Alumni share industry wisdom at Media Career Day

The Media School Report • Nov. 6, 2018
Phil Robinson, BA’09, vice president, digital, at Third Street Attention Agency, speaks on the “Public Relations” panel about the importance of being resourceful. (Austin Guan | The Media School)

Thirty-two media industry professionals, most of them Media School alumni, gave career advice to students as participants in Media Career Day on Friday.

The all-day, annual event consisted of panel discussions, expert workshops, networking sessions and informational interviews on careers across the industry.

Women in Media

By Daniela Molina

Twelve IU women alumni gathered for coffee and yogurt parfaits to chat with Media School students about their experiences as women pursuing media careers.

“Women understand each other,” said Tracy Bielenberg, BA’08, director of talent acquisition at Kelly Scott Madison in Chicago.

She said 60 percent of the executives in her industry — media marketing — are women.

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“The industry is more feminine-dominant,” Bielenberg said. She said balance between men and women in the industry is important, as well as diversity.

Katie Mettler, BAJ’14, general assignments reporter at The Washington Post, said she is thankful that many of the workplace problems that disproportionately affect women are being talked about in public and robust ways.

Through strong, smart women mentors at The Washington Post, Mettler has been able to lean on her female friends and colleagues.

“We look out for each other, support each other and try to elevate each other’s work,” Mettler said.

Mettler has seen progress within newsrooms toward accepting more women in a variety of reporting and editing jobs. But she believes there is still a lot of work left to do.

“In many newsrooms, there still aren’t enough women in the very top positions, the jobs that make the big decisions about coverage, hiring and resources,” she said. “In terms of gender parity progress, there is a lot to feel good about.”

As more women enter the media industry, Mettler encourages them to pursue their dreams despite the hurdles left to clear. There is more hope now than ever, she said.

“My advice is this: Build a network of smart, strong women in every newsroom you work. Learn from them. Lean on each other. Talk about the challenges you’re facing, and brainstorm solutions together,” Mettler said. “You are your own best advocate, but it never hurts to have lots of others on your team.”

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Film Festival Programming

By Chris Forrester

Media School alumni Robin Robinson, BA’07, and Greg Sorvig, BA’06, shared experiences and advice gleaned from their work as film festival coordinators in a panel session moderated by Media School lecturer Craig Erpelding.

Robinson, a programming coordinator at the Nashville Film Festival, encouraged students to take advantage of campus resources and get an early start on filmmaking.

“I think the IU Cinema is awesome,” she said. “Whether you want to be filmmakers or work in programming, you need to watch movies.”

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Sorvig, director of film programming for the Heartland Film Festival, seconded that, advising students to take advantage of movie screenings and valuable networking events through the Cinema.

The two also offered their perspectives as festival programmers on what kinds of films and styles appeal to them, and how students can make their work stand out from the thousands of other films submitted to festivals.

Robinson said more than 6,000 films were submitted to her festival last year. Only 303 were accepted and screened.

“You’ve got a talking animal, you’re in,” Sorvig joked.

He likened the process of screening film submissions, a tiered process that involves hours and hours of movie watching and multiple pairs of eyes per film to ensure fairness, to panning for gold.

And even though a great many films inevitably don’t make the cut, Robinson said programmers are often still willing to provide feedback. She encouraged student filmmakers to ask for it.

Festivals can also provide more than just screenings, Sorvig said. Many people attend film festivals merely to network with other filmmakers.

Robinson emphasized the importance of networking, collaborating and being assertive in any part of the film business.

“I think everything in this industry — whether you’re a filmmaker or work at a film festival that’s nonprofit — you’ve got to be a hustler,” she said.

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Careers in Journalism

By Laurel Demkovich

Jamie Luke, BAJ’96, director of native content at The Foundry Meredith Corp., speaks on the “Careers in Journalism” panel. (Ty Vinson | The Media School)

If you don’t know what your dream job is yet, that’s OK, Katie Mettler, BAJ’14, Washington Post reporter, said Friday. It might not exist yet.

Working hard and being able to pivot and learn new skills can help you eventually reach that new dream job, she added.

Mettler joined Thom Patterson, BA’87, CNN digital senior producer; Michele DeSelms, BA’89, freelance TV host; and Jamie Luke, BAJ’96, director of native content at The Foundry Meredith Corp., on the “Careers in Journalism” panel at Media Career Day.

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The panelists shared stories about their experience in journalism, gave advice for applying for jobs and described what life in the industry is like.

