Healthy democracies need an honest, robust media: Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington has brought her latest venture, Thrive Global, to India in partnership with Times Bridge. Huffington speaks to us about why the corporate world needs to seriously address the issue of burnout, her learnings from HuffPost and shares a few words of wisdom for marketers

e4m by Samarpita Banerjee
Updated: Jul 13, 2017 7:57 AM

It was back in 2007 when Arianna Huffington, the founder of Huffington Post passed out while checking emails. She fell down, only to wake up in a pool of blood later. It did not take doctors long to determine the reason for her sudden collapse - exhaustion.


It was this experience that sowed the seeds of an idea that has now turned into a health and wellness start-up, Thrive Global. Since resigning from her post at HuffPost last year, Huffington has been working extensively on spreading awareness about work-related exhaustion and burnout and how it is affecting different workforces.


Huffington, in association with Times Bridge, a division of Times Group, launched Thrive Global in India recently, which is its first partnership outside the US. The mission of the start-up is to put an end to global stress and epidemic burnout by offering businesses and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being and performance.




Elaborating on how the idea of Thrive Global came about, Huffington says that her collapse led her on a journey to make a connection between well-being and productivity. “This passion led me to write my two books, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. As I went around the world speaking about the books and the issues of stress, burnout and sleep deprivation, I saw how deeply people wanted to change their lives and redefine success beyond money and power. So I wanted to go beyond just speaking out and raising awareness – I felt the need to turn this passion into something real and tangible that would begin to help people change their daily lives. It was a call to action I just couldn’t ignore, and so I founded Thrive Global.”


Thrive works as a platform that offers corporate programs that help bring latest strategies and tools around health and well-being to organizations, content that drives conversations around health and well-being and also acts as an e-commerce platform that offers a curated selection of some of the latest technology and products around well-being.


However, since the Indian work culture is very different from that in the West, will Thrive be as relevant here? “We’ve been living under a collective delusion that burnout is a necessary price for success.  All of the latest science is validating that in fact, individuals and organizations do better when they prioritize well-being. Employee output and employee well-being are actually directly connected. It’s true that much of the global business world, including in India, doesn’t fully realize this yet, even though the science is clear and conclusive. In our experience, once businesses begin to recognize this, they’re eager to put it into practice. When it comes to India, we’re looking at accelerating the culture shift by featuring leading Indian voices in business, film, music, sports and culture who demonstrate that you can be successful without burning out.”  


Which brings us to the question, how does the media, marketing and advertising industry, one of the most stressed-out sectors, deal with the pressure? Huffington says that there is an increasing need for the industry to prioritize health and wellness. “It’s absolutely essential that they bring clear-eyed decision-making and judgment to their job, and respond to crises or problems with calm instead of with emotion. And the science is clear that prioritizing our well-being – getting enough sleep, making time to disconnect and recharge – helps us do all those. The news cycle goes 24/7, but that’s not how humans were designed.”




Huffington also explains that stress is a major factor for the lack of enough women leaders on the top, across industries. She feels that as women are more susceptible to stress than men, it has resulted in a lot of them quitting their jobs. “Given that even when women are working outside the home, they’re still usually doing the lion’s share of the work of keeping up the household, maintaining a system in which long hours are required to advance becomes a backdoor way of excluding women. That’s one more reason why it’s so important to change this culture of burnout.  Changing the workplace to be more inclusive, prioritizing the well-being of everybody, and understanding that we bring our whole selves to work will be the Third Women's Revolution. Our current work culture, fuelled by macho notions of burnout and sleep deprivation, doesn't work for anybody, women or men. But it’s women who pay the highest price, and we need more women leaders to help us change it.”


And it is this realization that has ensured that things happen a little differently at Thrive. She elaborates, “One thing I learned from burning out while at HuffPost and collapsing in 2007 is that we’re much more effective at our jobs when we prioritize our well-being. So at Thrive Global, we’re trying to be a sustainable start-up. We encourage people to take time off and let others know when they’re feeling overwhelmed. We’ve instituted a practice called Thrive Days, where anyone in the company can ask to take time off to recharge before they burn out. We’re living our message – not just as a marketing tool, but because that makes us more effective.”




