The last leg of our trip was packed of even more constructive meetings. We started on the Sony lot where we got to meet Marie Jacobson, VP of Worldwide Networks. Marie has worked in the television business all over the world and her experience and hard work eventually earned her an incredible job leading Sony’s international networks. Sony reaches over 180 countries with 1.3 billion subscribers to 80 channels on 151 feeds.
Marie is clearly passionate about her job—she eats, lives and breathes television. She knows the industry inside and out and was able to walk us through what it’s like to run an international television network. It’s not enough for her to focus on the American audience; every country has specific taste when it comes to T.V. A show that went over well in India might do terribly in Japan. Marie works to ensure that Sony’s television shows fit the cultural and entertainment needs of the countries in which they air. We followed up the fantastic meeting with a private tour of Sony’s lot, which included the chance to see several famous sets. Seeing Jeopardy’s set was a highlight.
Next, we got the amazing opportunity to contrast the Sony franchise with Fox. We met with Grant Gish, who’s the vice president of animation at Fox and a Washington and Lee alumnus. Grant talked about the company as well as what his day-to-day job is like. He’s responsible for selling and developing animation shows. Grant said that Fox has always tried to differentiate itself from the other major networks by attempting to make innovative and bold choices. The challenge within his industry is developing shows to which audiences can relate. To do this, he looks for good characters who live in a grounded world. The entertainment industry is all about relating the show to the viewer, but there’s an element of creativity there that can be hard to consistently reproduce. It was cool when Grant gave us a sneak peek of a television show he’s currently developing.
We concluded our Fox adventure across the lot with another W&L alumnus, Keith Rauch. Keith works in marketing, developing trailers for movies. He asked each of us to name the last movie advertisement that stuck out to us, a question that none of us were able to answer. This question highlighted his consistent struggle to reach our generation with marketing and advertising messages. After explaining how he got to his current position and showing us some of his work, he brought in some members of the team that developed the marketing for the upcoming Peanuts movie. It was interesting to circle back to Charlie Brown and the Schulz franchise and hear about some of the movie’s challenges and goals. The team talked about how today’s youth do not know the Peanuts characters like their parents do, so accessing them and getting them excited about the movie can be hard to do.
Time and time again on this trip, we’ve seen how tough it is to get a target audience excited about a product, especially when the audience is young. Sam Levine seems to be in the right industry since all his company does is work with large companies to help them market their products to youth.
In Santa Rosa, we had the amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Peanuts headquarters. We explored the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Schulz’ recreated studio, and Snoopy’s Home Ice–the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which are all part of the Schulz campus. Before we left for California, we had spent two weeks at W&L, inundated with all kinds of Snoopy propaganda. The Santa Rosa leg of our trip was well worth the indoctrination! We explored the life of Charles Schulz and every event that shaped his career, and we saw how the Peanuts comic strip rose to prominence. Most importantly, we got to see what makes a franchise like the Peanuts one so successful.
Just as we thought the Peanuts tour was ending, we got an amazing opportunity—to meet with Jeanie Schulz, Charles Schulz’s wife. She talked with us about how the Peanuts franchise strives to maintain the values that were important to her husband. She also talked about the upcoming Charlie Brown movie and how she hopes it will introduce the next generation to the Peanuts gang.
Meeting with the various individuals who work every day to ensure the Peanuts comic remains iconic was an experience of a lifetime, but there was still more to come. We headed down to Los Angeles for three more packed days of meetings and events. First, we got the opportunity to meet with W&L alumnus Sam Levine. Sam is the director of brand partners at Fuel Incorporated, a youth marketing firm. His firm has digital products in over 193 countries in 90 different languages. I learned a lot over the course of the meeting but took away one big concept from his talk.
Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. One of the biggest ways that Sam got to where he is today is through the relationships he built. Sam said, “at the end of the day, everything is a relationship business.” Through hard work one can succeed, but it helps to have some connections to aid you along the way. Washington and Lee is known for having amazing alumni that are open to starting relationships with students and new grads, but Sam really put it in perspective. He said no one does a deal with Warner Brothers, but instead they do a deal with individual people who work for Warner Brothers. In any industry it’s imperative to make, build, and maintain relationships.
Coming away from this meeting, I realized how special a school like Washington and Lee is. It is a school that encourages individuals to go the extra step and build lasting relationships. One can see this through the speaking tradition or our honor code, both of which create independent and trustworthy individuals who thrive on making and maintaining lasting relationships.
I’m taking Professor Stephen Lind’s business communication class, Framing Snoopy: The Making of a Franchise, and as part of our class, we’re traveling to California to visit with a lot of people who are connected to the PEANUTS franchise.
We shuttled from Lexington to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, taking an early evening flight to San Francisco. On the plane, there were 10 of us and about 90 antsy middle school kids who had been on their school’s annual trip to D.C. and were decked out in FBI hoodies. Six hours and three movies later, we landed in San Francisco, grabbed our bags and headed to the nearest In and Out burger—officially playing into every stereotype about California tourists.
I slept well and woke up with tons of energy. After grabbing a hearty continental breakfast in the hotel lobby, we were off to the Walt Disney Museum, which is located in The Presidio, near historic Crissy Field. Professor Lind had arranged a private tour of the museum, which was great because we got to learn Disney’s entire life story and see relics from his career, including many of his Oscars. The Museum was arranged chronologically, according to the timeline of Disney’s life, and there were a lot of interesting visuals that framed the Disney franchise in a positive manner. Physical mementos went a long in helping to illustrate the various facts that our guide shared with us.
Following the tour we headed outdoors to enjoy lunch at Crissy Field. Off The Grid is a traveling group of food trucks, and it happened to be located in the Field that afternoon, so we got to take our pick of great local foods. I personally gorged myself on calamari, Asian meat skewers, and freshly squeezed lemonade. After we’d eaten ourselves into a food coma, we went to Fisherman’s Wharf, a local tourist destination on the bay. Our class wandered the piers, taking in the street performers and the famous seals at Pier 39.
Later that day, we boarded the van and traveled to Santa Rosa. Tomorrow, we are going to the Charles Schulz Museum where we’ll meet with various people, all of whom contribute in some way to the management of the PEANUTS franchise.
On the drive to Santa Rosa, we did manage to stop at the Red Wood Forest, where we walked amongst trees that are hundreds of years old. Considering the smorgasbord we’d enjoyed for lunch, the walk turned out to be a decent way to burn off a couple calories. We kept dinner fairly light, eating at a local Mexican restaurant, and then we checked in at the Flamingo Resort, where we’re now retiring and recharging for day two of Communicating a Franchise: the California Edition.