Vidula Bal (L) and Andy Cohen onstage at the Outer Spaces event.

Wit and Wisdom: TV’s Andy Cohen on Building a Stellar Brand and the Power of a Great Team

It’s not hard to imagine why Andy Cohen has been called “possibly the smartest man on TV.” He’s an Emmy Award-winning host, producer and author, best known as the front man of Watch What Happens: Live, Bravo’s late-night, interactive talk show. His most recent book, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, was a big hit with Target guests.

This week, Andy joined Target’s Vidula Bal, vice president, learning and development, on our Outer Spaces stage for an innovation talk, where he offered up a peek into his own career path, his thoughts on creating an authentic brand people can get behind—and even answered some rapid fire questions from our team. Check out some highlights from Andy’s talk:

On breaking into the television industry
“From the start, I always wanted to be on TV. I loved news, pop culture, current events. I grew up in St. Louis, so news felt like a legit way to get into the business without my family laughing at me. Early in my career, I did several internships. That’s the best advice I can give anyone starting out in the TV industry: Just find a place that makes you happy and try everything they’ll give you to do. My first internship was as a desk assistant on the CBS News morning show back in 1989. I didn’t care that it wasn’t a big deal position—it was real and fun. I was always trying to get them to let me do more, and that attitude led to new opportunities.”

On finding his place, and learning from mentors
“I eventually joined an all-digital cable channel called Trio as head of programming. It was a huge learning experience. I learned about budgets, marketing, ad sales, all the other elements I hadn’t encountered yet, and from the best people. The channel didn’t last, but the job led to me becoming the head of programming at Bravo. There, my friend and mentor Lauren Zalaznick set me up as one of the only executives writing a blog, and that led to interviews and after-shows following Top Chef and The Real Housewives. Lauren’s a rule-breaker, and I’ve learned a lot from her. So many opportunities came my way because she and other bosses believed in me.”

On building an iconic brand
“There’s a need for innovation, and the secret to creating novelty is knowing your brand. When you really understand your brand, there’s so much freedom to cut through the clutter and focus on making the things that your guests, admirers and fans will love. For me, personal brand is something that needs to come naturally. And that’s a good thing, because after all these years, Watch What Happens: Live is the most real iteration of my personality. If it feels like I’m trying too hard, it won’t work.”

On taking risks, and learning from what doesn’t work
“The funny thing when I look back at my projects over the years is that, whether they ultimately succeeded or failed, I believed in them all at the start. So why didn’t some of them work? It’s always important to analyze, though that’s not always fun to do. It’s scary to have to go into a meeting, stand up in front of your peers and present on why your show was a flop. But if you can learn from it, ask the right questions and not take it personally—that’s really valuable.”

On the power of a great team
“Every great project I’ve worked on happened because there was a talented team of people behind it. That’s how the idea for The Real Housewives came about. Someone knew these women, that they lived together in a neighborhood, went to the same tennis club. Another person realized we had the makings of a soap opera on our hands. Someone else suggested telling the story from the women’s point of view. And so on. You get little bits of the idea from everyone, and that’s how something brilliant is created. So it’s really important to believe in your team!

The best way to make sure the work environment is inclusive to everyone? Be open to ideas from everybody. Give everyone involved in a project (not just the leaders) a place at the table to share their opinions, hear what’s going on and understand why decisions are made. If you don’t do that, how is anyone going to learn?”

And of course, a few rapid fire questions … 

  • Favorite drink? Maker’s and ginger ale. That or a “Fresquila,” which is basically Tequila + Fresca.
  • Cats or dogs? Dogs!
  • Speaking of dogs, where’s Wacha today? He’s at doggy playgroup. I have to be back by 5:00 because that’s when he gets home.
  • Any pet peeves? Waiting in long lines. Yeah, I could probably go insane waiting in the coffee line. I like efficiency.
  • Of everyone you’ve met, who’s inspired you most? I might say Oprah, just to brag that I met Oprah. And Joan Rivers. I had some deep conversations with her that got me really excited.
  • Describe your pal Sarah Jessica Parker in one word. “Sparkly.” No, “divine.” Just imagine all of the amazing things you’d want her to be. That’s what she is.
  • Describe yourself in one word. “Fun!” Yeah, I know, people who say that usually aren’t. Make that “un-fun.”
  • If you had to put your career in the hands of one of the Real Housewives, who would you choose? Bethenny Frankel. (Do you blame me?)
  • Favorite app? Probably Snapchat. My favorite filter is, you know, the big eyes. Is that coming back? OK, great, it’s back.

Can’t get enough of Andy? Look for his next book, Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries, coming this November to Target and Target.com.

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