“I’m a fan of going old-school and creating the opportunity yourself.” Having the confidence to create her own opportunities in life is exactly why Jennifer Graham has had an amazing career trajectory. After graduating college, Jennifer knew she wanted to live on the West Coast and work in politics. So while on vacation in California, Jennifer created a career opportunity for herself. She walked into the Senator’s downtown office unannounced, handed her résumé, and was soon offered the gig of a lifetime—Constituent Services Representative to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. After a few years in politics, Jennifer was ready for a career change and set her sights on show business. She faxed her résumé to Fox and, without the help of any connections, was hired as the Executive Assistant to the Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment. After yet another career change and a period of self-discovery, Jennifer fell back in love with show business. She contacted previous colleagues, and because she maintained strong working relationships, Jennifer landed her current role—Director of Field Marketing for 20th Century Fox. We think it’s safe to say that Jennifer certainly has succeeded in creating amazing opportunities for herself!
When Jennifer isn’t traveling for press junkets, promoting 20th Century Fox films, or pursuing connections for film campaigns, you can find her creating inspiring content for her lifestyle blog Jenny by design. Even though blogging isn’t her full-time job, she still works hard to deliver fresh, engaging content that resonates with readers. Her blog details exclusive interviews with celebrities such as chef Mario Batali and former Vogue Paris editor Carine Roitfeld; Jenny by design has also been featured on fashion outlets like People StyleWatch and The Window by Barneys New York—pretty impressive for a blog that is only two years old!
We’ve decided to highlight Jennifer today on The Everygirl because she is the best kind of role model. She created her own path to find her dream career, has taken giant risks, and is still humble enough to cite her family as one of the reasons she has accomplished so much. Read on to meet this jet-setting, stylish gal, learn what it really takes to work in show business, and discover how being brave enough to create opportunities can lead to amazing things!
Name: Jennifer Graham
Location: New York City
Current Title/Company: Director of Field Marketing, 20th Century Fox Filmed Entertainment
Educational Background: Bachelor of Arts, Political Science and Humanities, Providence College
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
Constituent Services Representative to United States Senator Dianne Feinstein. At 22-years-old, I was hiring and managing interns my own age, writing speeches, liaising with the Pentagon on behalf of Veterans in California, and I even flew in a Marine Corps helicopter to greet a ship in the Pacific Ocean that was returning from the Middle East.
I knew I wanted to live in Southern California and I knew I wanted to be a part of the pulse of humanity. A few weeks after my college graduation, I was on a West coast beach vacation with my best friends. One afternoon, I called myself a cab and walked into the Senator’s downtown office unannounced. As the front desk clerk tried to deny me entry, the Senator’s District Director walked by. He shook my hand, took my resume, and four weeks later called with an opportunity to interview for an open position.
The next thing I knew, I was moving across the country with three suitcases, $400 in savings, and a temporary room to rent. It still slightly blows my mind that I landed such a gig without having one political connection. Of course, I worked hard in college to build a decent resume, which included experiences like interning at an ABC News affiliate and attending Model Organization of American States. With the help of student loans and a partial academic scholarship, I paid every single cent of my private college education. I think that made for a bit more gusto in life. Also, coming from a big family helped because I always felt a safety net of love and emotional support. But the financial reality was on me to make it happen, and I did. Looking back, I learned to source my own life from its presence.
You served as an executive assistant to the Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Along with juicy gossip (we’re envisioning Entourage-like scenes here), the exposure to executive level management must have been priceless. Tell us about your experience and what effect this position had on the rest of your career.
During the three-plus years I spent in that role, I think I met the entire cast of Entourage one way or another! The chance to work for the Chairman was another moment of me creating the opportunity. My gut was telling me to make a change. At the time, people still faxed resumes! I sent mine to the general Human Resources number at Fox, not knowing anyone there (or anyone in the entertainment industry). I received a phone call from the film division’s HR person. About week after that call, I was sitting in the office of the Chairman of one the largest movie studios in the world. He hired me on the spot. Less than a month later, I moved to Los Angeles to become the primary gatekeeper to one of Hollywood’s decision makers. I managed a second assistant and had an all-access pass to global business leaders and the film industry. I coordinated domestic and international schedules, planned charitable events, rolled calls with A-list talent, and had a crash course in script notes and filmmaking. To succeed daily at this gig meant never making the same mistake twice. Each day brought on a challenge, a lesson, and a cool story. I learned to juggle a hundred people and a hundred questions and anticipate needs all at the same time and always with grace.
