geico does is brilliant, and I can’t get enough of Dos Equis’ world’s most interesting man.