JHRTS-NY: Meet the 2015 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, Eden Sutley 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?
-EDEN: Joss Whedon. I could make the “what’s my inspiration” answer more verbose, but that would just be an excuse to keep talking about Joss Whedon. As far as my background goes, here are the stats: I’m from Lafayette, LA, went to George Washington for undergrad and NYU Tisch for grad school, dog-lover, sci-fi and fantasy geek, ENFP.
-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?
-EDEN: being in the position to advocate for truTV and learn about new worlds everyday working in development and programming has been a truly exceptional experience.
-ALEX: working in marketing with so many innovative brands with smart, creative teams, every time an idea is funded and brought to life is a memorable experience. The creative process is extremely time-consuming - to get an idea right - and there are so many different people that have a say and opinion. So to be able to bring an idea to life - anytime that happens is extraordinarily gratifying and humbling.
Most recently, I worked with Jack Link’s Beef Jerky and the Carmichael Lynch agency out of Minnesota to produce a four-part native video series profiling Jack Link’s beloved mentor, Sasquatch (don’t mess with him!), training for the NFL. With Boomer Esiason, Amani Toomer and Clay Matthews co-starring, it featured a powerhouse cast of characters and drove home the notion that good ideas sell themselves.
Managing the project from pre-production to launch (check the first video out here: http://www.si.com/sasquatch-1) and seeing the buzz and momentum it’s picked up makes the hard work that went into it so much more gratifying.
Q: How did you first get involved with the JHRTS?
-EDEN: when I moved here four years ago, my knowledge of New York was amassed from shows and movies. I didn’t know how or where to start to get a job in this industry, but I knew I needed to learn more about it. Unsurprisingly, the best way I learn is through stories, especially hearing other people’s. I heard about JHRTS and knew that it was going to be the best way to meet new people, hear their tales, and become a part of this crazy business. I then approached the board last year about helping to kick off a mentorship program, and thankfully they let me (and my lovely mentorship co-chair Shannon Vayo) run with it. The pilot program launched this summer, and now, here I am!
-ALEX: my 2014-2015 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?
-EDEN: because the New York chapter has such diverse membership, we strive to program events that cover a broad spectrum. We try to hold panels or speaker events at least once a month, and we hold a holiday, summer, and “back to school” mixer each year. We are expanding our philanthropy efforts this year and just launched our mentorship program! A lot of exciting things happening on the east side.
-ALEX: the purpose of the organization is to groom 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 core question as its litmus test: Is this going to help shape the future generation of entertainment and media leadership? 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 idea 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?
-EDEN: I’ll put this in TV terms: we were season one of Buffy which was brilliant and underrated, with a very talented cast, and now we’re coming back from the summer as season two Buffy with some great new characters and a whole lot of amazing action…basically one of the best seasons of television out there. We’re that good.
-ALEX: when asked this question a year ago, I mentioned I couldn’t be more excited about the direction of the New York chapter because we were actively and strategically recruiting a number of new Board members to oversee important functions of the organization.
I’m thrilled to report that as a direct result of that strategy - of building a solid foundation at the top - we’re experiencing unprecedented growth and visibility amongst both young professionals whose careers are just beginning and top executives within the industry. Highlights include:
- 144% YoY Board growth
- 83% YoY membership growth
- Our first-ever JHRTS-NY Mentorship program, with nearly 40 senior-level executives volunteering to serve as mentors, and nearly 60 JHRTS members applying to become mentees
- Our first-ever scriptwriting partnership with JHRTS-LA and the New York Television Festival, exclusively providing JHRTS members the chance to win artist passes to the annual event
- Our first-ever multi-sponsor supported annual holiday party with generous support from CAA, Viacom, WME and AMC Networks - allowing us to offer a greater experience for our attendees
As I said a year ago, when you’ve got the right people in place who bring great ideas and enthusiasm to the table, growth is organic. The above accomplishments - and more to come - show that we’ve got those people in place.
The next major challenge we’re looking to tackle is establishing HRTS in New York. As JHRTS-NY members move up in their careers and ascend to senior manager, director and VP positions, there’s nowhere for them to turn here in New York that provides them an organization similar to what HRTS provides its members in LA. The result is a lost opportunity - they’re no longer dues-paying members because they no longer see value in the organization.
We want to fix that by establishing the next tier of HRTS here in New York - and we’ve tasked our two most recent JHRTS-NY presidents, Lindsay Schuster and Max Ulanoff, to work with Dave Ferrara to move that process forward. Given their prior working relationships with Dave as JHRTS-NY co-presidents, I’m excited to see that plan take shape within the next 6-12 months.
Q: As digital natives, how do you see the next 5-10 years of the industry?
-EDEN: I see it on a screen. Doesn’t matter how big or where that screen is, but people continue to have an insatiable appetite for quality content. We know that. But you know that saying, “necessity is the mother of invention”? Well I think for our industry, it should be amended to “selectivity is the mother of invention.” Viewers value their time and are very selective with which programs they invest in. I think that behavior has pushed us to come up with new ways to create, distribute, and monetize content. The next 5-10 years are a mystery, but they’re going to be unimaginably exciting for us.
-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. When budgets are cut and revenue is down, investing in new opportunities and ideas is not always popular. But it’s crucial. Smart innovation always wins.
Q: Are the media habits of today’s kids and teens really that different than Gen-Xers or Boomers?
-EDEN: 100% different. If we’re talking about habits that Gen-Xers and Boomers had when they were actually teens and the habits that teens today have, then they couldn’t be more different. Those habits are a product of the industry though. When those older generations were popping pimples, they only had access to a finite amount of media sources. With more cable networks, premium channels, and the digital space blowing things wide open, it’s like comparing apples to oranges…or LIVE to LIVE+7.
-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. 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?
-EDEN: only that you should definitely be tuning into truTV if you haven’t seen the dynamic new programming we have going on since our rebrand last October. And if you have any interest in helping out with the New York chapter through the mentorship program or sharing your story at an event, don’t hesitate to reach out! Eden.Sutley@turner.com
-ALEX: a big thank you to Max Ulanoff for his guidance, support, partnership and friendship over the last year. Max brought a larger-than-life personality and genuine warmth to the JHRTS-NY board at a time when we were looking to grow exponentially. He will be missed as co-president but we’re still putting his passion for the organization and the industry to work.
I couldn’t be more excited to work with Eden as the newest JHRTS-NY co-president. As one of the key players that helped get our pilot mentorship program off the ground, Eden has proven herself as not only a visionary, but someone who also backs up her ideas with results. I know I’ll learn a lot from her over the next year, and can’t wait to get started.
One more note: Daniel and Dianna (the new JHRTS-LA co-presidents) have already left a strong impression on both Eden and me with their proactivity and willingness to collaborate with our chapter. From cross-promotion of social media programs to collaborative events, we’ve already discussed a number of joint chapter initiatives and I look forward to helping bring those to life, in conjunction with both of our boards.