PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 32, Landings: Samantha Weisman

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Ella Ekstrom: Hello, I'm Ella Ekstrom. I'm a current student at Cornell in the PMA department and I'm graduating in May 2020. I'm joined today by Sam, a recent graduate from Cornell. Thank you again for allowing me to interview you, Sam. Would you like to give yourself a little introduction?

Samantha Weisman: Sure, first, thank you for calling me a recent grad. I appreciate that. So yes, my name is Samantha Weisman. I graduated from Cornell in 2015. My major was communication, so I was in CALS, but my minor was in film. And then specifically I focused on screenwriting, so I took a lot of PMA classes and I currently work at Viacom in integrated marketing.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, interesting. Do you think that your time at Cornell really prepared you for your future in the career field... Workforce? I guess?

Samantha Weisman: Yes, I do. I think when I think back to what helped me the most in the workplace itself, you know, of course I learned valuable things in all of my classes, but I think what honestly helped me more was the other things I participated in. So like clubs or extracurriculars or independent studies, things sort of outside the classroom or the things that, you know, the places that, for example, I was a columnist for the Cornell Daily Sun. And so those interactions and more of like a business environment I think helped me more for the workplace itself than, you know, one of my science classes for example.

Ella Ekstrom: I totally agree. That's really... Is there any other clubs that you did at Cornell?

Samantha Weisman: Yes, I was the president of Cornell Hillel, so I was obviously very involved there and so that, you know, involved, you know, like leading meetings and things like that, which was super helpful for the workplace. Planning events and things like that. I was in a sorority where I was a little bit involved. Like I said, I was a columnist for the Sun. And then I also did research in the communication department, which I also think was super helpful.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, that's really interesting. What research did you do?

Samantha Weisman: So some of the research was with Professor Lee Humphreys, and a group of us were helping her research for a book that actually came out recently. And so that was kind of about like the self and the online self, and so doing a lot of research about how people present themselves online and things like that, which was very helpful for me in terms of my job because now a lot of what I do is working with, you know, Instagram and YouTube influencers. So seeing how people present themselves is very helpful to look at through that lens.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, that's interesting. Would you say Professor Lee Humphreys is one of your mentors?

Samantha Weisman: Yeah. Definitely, I learned a lot from her at Cornell, which is sad to think about that, you know, I don't get to talk to her as often anymore, but she was definitely one of my mentors. Sahara Byrne, who's another professor in the communication department was definitely one of my mentors. I actually, I did research with her as well. Which was also helpful for my career because we did research focusing on like cigarette labels, and it was really interesting. So it was like testing how, where people's eyes looked at first on a cigarette pack?

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, I think, I took a few communication courses because I was a communication major. I think I took her course and she was talking about that like, with the eye tracking.

Samantha Weisman: Yes, exactly that.

Ella Ekstrom: Yeah, that was interesting. Oh you helped with that?

Samantha Weisman: Yes, only for a few semesters. But it was a really interesting project and now kind of working in advertising, it's very interesting to see how people design advertisements through that lens as well.

Ella Ekstrom: Interesting. So do you ever do research in your job or is it mainly you're doing I guess you're a coordinator for branded programming at Viacom?

Samantha Weisman: Yes. So what I do is I work with advertisers and brands to integrate them or create custom content for them across the Viacom networks. So the Viacom networks include Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Awesomeness TV, which is the company I came from, VH1, et cetera. And I guess I can give you an example. So if Pepsi wanted to be integrated into the Daily Show, then what my role would be would be to work with the Daily Show team to come up with a proposal that hits on what Pepsi wants us to hit, but also is still a compelling, you know, segment. It's not super overt or cheesy or anything like that. And then I put together the proposal for the client and then present it to them and then if it sells through another team, then activates it.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, interesting. That's really, that's pretty cool. That's definitely new wave advertising, you know.

Samantha Weisman: Oh yeah, for sure.

Ella Ekstrom: And then if you could go back is there anything you would change about your time at Cornell?

Samantha Weisman: You know, I saw that question beforehand and it, I started thinking about it and I really, I can't necessarily pinpoint anything. Just because, everything that I did sort of led me to meeting interesting people or working with interesting professors and all of that sort of made an impact on where I ended up.

