Best Prof: Anita Elberse

by John A. Byrne on

Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School is among the world's 40 best business school professors under the age of 40.

Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School is among the world’s 40 best business school professors under the age of 40. (Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva)

Anita Elberse

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Age: 38

Institution: Harvard Business School

Home Country: The Netherlands

Education: MA in Communication Science from the University of Amsterdam

MA in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California

PhD from London Business School

Courses:  Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries

At Harvard Business School Since: 2003

Before Harvard: Visiting fellow and lecturer at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Fun Fact: If she had to do something other than teach, Elberse would love to play for the Arsenal Football Club. At least that “strikes me as a terrific alternative career, but I am pretty sure the team’s manager, Arsène Wenger, has other ideas.”

When Professor Elberse was all of six years old, she had so thoroughly aced an elementary school test that her teacher in the Netherlands let her to spend a day with students in a higher grade. “It made me feel like a genius – for that one day,” she recalls in a recent interview in The Financial Times. “It was right back to my own seat the very next day though.”

Whether or not it inspired a life of intellectual pursuit is anyone’s guess, but Professor Elberse eventually pursued an academic career. As she herself put it, she followed her passion and not the herd. “I’ve always focused on topics that I am passionate about, which has led to some relatively unconventional choices. Most of my colleagues in the field of marketing specialize in certain principles, be it pricing, product development, or branding. I’ve in many ways gone in the opposite direction and have focused on a set of verticals in the entertainment businesses. It’s certainly the path less travelled, but I think that has worked out well for me so far.”

Known as a master case study teacher, Professor Elberse leads a highly popular elective course that covers the businesses of entertainment, media and sports. It’s not your typical esoteric B-school fare: among other things, Elberse has co-written one case study for the class that focuses on the business of nightlife in New York. The case nearly reads like a New York magazine article, starting off with a paragraph that one would imagine is rare for Harvard Business School: “’It’s Paris. Look over there!’ One young clubgoer directed his friend’s attention to a woman, dressed in a designer outfit, who stepped out of her chauffeured car at a busy intersection on 10th Avenue in Chelsea, Manhattan. The celebrity in question, Paris Hilton, warmly greeted the doorman…”

But it’s that kind of pizazz that Elberse routinely puts in her work and her classes. She also teaches in Strategic Marketing Management, Taking Marketing Digital, and other short programs for executives, and previously taught Marketing to first-year MBA students. Elberse says she fell in love with teaching when she first saw the case method in action at Harvard Business School. “Teaching cases is very interactive and the energy and the engagement in the classroom are contagious,” she says. “When I realised that, I knew I wanted to spend a significant amount of time trying to become very good at it. And what I’ve found over the years is that I learn a great deal about the material every time I teach. In fact, the best part about teaching at HBS may be that we professors learn just as much as the students.”

In her research, Professor Elberse primarily aims to understand what drives the success of products in the media, entertainment, sports, and other creative industries, and how firms can develop effective marketing strategies for such products. In one Harvard Business Review piece on the “long tail,” she debunked the idea that the niche entertainment offerings made available through online channels will lure consumers away from blockbusters. In other research, Elberse explored the negative implications of unbundling in the music industry – the shift from offering full albums to selling individual songs on Apple iTunes.

Acclaimed for her work on digital-media strategies, Elberse’s wider areas of study include the diffusion of innovations, the impact of digital technology on marketing practice, and the application of econometric modeling techniques to marketing problems. Her work has been published in a number of journals, including Marketing Science, the Journal of Marketing, and the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics. Her research has also appeared or been covered in leading print and broadcast media. Professor Elberse consults with a range of media and entertainment companies, and has conducted case studies on many firms in that area, including Comcast, Hulu, Grand Central Publishing, Marvel Enterprises, MGM, Octone Records, Radiohead, Sony, and The CW. Other case studies focus on the marketing of New York City, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Marquee, the Metropolitan Opera, sports leagues MLB and the NFL, soccer clubs Real Madrid and Boca Juniors, and superstar athletes LeBron James and Maria Sharapova.

Students Say:

“Anita Elberse is an amazing professor who truly cares and takes the time to mentor and help her students. Her affable demeanor, candor and humor are present in both the classroom and her office.  She’s also a master of the case method. Anita is a true expert in her industry and during multiple meetings her name has been brought up as a visionary – another example of Anita being a great brand for HBS.” — Jamal Motlagh, Class of 2011, Harvard Business School

“She is without question the best teacher I’ve had. She demonstrates phenomenal knowledge, insight, wit and class management.” — Stephen Hartley, Class of 2011, Harvard Business School

Anita Elberse is amongThe World’s 40 Best B-School Profs Under the Age of 40

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