Huffington also stresses that as a business, Thrive is very different from HuffPost and that quite a few learnings from her previous experience have gone into setting up the start-up. “The primary take-away from the success of HuffPost that we are importing into Thrive Global is the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid to question the status quo, and that just because something’s been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t make it right. With The Huffington Post, we took on the idea that online only outlets couldn't do serious journalism – and we ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize. With Thrive, we’re taking on the collective delusion that burnout is the price we have to pay for success.”


Huffington adds that their marketing strategy around Thrive will not just be about raising awareness, but also about providing solutions. The plan is to focus on bringing solutions to both companies and individuals, with the use of new technology to help people implement sustainable behaviour change in their lives and manage their relationship with technology.


While Huffington Post, founded in 2005 became a global success, Huffington reveals that the biggest challenge for her then had been getting past the idea that something like The Huffington Post wasn’t possible. “In staffing up for a new kind of start-up, you have to convince people to take risks – but, of course, risk takers are who you want on board. When we launched one critic that said the site was "the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one,” which wasn’t meant as a compliment. But about year later that same reviewer emailed me to ask about blogging for HuffPost.”


However, in a world that is fast seen losing confidence on traditional news media, she feels the trick to being relevant is simple. “It’s all about truth. Yes, confidence in the media is down, and the media is under assault from many directions, but the only answer is to keep telling people the truth. It’s not about balance, but accuracy. Healthy democracies need an honest, robust media and I have faith that if the media sticks to their core principles they'll always maintain their central role.”


Asked about maintaining a fine balance between editorial and monetization she says, “The most important thing for us in everything we do is staying true to our core DNA and furthering our mission, which is to end the global stress and burnout epidemic.  That’s what drives our editorial strategy and what drives our monetization.  Our launch sponsor on our media platform, Quaker Oats, is a great example of taking a theme that is true to our mission—bringing more joy to the mornings—and partnering around an editorial section with branded content and dedicated events. We look forward to bringing similar partnerships to life in India.”


Having handled the marketing side of HuffPost with quite some success, Huffington also has some tips for marketers. She says, “Marketing in today’s world is all about authenticity. You have to know your core DNA and believe in it. When you do that, customers will feel the authentic connection – and they’ll also feel if it’s not there.  But good marketers also understand where the world is going before it gets there. As we’re finding out from the response to Thrive, we’ve tapped into the zeitgeist, which is the growing recognition that the old way of doing business, of living and working, is no longer sustainable.”



Rishi Jaitly, ‎CEO, Times Bridge talks about the partnership with Thrive and leveraging Times Internet’s strength to strategically help partners launch and navigate Indian markets. 


On Partnership with Thrive Global


Times Bridge is a mission-driven business and, as such we spend a lot of time creating a culture employees are drawn to - not just for work, but for personal impact. Data suggests that there’s a big opportunity for Indian businesses to lead the world in how they support the end-to-end well-being of their employees. Leadership, productivity and creativity across India depend on this. I’m so delighted many Indian businesses have begun to sign up for Thrive Global’s products and services. It’s no surprise to me that India is Thrive’s first market outside the United States; we at Times Bridge look forward to meeting demand across the market.


Bringing The best of the World to India


We believe that the Indian market presents extraordinary mission, business and learning potential for the world’s most creative, purposeful leaders. Our mission statement, to bring the world’s best ideas in India and share India’s best insights with the world, is anchored in this idea of co-creation: that to lean into India is to create outsized long-term business, organizational and human value for oneself. As such, we invest in and partner with a wide range of businesses, across industries, but all of whom share a passion for India. 


Leveraging strength of Times Group


We help our strategic investment partners assess, launch and operationally navigate India’s markets, while also deploying the unmatched assets of the Times Group and Times Internet as needed. Importantly, we connect the dots in the opposite direction, ensuring our network of global leaders is able to keep pace with insights and creators from India as well.

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