How being practical led Joanna Sloame to her dream career as a successful video producer

In today’s age, entrepreneurial thinking has become more mainstream. Terms like “#hustle” are a badge of honor rather than a sign of failure. Plus, moving jobs — industries even — every few years is often seen as better, not worse, for one’s career. Thus, risk-taking is now rewarded with praise, and, if one sticks to it long enough, hopefully success as well. Moreover, successful professionals now share their stories on stages and in publications around the world.

To be fair, their journeys are often incredibly impressive and inspiring.

But there’s one common thread amongst many of these success stories that often feels out of touch, at least for me. Simply put, it’s the idea of following your dreams against all odds. The idea that the best decision you can make (at least from a success perspective) will always be crazy, often driven by a “gut feeling” and an unwavering sense of passion is one that doesn’t yet sit well with a lot of folks.

It’s true that some people do have the ability to up and quit their job to become a beekeeper. Yet for the vast majority of us, making career decisions has to be rooted in some kind of reality. We must take into account family, student loans, medical needs and any other number of things that require forethought. In other words, while inspiring in theory, many of the usual success stories simply aren’t relatable. Quitting your 9-5, following your dreams and hoping for the best isn’t really practical.

A practical approach

This is why I really loved my conversation with Joanna Sloame. Writer, producer, director, journalist and all-around kick-ass person, Sloame’s journey from being at a New York City newspaper to producing viral videos for digital media company PopSugar to, today, consulting large brands on data-driven video advertising, is full of practicality.

Even better, it’s the kind of practicality that’s actually relatable.

One step at a time, Sloame created a career for herself that others could only dream of, especially at such a young age. She’s produced videos highlighting successful female leaders in an effort to challenge gender stereotypes. She even produced a multi-part documentary about Khloe Thompson, a 10-year-old philanthropist who became a sensation here in the US and then took a trip to Ghana to bring running water — and inspiration — to a local school.

Her work has been seen by tens, if not hundreds of millions of people. Many of her videos have gone viral on social media. 

Still, things didn’t start out that way. Sloame methodically worked her way up, often by taking what seemed like sidesteps in her career. These ended up culminating in her rise to the top.

Recently, Sloame and I sat down to talk about her career path, what decisions she made and how she felt along the way. She delivers some practical advice, especially for those looking to break into the world of video.

It all started at the height of the Great Recession

For as long as she could remember, Sloame wanted to work in television. But like many others, trying to make it in Hollywood felt far-fetched and unattainable. In 2009, at the height of the Recession, she graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Ancient History and Creative Writing. She found herself with no job prospects.

During her time at Columbia, however, Sloame managed to get a few internships at NBC — one at Oxygen, an NBCUniversal channel with programming targeting primarily toward women, and another with Bravo Television. During her senior year, Sloame applied for NBCUniversal’s Page Program. It was a 12-month rotational learning and development experience aimed at college graduates. She cruised through every round of interviews and was cautiously optimistic she’d get the job.

“I remember I was on spring break when I found out that I didn’t get it,” Sloame recalled. “I was devastated. There was a hiring freeze, and the internships I had weren’t giving me a leg up. I remember I left college and my parents were driving me home, and I felt like a failure for not graduating with a job.” 

“I remember I left college and my parents were driving me home, and I felt like a failure for not graduating with a job.”

She did have one thing up her sleeve — an interview for another internship. “I had an interview at the New York Daily News even though I didn’t know much about journalism,” Sloame told me. “My mom’s friend worked there and said you should just come in and talk to the hiring team. They have TV contacts, so you never know what can happen down the line.”

Surviving self-doubt

So she did. This wasn’t how Sloame envisioned her life after graduating from college, but this was also when her practical, calculated approach to her career started to form. “I came in for the interview, and the interviewer said, ‘there’s actually an internship in the digital department that has a stipend. Do you want it?’ At least it was paid, I thought, so one week after college graduation, I took the job.”

Sloame wasn’t as happy about it as I thought she might be given how tough the job market was. “I felt bad about myself because the reality was that it was just an internship.” But she stuck to it.

And it was a good thing she did. About a month into the internship, the Daily News photo gallery editor left. Sloame was offered the position of an associate editor if she wanted it. It was full-time, benefits and all.

The right mindset

“Of course I said yes,” Sloame said. “I sucked it up and took that first internship rather than moping about not having a full-time job. And that mindset rewarded me with this opening. I was offered a decent salary, benefits and a title that was really impressive given my age and experience. I was in charge of the entire photo gallery vertical on the Daily News website. It was a great challenge, and it helped me build confidence by giving me an opportunity to prove myself this early in my career.”

