Paths to a Data-Rich Career, According to UVA and Darden Alumni at Top Media Companies
By Dave Hendrick
To land a growth-oriented role in the rapidly evolving entertainment ecosystem, gain familiarity — expertise not necessarily required — in modern data and analytics tools and programming languages; learn how to translate data into actual, usable insights; and learn everything you can about the role and company you’re pursuing before applying and interviewing.
That advice comes courtesy of a trio of University of Virginia alumni working in data-rich roles at major media companies, who spoke to Darden School of Business students at a recent virtual event about working in the entertainment industry hosted by the Darden Career Center.
The panelists — Disney Streaming Services Senior Manager of Data Analytics Jane Hegeler, a UVA McIntire School of Commerce alumna; Spotify Head of Global Business Marketing Khurrum Malik (MBA ‘07); and Todd Hinckley (MBA ’11), director of insights and positioning, sports, at NBC Universal — count seven UVA degrees among them, including undergraduate degrees in Chinese language and literature, environmental science and history, respectively, a sign that there’s no one path or toolkit to unlock a career in analytics.
Malik, who held previous roles at Microsoft, ComScore and Facebook, among others, said his Spotify role involved “marketing to marketers,” helping enterprise advertisers and small businesses advertise on Spotify in a way that drives growth objectives, while helping artists monetize their work.
Malik said his current position operated at the forefront of key macro trends that had been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the move from analog to digital media, the increase in time spent on mobile devices, and the rise of audio consumption, which he said had overtaken social media and video in terms of time spent on a daily basis.
Hegeler said the rapidly evolving nature of content and audience strategy for streaming video services, with some focusing on producing reams of content quickly to see what sticks, and others focusing on tent pole productions — or both. For a company with a global footprint, there are new and seemingly endless opportunities for audience segmentation and expansion, she said, noting that working at Disney Streaming Services following the launch of Disney+ was like “hanging on to a rocket.”
“The way in which we compete for audience and attention is very different now,” said Hegeler.
Hinckley, who previously worked for Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, said he’s operating in a unique part of the consumption ecosystem at NBC Universal, as live sports continue to be an exception to the decline in traditional, live television viewing. Still, the forces reshaping the entertainment ecosystem, including the personalization of content, shifting interests amid changing demographics in the United States and an obsession with measuring impact, are intensely relevant in this world.
Professional sports careers have long involved using advanced analytics to analyze ticket purchases and try to deduce consumer needs and desires. Hinckley’s role at NBC Universal similarly involved assessing data to make informed business decisions.
“Taking a lot of information and boiling it down to something that helps people make a decision, that’s hard,” said Hinckley. ”Being able to distill insight from a robust data set, that’s the real challenge.”
Being able to take data and “turn it into something actionable for the business” is a skill that is in “constant demand,” and can come from people with a variety of fields of study, said Hegeler. She has colleagues who came to data-heavy positions with backgrounds ranging from health care to rocket science.
Advice and Opportunities to Land Analytics-Heavy Entertainment Industry Roles
Hegeler said people interested in working in the space need to gain familiarity in programming languages and analytical tools, even if they won’t be responsible for actually writing code.
“You don’t necessarily need to learn them, but you need to understand what they do,” Hegeler said.
Malik, who advised students interested in the space to consider the areas of high demand that they could supply, said the ability to “crunch the numbers but also tell a story” remained a critical need for media and technology companies.
“The ability to do the go-to-market position messaging for complicated products is in high-demand,” said Malik, describing the role as that of “quantitative storyteller.”
Other growing job opportunities include research and development roles for employees with strong technology backgrounds, and business marketers skilled at marketing to different audiences. The “connective tissue” of these and similar jobs in the space is an emphasis on growth, Malik said.
The Spotify executive, who said his own career had been driven by a desire to work at the intersection of technology and marketing while powering growth, said he frequently asks job candidates to describe a time they “activated some sort of growth” in a prior role.
If given the opportunity to interview for a position, Malik suggested learning everything possible about the company and clearly articulating how your skillset meets their needs. It was not enough, panelists agreed, to graduate from a top school, to know someone on the hiring committee or be an enthusiastic consumer of the company’s products.
“The way to stand out is to point to specific experiences that tie to the needs of that hiring manager,” said Malik. “Specificity is important.”
In 2018, Darden and UVA McIntire partnered to launch the one-year Master of Science in business analytics program.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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