“Nobody cares about your hopes and dreams and aspirations,” says Jim Vescera, SVP of creative services at Sony Pictures Television. “We are business people with businesses to run.”
That’s maybe a little straightforward for some people’s taste. But when you hear Jim’s story and compare it with his lessons, you see a recurring theme; know when to quit and know when to keep going. The lesson is age old, but we often forget. Seth Godin wrote in his New York Times best-selling book The Dip, “know when to quit and when to stick.” If you master this self-awareness, you can win more often while boosting your strengths and recognizing your weaknesses.
Armed with three decades in the television business and an impressive track record that includes NBC, ABC and now Sony, Vescera knows a thing or two about succeeding in this highly competitive business. But he doesn’t care to soothe your anxiety or hug away your uncertainty.
Daily Brief sat down with Jim to hear his story and to uncover how he earned a coveted spot at the top of the entertainment marketing industry.
DAILY BRIEF: When you graduated college, what do you think you knew that maybe your classmates didn’t know?
VESCERA: I don’t know that I knew much more than they did. I know a little bit about human nature, that people are generally selfish. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, but people particularly in management are selfish. What they want more than anything else is they want someone to make their lives easier. I figured that out really quickly with the gentleman that hired me for my first job in Providence. If I just took care of all the things he didn’t want to take care of, he would love having me around.
That might seem rather simplistic but it really became the key for me, and it’s something that I practice to this day. It’s the understanding that everybody has a boss, and the boss has bigger headaches, probably, than you do. I don’t know that others didn’t know that, but I certainly did. I figured it out early on. It has paid dividends with multiple jobs with multiple organizations over three decades. Be really competent and take the burden off the boss, and it makes for a long career.
How did you get this job?
VESCERA: My first job in TV was in my hometown, which is kind of unusual. Most young people feel like they have to leave their hometowns to get started. I actually worked in two different television stations in Providence for seven years and learned a ton.
It just so happens the TV station where I was hoping to work was on the 5th floor of a department store. So I got a job as a security detective at the department store just so I could have access to that TV station all the time. And I just bothered them, of course in the nicest possible way. Eventually, a job opened up for an assistant and I was able to slide in because I was the user-friendly candidate. They knew I went to a good school, they knew I was a nice guy and persistent but not obnoxious. So I was easy to hire. There are always far too many candidates than jobs. What I realized then was the value of relationships and being available. And just that hiring managers would rather hire someone that they know. It seems obvious but it really became particularly obvious to me then. I made it easy on them by being available and being around, appearing to be competent.
I moved to LA, didn’t have a job, and after about three or four months, I realized I had no connections. So I said to myself I know I can do television promotion, I’d been doing that for a couple of years in Providence, I need to make some money. I was lucky, I was able to slip into NBC at a time when they were very busy and they were looking for freelancers. I didn’t know if it was going to be a week, or a month or what. It ended up becoming 26 years.
If enough people in the world could hear that, it could change lives. It sounds to me like the way you work, you think like a business. Are you making their lives easier, do you save them time or money? I don’t think you learn that in college.
VESCERA: That’s true. I think that in life and in careers, some of the most important things are very simplistic. But for some reason, young people don’t think they’re important. Simple things: thank-you notes, being prepared for job interviews, thinking about how not to screw up. These are not complicated, but most people don’t give them much thought. And they should. If you can nail the basics, you’re already ahead of most of the pack. Not only because I’ve had a number of jobs but I’ve also interviewed dozens of people, from interns to VP and above. Theres a consistency to what people do right and what they do wrong in managing their own careers. It’s not complicated, you just have to think about it.
I’ve had some sticky situations and difficult conversations, and I questioned whether something was a blemish on my career. Do you have a story that maybe was one of the most difficult conversations you’ve had to have? In terms of it having an impact on your career or their career?
VESCERA: There are people that are responsible for creating the product whether they’re editors or producers or composers. And then the people that support them, production people, assistants, coordinators. Many of those people want to transition over to the creative side. And some of them aren’t creative. They had every opportunity to learn through osmosis, to be rubbing elbows every day with the people that have the jobs that they want. But when they’ve had the opportunity to practice that craft, they were not good at it. That’s probably the hardest conversation that I’ve had to have with people. To tell them, ‘this is not happening for you. At least, it’s not going to happen here.’ People deserve to know that.
This is probably a terrible analogy but I love sports analogies. I don’t recall who it was but he was a manager in baseball. He said there comes a point where everybody realizes that it’s over. It might happen to you in little league where you realize, ‘I’m not good enough to move up.’ Or you might get to semi-pro ball and never make it to the bigs. Or you make it to the bigs and then you realize you’re losing your skills. It happens to everybody, that moment of realization that this is it, you’ve reached the end of the road. You would have hoped they’d figure it out for themselves, but they didn’t. And now they want you to invest in them, and you don’t want to, because they’ve reached the end of the road. That’s a tough conversation to have, telling someone they might want to consider a different career path.
What should I start doing tomorrow?
VESCERA: If younger people who are pursuing a career take nothing else away, take this away. Nobody cares about your hopes and dreams and aspirations, even when you put them at the top of your resume. We are business people with businesses to run and a lot at stake; ratings, money, other careers. You need to convince us that you should be part of the team. That would seem obvious, but it’s not.
Some people believe that they are owed something. I don’t think it’s generational. I’m not one of those people that beats up on the millennials. I’ve felt this way for many years. It’s important to remember that you have to do your part to get the job, and the only reason I want you around is that you can make life better for me. Once you get into the situation that you want to be in, then you can begin exploiting it and making a better career for yourself, making your contacts and keeping an open mind for other opportunities. But I don’t care that you’ve always wanted to be a director, that doesn’t mean a thing to me. Here’s my problem: I lost an editor. Are you a good editor? Can you prove to me that you’re a good editor? I’ll hire you. That’s it.
Feel like you’ve got some tough love to share? Would personal advice and guidance from an industry veteran be helpful to you? Join PromaxBDA’s Executive Mentorship program to become a mentor or a mentee. Applications being accepted now. Email Gabi Morales for more information