Fame is fleeting in Hollywood. It’s a sad reality, but for every personality with staying power there are dozens of others who fade away into the dark abyss of “Oh yeah, I kind of remember that guy.” So what makes the difference between becoming Will Smith and becoming what Ronnie from Jersey Shore will inevitably be in two years?
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Havener, an accomplished television producer, writer, entertainment host and reporter with credits on E!, MTV, NBC, BET, and The History Channel. I was interested in understanding the characteristics that make him successful, and some of the media branding techniques that he uses to continue growing his celebrity.
Getting your start
Breaking into the entertainment business is certainly a daunting task. Some people will go their entire career without ever getting their ‘big break.’ But as Havener points out, luck is what happens when persistence meets opportunity. “I’m a firm believer that if you want something bad enough, it will happen for you,” he says. “The most successful people in this business are the ones who work the hardest.” Essentially, it doesn’t matter how you start, all that matters is that you dive in head first and don’t look back. According to Havener, he knew he wanted to have a career in this industry when he was just 5 years old, and he credits that passion to old reruns of “I Love Lucy.” In college, studying Journalism, he took as many internships as he could, just trying to make connections. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, even though many of them in the entertainment space are likely to be unpaid. The old adage, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ may hold truest in the world of entertainment. So, take on any opportunity to make a connection, and realize that it may not pay off until much later, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.
After many internships and auditions, Havener got his break in 2003, when he was hired as a production coordinator on a TV series called “Style Court.” Since then, he has leveraged each opportunity to find the next one, and his accomplishments speak for themselves. He emphasized his relationship with the executive that hired him for that first job, interestingly enough she has become a very close friend and mentor for him. In entertainment, as in any industry, it’s helpful to have a mentor (or multiple mentors). Someone who has been through the same process as you, who knows the industry and the problems that you will ultimately face. If you are reading this as an aspiring entertainer, make that your first priority. Most people who have lived and learned don’t mind sharing their experiences, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find someone willing to fill that role.
Building your network
As we discussed earlier, building a strong network before you need it is the key to success in any industry, but it’s especially important in the media/entertainment vertical. According to Adam, his job isn’t one of the nine-to-five variety. “I’m out ALL of the time at different events, meeting and connecting with other people.” He notes that it’s not at all uncommon to work on a project with someone that you meet at a social event rather than an event strictly meant for business. In entertainment the line between your personal and professional life is extremely blurred, and if you recognize (and embrace) that, it could help you tremendously. Understand, however, that to build a strong brand you have to work at it 100% of the time, and your personality should reflect your brand whether you are on a job, or at a birthday party. As I learned from Adam, you never know where you will meet your next business partner.
When asked about what he considers to be the prominent elements of his brand, Havener paused. “I would have to say being likeable, accessible, and being EVERYWHERE. People will always say to me ‘I recognize you,’ even if we’ve never met, because I go to a ton of events.” This ‘accessibility’ allows Adam to stay relevant, and it makes for an easier and more comfortable introduction to those who he is meeting for the first time.
Taking the right opportunities
For someone breaking into the industry, it will likely behoove them to take on pretty much any role or offer that comes along (within reason). However, once you have started to build a name for yourself, it’s important to take the right opportunities, and avoid the ones that will negatively impact your brand. The saying, “Any publicity is good publicity” can prove entirely false depending on what it is you are looking to accomplish. I asked Havener what types of opportunities he tries to avoid. “I turned down an opportunity earlier this summer to be on a ‘Bachelor’ type of show, because when I thought about it, that wasn’t the direction I was trying to take my career in. As I get older, I’m going to streamline and turn down opportunities that aren’t in line with my goals.” Still, he was quick to add, “Usually, you don’t have to just turn down a project, you can try and take it in a direction that is more fitting to your goals, and meet somewhere in the middle.” As Havener notes, the entertainment industry has a high amount of fluidity, and collaboration is the key to success. When multiple minds come together and compromise, it yields the best result. So be open to opportunities that aren’t exactly what you were looking for, they may take you down a path that you didn’t even know was possible for yourself.
Being a good person
It may sound trite, but one of the best things that you can do to build your brand, and your success, is to simply be a good person. By that I don’t mean that you have to donate all of your money to charity, or volunteer 40 hours per week at the homeless shelter (Note: Those things would absolutely make you a good person though). Just being easy-going, personable, and fun to work with will go a long way in building your success. If an executive, or a talent scout, or anyone with power to make a decision has a choice between two comparable talents, they will almost exclusively go with the one who they actually like spending time with. Havener recalled two of the people who he really enjoyed working with: Sean “Diddy” Combs and Kendra Wilkinson from E!’s “Girls Next Door.”
“Kendra was so fun to work with, she was just carefree and was way more down to Earth than I would have expected without meeting her. Sean Combs was super professional. He really gets the business, and had no ego or attitude even though we needed to shoot a ton of “B-Roll” with him. I really feel that is why he has gotten so far and built such a massive brand.”
Certainly, it also is important to remain professional when working with those whose company is not as enjoyable. But just like in sales, people buy people, not products. “People want to work with someone who they would like to have a beer with,” Havener told me. I couldn’t agree more.
Special thanks to Adam Havener for this interview. Be sure to look for him, his star is sure to shine for a long time. Check out his reel here: