Last September, high-profile publishing figure Tina Brown made an unexpected announcement: she was leaving her post as editor in chief of the Daily Beast to start her own event company. Yet, to hear Brown, 60, tell it, her departure from the news site she founded in 2008 wasn’t a move away from journalism, but rather an extension of what she has been doing for most of her career. That is, telling untold stories, investigating important issues, and spurring and influencing conversation.
It’s what drives the Women in the World Summit, the annual event Brown launched in 2010 and the centerpiece of her new enterprise, Tina Brown Live Media. Live events are what she’s termed “theatrical journalism”: speakers for the summits are heavily curated with the same kind of research and interviewing done for news articles, and journalists are part of the program, on stage to moderate panels or lead Q&A sessions. For some editorial balance in the conversations about the global challenges facing women today, participants are a mix of recognized leaders, like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, and lesser known female figures—such as Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a documentarian chronicling the plight of women in India’s lower caste, and Neema Namadamu, who is advocating for female rights in Congo.
“I do believe there’s something about meeting these women in the flesh and hearing these voices that people find enormously powerful. … I think that the emotional connection is very important,” Brown says. “We combine the very, very prominent women with the woman you haven’t heard of but who you leave talking about. It’s been very successful in terms of audience attraction.” Indeed the summit has grown since its inception, from between 300 and 500 attendees at the Hudson Theatre in 2010 to some 2,500 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater this year. There are longtime participants like Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep, and Diane von Furstenberg and sponsors including HP and Toyota; a live stream and more than 500 million Twitter impressions add to its social reach.
“I think that the emotional connection is very important.”
And with Tina Brown Live Media, she plans to expand the summit even further, taking it outside New York to Mexico, London, and India, and hosting smaller versions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago. Brown’s ambitions don’t end there. “I see Women in the World having a life beyond live events,” she says. “We feel there are definitely brand extensions that we could do that are absolutely on message and on topic that might be interesting to people who love to attend.”