The best way to gain experience is doing internships while in college, even if it’s in a small market, DeSelms said.

Mettler agreed, saying the unpaid internships she did while in school prepared her for her job search after graduation. They not only helped her gain experience, but also helped her build relationships and find people who could vouch for her work.

The panelists also discussed the importance of building connections through networking.

“If you’re not networking right now, you should be,” Patterson said.

He said it’s important to do informational interviews or interviews for jobs you don’t think you can get. It’s a way to make connections and can lead you to a different job.

“Never turn down an interview, because it could turn into something else,” Patterson said.

Networking is crucial, but it’s important to try to be relatable while you do it, Mettler said.

Each panelist was asked what the most valuable part of their experience in college was and what recommendations they had for students.

Mettler and Patterson both described their experience working for on-campus media, such as the Indiana Daily Student or WFIU. DeSelms recommended students just get their hands on a camera and start producing work.

Luke agreed with DeSelms, saying that if you just start producing work, even if it’s a shaky iPhone video, people will notice. One of the best compliments a young person or journalist just starting out can receive is being called “scrappy,” she said.

“Scrappy” means that person is resourceful and can do whatever it takes to get something done.

“They are humble, and they want to work hard and learn,” Luke said.

DeSelms said the best quality a young professional can have is to being willing to do everything and always saying “yes.”

Luke said the best person to have in the room is the one who asks questions and admits when he or she doesn’t know something.

Mettler said work ethic beats talent most days of the week.

“You can be an extremely talented journalist, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not willing to do the work,” she said.

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Video + Production

By Austin Faulds

Phil McLaughlin, BA’07, a TV editor who has worked on series including The Path, Fear the Walking Dead and The Bold Type, speaks on the “Video + Production” panel. (Ty Vinson | The Media School)

The key message of Media Career Day’s “Video + Production” panel was the importance of adaptability in the ever-growing environment of the film and television industry.

The panelists included Jason Brown, manager of video content for Cook Medical; Chad Stum, BA’09, video production assistant director for IU Communications; Eugene Brancolini, assistant clinical professor at Loyola Marymount University; and Phil McLaughlin, BA’07, a TV editor who has worked on series including The Path, Fear the Walking Dead and The Bold Type.

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Brown said that if someone were to tell him as an undergraduate that he would end up staying in Bloomington to make videos for a medical company, he wouldn’t have believed them. Many students assume they will be immediately working for big productions in places like California, he said, but the industry is changing so rapidly that you can be doing important work anywhere.

On top of that, McLaughlin encouraged students to not be afraid to work “odd-end jobs” early in their careers, because they will eventually all connect together into a job they want.

This work can be demanding, Stum said. For about 10 years of his career, he said his family rarely saw him because of all the high-demand production work he was doing out in Chicago, which often required him to work through the night and into the next afternoon. While he experienced success, he said this lack of family interaction is what encouraged him to move from the big-city production environment of Chicago to the comparatively more subdued environment of IU Communications.

The panelists also offered advice on what students should learn and consume.

In terms of software, the panelists unanimously agreed on the importance of learning Avid, though they said that if someone knows any editing software, they should be able to adapt to another one like Adobe Premiere Pro.

McLaughlin encouraged students to listen to industry-related podcasts and watch YouTube videos, while Brancolini and Brown recommended Lynda.com and CreativeCow.net.

Stum also advised students not to worry about their mistakes, instead taking them as opportunities to learn and grow.

“You’re free to fail in college,” he said.

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Building a Brand, Building Your Brand

By Kaleigh Howland

Sean Smith and David T. Jones became friends at IU 30 years ago when they both rushed Pi Kappa Alpha. They returned to campus as advertising executives for Media School Career Day to lead the session “Building a Brand, Building Your Brand” for public relations and advertising students.

Smith, BA’95, spent 15 years in radio, ending up at CBS’s WRXT in Chicago generating non-traditional revenue, such as collaborating with Miller beer to dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. Jones, BA’91, spent those years climbing the ladder at Foote, Cone & Belding, an elite advertising firm in Chicago, to become its creative director.

But after years of working for someone else, they decided to start from scratch and build something new in 2008. That new idea became Third Street Attention Agency.

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The company’s name pays tribute to its origin: the founders’ Third Street fraternity house here at IU. Its identity as an attention agency plays on the fundamental principle of advertising: getting people’s attention. When someone asks what being an attention agency means, they’ve already succeeded.