Ella Ekstrom: I totally agree with that. I'm kind of the same way, everything's meant to be, you know, [laughter].

Samantha Weisman: Exactly. You're in your senior year, right?

Ella Ekstrom: Yes.

Samantha Weisman: So is there anything that you would change necessarily looking back at the three years that you've had?

Ella Ekstrom: Well, for me, I've had a very crazy time ‘cause I was a transfer student. I transferred to Cornell from Bucknell, and I actually was a communication major my first year. And for me, communication didn't quite work out. So I had to transfer again to Arts & Sciences from CALS and then figure out what major to do. And there's this whole like, internal self-discovery journey that I would not have had at all if I knew exactly what I wanted immediately when I came to this school. So it was like... I grew a lot from it. So I, even though it would be more convenient if I could go back and just already start off knowing what I wanted to do, I kind of really liked the journey to get here. So...

Samantha Weisman: Oh, that's such a good point. I started actually in biometry and statistics, so... And then I switched to communications but I didn't have to switch schools. So I sympathize with that a lot.

Ella Ekstrom: That's, yeah. Okay. So let's see. Oh, could you walk me through your steps of how you got to where you are today since graduating? You said you worked for a company similar to Viacom?

Samantha Weisman: Yeah. So when I graduated, so the, something else I guess I should have talked about is that in addition to like research and other programs I took a few classes with Austin Bunn who was the person who contacted me for this interview. It was, as you probably know, wonderful. And senior spring I did an independent study with him and a few other students, just continuing to work on our screenwriting skills. And that made a big impact on me because beforehand, I guess I hadn't really opened up that creative side of me as much. So when I graduated, I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I wanted to work in TV production even though I wasn't a film major. So I got a job as a PA on “Jessica Jones,” which was a Marvel show on Netflix, and I sort of got into that show at the tail end of their season. So the show just shoots a season and then it takes a little bit of a break. So I was only going to work there for two months because that's all they needed me for. So I thought that was a good opportunity to kind of see if I liked it. And I kind of recommend doing something like that to any students who aren't sure what they want to do. When I was graduating, there was a lot of pressure to get a really, you know, cool job. Like be able to say that you've got a really cool job. And when I graduated I didn't have a job yet. And so I think it's helpful for other students to know that that's okay, that most people don't like the job that they have right after they graduate. And it's okay if you graduate and you don't have a job yet. Cause that really stressed me out at the time. So anyway, I got the PA job and I liked it. I think that there would have been opportunity for growth if it was sort of the lifestyle that I wanted to lead, if that makes sense. You know, I had to be there for at least 12 hours every day, if not, you know, 15 or 16 hours every day. A lot of what I was doing was like restocking the kitchen and little things like that, which, everyone has to pay dues in some way, shape, or form. But my ultimate goal wasn't to be the person who asked other people to stock the fridge either. It was to be more involved in sort of the creative process, less so than like the office management. So my next role was I actually got an internship, which I don't necessarily know if I'd recommend people who've graduated to do an internship after they've graduated. But that was what I did and it was, I mean it was paid, but you know, I was still an intern, so it was like kind of awkward cause I had graduated. But I was an intern at the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, interesting.

Samantha Weisman: Yeah. And that was sort of like being a PA also, except I reported to the PAs and that was a ton of fun, I was there for the beginning of the show and it was a really, really great experience. But I was also running around all day. I didn't have a computer, I didn't have a desk. And I realized that similarly what I was lacking in the other job too is that I wanted to be a little bit more creative and a little less like physically hands-on, if that makes sense. So that's when I sort of thought back to my time at Cornell actually and thought about sort of like the new media classes I had taken about YouTube and digital media and you know, how people are expressing themselves through different mediums besides just like TV and film. And that's when I got the job at Awesomeness TV, which is, it's still a thing. It's a Gen Z, which you're probably Gen Z. [laughter] I'm like a young millennial, so I pretend to know what Gen Z likes and dislikes, but I'm not one of you. [laughter] It's like a Gen Z media company. So because teens and college students, now that Gen Z is a little bit older, aren't watching TV anymore on a TV or watching, I guess, you're watching things on Netflix and Hulu and YouTube. And so the Awesomeness creates programming that lives on those platforms and not on TV.

Ella Ekstrom: Okay.

