A woman in the audience held a single mylar balloon with the words “It’s Your Day” written across the front.
While meant for one student in particular, it’s a message that indeed applied to all Promo Pathway graduates during Thursday’s ceremony when they accepted their certificates, and will continue to resonate in the future as they leave their stamp on the television and entertainment marketing industry.
“Congratulations to all of you,” said Steve Kazanjian, president and CEO of PromaxBDA, which hosts the Promo Pathway program along with Santa Monica College. “We’re all so excited to see the awesomeness that will come out of you in the next years.”
The one-year on-air training program immerses students from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds in television marketing with hands-on curriculum, creative coaching and valuable connections that provide real-world experience to help them launch their careers as writers, editors or producers in the entertainment industry.
Alumni have gone on to work at MTV, ABC, Lifetime and television networks across the world, and a newly started fourth cohort marks a milestone of 100 students passing through the program.
The application process was rigorous, as Nicholas Lombardo, one of three valedictorians, recalled during his commencement speech at Santa Monica College. Out of about 300 applicants, he made it to the finalist round and was tasked with coming up with three 15- to 30-second promos about himself.
“Halfway through my presentation, I lost my nerve and went blank,” he said. “[The judges] said ‘why do you want to be in this program?’ And I just started bawling.”
Lombardo went to his car and stared out at the parking lot through tears, thinking he just blew it and trying to pull himself together for round two.
Luckily, listening to Rocky Balboa’s speech from Rocky VI — which he expertly imitated on stage in front of his classmates — helped him put the gloves back on get back in the game.
Even luckier, the judges saw his passion and he, along with 23 other students, made the cut — and embarked on an intense year of night classes that turned them into marketing “preditors.”
“Not the kind that fights Arnold Schwarzenegger or one that gallivants around in a Hollywood Access bus,” Lombardo explained. “I’m talking about a new hybrid entertainment position of a producer and editor.”
And the student’s final project reels, highlighted in the PromaxBDA’s Promo Pathway e-book, are testaments to their newfound skills.
Gina Deckard and Estefany Zendejas also received valedictorian awards. In addition, Zendejas received an award for “Creative Leadership,” Deckard for “Team Player” and Palesa Payne for “Most Professional.”
That moment of despair Lombardo experienced in the Promo Pathway application process is also a feeling students will likely experience time and again as they move forward in their careers, so it’s important to learn how to overcome it, as indicated in a story Kazanjian told the 15 students who attended the ceremony.
Soon after graduating, he landed a job a Showtime on 37th and Broadway, thanks to his Mac computer skills, and was excited to be in New York City and “making it.” He was working on a logo design project, uploading floppy disk after floppy disk of fonts, when the computer froze.
“It was frozen like I never … ,” he said, as his boss sat there asking if everything was alright.
Kazanjian went downstairs and got some lunch as he envisioned this amazing job slipping through his fingers. Then, he felt the metaphoric tap of his grandfather’s hand on his shoulder — his Armenian grandfather who escaped genocide at 12-years-old with his parents, booking a ship to Massachusetts via Paris, and taking a Ford Model T across the country to settle, “like all great Armenians,” in Glendale, Calif.
His grandfather’s motto was “never give up,” and Kazanjian went back upstairs to find a way to create a “half-baked logo.”
“The point of this story,” Kazanjian said, “is each and every one of you will have that moment when you load the proverbial disk and try to install those fonts, and it all goes to hell.”
What matters is how you handle those moments, said Scot Chastain, EVP affiliate marketing and development at NBC Television Network, PromaxBDA board chair and a Promo Pathway instructor.
“You’re going to have a lot of successes in this business,” he said. “And you’re going to fail. I’ve had a lot of instances where the disk didn’t come back. It’s a little jarring.”
But it’s how you react to failing, and how you pick yourself back up, that matters. Chastain also told students to always keep learning, especially by staying on top of new technology, which can set many of them apart in an up-and-coming generation that’s leading the charge of industry change.
“The scary thing is with your careers … there really is no road map,” said Chastain. “There’s 100 different ways to be successful. Your idea of success is going to be what you feel inside, and your perception.”
The important thing is also to enjoy yourself along the way, said Chastain.
“Maintain a balance,” he said. “This business shouldn’t burn you out. This business is fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it the right way.”