Genie Ko
Manager, Product Marketing / US

The exciting challenges of an ever-evolving news ecosystem

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Genie Ko began her adventurous journey as a marketing professional, starting in politics, then working for a rock climbing company and social media startup before working as a brand manager within the wine industry and an energy bar company. She joined SmartNews three years ago in 2018 and is currently leading Product Marketing in the US.

What were your aspirations and your dreams when you were growing up?

When I was a child, I really wanted to be a music video director because I loved how music videos didn’t have anything to do with reality. They were truly artistic and all about cutting through and bringing forward a really unique kind of storytelling. It was a way to visualize what you were listening to, and I loved that it didn’t have to be real and could just stretch the imagination and creativity.

How do your creative aspirations from that time influence your current work?

I think the part that carries over is having the creativity to cut through and differentiate. But what I actually came to realize, as I’ve gotten older, is that having some constraints actually allows you to be extra creative. That’s kind of how I think about the connection of my current job to my childhood aspirations.

What were the factors that drove your decision to accept a role with SmartNews?

What ultimately drove me to SmartNews was the chance of being an early member of a company that was tackling an exciting challenge. I wanted to have strong ownership over my work in a place where there was less structure. Also, connecting with my direct manager Fabien in terms of his excitement for the power of consumer research and the ability to help shape my career—those are all things that really resonated with me.

Genie Ko

How does your team contribute to the mission of SmartNews and why does the mission matter to you?

At a high level, we’re trying to bring quality information to everyone. I like to think of it as democratizing access to important information in an unbiased way. That’s important because there’s so much information out there that it’s hard to gauge what’s most important or most relevant. I love the idea that SmartNews is something free and accessible to everyone. I find that very motivating because we’re striving to keep up with how information, news, and content ecosystems are evolving. It is really exciting because what we’re working on continues to evolve with these changes; what we worked on three years ago is different from what we’re doing now.

What is your proudest accomplishment at SmartNews?

One of the projects that I really loved and that I’ll always be proud of was when we launched the “News from All Sides” slider. We were able to quickly tweak a TV commercial so that we could feature the slider and get it aired during the Democratic Presidential candidate debate. I was particularly proud of how we really, really leaned into hearing and understanding our users’ pain points involving the news in the political environment at that time. We were solving a real problem.

I also enjoyed working with Product Managers, Designers, and our Marketing team on external research and focus groups. There were so many people in the room, all focused on hearing from our users. I think we just hit a really good stride, and that cross-functional effort was very strong. Everyone was really putting the user first and this very specific problem up front. It was really satisfying to see the insights that we gathered from those sessions come through in the final product.

What kind of impact has your involvement with such projects had on you and how you approach your work?

It’s much more obvious to me now how people with certain political perspectives are underserved in our current media landscape. The negativity in the news cycle is truly carried through into our family relationships, our friendships, and our professional relationships. I think those are things that I always knew, but based on the depth of consumer research we’ve done—engaging with people all over the country—you really see how it permeates everything.

From a personal perspective, I think I’ve come to really value being able to have ownership over my work as well as being able to work on diverse projects. I think one of the things that keeps me engaged here is that every single quarter is different. The level of variety in our projects has been extremely satisfying, keeping me on a steep learning curve and also pushing me outside of my existing skill sets.

I think I’ve become more patient having worked at SmartNews. I think the back and forth with teams and also just learning cross-culturally to adapt and grow with different team members has been great.

What excites you most about the future here at SmartNews?

The way that our US team is growing and evolving is really exciting, particularly as we continue to bring in learnings from our DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) efforts into the hiring process. Bringing in team members that reflect the diversity of our content and of our user base makes me feel very optimistic about our future.

Are there certain qualities that you look for in a team member?

One of my previous managers told me you really only need two things for a good team member: that they are nice and smart. I think people really love to engage on tough questions here, really think about them and bring different perspectives to the table. If those tough questions excite you, and you can engage with those questions with positive intent, then you’re someone who would be a great addition to the SmartNews team.


Book Recommendation

A story of human resilience to guide you forward

I read this a few years ago after several friends recommended it to me. Endurance is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 expedition to Antarctica. It appealed to my sense of adventure and fascination with “type 2 fun,” something that, while not fun at the moment, is fun in retrospect. I love the mountains and spend much of my time rock climbing, skiing, and mountain biking with my husband and dog. The book also captures—albeit in an extreme way—how the outdoors can tap into and unlock the inspiring potential of the human spirit.

As a story of human resilience, it’s incredible; this twenty-seven-person crew was fighting for survival in the harshest environment with the most basic equipment is hard to imagine. And then to carry the responsibility of leadership in this situation, uncovering hope where there should be none—it’s a story I think about often when facing difficult situations.

Endurance is a quick read and really captures the imagination in a different kind of way. It’s an incredibly refreshing reminder of the power of people, teams, and the importance of continuing to move forward even when you’re not exactly sure where you’re headed.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Author: Alfred Lansing
Publisher: Basic Books
Year published: 2015

The contents are as of December 28, 2021.