Each month, industry news media organization XBIZ spotlights the career accomplishments and outstanding contributions of Women in Adult. WIA profiles offer an intimate look at the professional lives of the industry’s most influential female executives.
One of the driving factors behind the success of New Media Group (NMG) Management, a comprehensive brand management firm that helps content owners tap into newfound revenues, is Valerie S., one of its first staff members. She is an industry veteran with vast experience across many market segments and is a top lieutenant for NMG founder Megan Stokes.
From her earliest days as a receptionist at Metro to her time at Zero Tolerance, Shane’s World and beyond, Valerie’s personal drive for excellence strives to uplift coworkers, colleagues and clients alike.
To learn more about Valerie’s career and the scores she’s made along the way, we recently caught up with her during one of her rare moments when her work schedule was not packed to the brim. And here’s what she had to say:
XBIZ: What did you do before the adult industry and what led you to join it? What companies and market segments have you worked with over the years?
Valerie: Right before I got sucked into the industry, I worked at various mainstream companies including as a supervisor at a 300-person call center, Playboy being one of our clients. I also worked at Disney for a time. Things of that nature.
I’ve never had what I would call a typical job interview within the industry — I’ve basically been offered all of the positions I’ve ever held. The first of which was offered to me by someone I had met at a part-time gig I had while going to college.
They had gotten a job as the operations manager for Metro West. So, my trajectory in the industry began there.
I started as a receptionist and was promoted to admin. assistant, then foreign sales liaison, to executive assistant, then operations manager, eventually making it to VP there for a few years. I left when I was tapped to start Zero Tolerance and was the VP of operations there for several years.
I believe it was 2007 when Megan first asked me to come work with her at Shane’s World and about a year later, I finally joined her there. I’ve cut my teeth in numerous different departments, and that’s given me an invaluable knowledge in almost every aspect of the adult business. From warehouse ops to various sales positions, broadcast/licensing, production, post-production and novelties. Now at NMG, a lot of the web-based knowledge has been added to my repertoire.
XBIZ: What attracted you to joining the NMG team and how have your responsibilities expanded throughout your tenure?
Valerie: It’s a funny story. After Megan left me at Shane’s World, I stayed there for another few years and then one day around 2012, I just wanted a new challenge. I’d been in the industry since 1997, a long time at that point. I’d put some money aside and decided to leave the industry and see what else was out there and had a nice long vacation for a bit, which was probably good because I rarely take time off — something Megan always yells at me about.
I was doing a lot of odd things including helping a friend with her publicity/marketing company, while also helping another friend with her publicity business. I was mostly just trying to figure out what I really wanted to do for work.
One day, Megan called and asked if I would be willing to help her with some accounting clean up a few hours a week, I said sure. And then, several months later, I had to tell all the other people I was doing part-time projects with that I had to stop because Megan kept giving me more and more work — I was basically working full time for NMG at that point. About a year after that, at a dinner with one of our studios, Megan finally admitted that her plan all along was for me to join the company full time, so, as it turns out … she tricked me into it.
At that point, it was 2013 and I was helping with accounting. As the company has grown, so too have my responsibilities. I’d like to think that I had a hand in the company’s growth.
These days, I not only oversee the financial side of things, but I also work closely with accountants, CPAs and with our accounting firm. Working with our team of developers with a lot of the automation we’re building for the company. I also run the VOD department and have increased its income by more than 200 percent.
I have a hand in studio management, post-production, helping guide our graphic artists, editors, and other vendors. I get to work with many of our distribution partners on promotions and sales. As well as helping almost every other department within the company; as you can see, I wear many hats. I’m not busy at all!
XBIZ: In your view, what is the top value proposition NMG offers to its clients, that truly sets it apart as a must-have partner? Give us your elevator pitch.
Valerie: Of course, there are the core things connected to effectively monetizing our studios’ content in the various verticals available. I think the best pitch for NMG is something that a C-level executive from a very big broadcasting company told one of our studios about us, along the lines of they don’t always like it when a studio signs with us because they couldn’t get away with paying less and getting more rights anymore and we found that amusing.
We protect our client’s interests. We’re not just going to sign onto a deal no matter how much the dollar amount is without making sure the interests of our clients and their core businesses are protected. Most people will want the most rights for less money, even though they don’t need them. They try to take advantage of the content owner not knowing the space. But we know there are lots of other deals available that will bring our clients a greater ROI while successfully protecting their content.
XBIZ: Given how many paysites and markets NMG must stay abreast of, how do you keep up with industry trends and where do you find inspiration for future opportunities to empower clients?
Valerie: We’re a pretty forward-thinking bunch to start with, which is great and collectively we have decades of experience in every aspect of the adult business. We’re also lucky that most of our studio partners are equally forward-thinking.