Sloame, the “accidental journalist,” worked at the Daily News for almost three years. She was great at her job, and the company really liked her. However, soon her learning curve started flattening. So she began looking for other potential opportunities.

With her editing experience, it didn’t take Sloame long to find something. She got an offer from AOL to be a homepage editor. The office was three blocks from her apartment, the salary was higher, and the company would be great for her resume. It sounded like a no-brainer.

But that’s when Sloame had a lightbulb moment. “I realized that if I wanted to be in the TV industry, this job at AOL would not get me there. The only reason I was considering it was to move on from my current job. So, I declined the role and stayed with the Daily News with a renewed sense of professional purpose. I wanted to make sure this next move was going to be the right move in furtherance of my career.”

The west coast is the best coast

Sloame knew that if she wanted to pursue her dreams of working in TV, she had to end up in Los Angeles. “I would have happily taken a job as a production assistant. I would have cleaned toilets to work in TV —  anything to get out there,” Joanna said with a smile.

But after her parents voiced their concerns about throwing away her digital experience, she started to think outside the box.

Using her Daily News photo agency contacts, she quickly got a job with, of all things, a paparazzi agency out in LA. That would not have been my first guess, or even my twentieth, but it seemed perfect. It combined her experience with photo editing, her knowledge and love of television, and it was in the city she wanted to live in!

“I moved to LA in May 2012. I arrived on a Saturday, got the offer on Wednesday and started on Monday. It was an hourly, temp job, so she kept applying for full-time jobs. I had some friends in the area who had a job email list, and through there I found and applied for a job at Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was part of the show’s digital team, meaning I’d be managing the show’s online presence, but at least it was for a TV show.”

She got an interview. And then an offer. Finally, her foot was in the door.

Refining her strategy

“At Jimmy Kimmel, I worked the night shift, uploading the show’s clips to YouTube, Hulu and other digital media outlets. I would cut together videos, and disseminate them online. Then, I would look at analytics to see how the videos were performing, try to figure out why, and maybe switch things up the next time around.

“While I wasn’t in production, I was working with the people who were, and I learned a lot from them. I met amazing camera crews, lighting specialists, directors of photography and others who were incredibly talented. I watched editors and producers put together the pieces of the nightly show — I actually modeled my future interactions after seeing these incredible relationships between producers and editors.”

But Sloame wanted to take charge the content itself. So she realized that the best way to do that was, well, to start making it!

“As soon as I moved to LA, I jumped into improv at The Second City and met wonderful, funny people. A group of us started producing sketch comedy together.” Sloame recalled, laughing. “We did this one end-of-the-world series about two stoners who thought they were the only two survivors left on the planet and had to create a whole new governmental system. It was a lot of fun and helped me learn how to run a video shoot.”

All the while, Sloame was actively updating her LinkedIn profile. This was actually a common theme during our conversation, but it came to full view while she was at Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Using LinkedIn to get hired in the video space

Despite the fact that Sloame was technically a digital media coordinator at Jimmy Kimmel, by writing and co-producing her own sketches, she was also becoming a writer, director and producer. Which meant she could add those descriptors to her LinkedIn profile.

“And so both PopSugar and NBC reached out to me while I was about two years into Jimmy Kimmel,” Sloame recalled. “They were both looking for writers — PopSugar on a new daily digital TV show, and NBC on their digital platforms. PopSugar was a freelance role, which meant no benefits, no job security and fairly low pay. I wanted so badly to work for a TV show, but I knew it wasn’t practical. NBC, on the other hand, was a salaried position with benefits. Plus it meant that I had access to scripts — lots and lots of scripts — that I could read through to become a better writer myself. I had to take the NBC job.”

At NBC, Sloame made friends with a shooter/editor who shared her weird sense of humor. “So we actually started a small production company together! We wrote sketches and shot videos, which had great production quality since some of my talented lighting, camera and DP friends from Jimmy Kimmel were willing to work with us. Those videos really helped me eventually land the PopSugar job.”

Not out of nowhere

That’s right. A year later, PopSugar reached out to Sloame again. This time they offered her a full-time, salaried position as a Video Producer.

I stopped Sloame at this point in our conversation and asked her: How did this happen? It seemed like she went from stepping-stone jobs as a writer and editor to producing videos at PopSugar seemingly out of nowhere. But she assured me, it was all very calculated, with a little bit of luck sprinkled on top.

