“This is not your grandfather’s Nielsen,” Deborah Mason says of the ninety-seven-year-old company. She excitedly discusses the wide range of media data the organization works on, which extends far beyond the TV ratings long associated with the company.
“We have a lot of smart people looking at analytics in many areas. What is really unique about our position is that we are impartial and the one media truth for the industry,” says the general counsel of Nielsen Global Connect, who leads the North America commercial legal function for the Nielsen Global Connect business.
Mason describes Nielsen as a place where people are passionate about “data and creating innovative products.” In her previous role as deputy general counsel of Nielsen’s metadata and sports businesses, she and her team served about six businesses, providing everything from commercial contract support to legal risk training to policy development and strategy guidance around interplay with the larger Nielsen portfolio. The team supported businesses that, for example, developed purchasing and consumer models that answered valuation questions like, “If you place a logo on the shoulder of a soccer jersey worn in the World Cup, what is that space worth?”
In other areas of the business, her team supported the licensing of music, video, and sports metadata, music recognition software, and enhanced video discovery tools that enabled consumers to identify and locate new content they wanted to watch across vast content catalogs. Product development sits at the center of finding solutions to such complex concerns, and Mason’s team worked hand in hand with product development teams from idea origination through development and eventually commercial contracting.
“The legal function,” Mason says, “serves to protect the business from unnecessary or unacceptable risk, but it also serves to support and facilitate the business.” Ensuring protections are in place as she helps businesses get to “yes” is core to her work.
Before coming to Nielsen, Mason practiced in-house at a European market research company with a smaller US footprint. There, she was given broad responsibility early on as a result of the company having a small US legal team. She was forced to learn tactics different than those she had employed previously, at a large law firm focused on private equity and M&A transactions. At a law firm, attorneys are often afforded time to explore many hypotheticals and can provide a pristine work product. In-house, on the other hand, “you have to triage,” she says. “Push forward and get comfortable being mildly uncomfortable.”
“I don’t want people to be handcuffed to structures and preexisting roles. I work to understand what they are really interested in and try to capitalize on that.”
Everything from the granular, like specific language in contracts, to the big picture, like assessing and advising on strategic initiatives, falls under Mason’s purview. In general, Nielsen encourages her to pursue business-minded legal work. She remembers when higher-ups invited her to join a leadership team and advised her, “Think like a leader first and a lawyer second.” This thrilling moment acknowledged her role as a leader and encouraged her to engage her critical thinking skills to propel the business forward.
For Mason, this moment exemplifies the company’s dedication to inclusion at the highest levels. “I credit the people above me for looking out for me and encouraging me to apply for new roles and opportunities,” she says. “This has proven to be a place, in my experience, where leaders of all types are cultivated.”
As a leader herself, Mason seeks to elevate others and maximize their individual potential. Laughing, she describes her style as “overcommunication and availability.” She values listening and providing feedback, though she also looks for places to step back. “I don’t want people to be handcuffed to structures and preexisting roles,” she says. “I work to understand what they are really interested in and try to capitalize on that.”
Mason came to Nielsen in November 2015 and took on her responsibilities as deputy general counsel of Nielsen’s metadata and sports businesses in 2018. Most of her team was already in place: attorneys cross-trained and with specializations in areas like music licensing and video metadata. Over time, she has fine-tuned her focus on communication and support while developing a cohesive group structure.
In her current role as general counsel of Nielsen Global Connect, Mason leads a team who at this point can “work together seamlessly without missing a beat, even though the businesses we support have been cobbled together from acquisitions and legacy businesses and are constantly evolving to align with the ever-changing industry needs.” It makes for a challenging yet rewarding set of complicated businesses to lawyer to, but Mason and her team take have come to expect the unexpected. This is the true value of Mason’s leadership and work style.
New to the music and entertainment businesses herself, Mason enjoys the interest that friends and family outside of work now show in her job—more, she reports, than in the past, when she worked in private equity. She also enjoys Nielsen’s supportive, forward-thinking culture. “Change is not to be feared,” she says. “This is opportunity.”
Jenner & Block:
“Deb is a thought partner in the truest sense of the word. She is at the top of her field and leads by example, building and supporting diverse and inclusive teams.”
–Alison Stein, Partner