The Art of Opening Doors

 

Panelists (left to right): Nneka Onuorah, Kawin Long, Michelle Smoller, Olga Czarkowski, Anastasia Wright.

May 12, 2014

The BMCC communication studies and theatre clubs, led by faculty advisor Professor Vincent Cheng, recently hosted the panel Careers in Television & Public Relations.

Speaking to a full audience in the Media Center’s TV Studio 2, five dynamic entrepreneurs shared their experience and vision.

The guest panelists included Olga Czarkowski, founder of Dreams in Heels PR; Kawin Long, founder of the Prime Vision PR Group; Nneka Onuorah, associate producer of the Black Girls Rock Awards and manager of the Music Specials department at BET; Michelle Smoller, TV host of Show & Tell with Michelle, and Anastasia Wright, co-founder of Imperial Marketing Group.

The conversation continued with a buffet luncheon in the Media Center’s conference room, and a raffle awarded three prizes: a $50 VISA gift card, $30 Metro Card and The Fine Art of Small Talk, a book by Debra Fine.

How did you get into your field?

“I got into Def Jam Recording as a temp,” said Anastasia Wright, and Nneka Onuorah shared, “I started my career through an internship. I worked really hard, took notes and studied.”

Michelle Smoller, who has worked as a freelance reporter and TV host at NBC, Current TV, RMM Online, Sweden 4, Fashion News Live, The Onion and Africast TV remembers this pivotal moment: “I spoke to pages at the front door to The Letterman Show and asked, ‘How do I get your job?’”

Kawin Long “started ‘stalking’ people on Facebook who seemed on the right path and offered to intern with them,” she said, adding that one of the people she interned with was fellow panelist Olga Maria Czarkowski.

“I went out on a limb,” she says. “That one internship got me to this point.”

Tons of doors will close, but one will open

Michelle Smoller produced her own news and entertainment show, as a student at Vanderbilt University. She advised those in the audience to “take the time to learn whatever will move you forward. I learned how to edit video, with Final Cut Pro.”

She also recommended persistence: “Tons of doors will close, but one of them will open.”

Olga Czarkowski attended BMCC then studied marketing management Baruch College. “I volunteered, then worked in an advertising agency,” she said. “Find your purpose. I was once sitting right where you are.”

Kawin Long holds a masters degree in social work from Hunter College and worked at the Children’s Aid Society before rethinking her path.

“I stayed home, had my son and started sketching my own clothing line,” she said.

“You need to constantly upgrade yourself. Know how to pitch, draft bios, press releases. I also do event planning and have a business degree. You can’t stay in one realm. I call myself a ‘serial entrepreneur’.”

Brand yourself

“There’s timing, knowing how to be prepared when opportunity comes,” said Nneka Onuorah. “I worked with someone who hated going to meetings so I said, ‘I’ll go for you and take notes’.”

Those meetings exposed her to candid conversations about programming and business decisions.

“I used to ‘Google’ TV terms,” she says.

Then one day, she got her break. Someone asked her opinion, and her homework paid off.

Afterwards, a director asked, “Are you afraid of technology?” and of course, she gave the right answer—that she was always willing to learn—and was on her way.

“Everything people hate to do, that’s a lane open for you,” she said, adding that “we’re all our own brands. Work on what you love, what you do naturally. That’s your brand.”

Networking

“Delete the word ‘networking’ from your vocabulary and focus on relationships,” advised Anastasia Wright.

She described types of mentors including “those parallel to you, who become your support system, and those two or three years above you.”

A third type, she said, “is the one I call a ‘fairy godmother’ or ‘godfather’; that executive or president you met at an event and clicked with—but only reach out to them when you’re having a key career moment.”

According to Kawin Long, “There’s a lot of bartering going on these day, and it gives you a chance to exchange services and build things to put on your resume.”

Olga Maria Czarkowsk suggested joining organizations such as Women in Public Relations and cultivating mentors at the wellness and spiritual level, as well as the business level.

“I do yoga and meditate,” she said and Anastasia Wright added, “Burnout is real.”

Michelle Smoller summed up her approach to networking with these words: “Ask, ‘How can I help you?’”

Nneka Onuorah agreed. “Don’t rush to ask someone for something,” she said, and shared an experience of having dinner with a group of CEOs, then taking her credit card out when the check came, offering to pay.

“They cracked up, but they didn’t forget me. People remember how you made them feel,” she said, and passed this along: “Networking is with the person next to you too, because you never know where they’ll be tomorrow.”

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • BMCC Communication Studies and Theatre Clubs host the panel Careers in Television & Public Relations
  • Five new entrepreneurs share tips for breaking into fashion, talk shows, music, entertainment and other industries
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