Samantha Weisman: And so for them, I was doing the same thing that I do here, which is like figuring out how brands can be, and advertisers, can be a part of those programs, even if there are no commercials. So whether it was an entire show sponsored by a brand, which we did with Royal Caribbean, where we had to show like on a cruise ship where these two teens fall in love, it's very cheesy and cute. Or you know, figuring out ways to integrate a brand and do just one episode of a show. That's what I did at Awesomeness.

Ella Ekstrom: Okay.

Samantha Weisman: And then about a year ago, Awesomeness was acquired by Viacom. So that's how I came here and now I'm doing the same thing that I did at Awesomeness, but for all of Viacom.

Ella Ekstrom: Interesting.

Samantha Weisman: I mean, it's not just me. There's, there's many people.

Ella Ekstrom: Well that's so... That's pretty neat. Well, I mean, the origins of radio, I was reading a book, they were all sponsored, all the shows were sponsored by one brand and they would incorporate it. But yeah, this is definitely the new wave approach to that. That's, that's pretty, that's pretty neat because yeah, I guess Netflix doesn't use commercials.

Samantha Weisman: Exactly.

Ella Ekstrom: That's good.

Samantha Weisman: You know the Netflix movie "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"?

Ella Ekstrom: Um no. What's it about?

Samantha Weisman: It's about this girl who writes letters to her crushes but doesn't actually send them, but then they all get sent.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh wait, I think I've heard of this. Yes.

Samantha Weisman: It's with Noah Centineo, who is like hot right now. Anyway, that's, that's an Awesomeness movie.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh. Interesting.

Samantha Weisman: And so I didn't have a hand in making it or anything, but if you watch it, there are a couple of brands that are like mentioned throughout the movie and that's sort of an example of, of what I do.

Ella Ekstrom: Interesting.

Samantha Weisman: It's like fancy product placement.

Ella Ekstrom: Yeah. That's cool. And then do you ever work with influencers?

Samantha Weisman: Yeah. So the other part of it is like, sometimes an advertiser will come to us and say, you know, it's cool that you have all these fancy shows, but we actually just want influencers. So we have a whole team that we work with to book influencers for things. So I'm like, right now I'm working on a program with Spotify and we contract influencers to talk about how much they love Spotify.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, I see. That's cool. That's pretty neat. That's definitely the future of advertising. I mean, yeah, cause my mom, she had an ad agency but she'd been working in like print things, you know, collateral, that type of, you know. It was also like right around the time when computers just started to be used for advertising. So she definitely has kind of this old, when I talk to her about it, she has like kind of an old school, which is still like a legit approach to advertising. But it's definitely used in a different way than how I guess, to market to the younger people now.

Samantha Weisman: Yeah.

Ella Ekstrom: Cool. From where you are right now, where do you see yourself in the future? Where, where do you see yourself headed?

Samantha Weisman: That's a great question because I spend a lot of my time thinking about that. And I think that part of it is that, I don't know. And that's something that I maybe would have told myself coming out of college. Because I think, like I was saying before, there's so much pressure when you graduate, especially from a school like Cornell to have it all figured out, to know what your job's going to be, to know where you want to be in five years. And I didn't know any of that and I still don't necessarily know all of that. So I think the best advice I can give is that that's okay. You'll still be okay. And it's okay not to know because what you want might can change a thousand times.

Ella Ekstrom: When do you...

Samantha Weisman: Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Ella Ekstrom: No, you keep going.

Samantha Weisman: But in terms of where I am now I think I would love to grow, you know, within Viacom where I am just because the brands here like Nickelodeon and Awesomeness TV are so youth focused. And I find a lot of joy in that, and I think it's really fun to kind of figure out how to both entertain and educate and market to younger people. So I think getting to continue to work on these brands, whether it's in a marketing capacity or a different capacity would be what I want to continue doing.

Ella Ekstrom: Interesting. The youth keeps you young.

Samantha Weisman: Keeps me young. Exactly. Like you called me a recent grad. Which I guess I am, but...

Ella Ekstrom: Well I'd say 2015's pretty recent.

Samantha Weisman: Yeah. I have my five-year reunion coming up.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, that should be fun.

