Thoughts on Digital Media, the LA Talent Industry, and Advice for CMS Seniors from a CMS Alum

The CMS Blog recently sat down (virtually, of course), with a CMS alum, CJ Saraceno (A11), who is currently hard at work in LA doing exciting social media and branding campaigns through a boutique firm called NCLUSIVE, for clients ranging from well-known celebrities to non-profits to professional athletes. He works to help clients brand themselves in unique, creative ways through social media. The CMS blog had a lot to ask him ranging from his thoughts/philosophy on media in the digital age to his career path in LA. He even gave us some helpful advice for current CMS seniors! In true CMS style, he gave us such thoughtful, articulate answers that they needed no further edits from us – so read on and enjoy!

CMS: How is advertising and marketing evolving in the digital age?

CJS: I like that you use the word evolve. Right now in the social media world, there are these gurus who love to be seen as heralding this rapid transformation of advertising and marketing. I personally don’t think this is the case. The medium has changed, yes. And the message has to adapt to fit the demands of that medium. But the intent is still the same. You’re still working to convince people to purchase, donate, or sign up.

One benefit from this evolution of digital marketing: Social media is now being prioritized by in-house marketing teams. Most people no longer doubt the importance of creating unique and remarkable content on a daily basis. Five years ago, this was not the case.

CMS: And what does this evolution mean in terms of practices, philosophy, outreach and design?

CJS: Practices – Social media allows a brand to have extended conversations with their fans in real time. With this unprecedented level of access, marketers are realizing they can’t just be pitching the product. They can’t be a propaganda machine. They have to share useful, engaging content.

Philosophy – I’d argue that the philosophy is still the same. Companies want to see results. And not just in their number of Facebook Likes. They want sales. The way to boosting sales is by reaching more people and you reach more people when you create photos, videos, infographics, and blog posts that they want to share with their friends.

Outreach – As print media died, blogs rose to take on a major presence in the media landscape. Digital PR is geared towards using these blogs to target customers on a neutral platform. And with this, it’s all about realizing that bloggers want to post things that will get them pageviews because pageviews equal paychecks. Once again, it all comes back to having engaging content.

CMS: We’d love to get a quick overview of your career: what has been your overall path and what has inspired you to make the career transitions you have made?

CJS: Back when I was a sheepish and naive freshman, I had my first meeting with my advisor, Maryanne Wolf. I told her I was in this conundrum where I couldn’t decide between a career in film or business or politics and so I didn’t know what classes to take. She stared at me smiling and explained that I should never just pick one thing and neglect others. Rather, I had a duty to use my time at Tufts to find a way to combine my areas of interest and make a living doing it.

At Tufts, I went ahead and pursued all three (Political Science major, Mass Communications & Media Studies Minor, and film school abroad).  Courses like Creative Writing with Marcie Hershman, Consumer Society with Brian Roach, Journey of the Hero with Betsey J. Halpern were so influential. Taking advanced filmmaking courses with Howard Woolf sharpened my ability to construct visual messages. Sophomore year I took Sociology 40: Media and Society with Sarah Sobieraj, where I was introduced us to guys like Rob Walker, Theodor Adorno, and Clay Shirky, who were talking about culture and movements and brands and it was exciting.

I moved to LA because I thought working at a top talent agency would be a good start to a long career in film and branded entertainment. But I got to LA and just heard a lot of horror stories from close friends in regard to the culture at these places and how people have these awful bosses and how sometimes the juice ends up being not really worth the squeeze. Plus, I’ve always considered myself more of an anti-establishment person and everything these top agencies gave off was just the opposite. Except UTA, they always seemed cool.

My first real film gig was on the set of Taken 2, where I was a Production Assistant. Though my day-to-day activities involved a lot of little tasks, long drives, lunch orders, etc., being on set with Liam Neeson and Director Olivier Megaton was a memorable experience. There were of course days where we would be working 16-17 hours and it would fly by because you were surrounded by so many talented professionals. Once that wrapped, I landed a job as an Office PA for Season 3 of Evolution’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. That was another amazing job with amazing people but once again, 13 hour days were the minimum and it involved a lot of grunt work. I think in Hollywood, it’s expected to really pay your dues before you’re given a position of power. I figured I could produce more videos with a switch into the branded entertainment side. That way I could at least be producing web videos, rather hauling equipment and getting appearance releases.

One day on RHOBH we filmed cast member Yolanda Foster meeting these digital consultants from NCLUSIVE inc.  I saw the office; the people were cool and their work was incredible. Once my job with Real Housewives ended, I sent a long email to NCLUSIVE, explaining that I would do anything to work there.  At the time, they weren’t hiring but the owners still took a meeting with me. I spent two hours in there and the rest is history. I’ve now been a brand content strategist with NCLUSIVE inc. for 6 months, where I coordinate and consult on digital content for brands and nonprofits as well as individual celebrities, athletes, musicians.

CMS: One final question – you probably get this a lot, but any words of advice for current seniors in the CMS program interested in careers in PR/marketing?