Students received tips from the alumni on how to stand out and establish an identity that keeps the intended audience at the forefront, whether in advertising campaigns or on resumes or internship applications.

Their presentation, full of engaging design and clips of Third Street’s best work, jolted to a blank screen halfway through.

“Everything we do starts with that blank page,” Jones said.

That includes their client roster, which they’ve built up to include brands including KFC, TruSource Protein, Cabot, ABB and many more across a variety of markets.

No matter the product, the team focuses on the moments worth celebrating. For example, its campaign for Cabot, a wood stain brand, focused on the moment someone finishes staining his or her deck. Phil Robinson, BA’09, vice president, digital,  expanded this idea into a Facebook community that celebrates the “Decks of the Week” and fosters interaction among brand users.

In short, Jones said they help the right product find the right people at the right time.

“We are throwing bricks at people’s heads in the hopes that they love it,” he said.

Those “bricks” are intentional and crafted, and the three explained the key to getting through to people is appealing to what serves their personal interest.

Ask and answer “What’s in it for them?” in every choice you make. Get the answer right, and the consumer might bite.

The team at Third Street had some tips for when that consumer is your potential boss.

“Persist creatively, and do it relentlessly,” Smith said.

Emailing a potential employer once or even twice is not enough, they said. Jones told the story of how he wanted an informational interview from a lofty executive so badly he called every hour on the hour until the executive returned his email. But he wanted to really stand out: Jones also gave the him the traffic and weather reports during his hourly calls.

Robinson met Jones and Smith at the Multivisions event — Media Career Day’s predecessor — his senior year. Their 8 a.m. talk changed his perception of his future career, so he went to work on getting their attention.

When Jones and Smith finally agreed to get dinner with Robinson after months of emails, he was prepared to receive a job offer.

He didn’t get one. But Robinson told them he was unwilling to walk away from Third Street without an offer.

Jones and Smith had administered Robinson’s final test, and he passed.

He got the job and learned the lesson the Third Street executives wanted to drive home: Fortune favors the bold.

To put Media School students to the test, they invited whoever was brave enough to bring up their resume for a live critique.

As they reviewed resumes, they gave tactile tips, such as color choices or iconography, and they encouraged students to use their knowledge of advertising to make their resume stand out.

Robinson told students to consider their resume their print ad and to strive to get their name in front of employers as often as possible. He said the hardest part is just getting a potential employer to remember your name.

Make a bold choice, show personality, and get creative on ways to stand out, even if that means reading the weather report to a stranger over the phone, they said.

“Err on the side of doing it,” Smith said. “Odds are, things will fall in your favor.”

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Visual Communications

By Austin Faulds

Freelance graphic designer Emma Grdina, BAJ’14, speaks on the “Visual Communications” panel and shares her secret to staying motivated: repeating a positive mantra. (Austin Guan | The Media School)

Alumni in photography and digital design careers emphasized the importance of networking in the “Visual Communications” panel.

Emma Grdina, BAJ’14, freelance graphic designer; James Benedict, BAJ’17, Wall Street Journal graphics editor; Matt Callahan, BAJ’13, Washington Post design editor; Zach Dobson, BAJ’04, freelance photographer; and Anna Hyzy, BAJ’17, New York Times design editor; comprised the panel.

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Hyzy advised students to join professional organizations, such as the Society for News Design. Dobson said they should do extensive research on the professionals they’re interested in and flatter them on their work. Ask them to meet for coffee, he suggested.

Grdina said students shouldn’t be afraid to talk in detail about their work and skills to other people, because not everyone will know about it, and potential employers will be interested.

Networking is especially crucial in freelance work. Dobson advised potential freelancers to work as much as they possibly can. He said this will build communication and create a growing network of clients.

Grdina enjoys full-time freelancing because of the freedom, she said. It allows her to work on jobs and projects she is interested in. She encouraged the students, regardless of whether they are doing freelance or working for a specific outlet, to also do the work they enjoy.

The panelists encouraged students to seek out courses outside The Media School that can be applicable to their work: informatics, psychology, business, humanities and fine arts.

One student asked the panelists whether they ever experience imposter syndrome and how they handle it. Most said yes.

Hyzy argued that the anxiety that accompanies imposter syndrome can be valuable. She said she never wants to become so arrogant and comfortable with her position that it affects the quality of her work at The New York Times. She wants to always feel grateful.

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