FUTURE NOW Celebrates 5 Years with Luminaries and Future Leaders
By Sierra Porter and Anna Harrison
The FUTURE NOW Media Foundation Inc. is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, and
marked the occasion at the 2021 FUTURE NOW Media & Entertainment Conference in May, welcoming the next wave of future leaders in media and entertainment.
Each day was filled with insights, personal stories, and words of wisdom from industry leaders like Chairman & CEO of MediaLink, Michael Kassan; Founder & CEO of United Masters and Translation, Steve Stoute; award-winning writer, actress, and producer, Tina Fey; and over a hundred speakers and mentors from 50+ media companies.
Founder & CEO of FUTURE NOW, Peggy Kim, kicked off Day One, introducing industry heavyweights, Kassan and Stoute, who talked about the state of branding and marketing and why companies need to understand "culture" in order to succeed and resonate with their consumers.
"If you don't get the culture right, you won't get the strategy right," said Kassan. He noted the significance of needing more diverse backgrounds and perspectives to connect brands to culture.
Stoute, known in the hip-hop community for working with Jay-Z, Nas, P.Diddy, 50 Cent, and the list goes on, pointed out that culture wasn't always a part of the conversation when making decisions for artists or brands.
"Culture never had a seat at the table, but culture is what made us understand how to grow our artists," he said. With this deep understanding of complex cultural and social markets, it was easier to advertise to fulfill consumers' wants and drive sales.
Stoute posed three questions to ask before promoting a product or brand to a consumer., Who is the consumer? How do you engage the consumer? Do we have the right product to serve our consumers?
"What we found, whether it was the pandemic or George Floyd, there were brands that were positioned for your empathy," said Stoute. "They had messages that you could believe. Others were only temporary to say that they did something."
Stoute said that companies shouldn't wait to react to what's happening globally or for a New York Times headline to take action. "Your brand must always be positioned for empathy."
Kassan agreed with Stoute, saying that companies must show that they're making changes within their organizations for inclusion and diversity. "I don't read people's lips. I like to watch their feet. I like to say that the industry has woken up. I'm hoping," he said.
Kassan concluded the session with this thought,"If you don't understand the culture that you're marketing to or your consumers, you're in trouble."
Day one focused on the content side of the industry with moderated panels like "What Makes a Hit" and "The Power and Art of Storytelling," and the most anticipated session of the day was Tina Fey's keynote conversation with Kim.
Fey recently exec-produced the new Peacock series"Girls5Eva" during COVID and detailed the arduous process of getting a show on its feet during this time—including holding auditions and running the writers' room over Zoom and testing every cast and crew member five days a week.
Despite the rigorous processes required, Fey said,"It was thrilling to go back into a stage, as scary as it was, to see people from far away and to be together. It is better than all zoom all the time, for sure.
Fey acknowledged the challenges of sitting and writing, especially during Covid, and the adjustments she had to make when running a room over Zoom. "It's just inhumane to expect people to be creative on these computers all day."
Fey even admitted that writing is the least fun for her. "It's hard to write something," she said. "It's fun to have written something, but sitting down to write when you have other worries and chaos in the world, it is hard."
Writing might be hard, but it is a muscle and talent that Fey has developed well. She joined Saturday Night Live as a writer in 1997 and eventually became the head writer, and of course, created the award-winning, critically acclaimed television series "30 Rock," which she followed up with another hit, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
She also wrote the screenplay for and starred in the film, "Mean Girls," which she later turned into a book and a Tony-nominated Broadway musical.
The conversation then shifted towards Fey's early salad days, when she worked at the YMCA in Chicago as a receptionist for $7/hour while taking improv classes at night. That's where she met Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler, who have been friends and collaborators ever since. "When people are good to work with, stick together—don't break up."
Fey took questions from the audience, and she drew many lessons from her training in improv...how to solve problems, find community, and collaborate and work with others. "There’s a thing that you learn in improv... You should only enter a scene when you are needed. I feel that way career-wise now. I wanna go where I’m needed...which seems to be right now helping other writers get their shows on the air. "
Fey's final words to students were to "trust your gut" and to give yourself the freedom to fail and try again, because failure "will not kill you." That's the greatest lesson she learned from her days at SNL.
Day two of the conference continued with sessions that highlighted topics including "The New Age of Streaming" and "Sports: A Whole New World." Students were especially excited for the opportunity to engage in speed mentoring sessions with industry leaders and professionals. This year, FUTURE NOW had 50 mentors, a record number.
