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Guest Commentary: Give your media career a boost

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Creative passion. It’s a term that gets thrown around the entertainment industry more than “outside-the-box thinking” or “multichannel universe.” And arguably more than any other, the entertainment business should be an industry of passion. Of innovation, risk-taking and creative vision. But if that’s true, then why are we so quick to pigeonhole not just our competitors but our own people? At a time of tightening budgets and diminishing resources, shouldn’t we be finding ways to stretch our staffs? Not by pushing them to the breaking point, but by challenging them to grow even beyond their own expectations.
Granted, there are supervisors who do just that: the agent who hosts a monthly staff development meeting for a group of assistants, soliciting ideas and input on behalf of the agency but also helping them map out their individual career paths; or the cable CEO who at a company retreat encourages employees at every level to pursue their professional dreams within the company rather than leave it; or the mid-level marketing executive who challenges her staff to reinvent their department’s role within the studio, redefining not only the image of the product they promoted but also their own internal and external processes at the same time.
Sadly, these examples may be the exceptions rather than the rule. Too often, many of us take the easy way out, and when we recognize that an employee excels in one area, assume that is the sum total of his/her existence. But are we ignoring a wealth of resources right at our fingertips by failing to acknowledge that talented people often grow into multitalented people? Are we pigeonholing our employees rather than developing their passions?
I never thought I’d be paraphrasing Julia Phillips, author of the stinging tell-all “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again,” but she said it more honestly, though perhaps less eloquently, than anyone: Be careful what job you first succeed in, because that’s the job you’re stuck with for the rest of your career.
Sure, you can ace your way out of the mailroom or sail through the assistant’s gig, but once you get past that entry level, things start getting tougher. The reputation you’ve so painstakingly built as a marketer, a producer or a business affairs executive can very quickly become both your blessing and your curse. Because as you strive to build your skill base and distinguish yourself from the competition, the world is just waiting to box you into that pigeonhole. Seemingly overnight, you’ve become a specific type of marketer, producer or business affairs exec. You’re the one who cuts edgy sports spots, produces titillating single-topic talk or negotiates talent deals for sitcoms-talk about narrowcasting.
So how do you keep other people’s limited view of your talents from limiting the scope of your career? First of all, recognize that it’s your responsibility to design the professional path and image that is uniquely suited to you. Rather than bemoaning your fate or begrudging your less-gifted colleagues who somehow flunk their way up the ladder, start to assess your own skills critically and realistically. This means getting beyond the job description-the one that is somehow eerily suited to you and no one else on the planet-that you’re required to write for the re-engineering or human resources folks every year to justify your existence as walking overhead.
Instead, look at yourself as your own client. As obvious as it seems, people who tirelessly devote their extraordinary powers of laser-focus to their bosses or accounts on a daily basis rarely think about turning that same X-ray vision on themselves. Once you can look at your career with some objective clarity, you can begin to assess your skills, or lack thereof. Identify your niche but don’t bury yourself in it. Get a sense of your strengths, and if you can’t figure them out, ask several trusted colleagues for some honest feedback. The recurring refrain you hear will give you your first indication.
Next, create an action plan for yourself. Call it whatever you like. A business plan, a marketing plan. Just make it comprehensive and detailed, with specific goals and target deadlines for what you hope to accomplish.
Build a professional support system. This can be difficult in a competitive, sometimes ruthless industry, but it can be done. Find a mentor, ideally someone who has excelled in your chosen field and is willing to help you reach your goals. Ask how much time they’re able to give you. Is it an occasional phone call? A monthly breakfast? And if you can’t reciprocate,
offer your counsel to someone more junior than you. Or if it’s more appropriate, create a paid professional support team. An attorney, a financial adviser, a coach or a consultant to give you information and insight as well as specific, objective feedback when you need it.
Have some integrity. Even in a business not necessarily known for its goodwill to men, let alone to women and seniors, hang onto your integrity. Make caring about family, health and community more than just lip service. As an employer, set an example for your subordinates by participating in the world outside show biz and encouraging them to lead balanced lives as well. It will only serve your business interests in the long run by creating more productive, focused and loyal employees. And with all the psychic shows in vogue right now, it’s clear the entertainment industry has stumbled upon the concept of karmic payback. Why chance it?
The truly inspired leaders in this industry-and there are many-are the ones who give their people the tools, then get out of their way. Like the parents we all wish we had, you’re there for support and guidance but not hovering nervously or interfering needlessly. So give your employees center stage and get out of the way. The world will either applaud or throw tomatoes-there’s only one way to find out.