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An Open Letter Regarding "Success"

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This morning I opened my inbox to find an incredibly kind email. It was from a gentleman (we’ll call him “T”) regarding my career, success, and how to get started. I thought I would share my reply to him for others looking to get started in the entertainment industry….

Hello,

I am reaching out to you because I have been keeping up with the amazing work you have done. From Johnny's House to being a baseball personality. I commend you on all of your success. I just wanted to reach out because I am very eager to learn and was just wondering if you had any tips or advice for me on how I could get my foot in the door and grow in the very hard industry. I would greatly appreciate any piece of advice you can give. I truly want to learn and I couldn't think of anyone else who has started from the ground up and has become such a success. I truly appreciate it.

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely, 

T

__________

Hi T! 

First, I want to say I am beyond humbled you thought of me to reach out to.  I really appreciate that and hopefully some of this information will help. 

A little bit about my journey....

When I got started on Johnny's House I was an intern.  I was getting my Master's degree from UCF and needed an internship as part of the program.  I had listened to Johnny growing up (literally since middle school) and knew they had occasional internships.  So I contacted Rae and the rest was history.  Johnny calls it "getting bit by the radio bug".  But I knew once my foot was *out* of the door, it was impossible to get back in.  So even after my internship, I stayed.  I kept coming in every day for free, for no credit, to work.  (I wouldn't necessarily suggest this to others because HR is not fond of it! Haha!) Eventually the program director realized I wasn't going anywhere, and even though there wasn't a position open, they created one for me.  

I'll also never forget the story of Jayde flying ACROSS THE COUNTRY, unannounced, and waiting in the lobby for the chance to talk to Johnny about a position.  The lesson in all of this? Persistence. Sometimes you have to do crazy sh*t to stand out in this industry.  

The next thing I made sure to do was learn EVERYTHING I could.  Technically my position on paper was "programming coordinator", but I made sure to sit in on meetings in promotions, music, sales, etc.  You would be surprised how many managers enthusiastically say "yes" when you ask to shadow them.  Not only does this allow you to get to know other departments and figure out what else you do/don't like, but it starts to make you invaluable to the company.  My real passion was being on-air, but the most valuable skill I learned was board-oping.  Board op-ing allowed me to make extra money, work more hours, and made me *needed* by other stations because so few people could run the board well.  Unfortunately iHeart Media generally doesn't do internships anymore, but starting in a lower-level position such as promotions coordinator or producer will get you that badge to get IN the building. That's all you need to start.  

Another thing I learned (the hard way) was to always say "yes", even when you don't feel ready.  I'll never forget the moment when another intern and I were shadowing Brian on the board early on in my internship when out of the blue Johnny asks "Marissa, are you ready to run this next break?"  I froze.  A few seconds later he looked at the other intern and asked her to run it instead.  I was crushed.  When I talked to him about it later he said, "always say yes. Figure it out later."  From then on I never hesitated, even when I didn't feel like I was ready because I didn't want to get passed over ever again.  It's kind of along the same lines as that phrase "fake it til ya make it."  

I've talked a lot about Johnny, and that's because he was a huge part in getting me where I am today.  He went to bat for me more times than I can count, and I am so grateful for that.  Find yourself a mentor who does the same.  I learned that when you humble yourself and ask for advice, most people are willing to share.  When I first started working for him, I thought his "Johnny-isms" were just that....words.  Cheesy words.  But after hearing them again and again for five years, I realized they were genuine pieces of advice he gained over 25+ years in radio.  Think about what YOU can do to make THEIR job easier, and they will guide you along the way in return. 

One thing that was particularly difficult for me (and still is), is the idea of "selling yourself."  The entertainment industry is unlike most, because YOU are the product.  YOU are the "thing" the sales team sells, YOU are the "product" hiring managers are looking at.  My advice would be to make yourself a website that includes great photos that capture your personality, an About section that sums up who you are, and a demo video or audio reel that shows what you look/sound like.  Entertainment jobs generally don't care as much about a paper resume as they do something that captures the *essence* of who you are.  

Last but not least, be authentic.  I found that people connect with people who are vulnerable.  This means sharing the good, and sharing the bad.  Social media is filled with people pretending to lead "perfect" lives and we don't need more of that.  When it came time to interview with the Astros, I remember being terrified of them asking me why I left my previous job.  I was afraid they would turn me around on the spot.  But instead I was honest, up front, and authentic...and I think that's a large part of why I ended up getting the job.

I realize this has been a rather lengthy reply, but I hope some pieces of it help you.  I find the generic advice of "show up", "be on time",  and "have a great resume" aren't what I needed to hear when I was first starting out.  Instead, I wish someone had told me to take ANY position to get in the building, find a solid mentor, and work your ass off.  THAT'S the advice I think is the most valuable.

And one more thought......

While I have had some *AMAZING* opportunities with XL and the Houston Astros, keep in mind that "success" is relative.  In fact, as I'm writing this I am sitting at my parent's kitchen table unemployed.  Pretty ironic, huh?  For so long I let my job define who I was, and now that it's gone I've had to re-identify myself.  I guess that would be my last piece of advice, to remember that our jobs don't define us.  The entertainment industry is incredibly volatile and you'll never know when it will all end.  Even the famous PLJ in New York just went off the air last week.  So remember ~when~ you do get an amazing opportunity to embrace it, but never lose sight of all the other qualities that make up who you are.

Clearly you are on a great path simply by reaching out.  That speaks a lot to your character! 

Thank you again for reaching out.  If you ever have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.  Good luck and KICK ASS!!!! 

Marissa