JHRTS New York: Meet the 2014 Co-Presidents
The JHRTS is the junior membership division of the HRTS and continues our organization’s bi-coastal tradition of networking and community building by nurturing those young professionals at the assistant through manager levels. I recently had a chance to interview the two rising stars who are the JHRTS New York Co-Presidents, Max Ulanoff and Alex King, both are digital natives and both are young leaders in the industry who have very informative and interesting perspectives.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-MAX: I grew up in the Upper East Side of New York City watching my parents navigate the Fashion Industry. Through this experience I found myself infatuated with trend setting, celebrity life and most importantly representation. My parents were involved with various celebrity endorsement and licensing deals, which constantly piqued my interest. At a young age, it became apparent that my interpersonal communication and design skills were my talents. With my life experiences around fashion and an inherited gift of gab, it only made sense to adapt my skill-set into a career of spotting talent and building brands.
-ALEX: I grew up in a family of entertainers. Looking back fondly, I remember photographs from the 1960s of my grandfather as Tevye in a community production of Fiddler on the Roof - two of Tevye’s daughters in that production were played by his real-life daughters (my aunt and mother). My mother and father met in a play - 40 Carats - which saw my father fly (accidentally) off-stage on a motorcycle. Clumsiness runs in the family. My older sister was a professional pianist and singer who, in her younger years, toured Europe and Asia and held a year-long stint as a resident pianist at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans. I was classically and jazz trained on the piano and can play by ear. The apple never falls far from the tree.
Entertainment is - and will always be - the most basic and necessary form of understanding and communication. It so often transcends borders, boundaries cultures and ethnicities, and allows commonalities to be discovered even amongst the starkest of differences in a way that very few other forms of communication do. As entertainment’s distribution methods become more and more sophisticated, the underlying power of entertainment still prevails. Entertainment’s capacity to serve as an escape, a time passer and a uniter will always be its most powerful - and treasured - asset.
Q: What’s a favorite memory/experience from your time in the industry so far?
-MAX: doing this interview with you last year, Chris!
This is nearly an impossible question to answer. I am fortunate to say that every moment at my desk is a memorable experience. My day-to-day is filled with pop culture, and schmoozing with some of the most dynamic people in the business. That said, here are two memories from this past year...
From a business standpoint, I worked closely with my Executive Team to develop an in-house Digital Department. When I started with JLG we had a footprint in the space from creating the consumer product line for the YouTube sensation, The Annoying Orange. Using that as a case study I worked with my Senior Vice President of Business Development to ink YouTube’s dynamic duo, SMOSH and the A-list Celebrity Fashion and Lifestyle Blogger, Aimee Song from Song of Style. In an oversaturated market of YouTube channels, Bloggers and “digital experts,” I am grateful to say that JLG has secured a diversified portfolio with some of the leading accounts in the industry. I get a rush with every new deal I sign, knowing that I am not only locking-in business for my clients but helping set the trend for the next generation of celebrity licensing programs.
This year I was also fortunate to attend Canon’s Project Imaginat10n Film Festival, hosted by Ron Howard. Appreciating all facets of the meaning behind art, this festival truly encompasses what the Entertainment Industry stands for. Imaginat10n bridges the gap for Filmmakers, both famous and unknown to collaborate on breathtaking short-films. Not only was I taken aback by the amount of talent emanating from the screen, but I was also very impressed with the turnout. That evening allowed me to rub elbows with some of the brightest and sought-after industry executives and talent. Having an evening filled with good content and conversations with successful like-minded people, once again reaffirmed my love for this industry. From the moment I hit the red carpet, to walking out when Lincoln Center shut their lights, I knew there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been that evening.
-ALEX: it’s hard to nail down just one. But the day I was offered a job at EMI Music Publishing was a euphoric moment. I had just moved to New York without a job - and with nothing but determination and a dream to work in the industry - and through a combination of sheer luck and persistence, I was able to get connected to their HR department by Roger Faxon, the chairman and CEO of the company at the time.
I also vividly remember the day “Big Jon” Platt - one of the most respected A&R execs in the industry - announced his departure from EMI after years of signing some of the most talented songwriters in the business, from Jay-Z and Beyonce to Kanye, Rihanna, Usher, Drake and so many more. I shot him an e-mail thanking him for his service to the company and asking him for advice on how to succeed in business and life. He wrote me a note back thanking me for the nice note and telling me to keep working hard and doing what I’m doing. It was the first time I consciously came to the realization that these powerful industry executives were actually real people.