They’re experts in their field and we trust their judgment when it comes to their content, but we also appreciate that they are very open when we see trends and share that knowledge with them, and we are equally grateful that they share their knowledge with us. If we see a gap in the market, we can work with them to help corner it before anyone else sees it.
Internally, we’re quite adept at informing each other’s department of trends we see from within our departments, using a variety of internal tools we’ve implemented.
XBIZ: NMG is based on building strong partnerships across different business segments. How have you sought to bolster your connections to independent talent, given opportunities to leverage their burgeoning influence for mutual gains?
Valerie: NMG isn’t about the hard sell. Most of our current partners became our partners because someone they trusted recommended us to them. When it comes to content creators, Megan believes in sharing information that has worked for NMG with anyone who asks her. Sometimes, I chide her for giving away the secret sauce!
But she also believes that sharing information, informing others and participating in panels at shows not only helps content creators make the right decisions when it comes to business for themselves, but is just better for the industry as a whole.
XBIZ: Describe your dynamic with Megan Stokes and how you work together to execute goals.
Valerie: Our core values are closely aligned. That’s always a good start. I’m not one to hold back on my opinions. As a leader, she’s not afraid to admit when she’s not strong in an area, which is rare. She doesn’t come at things with a huge ego. She’s always willing to listen, even if you disagree with her about something.
She recognizes people’s strengths and tells people how she appreciates them for it, that’s something a lot of leaders take for granted. Executing goals is easy when you’re both able to see the result similarly and can communicate effectively without the burden of ego and the limits of positions.
XBIZ: What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career and the biggest accomplishment in this industry?
Valerie: Establishing a studio from someone’s garage that grew into a multimillion-dollar company that’s still around today is a decent achievement. As far as challenges, they’re the typical types of challenges women face in every industry, not just the adult industry. It’s an unfortunate part of being a woman in this world.
Overcoming such rooted sexism and misogyny is an ongoing challenge for any woman.
The key to rising to meet challenges lies within an individual’s own ethics and self-worth. I’m glad that I work at a company that’s comprised of 70 percent women. My work ethic was pretty solid when I started in this industry, it was just something inherent in me. But I was young and I had lessons to learn, a bit of polishing was needed. I was lucky enough to be mentored by someone amazing, who happened to be a woman. She’s still a very dear friend of mine! She taught me a lot about the importance of follow-through and imparting knowledge to others. I learned that you’re only as strong as the person working alongside you. She was hard on me at times, but I am all the better for it.
I became even stronger and surer of myself in business and life in general. That fear that many people have that they might lose their job if they share their knowledge with others? I don’t have that. I am confident in my abilities and I know that I am an asset to any organization I am a part of. So, I am all too happy to do what she did for me for anyone open and willing to learn. To share my knowledge. To mentor others and help them realize their potential to meet challenges.
XBIZ: In a given week, what takes up most of your time professionally and personally?
Valerie: Professionally, post-pandemic, not counting our regular Monday morning meeting call, I am definitely on a lot more video calls these days. Whereas pre-pandemic, I’d say I was on a video call maybe once or twice every two weeks. But the company financials still take up the brunt of my week.
I was out having dinner or going to a concert or show at least three or four times per week, maybe more. These days, I’m either trying to make a dent in my pile of unread books that’s as tall as a house, trying to catch up on streaming shows/movies, or playing a lot of video games. I wish it were as easy to make money in real life as it is in Animal Crossing.
XBIZ: How do you stay motivated and what do you define as “achieving success” in your life?
Valerie: I’m a workaholic, I always have been. I’ve been known to put in 16-hour days, I usually put in a minimum of 50 hours a week, oftentimes more. I’m pretty good at holding myself accountable for my work and self-motivating. I don’t like the feeling that I took advantage of someone, I like knowing that I earned my paycheck. I like my work, but more importantly, I like that my work helps me afford to live the life I would like to live.
“Achieving success” means so many different things to so many different people. As a society, we have been trained to measure success on all of these outside factors, a lot of which we cannot even control. To me, as long as I make a decent living and can afford to do the things I love, that’s all I need. I own my own home, I’m able to save for a rainy day. I’ve planned enough that if I wanted to leave any job, and not work for a while, and still be able to live my life as is, I can. That, to me, is a success.
XBIZ: What does 2020 hold for your work at NMG and your personal life beyond?
Valerie: Work-wise, I’m looking forward to all the internal changes we’ve been making to start bearing fruit. Funny enough, pre-pandemic, we had already been doing more automation for things that can be automated because we understand that the true asset for any company is the people in it. We’ve been hard at work thinking about how we can free up time doing busywork that can instead be automated in every department so that we can focus more on our core relationships, not just with our studios, but with our clients and sales partners, and to focus on overall growth.
Personally, I’d like to be able to eat at a restaurant with my friends and family again. To not have to think about politics as much. To be able to go to a concert and hear live music again. And I might not even be as annoyed with concert talkers for the first five shows I attend after the pandemic (five is not guaranteed)!