Top Women in Global Exhibition 2019: Stephanie Mills, Hoyts Group

Earlier this year, Boxoffice Pro partnered with Celluloid Junkie to present the fourth-annual list of Top Women in Global Exhibition, published in our CinemaCon issue. Throughout 2019, Boxoffice Pro will continue to honor the women who have an immeasurable impact on the exhibition industry with a series of in-depth profiles.

Since her inclusion on last year’s Top Women in Exhibition list, Stephanie Mills has been promoted to the director of sales, marketing, and content of Hoyts’ Australian and New Zealand operations. Said Hoyts Group CEO and president Damian Keogh in a statement at the time of Mills’s promotion, “Stephanie is a key leader in our business and well-respected in the industry. She already works closely with our corporate solutions team to ensure we are aligned on priorities and deliver consistent branded experiences for our customers, so it is a natural progression for these functions to now fall under the guidance of Stephanie’s leadership.”

How did you come to join the exhibition industry? You joined Reading Entertainment as their marketing manager in 2007—what were you doing before then? 

I moved from Canada to Melbourne, Australia, in 2002 and actually joined Reading that year as a temp in their finance team. It was a purely random way into the industry. Luckily, they provided me with a lot of opportunities, and I ended up staying in Australia and working with them for 11 years. I had several roles within the company over my time there, learning a lot about the industry along the way. I was with Reading until 2013, at which time I moved up to Sydney to join Hoyts in a marketing role.

Can you talk a bit about your work as a committee member on the Natalie Miller Fellowship?

The NMF is about recognizing and nurturing the next generation of female leaders in the Australian screen community and inspiring them to reach the very top of their fields. This is done through everything from providing a fellowship each year to running conferences like the Brilliant Careers’ program. A committee member on the NMF helps arrange networking events for women in the screen industry and helps to shortlist the fellowship applications. There are extraordinary women who form part of the NMF, including the NMF president Sue Maslin (producer of The Dressmaker, Japanese Story, and Jill Billcock: Dancing the Invisible, to name just a few).

Are there any women who supported and mentored you as you were coming up in the film industry?

I have had a fortunate career in that I have been surrounded by people, both men and women, who have been very generous with their time and knowledge. There were not a whole lot of women in senior roles when I was starting out in this industry, but that has changed a lot over the years. There are several women who head up the movie programming in Australia, and several women in CEO positions in our industry; it’s been a really positive shift.

“Sales, Marketing & Content” seems like a really wide job description—can you talk a bit about what your day-to-day job at Hoyts entails?

At the heart of it, I am responsible for the departments that drive admissions. The sales, marketing, programming, and loyalty teams all work together under one clear departmental strategy. It is a wide remit, but having these functions working together toward a clearly defined strategy has eliminated silos and has ultimately helped to drive our “customer first” approach. My day-to-day is varied and never boring! I am fortunate to have a team of smart and passionate people working with me, both within my own team and within the broader business. I love my job and the challenging opportunities that it provides.

What are some ways in which the exhibition industry in Australia has evolved over the past decade? 

It’s hard to imagine now, but it was really only a decade ago that digital projection was introduced to cinemas. This digital evolution has touched more than projection: online ticketing, digital menu boards, in-cinema kiosks, in-cinema posters, advertising … the list goes on, but these things are generally not how they were a decade ago. Other major changes we have seen in Australia include homogeneity of content across cinemas, with several traditional art house circuits starting to screen mainstream content, and a movement toward the premiumization of cinema offerings, including specialty screening programs, premium seating, and expanded food and beverage offerings like hot food and alcohol.

What’s the number one challenge facing the Australian exhibition industry?

We are in an era of rapid change facilitated by new technologies. How people are consuming content is changing, and the options are rapidly expanding, so it is a challenge for cinema to hold its position. But with any challenge sits a great opportunity, and cinema is anything but dead. We have put a tremendous amount of investment into redefining and improving the cinema experience. It is this shared and social experience that sets it apart. On the marketing side, the media landscape is incredibly fragmented, and being able to “cut through” is getting harder. Knowing how to make sense of, and utilize, the data we have is becoming increasingly vital to our ongoing success.

In 2017, Hoyts launched its ticketing collaboration with Qantas. Is that still going on? How have your customers responded to it? 

Qantas is Australia’s number one airline, and the partnership with such an iconic brand felt like a natural fit for us. Our partnership with Qantas Frequent Flyer and our Hoyts Rewards program has been amazing, and our loyalty members have responded extremely well. Our Hoyts Rewards members can earn Qantas Points for every dollar they spend at Hoyts. To extend this partnership, we wanted to add something more; we became Qantas’s first “redeem” partner, which means that members of the Qantas Frequent Flyer program can redeem their Qantas Points at Hoyts just as they would cash. It has been very popular, and we have loved collaborating with them as their exclusive cinema partner. 

What’s your proudest achievement of your time so far at Hoyts?

Seeing my role expand in the way it has. I started with Hoyts in 2013 as senior marketing manager, so to be able to contribute to the broader business in the way I have through my expanding role has truly been fantastic. It is so exciting to work on so many big projects that enhance the customer experience with so many talented people.

What are the key accomplishments you would still like to make during your time at Hoyts?

There are too many to list! I want to continue to look for opportunities to grow our business in exciting ways and work with my team to achieve this.

How would you evaluate the progress women have made in the exhibition business in the past few years?

I’m seeing more and more women in senior roles outside of those traditionally held by women. In my team, for example, the head of sales and the head of movie programming are roles held by women. In other companies, more and more women are leading up the programming teams. It’s encouraging.

What advice would you give to women just entering the movie exhibition business?

Take personal responsibility to learn the things you don’t know, and never, ever be afraid to put yourself forward for new opportunities. These things go hand in hand. 

Tell me about the most important lesson you learned while you were starting out in this industry.

One of the biggest lessons was that if you’re going to be in this industry, you truly need to be an advocate for it in all respects: being militant about antipiracy, truly wanting to ensure that the experience on offer is one that is worthy of a customer’s visit, and having a passion and vision to continue to evolve the experience to meet customer expectations. Being comfortable is never OK. Continuing to challenge yourself is essential. 

What can companies like Hoyts do to encourage diversity and increased representation within the exhibition industry?

Over the past five years, Hoyts has set its sights on getting ahead of the curve when it comes to customer experience. We’ve invested heavily to redefine the customer journey, to a point where what was new and innovative three or four years ago is now a mainstream experience that many of our competitors are implementing. In alignment with this, we need to challenge ourselves to be a social enterprise, representative of the communities in which we operate by reinventing our employee experience to maintain our competitive advantage. What was once seen as alternative is now becoming mainstream, with new ways of thinking about hierarchy, teams, and how work activities are undertaken. 

Part of the answer lies in connecting the strategic needs of our business to the capability that can deliver on the activity at hand. When we think about diversity, we consider the diversity of thought that we can leverage in bringing in new ideas, capability, and ways of working born out of individuals with different backgrounds, values, and experiences. 

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