Q: How did you first get involved with the JHRTS?
-MAX: I went to various mixers when I was living in LA, however my first JHRTS-NY event was at ICM Partners for a conversation with Boaty Boatwright and Adam Schweitzer. I met our past president, Eric Neumann and my previous co-president, Lindsay Schuster and the rest is history…
-ALEX: my Co-President, Max Ulanoff, convinced me to join. My cousin told me about Max three years ago; they were fraternity brothers at UConn. At the time, he said Max was out in LA trying to discover the male version of Lady Gaga. (Lord Gaga?) Come to think of it, I never really found out if that was true - if Max was out searching for a Papa Monster - but I was finally able to connect with him about a year and a half ago and I invited him out as my +1 to some parties I was covering for the blog Tipsy Diaries.
We hit it off and Max told me he wanted to bring me onto the Board. The rest is history.
Q: What sorts of activities does the JHRTS undertake?
-MAX: JHRTS is the premiere society in the Entertainment industry for young executives to build their network. From social – mixers and events to educational seminars, JHRTS allows career-minded rising stars the ability to interact with some of Hollywood’s most influential decision makers. The NY chapter prides itself in building programs that educate its members on the various touch points of the industry. We want to make sure that our members have exposure to all the different opportunities and avenues in the greater Tri-State area.
My motto in life is “your network is your net-worth.” That said, my personal goal for the chapter is to help JHRTS act as the glue to facilitate meaningful business and personal relationships.
-ALEX: the foundational purpose of the organization is to groom the future executives of the media and entertainment industries into the industry visionaries and leaders they want to become. So every activity we undertake has that foundational core as its litmus test. From panels and one-on-one conversations with the industry’s power players to intimate social gatherings for members and potential members, we’re constantly looking to build bridges within the industry across all levels, skills and backgrounds. And we’re looking to foster and engage those connections in new, interesting and fun ways.
My goal is to help establish JHRTS as a breeding ground for fresh ideas that inform meaningful relationships and partnerships for years to come. When the next multibillion dollar business model arises 5-10 years down the line, I want JHRTS to be cited as the catalyst.
Q: How are things coming along with the New York group?
-MAX: JHRTS-NY is in the midst of a major growth spurt. We have expanded the board from 8-14 members, comprised of passionate young executives, each bringing expertise from different aspects of the industry. Each of my board members lives by the notion that when you love what you do, it’s not work. I am proud to say that the New York board bleeds JHRTS and is willing to go to any length to help expand its footprint on the East Coast. The chapter also has a strong and loyal group of members that are eager to be involved, learn and network. We are constantly planning exciting and educational events to drive traffic and enhance membership. In the words of my childhood idol, Stan Lee, “Excelsior!”
-ALEX: I couldn’t be more excited about the direction of the New York chapter. Lindsay Schuster, who relinquished her role as co-president due to staggered term limits which, in turn, opened the door that allowed me to step in, created an unbelievably solid foundation for Max and me to build on.
We’re in the process of actively and strategically recruiting a number of new Board members - some of whom were members before and others of whom we’re convincing to join JHRTS - to oversee important functions of the organization. We’ve grown from an executive board of seven or eight people when I first became involved eight months ago to a board of 14 now. And it’s not just numbers to us; we’re actively seeking out the best and brightest young minds in the business to set the course for the chapter.
It’s our primary focus right now. When you’ve got the right people in place who bring great ideas and enthusiasm to the table, growth is organic.
Q: As digital natives, how do you see the next 5-10 years of the industry?
-MAX: the digital era is becoming a paradigm-shift for the entertainment industry. On the business side, industry executives are finding new avenues to spot talent and showcase their clients. Day-by-day, we are finding that YouTube Stars and Bloggers are becoming the new tastemakers, trendsetters and industry experts. In a survey recently conducted by Variety in July of 2014, the top celebrity influencers among Americans teens (13-18) are YouTube stars. The highest-ranking figures were thankfully, my client, SMOSH!
