Christina Kounelias: The Woman Who Revamped the Oscars

Christina Kounelias
Photo by Jeremy Goldberg

After this past weekend’s 88th Academy Awards ceremony, the award season in Los Angeles is officially over for 2016.

Though we saw many recognizable faces on the red carpet and up on stage accepting awards, some of the most important people working towards this event were behind the scenes. One of those Academy employees, who has almost singlehandedly brought the Oscars into the 21st century, is Greek-American Christina Kounelias, Chief Marketing Officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Kounelias is the first CMO the Academy has ever hired. She was brought on board three years ago to put a face and a story to what seemed at the time like an impersonal, unapproachable organization.

A second-generation Greek American from New Jersey, Kounelias worked for years in movie marketing for top companies like Miramax, New Line Cinema, and Warner Brothers. In her interview for the CMO position at the Academy, she insisted that the organization had to start reaching out to people in a more personal way, and embody the same passion as the films that it stood for.

According to Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, “Three years later, it’s mission accomplished. She has elevated the Academy.”

Kounelias has employed the power of social media and candid glimpses into cinematic history to open up Hollywood to its audience members. The Oscars.org site now has an archive of beautiful short videos depicting everything from videos of high-profile members talking about their love of cinema (director Brett Ratner), screen tests of Hollywood icons (Audrey Hepburn for “Roman Holiday”) and even home videos of stars like Ginger Rogers.

The revolutionary CMO was also behind Ellen DeGeneres’ incredibly popular celebrity selfie two years ago, which was eventually seen by 37 million people. She has increased the Academy’s social media following from 400,000 to 6 million over the past three years.

In other words, Christina Kounelias has brought the Academy into viewers’ lives, and especially to the next generation. It will be intriguing to see what steps she takes next to continue changing the image of the almost century-old Academy.