Beyond Comic Books: Dream Job Sees Michigan Ross Alum Leading Marvel Entertainment’s Digital Strategy Into the Future
Shane Rahmani, BBA ’01, was living in South Africa when at his 4th birthday he welcomed a very special visitor: The Amazing Spider-Man.
The costumed superhero — or possibly an actor hired to portray him; we can’t be sure — appeared on the roof of the family’s home, then climbed to the ground and greeted the young guest of honor.
“Even in South Africa in the early ’80s, Spider-Man somehow broke through,” said Rahmani. “It's further evidence of the global and special appeal of the Marvel characters: the first superheroes with humanizing flaws. I've been a fan ever since.”
So Rahmani was not exaggerating when he tweeted “#dreamjob” after being named senior vice president and general manager of new media for Marvel Entertainment last year. But that sentiment goes deeper than simply love for the company’s creations.
“I've called it a dream job because for someone obsessed with the conflux of media marketing and tech, there's really few places with the platform, the influence, the fandom, and the reach of Marvel,” said Rahmani. “I think Marvel represents possibly the greatest American tapestry of fictional storytelling. The breadth and depth of characters is unmatched and so there's a lot to work with.”
With roots as an independent comic-book publisher, Marvel is the company behind the entire “Marvel Universe” of characters, including Spider-Man, Black Panther, the X-Men, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and many others. Much more than comics, the company — now a unit of Disney — also produces online videos, games, TV shows, podcasts, and more. (Marvel Studios, the related movie production company, operates as a separate Disney subsidiary. Its latest triumph, Avengers: Endgame, overtook Avatar to become the all-time highest grossing movie worldwide.)
At age 7, Rahmani moved with his family to America and grew up in New Jersey. He followed an older brother to the University of Michigan, where then-Ross professor Scott Moore helped spark his interest in digital media and things like the principles of network effects.
Rahmani has worked in several leading-edge organizations, including MTV Networks; Thrillist Media Group; and IAC-backed CH Media, the company behind CollegeHumor, each of which provided relevant experience and helped build a foundation for his latest role leading Marvel’s new media division.
“We recently introduced a new vision for the division: We exist to help amplify to the world everything that Marvel is, and we help evolve it into everything else it can be,” Rahmani said.
The first half of that vision includes overseeing social media and content marketing for Marvel properties, while the second half involves taking the company into the future with new advertising, subscription, and production revenue models. So Rahmani oversees everything from a subscription service that provides access to an archive of 25,000 Marvel comics, to the creation of new nonfiction content for platforms like YouTube or the new Disney+ streaming service.
“At Marvel there always seems to be something fantastic that's just on the verge of being brought out into the world, so that makes no hour or day typical. We can be preparing for a huge game announcement and release one day, a new comic announcement and release another day, or one of our epic films; it's a really fun flow,” said Rahmani.
In a creative business, it’s important to innovate and evolve with the audience. “As an example, we've got an online cooking show inspired entirely by Marvel fandom called Eat the Universe. It brings the influence and the worlds of our characters into a piece of content packaged for our fans on YouTube,” said Rahmani.
Making those direct connections with the consumer will be key to the future of the entertainment business, he explained: “Just watch every single media company trying to build an ability to go direct to consumer. That's going to completely upend the way media companies operate. Data and what we understand about our consumers, and how we personalize and customize our offerings with that understanding, is going to transform media products for the better.”
Rahmani started looking to the future while still in college, and he received funding from Ross for an early internet venture as an undergrad. “That sort of tinkering at Ross allowed me to do class projects related to this online business I conceived. And all of that really catapulted my interest in the field. I found the whole experience to be really the perfect preparation to starting my career,” he said.
He continues to find value in the Michigan network — and the talent pool coming out of Ross: “It's truly exceptional. I've hired many Michigan grads through the years and will continue to do so. There are talented Michigan alumni in so many different industries, and in particular in my industry. Having that connection has been extremely rewarding.”