Liberal Studies at Viacom (feat. Brea Tremblay)
Alumni Aloud Episode 3
Brea Tremblay graduated from the Graduate Center’s Masters of Liberal Studies program with a concentration in international affairs. She has worked as a writer and editor at multiple media companies and now she handles content strategy at Viacom.
In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Brea talks with us about her own journey and gives advice for graduate students thinking about careers in media.
This episode’s interview was conducted by Abbie Turner. The music is “Corporate (Success)” by Scott Holmes.
Listen to the episode below, download it, or stream it in Apple Podcasts (or your preferred podcast player).
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VOICE OVER: You’re listening to Alumni Aloud, a new podcast by Graduate Center students for Graduate Center students. In each episode, we talk with a GC graduate about their career and the advice they would give current students. This series is sponsored by the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development at the Graduate Center.
ABBIE TURNER, HOST: Today, I met with Brea Tremblay who graduated from our Master’s of Liberal Studies Program with a concentration in international affairs.
She has worked as a writer and editor at multiple media companies and now she handles content strategy at Viacom. She talks with us about her own journey and gives advice to graduate students who are thinking about careers in media.
Today, I’m with Brea Tremblay. We’re talking about her career and how she moved from our Master’s in Liberal Studies program at the Graduate Center into Viacom. So what took you to Viacom?
BREA TREMBLAY, GUEST: Well, it was a long path actually from the Graduate Center to Viacom. When I first started here, I realized that I really like to write through some of my classes here. I started writing while working here at Mediaite which does a lot of news media related stories. Then I added an absolute essential part of my day. I wrote some teen television news bites; just random stuff for a company called Wetpaint, and realized that I really liked the very high octane, profoundly stupid editorial voice that I used for them. It was a very nice counterpart to the work I was doing here. If I was spending the day learning about game theory then to go home and be like, “Katy Perry did this crazy thing.” It was a lot of fun.
But they were in Seattle and I was looking to get to know people in an office and learn from them here, particularly as I explored new writing ventures. So I took a very similar job with Alloy Entertainment here which, at the time, they did Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and 9,000 other shows and entertainment properties. That was really fascinating. I worked with some wonderful, wonderful people. But it was also permalance, and a couple days a week while I was here as well, and then I had another job. They were getting sold to Warner Brothers, so it was time to really move fully into writing as a day job.
I started then at a company called Viggle which was a second screen entertainment program for about 70 shows a week. I started as an editor there and eventually worked my way up to content director. It was a chaotic startup type place to work, so people were just quitting all the time which was great for me and great for my resume. I spent some time there. I did two separate Olympics which was as many Olympics as I was gonna let myself do. Then I went over to Daily Beast, thinking that I’d be able to use some more of my international studies background that I got here and realized that the news cycle was not good for me. I’m still obviously obsessed with the news and following it quite a bit.
But to have that as my day in, day out job was just too intense. I was assistant managing editor there which was amazing. I met a lot of great people. But then I had the opportunity to launch the editorial component of an SVOD for Lionsgate, so I jumped on that. That was a joint venture with Tribeca Film Festival and Lionsgate and then it became more of a Lionsgate project. There’s gonna be some office moving and stuff and, obviously, I love New York.
At the same time, some old co-workers that I had worked with at Viggle, who were the most fun to work with, and so smart, and had such great product sense, they had just joined Viacom. Then they had said, “We’d love to have you.” And I always said any place that they liked is a place I wanted to work. So I jumped ship and went over there. Now I do content strategy. That was a very long journey and a very long answer.
TURNER: You have done a lot of different media companies. Have you always done writing for them or did your rules change in all of these different places?
TREMBLAY: Rules have changed. I still love to write but I am not a reporter. I’m not someone that can write 24/7. I have also found that my writing gets a lot better when I have a certain amount of my day which is spent on editing and a certain amount of my day that thinks about content as a much broader picture. So at Daily Beast, it was a lot of the logistics of producing work that we had over 50 full-time employees in multiple offices and roughly 10,000 freelancers. We publish something like 60 pieces of content today.