In regards to programming, fans want instantaneous content, where they can find their favorite talent, shows and even brands at any given time. Companies like Netflix and Crackle are dominating in the space by retaining the licenses to cult classic properties, and producing exclusive content. Hot, trendy shows such as, House of Cards (Netflix), Orange is the New Black (Netflix) and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (Crackle) can only be found online. Netflix in particular has changed the nature of a fan’s ability to view a program. They will release new content by season instead of episode. Terms like “binge watching” have been created to describe the hours fans put into watching a Netflix Original Series once it is released.
Over the next 5-10 years, we are going to find that the digital space will own a huge portion of our business. Companies like DEFY Media and Maker Studios are at the forefront of the shift, by putting the efforts into only developing and producing quality digital properties.
YouTube and Netflix have also become the leaders in physical marketing / advertising behind their content. Between both coasts, fans will find advertisements plastered around the major metropolitan markets.
-ALEX: I’d be lying if I said I had any idea. With a new technology and content distribution platform popping up seemingly every week, it’s difficult to look into a crystal ball and predict where the industry will be in 5-10 years or how consumers will be viewing their favorite content.
What I do believe, though, is that the companies and leaders who will be the most successful in 5-10 years are the ones investing in innovation. Whether it’s investing in an idea, or succeeding in convincing the often egotistical founder of a soon-to-be-hot startup to allow that venture to be acquired by a more established player, or even finding ways to develop symbiotic relationships with disruptive companies like Aereo, innovation always wins. And it’s often a lot harder for established players to invest in innovation for a number of reasons, none of which include shareholders’ patience.
Q: Are the viewing habits of today’s kids and teens really that different than Gen-Xers or Boomers?
-MAX: viewing habits change with every generation, however there are some things that stay constant. We need to look at this in two ways. The first being the actual content provided to viewers. Children, tweens and young adults are always going to skew toward the shows geared toward their demographic. Sure, there is overlap, I would be lying if I said I don’t watch an old episode of X-Men from time to time… but essentially there is content that will always stay constant to specific age brackets.
The major difference is that (as stated in the question regarding digital natives) we are dealing with a very tech-savvy generation. These viewers want their content fresh, and readily available. With DVR, YouTube, Netflix and other content providers, these viewers want to be able to have access to their favorite show and / or talent at any given time of the day. I personally fall into this category, every night before I go to sleep I watch an episode of Seinfeld on my iPad. The days of rushing home for “TGIF” or waking up at 7am for “Saturday morning cartoons” are long gone…
-ALEX: without a doubt. I’ll bring it back to my answer to the first question when I said that entertainment has the power to serve as an escape, a time passer and a uniter.
Back in the 50s and 60s - decades of tremendous social, economic and political upheaval not dissimilar from what we’re seeing today - entertainment’s power to serve as escapism and a uniter played a much more prominent role, not only within nuclear families that gathered around the television with their TV dinners each weeknight for their favorite broadcast, but also within thought communities that shared common beliefs in social justice and peace.
Today, I see entertainment’s role as a time passer playing more prominently. Catching up on last night’s episode of House of Cards on your morning commute. Listening to the new Chromeo album on your walk to the office. Rewatching the first two Hunger Games on your overseas flight in anticipation of Mockingjay: Part 1. With so many hours in a day, and people and technology constantly battling for our attention, there’s very little time these days for entertainment to habitually bring people together outside of live events like the Super Bowl, Grammys, Emmys, etc.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-MAX: I want to congratulate my dear friend, Alex King on becoming the JHRTS-NY Co-President. I am confident we can make a long-lasting impression together.
My team and I are also excited to be working with the LA chapter on bridging the gap between the coasts. Ideally Alex and I want to help build a national brand statement of what JHRTS means to the Entertainment Industry, whether you’re in NYC, LA, Miami, Atlanta, Nashville or Chicago. Fortunately our LA Co-Presidents, Meredith Wills and Katie La Bouff, as well as my friend and fellow board member, Scott Shulman have been more than willing to work with us on this initiative. I look forward to seeing where we take both chapters this year!
-ALEX: we’re looking forward to working more closely with the LA chapter to build a more unified and powerful JHRTS brand message. While we do want to maintain a sense of our unique chapter identity, there are many ways in which we can collaborate more closely to enhance the value of JHRTS membership regardless of chapter. And I know speak for Max, too, when I say that the direct line of communication to Katie La Bouff and Meredith Willis will be open and amiable.