Joanna Sloame built her career on making digital video for online platforms, but that doesn’t mean her work is trivial. Most of the videos she’s worked on focus on uplifting stories of hope.

“I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today if I just joined a TV show as a PA or something. At the time, I always felt like my career was taking sidesteps. But ultimately, my decisions were all the right ones. I had full-time, salaried jobs the entire way. I didn’t have to wait tables or work for years as a PA.”

Digital content is the future

Once Sloame got to PopSugar, her career really took off. She pitched, scripted and oversaw the production of hundreds of videos. While she was initially nervous due to her lack of professional experience, she kept going back to the idea that every previous job had led her to this place.

“When I first started at PopSugar, I was assigned hard news videos, but I was intimidated because I didn’t go to journalism school. I distinctly remember one instance where I went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror and told myself that I’ve done this before, and that I can do it again. Everything was going to be fine.”

The results were better than fine — they were outstanding. Many of Sloame’s videos went viral, reaching tens of millions of people each. And these weren’t just videos of cats (although one was) — Joanna was putting out socially-conscious content, giving a platform to incredible women working to change the world.

One of Sloame’s most popular videos depicts young activist Khloe Thompson’s efforts to support the homeless community in LA though her charity organization, Khloe Kares.

Sloame’s most impressive project followed Khloe Thompson who, at the age of eight, started a homeless charity in her hometown of Los Angeles. The video went viral, inspiring young girls around the world. It took Khloe and Sloame all the way to Ghana.

Knowing when to move on

Sloame spent three years at PopSugar, producing incredible content and learning the ins and outs of digital media. But eventually, she started looking for her next learning opportunity. Today, she’s a creative strategist at a TubeScience, an advertising agency that produces video ads for paid social channels. She couldn’t share much, since many of the details are, after all, the company’s secret sauce. 

“I thought the opportunity was super interesting and very cutting edge” Sloame explained. She also knew that having some advertising experience under her belt would diversify her skillset.

When I asked Sloame how she found this latest opportunity, her answer didn’t surprise me. “LinkedIn,” she told me.

The secrets to LinkedIn success

We chatted a bit more about her new role, and how her career has shifted away from wanting to work specifically on a television show to now wanting to make quality content, whether on TV, the internet or elsewhere.

I couldn’t get over the extent to which Sloame had grown her career with the help of LinkedIn! I felt that the platform was so underused by creative professionals, especially folks within the video space. So I asked her for her top three recommendations around how to best leverage LinkedIn to grow a career in video.

Here’s what she told me:

  1. Add keywords to your profile. Often times, Sloame told me, recruiters search specifically for words like “producer,” “writer,” “editor” and so on. So if you want to show up in their search results, add keywords that reflect what you do but are also standard in the industry. For example, instead of saying “I make content on the internet,” consider saying, “I produce digital videos.” It’s like search engine optimization for your LinkedIn profile.
  2. Keep your profile clean and summarize what you do in a way that highlights the most important things about you. For example, if you are looking for an editor position, don’t focus your profile on extraneous work you’ve done that isn’t related to what an editor does. So, despite the fact that you are good at Microsoft Word, leave it out of your profile.
  3. If you’re unemployed, turn on “recruiting” so that recruiters know you’re looking. Put a summary of your experience at the top in one sentence, be blunt and say what you’re looking for. For example: “professional journalist with 8+ experience seeking a role to create emotionally uplifting content.” If you are still employed but interested in looking around, you can still turn on “recruiting,” but just make sure your professional summary reflects what you’ve done without expressly stating that you’re looking for a new job so as not to raise eyebrows at work. Do this for your titles as well.

Final words of advice

As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Sloame for the one piece of advice she would give to video enthusiasts looking to turn their love of writing, editing, producing or any other aspect of video into a career.

Working with Khloe also brought Sloame to Ghana. Through her global outreach efforts, Khloe raised $12,000 to install a water pump and bathroom facilities at a rural Ghana school.

“Don’t be afraid to change your dreams,” she told me. “I came out to LA wanting to write sitcoms. But I’m not disappointed that’s not how it turned out. Instead, I pivoted when it made sense to. I was open to new experiences, wasn’t too hard on myself, and I’m now working an amazing job and fulfilling my creative passions.”

“Oh, yea,” added Sloame, “and the health insurance is nice, too.”

Roman Zelichenko
Roman Zelichenko
Roman Zelichenko, based in New York City, is a writer, lawyer and entrepreneur. Follow him on Instagram: @rzelichenko

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