After this position you made a huge move from Los Angeles to New York City. What went into this decision? Did you already have a job lined up?
I was asking myself “what should I do with my life?” and kept thinking about a move back East. I lined up the news channel job before I resigned, and my boss at the movie studio was incredibly supportive. This year or so of my life was a time of risk-taking. I was working for the host of a national tv news and radio show in the evening, booking guests and writing talking points. During the day, I was taking graduate school classes in dance and theatre, embracing a long-time hobby of mine. A handful of personal dreams came true during this time; however, I realized I wanted back in the movie business. I wanted to be around creative like-minds, so I began to make changes.
You transitioned from working as an associate producing news segments for Fox News Channel to working in the marketing department at 20th Century Fox. How did you make this jump? Did you find it challenging without a degree in marketing?
I put out feelers to all of those people I maintained relationships with back in LA. A phone call came from the President of Marketing—she was looking to hire a coordinator in the NYC office. I interviewed with her and got the job. That was the turning point—when I began to grow in the field of film publicity and marketing.
My Senatorial experience combined with the knowledge I had from my time working in Hollywood helped. My empirical analysis research training from the days as a Polical Sciemce major came in handy as did my comfort level with public speaking. Each experience, even the news gig and theatre school, enhanced my character. And character determines destiny. Anything you do to better yourself will always be worthwhile.
Anything you do to better yourself will always be worthwhile.
Do you have any advice for those who are trying to break into an industry they might not have a degree or experience in?
Identify what you bring to the table and make the connection. A large part of my current job is traveling all over North America to promote our films. I must be comfortable meeting dozens of new people each month and be able to articulate the message of the movie. I don’t have a line on my resume which sums that up—it’s from living life. Patience, practice, and perseverance play a key role as well. I’m a fan of going old-school and creating the opportunity yourself. Business is all about relationships. Take the internship and maintain contact with the folks you meet. Always follow through.
From there you have quite an impressive resume filled with ladder steps to your current position, Director of Field Marketing for 20th Century Fox. You manage a team of field representatives nationwide. What do you think makes you an effective leader? Did you develop these skills over time and if so, how?
Be generous with your time when it comes to the success of your team and be well-intentioned. I have been lucky to have bosses who wanted to help in my professional development, and so I hope to pass that on by sharing the momentum and finding ways for them to advance. Being an effective leader means listening to those around you. Engagement is key. In the marketing of films we tell stories. Storytelling allows you to express passion, which fuels high engagement in thinking, feeling, and creating. People want to feel heard, and they must have a healthy level of social well-being on the job. Doing what is right is what is at the core of a true leader. I always defer to my instinct.
Developing long term alliances and being able to work cross-functionally with divisions of the movie studio probably connects all the way back to growing up in a large family. From an early age, I learned the benefits of negotiation and teamwork, the value of my own voice, to remain humble, and to take a chance.
A successful career like yours doesn’t come without its failures. How do you tackle challenges and overcome failure so that lessons are learned?
If it’s your fault, fess up. That’s a big part of solving the problem. Be mindful that most mistakes aren’t a reflection of our deepest qualities. Ask good questions, make eye contact, and be able to let things go when needed.
No matter how much you’ve learned from your bosses, colleagues, or clients, nothing trumps a gut instinct. I’m a believer in surrounding oneself with people who enjoy what they are doing. And humor—my sense of humor gets me through a lot!
No matter how much you’ve learned from your bosses, colleagues, or clients, nothing trumps a gut instinct.
Now let’s talk about the successes! What has been your proudest achievement thus far?
In my day job, I get most thrilled by making connections that spark real campaign content. For instance, I met designer Chris Benz at a party a few years ago. His creative eye struck me as a good fit for the film EPIC, especially in reaching a female audience. Chris ended up creating a dress inspired by the movie, which was unveiled to key online press at a word of mouth special event with the art director from the film. Another one that comes to mind is when my best friend, a fourth grade teacher, emailed me a link of her students’ “favorite kid”, Kid President. I hadn’t heard of him, but after seeing the video I pitched my boss the idea of having him interview our talent from a kid-friendly movie. After tracking him down and working out the details, I greeted Kid President at the airport and hosted him at his first ever movie press junket. Anything is possible. Always remember that.