In the post-Conference day meeting, students shared: "I've been so impressed with all of the mentors and how open they are." "I'm so excited to be here and to be amongst such diamonds and gems in the industry." "The Conference has been very eye-opening and just an overall great experience."
Day three showcased the technology side of media, including a keynote conversation with Jessica Masters, Director of Sales East at Roku. She spoke on the company's mindset of innovation and its impact on company culture and approach to recruiting. She shared, "We can teach people how to sell digital media, but there are certain intangibles that I can't teach people, and that's determination, interest, coming into work everyday truly excited to learn what's next. That's kind of the attitude we look for at Roku...it's really that curiosity that drives the innovation at the company."
In the afternoon, students heard from recruiters from different media companies eager to recruit FUTURE NOW alumni. Sherry Chen, a two-time participant of the FUTURE NOW Media and Entertainment Conference in 2020 and 2021 and a recent graduate from Baruch College, has secured a summer internship as a Product Management and Development intern at Spectrum Reach.
Chen took advantage of FUTURE NOW's resources by attending many leadership talks and recruitment events, where she learned about Spectrum Reach. "Since I am a FUTURE NOW alumna, I had a one-on-one conversation with the recruiters, which helped boost my resume to the top of the pile," she said.
Chen highly recommends all students and young professionals to attend the event because it can change your career trajectory. "Never say no or sell yourself short to any opportunities because you will never know where you will end up," Chen concluded.
Sophie Barcus, the organization's co-director of the Campus Ambassador Program, was introduced to FUTURE NOW in April of 2020. She admitted she was worried about not having any media and entertainment experience before her senior year of college to prepare for a job search.
However, after attending the FUTURE NOW Media and Entertainment Conference, she said it was more informative than any internship she could've hoped for.
"As a FUTURE NOW alumna, you are sent emails, such as this monthly newsletter, that keep you up to date on all things FUTURE NOW. In addition, if you look close enough, it can provide you with great opportunities from our sponsors, which in many ways helped me land my first job," said Barcus.
In one of The NOW newsletters, she saw that ViacomCBS was putting on a six-week media summit targeted at students who wanted to become interns. She wasn't looking for an internship at the time, but she thought it would be an excellent opportunity to learn more about ViacomCBS. So, she decided to apply to attend the summit.
"A few months later, in early March, I was sent an email from Campus to Careers inviting me to join an information session for a sales associate position, and I immediately signed up," Barcus testified. "I applied for the job and wrote on my application that I attended the info session, which made me stand out in the process. Had it not been for FUTURE NOW, I probably would never have been on that email list and in a position to stand out within such a huge pool of talented candidates," she added.
After four competitive interviews, Barcus was offered a job as a sales associate for ViacomCBS.
"From the first session of the first day of the FUTURE NOW Conference over a year ago, I could sense the value of this incredible organization and stuck with it to see where it could take me," said Barcus. "I cannot believe that it has led me to my first job at such an amazing company, and I could not be more grateful for that," she continued.
"For anyone out there wondering, 'Is it worth it to get involved in FUTURE NOW?' I can tell you without a doubt that it one hundred percent is," Barcus concluded.
Kayla Johnson, a part of The NOW’s volunteer team, also accepted a position as a sales associate for ViacomCBS. But, for the 2019 FUTURE NOW alumna, her life after graduation was a “rollercoaster ride.”
“Though I’d been applying for jobs months prior to graduating, I hadn’t received any full-time offers, and I was a bit discouraged by that,” said Johnson. “So I was excited to attend the conference and seek guidance from industry professionals,” she added.
Since her first conference, Johnson has not only volunteered for the newsletter but participated in the FUTURE NOW Mentorship Program.
“One of the highlights of volunteering has been working with Peggy,” Johnson said. “ We talked about my difficult job hunt, and she often emailed me work opportunities along with some encouraging words,” she continued.
One application, countless networking emails, and three rounds of interviews later, Johnson earned a place at ViacomCBS. “Essence Dashtaray was my recruiter. She was a speaker at the most recent conference,” Johnson detailed. “The industry professionals who commit their time to this foundation and its annual conferences genuinely want to see us break into this industry and succeed. They’re actively working to make sure of it, and that’s what makes FUTURE NOW so unique.” FUTURE NOW’s fifth conference was an absolute success and lived up to its motto: A FUTURE NOW is a FUTURE WON!