Samantha Weisman: Yeah.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh yeah. Oh yeah! Cause it's 2020 soon. I keep forgetting that I'm about to graduate. I always see that date. Like the year 2020 just seems so far away even though it's one month away...

Samantha Weisman: Definitely, probably because you always knew that was the year you were going to graduate college. So that probably has always just felt so far to you.

Ella Ekstrom: Yeah, and it's also 2020 starting a new...

Samantha Weisman: Yeah, that's how 2015 was for me. It felt so far.

Ella Ekstrom: I can imagine.

Samantha Weisman: Yeah.

Ella Ekstrom: When you were little did you have any idea for what you would be when you grew up or did you just kind of not think of it?

Samantha Weisman: [Laughter] Um, I had lots of, lots of ideas. And I think kind of what I do now is like a combination of a bunch of them, and I wanted to be like a TV producer or a TV writer. And now I get to kind of like work with those people to create things, which is fun. But I also had silly things, like I wanted to be like a crazy scientist or like a detective or something like that, which, you know, maybe I'll still realize those dreams to come. But, you know, I think it's tough because when you're a kid you only know about certain jobs, right? But when you get into the workforce, you realize that there is so many things that you can do that you didn't learn about when you were a kid.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, that's true.

Samantha Weisman: Why would I as a kid, why would I have said, Oh, I want to work in, you know, integrated marketing?

Ella Ekstrom: [Laughter] Unless you were a very forward-thinking child.

Samantha Weisman: Exactly. But like the job itself is fun. It's creative. It's interesting, but it's okay that I didn't know what it was when I was a kid.

Ella Ekstrom: So you gave some advice before for graduating students. Is there any other advice you have for students who will be graduating in 2020?

Samantha Weisman: Yeah, I think a piece of advice I like to give, whether it's people who are graduating or people who are just starting out in the workforce is a lot of people think it's very important to network up, which it absolutely is. It's definitely important to network with people above you and people in positions that you one day want to have. But I think that some people don't value or, you know, make a big effort to network sideways. And by that I mean like networking with your peers. So whether that's your peers at school or your peers from an internship or your peers from a new job, those relationships are, I would argue, just as, or even more valuable than the relationships you have with people above you sometimes. Because those are people who can, you know, give you advice, maybe help you get a new job, introduce you to someone that they know. And I think that it's so, so important to covet those relationships. In addition, of course, to networking with people higher up than you.

Ella Ekstrom: Interesting. Did you have, when you were at Cornell, did you, I guess, network sideways with anyone that helped you later on?

Samantha Weisman: I probably didn't do that enough, but I think actually what I, when I really did that was when I took screenwriting classes with Austin Bunn, and you know, of course we clearly, I still have a relationship with him and, I'm sorry for my email noises.... And I also, you know, really enjoyed getting to know him through that. But I also made really great relationships with my classmates and when we first graduated a lot of those people, we formed like a screenwriting group in New York and we would meet and go over things we were working on, and it was just like such a great way to transition into adulthood and still feel comfortable and still be in like a class environment. And then a lot of those people I continue to talk to about their careers and things like that. And one of them actually works at Viacom, and it's helpful to know him. So yeah, I definitely did it in that sense at Cornell and I tried to make an effort to do it in my job as well.

Ella Ekstrom: That's wonderful. That's like a little mini community to carry with you.

Samantha Weisman: Yeah, exactly.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, that's interesting. Have you written anything that you've sent away, or are you just writing for yourself right now?

Samantha Weisman: Yeah, definitely more for myself. I haven't written anything in a while. Just because work has been pretty busy. But I do get to write a lot in my job, which is rewarding, like writing, you know, presentations or things like that for clients.

Ella Ekstrom: Oh, wonderful. Well, is there anything else you'd like to say before we sign off?

Samantha Weisman: Like just, Cornell's the best. Enjoy it while you can.

Ella Ekstrom: [Laughter] Okay.

Samantha Weisman: And again, like I don't want anyone to freak out that they don't have a job after, after college because it's such a, especially in like the PMA-focused industries, it's not like business or these other fields where they hire people years in advance. So just stay calm. I promise it will all work out. That's my advice.

Ella Ekstrom: Well, thank you so much, Sam, for letting me interview you and... Continue on with your great work!

Samantha Weisman: Oh, thank you, it was so nice to talk to you.