On a personal note, with my blog, it was a moment in time when Barneys New York profiled me and the blog on their micro-site, The Window. It opened so many doors and is continuous a circle of goodness.
Like most of the Everygirls we feature, you probably don’t have an average day at work. Tell us what you can about your day and the projects you’re currently working on.
I travel at least a few days each month on behalf of a global press junket, film festival, special event, or domestic press tour. Weeks or months of planning go into these events, including the coordination of regional press opportunities and talent scheduling. I also oversee site visits, negotiate venue contracts and partnership deals, create relationships with brands, manage screening programs, and maintain connections with the press. In a lot of ways, this job has made the road a home for me. I trust and respect the team I work with and love that I have the opportunity to meet so many interesting people on this planet. When I am in the New York office, a typical work day includes a daily morning call with my Los Angeles-based boss. I attend phone or Skype team meetings with the LA office and the national NY publicity staff, connect with our regional market reps on field activations for all Fox films, and stay in tune with the beat of what’s happening in the world. Sometimes the day includes a meeting with a new partner for a potential collaboration, sometimes I get a call that I need to fly to Iceland on a press tour (actually happened!), and sometimes I leave by 7:30pm to cook dinner with my favorite people.
What characteristics do you think are most responsible for your success?
Empathy and curiosity.
Let’s talk about your blog! How did it start? How do you manage near daily content with working full-time?
Jenny by design began as a diary of all things full of delight. I had the idea in my head for a long while, and when I going through a break-up, I created JBD. Blogging about things that I love and writing helped me stay optimistic, and ultimately became a favorite thing to do.
I do not follow a strict calendar for posts; however, there are a few columns I write each month that are consistent and scheduled. I create content based on where I am, what inspires me, what feels right in the moment. Most often I’ll create several posts in one day, and then publish them throughout a week or a month. JBD is a collective home for inspiration in design, fashion, food, and travel and is a place where I publish exclusive interviews with people I find fascinating. It’s fun!
Do you apply your background in marketing to your blog?
I think being a blogger has actually made me a better marketer. I taught myself analytics and formed core relationships with folks in the blogosphere; it’s all been a positive influence in relation to my full-time career. In both instances, I have a dual perspective. I’m the content creator and I’m the audience. With the blog, it’s about understanding the development of an identity. Jenny by design is a complete brand because it speaks for itself. My readers know what JBD does and what JBD stands for. This is the idea I’ve learned to use per film—developing regional publicity material so the consumer feels connected to the content, so they have a tangible experience.
Through your blog you’ve interviewed people like Mario Batali and Carine Roitfeld, and worked with such brands as Balmain and MissoniHome. Who was your favorite person to interview? What collaboration were you most excited about? How did these partnerships come about?
Interviewing Carine Roitfeld was a dream come true! I had to pinch myself when I found out she said yes. A friend of mine had a connection to her, and he included my blog on a list of outlets she had to say yes or no to on behalf of her documentary, Mademoiselle C. I’m proud of that interview—it’s comprehensive and candid.
I embrace each collaborative opportunity. I only move forward with what I believe in, which makes it feel freeing and intriguing. Some of the partnerships come from networking with friends and family or are a result of reaching out and simply asking. JBD is a part of the Harper’s BAZAAR style ambassador program, which has allowed for direct relationships with exclusive brands. The sky is the limit. It’s quite appealing.
What advice would you give to your 23 year-old self?
Keep doing what you’re doing because life is one wild ride. Learn, enjoy, and expect to be surprised.
Jennifer Graham is The Everygirl…
Hot and dark with a splash of whole milk.
Favorite way to unwind?
Yoga and time spent with my family.
You’ve always had the power, you’ve always had it my dear.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Pamela Druckerman. I picked up her book French Children Don’t Throw Food while in an airport last year and loved every word. I went on to read Lust In Translation and admire her anthropologic verve. A chat with Pamela about her transition into living as an expat in Paris would be a delight. We’d eat the daily special by Chef Julien at Les Potes au Feu, my favorite restaurant in the 20e arrondissement.