After spending my entire career in media, in companies as varied as MTV, Condé Nast, SundanceTV, and Discovery, I am often asked to give advice on how to get into the media business. It usually comes from a passionate, wide-eyed person who is looking to start their career, or shift gears midstream. They are attracted to the idea of being in the media business, but when I ask what they mean by media, they don’t always have a clear answer. A career in media can be many things. It’s ever evolving—and it’s not for the faint of heart.
Whether you are in the media space in some capacity now, or are interested in a career shift, here are some things that I have learned along the way to help you navigate.
The Media Buffet
The first thing to understand as you start — or pivot into — a career in media, is that it can come in many forms. Some of those forms include:
These days there are a slew of options and pathways. Unless you are determined to follow one path from the start, why not explore and see what fits? When I am hiring team members in an early stage of their careers, I challenge them to stick with a two-year plan. In those two years, you either move up or you move on. Spend the time working hard, learning and mastering new tasks and expanding your knowledge base. But be mindful: It can be easy to get comfortable with the trappings of corporate life, particularly in large organizations (free food! vacation! pinball! benefits!). Yes, you should be rewarded for your efforts, but don’t let it impede your opportunity to grow.
Disruption is Positive
Media is one of the most disruptive industries you can choose for a career. And that disruption can create amazing opportunities for those who are willing to ride the wave.
Change. Is. Good!
Early in my career, my rise as a network executive was fueled by the fact that the organization kept changing around me. A new network president was named every two years–and with that person came a whole new direction and creative strategy, one that impacted the entire organization. This pace is not for everyone. That much change can be difficult, especially for individuals who are not willing to let go or acknowledge that things in the past may not have been working. I chose to embrace the change each time, which unlocked enormous growth opportunity for me as a leader and resulted in content which had a significant impact on the culture at large.
We all want to think we are relevant, don’t we? Take it a step further: be insatiably curious. Sounds aspirational, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing: staying relevant is going to take a huge investment of your time and energy. And it’s the most important thing you can do for your career.
Be aware of what is happening on every content channel, whether it connects to what you are doing today or not. As participants in the media business, it’s our job to fuel cultural conversation across all platforms. So be sure to stay connected to all forms of the conversation – from streaming content to marketing campaigns to social media channels to music festivals. One of my favorite interview questions is to ask a candidate what they are watching, reading, and listening to. And what I’m listening for is an authentic answer. Not the hit show or podcast everyone is talking about. Demonstrate to me that you have discovered what’s next now—own and possess that social currency.
What’s Luck Got to Do with It?
Everything. But let’s be clear, in this context, luck is defined as the intersection where preparation meets opportunity.
I was approached by a fellow alum from London Business School when I was leading Content Strategy at Condé Nast Entertainment. He was in his mid-twenties and was at a career crossroad. He landed in the insurance business right after grad school and was constantly being promoted. But he wasn’t passionate about the work. He wanted to do something in a creative field, but lacked the network or the knowledge to know what that could look like. Insert point #1—The Media Buffet—here. I admired his tenacity in reaching out to me through the alumni network, so I set up an informational meeting for him with a production company. He was hired by that company for a marketing role, tapping into the skills he mastered from the insurance company. After two years, he joined a major cosmetic company and worked his way up. And today he is the head of global marketing for one of their verticals.
It was this kind of “luck” that landed me my first job at a studio, helped me become a network executive, propelled me into the front lines of a digital content revolution, and lead the rebirth of an iconic brand. This kind of luck helps me even today as a CEO that is driving a cultural conversation around CBD and medical cannabis. We think of luck as something intangible, but it’s actually something to seek out and harness — we have more control than we think over the role luck plays in our careers.
Your Personal Board of Directors
In media, I find most people are genuinely fueled by passion for the work and can find a healthy integration between work and their personal lives. This passion leads us to forge deep, personal connections with those who are like-minded and who can help shape and define who we are. Given that you will invest so much in these relationships, it makes sense to invite those who truly inspire and challenge you to join your personal board of directors: a group of professionals you trust, admire, and have pushed you out of your comfort zone throughout your career.
My board is made up of former colleagues, mentors, a coach, agents, and other business associates. And they have been with me every step of the journey, helping me with career decisions, team building or a standalone issue. I’m also fortunate to be on the board of many former colleagues. It’s time well spent.
The only thing that’s certain in a career in media is that it will be ever changing. But, no matter which path you choose, it will be exciting and continue to inspire and unlock endless opportunities.
Michael Klein is the CEO of cannabisMD, the leading digital media destination for comprehensive, non-advocacy information on the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD). An award-winning creator across television and digital media, Klein has been recognized by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with a Television Academy Honor and several Emmy® nominations. In addition, his work has garnered a Clio Image, World Medals from the New York Festivals, among other industry awards. cannabisMD is part of Miraculo Inc., a new integrated media company developing a portfolio of verticals in the cannabis space. Klein also serves as Miraculo’s CEO.
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