CJS:

– Writing is so important. I took a class with Political Science professor David Art and he had us read Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I recommend it.

– Be proactive. A resume is no longer enough. Do your homework on the companies to which you’re applying. If you want to work somewhere, do something remarkable and send it to them. Do a competitor analysis. Make a video. Create an infographic, a microsite, a Facebook ad campaign, something. Keep sending it to them until you get a response.

– Boost your personal brand. If you apply to a job in anything marketing-related and your social media looks neglected, underused, and unpolished, you’re missing out on a key way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

– Apply to intern with NCLUSIVEinc., We’re based in LA, we’re rapidly expanding, we like people with diverse backgrounds. For more info, I can be reached at CJ.Saraceno@nclusive.com.

Thank you so much Mr. Saraceno!

Fall of the Phoenix

Boston’s premiere alternative weekly newspaper/magazine, The Phoenix (formerly the Boston Phoenix), closed for good as of March 14 this week. The announcement was made public in a mode reflective of today’s fast-paced media world: a simple tweet, “Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck.” The Phoenix had existed since the 1970s, and had long built up a reputation for quality alternative coverage of everything from the local arts scene to local and national politics.

The publication’s staff were informed by the owner and manager, Stephen Mindich, the same day. Staff members described themselves as “shell-shocked”; an expected 40 were let go this week and another 10 will soon follow.

In his poignant public statement, owner and publisher Stephen Mindich made clear the difficulty of the decision, noting the recent difficulties in the industry:

“…these have been extremely difficult times for our Company and despite the valiant effort by many, many past and current staff to attempt to stabilize and, in fact, reverse our significant financial losses, we have been unable to do so and they are no longer sustainable.”

Yet above all he emphasized the accomplishments of the publication: “What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades.”

Reasons for the demise

The Phoenix’s problems were not in its readership, which didn’t decline; according to leadership the problem was revenue. By the end the Phoenix was costing Mr. Mindich, who had guided the paper since the 1970s, more than $1 million a year. The company does not intend to file formal bankruptcy, but has hired a law firm to liquidate the paper’s remaining assets and pay as many of the taxes, employee wages, and approximately 40 creditors as possible.

The paper had previously changed formats less than a year before, in September 2012, when the former Boston Phoenix merged with its sister publication, Stuff, and became a glossy biweekly magazine called The Phoenix. This move was intended to generate new advertising revenues and was in general well-received, though even at the time it was noted that the magazine would still face major challenges. In other cities, similar “alternative weeklies” such as New York’s Village Voice or Washington’s City Paper have faced downsizing or been sold.

Observers differ in their impressions of what this means for the alternative news industry in general. According to the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, despite the loss of the Phoenix the industry remains healthy; many papers are actually seeing improved circulation and are not in danger of closing. Yet in large markets such as Boston, alternative newspapers tend to be less successful than in smaller, less-competitive cities such as Providence, RI and Portland, ME, where the local Phoenix branches will remain in operation.

Public reactions

Many prominent writers with personal connections to the Phoenix have expressed their dismay at the news. In the words of New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, one of many whose careers started at the Boston Phoenix, “It’s like finding out your college has gone bankrupt and is gone. I am a child of the alt-weekly world.” Other prominent writers who also got their start at the Phoenix include Joe Klein, Sidney Blumenthal, Janet Maslin, and David Denby. At the Boston Globe, columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote, “I would tell you how I truly feel about the Boston Phoenix closing, but that would involve using words that could only be published in the Phoenix.” She too had worked at the Phoenix in the late 1990s, and wrote that there she had been “surrounded by the smartest, funniest people I had ever known.”

Frequent Boston news commentator Dan Kennedy, author of the widely-read Media Nation blog, wrote that he was “not even going to try to write a real post about this today” as “I’m devastated.”  He described the Phoenix as “the most formative experience of my career.” In fact, he wrote, “without the Phoenix, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing today — PR for some politician? Ugh.”

The Boston Phoenix will surely be missed by its loyal readership as well as this generation’s cohort of aspiring alternative newsmedia/long-form journalists.

A World Without Screens

And now for something a little different – for this week’s blog post, we thought we’d ask a different question: is there such a thing as “too much” media in our daily lives? We’ve all heard the polemics: cell phones, laptops tablet – our society is too reliant on “screens,” we need to “unplug” more, modern technology is costing us meaningful human interaction, etc. Many parents are particularly concerned about these effects on their children – interestingly enough, even those who are responsible for the technology themselves. The New York Times reported that in Silicon Valley, California, the major tech executives of companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, and eBay actually send their children to low-tech Waldorf schools. These schools don’t use “screen” teaching tools and instead use “old-fashioned” tools such as pens and paper, knitting needles, and even mud. There are no computers or screens at all, and the school even recommends that students do not use at computers at home. Proponents of this education style suggest that it encourages creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans. At one school alone, three-quarters of the students had parents with a strong connection to the high-tech industry.

At an older age, even students themselves start to become worried about their use of technology. Contrary to assumptions that today’s generation are  all“screen addicts,” some students have started voluntarily limiting their time spent online, for example on Facebook.

