How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Three tips to achieve digital domination

June 20, 2012: 10:03 AM ET

Pattie Sellers, Paul Caine, UM CEO Jacki Kelley, Matthew Morrison (l. to r.)   Credit: Leslie Picard

How to thrive in the digital world? The best advice may be to change the way you think about your power.

From London, where Fortune hosted a Most Powerful Women conference on Monday, to Cannes, where I'm now at the ad industry's Lions Festival of Creativity, the most fevered discussion has been about how to succeed in the digital space. Success seems to derive, ironically, from divesting your power and putting it someplace else. Three tips I've picked up along the way:

Empower your employees. As Burberry (BURBY) CEO Angela Ahrendts told the MPW audience in London, she transformed the venerable British retailer—and tripled the stock—by giving millenials the run of the fashion house. Burberry's employees--amazingly, 70% are under age 30--share information constantly. Ahrendts connects and feed them via monthly webcasts, weekly videos, and previews of ad campaigns that employees get to see before the media have their peek.
Meanwhile, at Coca-Cola (KO), digital marketing boss Wendy Clark, contends that the more collaboration inside a company, the more agile the business can be. While we used to build careers based on knowing more than the guy in the next office, power today lies in how many connections you can make. "Imagine," Clark says, "if everyone came into work everyday and shared everything they know."

Empower your customers. Coke has collected 42 million "Likes" on Facebook (FB)--more than any other consumer product--by ceding control of the page to it fans and followers. "Embrace your new sales force," Clark advises, referring to the consumers who can help build your brand.
Clark's lesson applies to more than just packaged-goods brands. Here in Cannes, during a panel discussion that I moderated yesterday, the actor Matthew Morrison talked about how the fan base of his Fox (NWSA) TV show, Glee, has maximized social media to create a multi-media hit. (And Morrison, who has over 515,000 Twitter followers, does his part too.) On the same panel with Morrison, Paul Caine, EVP and Chief Revenue Officer at Time Inc. (Fortune's parent), explained that readers today are actually driving the marketing of some magazine stories, particularly the most buzzworthy in People. "We use Twitter to break the story, Facebook to push the conversation, and Pinterest to curate," Caine said. As for the story itself, it may not hit newsstands--or  your tablet--until Time Inc. and its network of consumers have generated 48 hours of buildup.

Empower yourself. "The pace of business is really fast, and you have to make decisions with less information," notes Laura Lang, Time Inc. (TWX) CEO and the former global chief of digital agency Digitas. "You have to be entrepreneurial," she adds, noting that failure is almost inevitable. "Fail fast," she advises. Another digital media maven, Arianna Huffington, joined me on stage this morning in Cannes, at a breakfast hosted by ad giant Interpublic Group (IPG). Arianna, who having sold the Huffington Post to AOL (AOL) for $315 million now has a vast digital platform, agrees: "Success in the digital space is about being willing to take risks and fail."

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