Saturday, December 20, 2008

CAREER PATH INTERVIEW: Video Production Company Owner

Maureen Isern's Career Path Story to Owning Her Own Successful Business

Maureen Isern is the producer and owner of MOPED PRODUCTIONS, a New York City-based video production company serving philanthropic businesses and non-profit organizations to help them "mobilize their mission" through the use of video, audio and photography. Her company is an award-winning, full-service media consulting and production company dedicated to turning her clients' mission into a powerful, customized visual message.

Today she shares insights into her career choices and video production business in this interview:

How did you select this type of business?
I saw an opportunity to tell the stories of organizations that were doing good things, in a way that would illuminate them more expansively and draw in new donors, volunteers and recognition. Non-profits, community organizations, and philanthropic businesses are often reluctant to ‘advertise’ -- in a way, believing that people will give credit where credit is due. I agree the credit is due. But the media pool is so much bigger now. These organizations are only given the chance to shine when they create their own spotlight.

Best thing about my job: We get to help those who are helping others. We get to work with organizations that are having incredible impacts on our communities and it’s very fulfilling to help mobilize their missions through media.

Biggest challenge: As a young media company, it’s easy to be distracted with the hundreds of directions we could potentially go in. There’s so much overlap now between content development and marketing/branding – between web, print and tv – that I want to make sure we offer a robust level of service that meets multiple needs, and at the same maintain that sky-high level of quality and know-how.

Biggest surprise: Things seem to be taking a turn for the better in our business, even during this recession, in that groups are realizing the importance of talking about what they’re doing. They seem to be more receptive to creative directions they may have not considered before – both in terms of messaging and distribution. The tight purse strings are pushing them to be more resourceful, more forward-thinking and more experimental than the non-profit sector has tended to be in the past.

I worry about: making Moped a secure, reliable place to work as a creative professional. In this economic situation and witnessing the downsizing throughout major media companies and non-profits alike, it’s worrisome to think the industry workflow may slow down and a freelancer who counts on me may not have a project for a few weeks. So far, we’re in solid shape, but it’s something that keeps my brain spinning sometimes.

Most important lesson learned: You are only as good as your last work.

Best advice I ever got: If you are really good at what you do, you will find yourself learning something every day. If you’re not, you’ll think you know everything already.

When the going gets tough, I: remind myself that tomorrow morning I will be given a fresh start. My grandmother always said to me ‘and this, too, shall pass.’ That applies to both the good and bad times. I tend to use it more during the bad times!

For relaxation, I: um…. Not much of that these days -- going into the 3rd year of business. I try to make it to a weekend stretch class as often as possible. And every once in a while I reward myself with a visit it to my favorite salon for a pedicure or a facial if I’m feeling fancy. I hope to take a vacation in the spring.

Someone considering this for a career should: know that there is little room for a specialty trade person in media anymore. You can certainly survive only knowing how to produce, or only knowing how to build websites, but you are setting yourself up for hitting your ceiling early. The more you can expand your creative, industry and business know-how, the more indispensably imbedded you’ll be in your field. That means constantly teaching yourself and learning from those around you.

How did you get interested in your career area?
I started in tv journalism, telling community stories via local news. I found my strength in telling difficult stories, personal stories. I knew I wanted to work in a longer, less formulaic format very quickly.
What training did you have? I studied communication and journalism at FSU and FAMU, interned at the WOFL-FOX station in Orlando, and trained as a production assistant and associate producer at WCTV-CBS in Tallahassee, Florida during my last year in college.

What jobs have you held over the years to prepare you for this career? After becoming a field reporter and weekend anchor at WCTV, my producing and editing skills were honed through freelance work in New York, particularly at mtvU, MTV’s college network. mtvU is where I really witnessed the multi-leveled production work that happened with brand integration, opportunities for students, and creating ‘on-air, online and on-the-ground’ elements, as they would say, for their larger initiatives. I also freelanced as an on-camera host for a few different outlets in the city, which will ultimately make anyone a better producer/director. And truly, each client project is like having a new job. You always learn something throughout each creative process.

What things should they do now to get ready for this career? Skills, personality traits. Definitely learn to do your job consistently well, first and foremost. But your standard for success should go beyond accomplishing your tasks. It’s about valuing your own skills and talents in a way that makes the people around you feel good about what you bring to the table. You are you’re own salesperson, no matter what field you’re in.

What are the disadvantages of this career area? I think a lot of people don’t realize the level of conceptual and technical work that goes into planning and creating distribution-quality media products. With the cost of technology going down, and everyone’s nephew having an editing system on their laptop, I think there’s a perception that storytelling and editing are skills you can just ‘pick up.’ There are certain skills that come with time and experience that certainly compounds with talent; neither survives without the other for very long.

What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to pursue your career area? Try everything once. When I was reporting the news in 2001, I never expected to be a non-linear editor or be able to project revenue goals. I have always been open to taking on different types of projects for the sake of experiencing a new aspect of the business. It teaches you something, including what you’re really bad at. I will never be a live-studio soundboard operator.

What I think I’ll be doing 10 years from now: I believe Moped will have evolved into a larger-scale media services company, with online, on-air and print distribution components. I hope to be at a place where I’m overseeing that business, helping other entrepreneurs launch their businesses, and seeing a few little kiddies off to kindergarten and first grade!

Parting shot/ Words of Wisdom to other Women: Nothing gets done without taking the first step. The turtle doesn’t move forward without sticking his neck out. The world makes way for people who know where they’re going. Be a business-woman, not a woman in the business.

Publisher's note:I met Maureen last month at the ATHENA International awards ceremony in Chicago where one of her documentary style videos made it's debut. You can view it at her website or the ATHENA International leadership website as well.