An interesting growing trend is the idea of taking a “No-Screen Day” – as the name suggests, taking some time to “unplug” from technology or anything with a screen for a certain amount of time. Students have tried this and documented their experiences, ironically through blogs (yet more screen time!) As one would expect, it is a challenging experience which makes one aware of how much our lives really do revolve around technology and the use of screens. In response to reports that have shown that total contact time between parents and children has decreased by 40% in the past 25 years, some recommend instituting a No-Screen-Day for one’s family, an idea that is probably easier in theory than in practice. There is even an official No-Screen Day website that is currently under construction (again, ironic for a no-screen day to have a website!)

We’ve probably all spent some time thinking about our use of technology and our time spent “on screens” – what do you all think? Let us know!

Advertising in the Digital Age: Real-Time Marketing

Today’s CMS Panel, on Advertising and Marketing in the Digital Age, seeks to answer a number of thought-provoking questions, such as: how is advertising and marketing evolving in the digital age? What does this evolution mean in terms of practices, philosophy, outreach, and design? These are questions that a lot of CMS students might already be thinking a lot about in their classes, such as Media Literacy, Social Marketing, and Gender and Popular Media. The advent of digital media has made possible a myriad new approaches to designing and implementing successful marketing campaigns.

Real-Time Marketing

A new trend in the world of advertising and marketing is “real-time marketing” – the idea of seizing on real-world events to create spontaneous advertising campaigns/ready-made product placement, catalyzed in particular by Twitter. Real-time marketing is based on the idea that today’s customers are no longer on the internet for only a few hours a day, but are spending a significant portion of their days connected to the web through mobile phones, laptops and tablets. If someone sees an interesting product on TV they might Google it or post a question about it on one of their social networks. Companies can take advantage of this exposure by providing responsive information to their clients on an instantaneous basis – for example through a company Facebook page or Twitter account that provides a response right away. A repeated emphasis of real-time marketing strategy is “engagement.” And some companies are finding real-time marketing to be increasingly important – according to one report, “RTM [real-time marketing] should no longer be regarded as ‘icing on the cake’ for modern marketing plans, but rather an integral ingredient for lean-forward communication with impact.”

Even the movie industry is beginning to move toward real-time marketing in advertisements during trailers before films. A darkened room with a captive audience is clearly an ideal advertising platform for companies, but in the past the use of ad reels created by hand could lead to lag times for cinema advertising. With the introduction of digital film, companies can supply ads to movie companies and they can be broadcast much more quickly. For example, the company Tesco ran a campaign promoting apples in September, taking advantage of the faster turnaround time to run ads before the apple season ran out. Previously, opportunities to tie in product promotions to films were often missed – for example, the 2001 sci-fi flick “Evolution” featured a plot line in which aliens were killed by the anti-dandruff shampoo Head & Shoulders. The company found out that the brand was in the film two weeks before its release and was therefore too late to take advantage, though they did later run a campaign with samples featuring the slogan “Use this sample to save the world.”

Newsjacking

Another form of real-time marketing is newsjacking – the idea of using topical events to create advertising/product placement opportunities for brands. Newsjacking has become a phenomenon during all types of popular televised events; for example, during the recent Super Bowl XLVII power outage, many companies went to town tying it in to their brands, with the winner probably being Oreo on Facebook:

Oreo-super-bowl-power-outage

Oreo: You can still dunk in the dark. Source: hubspot.com

The image received over 19,800 likes, 790 comments, and 6,600 shares to date!

Other honorable mentions: Tide, and the Radiological Society of North America!

Well, at least radiologists can work in the dark. Source: hubspot.com

RSNA: Well, at least radiologists can work in the dark. Source: hubspot.com

Tide: We can't get your blackout. But we can get your stains out. Source: hubspot.com

We can’t get your blackout. But we can get your stains out. Source: hubspot.com

Companies clearly came prepared to take advantage of Twitter buzz created by the recent 2013 Oscars. Here are some of the night’s highlights:

US Cellular: How to get red carpet-ready. Source: hubspot.com

US Cellular: How to get red carpet-ready. Source: hubspot.com

Charmin: Don't forget to look down before your speech. Source: hubspot.com

Charmin: Don’t forget to look down before your speech. Source: hubspot.com

Kellogg’s made light of long acceptance speeches while launching a new snack line:

Kellogg's: We're gonna need a shorter speech. Source: hubspot.com

Kellogg’s: We’re gonna need a shorter speech. Source: hubspot.com

And Oscar Mayer paid tribute to James Bond:

Oscar Mayer: Bacon not stirred. Source: hubspot.com

Oscar Mayer: Bacon not stirred. Source: hubspot.com

Interested in doing this kind of thing for a living? It’s important to keep in mind that working in social media isn’t just writing clever tweets. There are many other, perhaps less exciting aspects to social media marketing such as community managing and developing social strategy, but this is certainly a trend to keep aware of and stay up to date on.

Stella: That's all! Goodnight. Source: hubspot.com

Stella: That’s all! Goodnight. Source: hubspot.com