So it was a lot of figuring out where things were at various stages and what had art, what didn’t, what headlines we were doing, what’s working while on the page, and what sort of things in the news site are we missing. I did some writing there as well. So it was really every step of the process was there. My current job is more big picture, thinking about –
TURNER: Can you give us the title of that real quick?
TREMBLAY: Sure, it’s content strategy, basically. That’s what I do. It’s an en vogue thing to talk about. Editorial is not just writing right now, but also video, and how we interact with video, and social, and all that. I think, to some extent, it’s a little hype. But at the same time, there is something to be said for the fact that each one of these programs is really experience in a lot of different levels.
It’s a fun thing to think about arc, and characters, and whatnot, and really examine content across genre, and find out what the similarities are, and what the audiences respond to it. We try and keep in mind every show is someone’s favorite show. Sometimes we gotta figure out who that person is and how to then get them another show they might like too.
TURNER: What does a typical day like then doing the job you have now?
TREMBLAY: There is no typical day which I really like. Right now, I work basically on project-based month-to-month sprints where we will explore something. It’s a lot of exploration. We’re very lucky right now to be in that position, and just see if there’s any way that – our users, or brands, or whatever – that we can assist them, and … flood in the world with wonderful Viacom content.
TURNER: Yes, of course. What originally brought you to the Graduate Center? Why did you decide to do the Master’s of Liberal Studies here?
TREMBLAY: Well, I moved to New York about three years before I started here. I love New York. I’d always walked home past this place and thought, “What a nice looking building.” Everyone had spoken very highly of this facility and that everyone was quite smart but very approachable as well. I have very little patience for snobbery and anything, especially academia. I was sold, basically. Also my therapist was like, “That place is great.” I was like, “Okay, sign me up.”
TURNER: Great, why did you choose the liberal studies and then you also concentrated on international studies, right?
TREMBLAY: Yes, it seemed very flexible, in terms of curriculum. I wasn’t sure exactly what sort of title I wanted going out of the job. Part of the reason why I wanted to get a master’s in general was that I wanted to spend a little bit more time exploring what I was actually interested in. It seemed to be the program in which you could do that.
TURNER: Once you got in and you’re here studying, what are some of the skills that you were able to build and hone while you were a student here?
TREMBLAY: I think the biggest thing was I came in not sure how much permission I had to direct my study, to direct my own career, to start to make decisions based on whether or not I wanted to do something. While I was here, I got to take classes and figure out what my connection was to them other than like, “Oh, this is the –” Your undergrad schedule is basically set by your undergrad university.
Here I got to really be like, “Okay, that was interesting. Let’s shift a little bit more in that direction.” Or, “No, that was definitely something I’m terrible at.” And to just be able to let myself be terrible at it and not me to then devote another three years to it. That was pretty exciting. Certainly something that – when I started doing that here, I was really able to, in the rest of my career, transfer those tendencies.
TURNER: Were there things you wish you had done more of while you were in graduate school? More of that skill building?
TREMBLAY: I wish I had reached out to more people here. There’s such an interesting collection of people. I think that I was unnecessarily timid about my qualifications. On some level, I had some intellectual insecurity and was very concerned that everyone would see and understand that I was not a high caliber scholar which was silly; extremely silly and something I try and keep in mind now.
Obviously, that type of stuff still boils up for everyone to think. But, yeah, I really regret that. I regret not even leaning further into joining and then quitting things because this idea of really making the decision to either enjoy or not enjoy something, I still felt a little forbidden on some level. I wish that I had been a little less self-restrictive in that way, if that makes sense.
TURNER: Okay, sure. Specific to your writing, what kinds of writing were you doing in graduate school and how did that help your career? Or did it? What kind of recommendations would you make for –?
TREMBLAY: I had not done creative writing before I started here, so I think that was my biggest takeaway. I was not planning on doing creative writing while I was here either, so this was a big surprise for me. I had always been a really big reader and it just never occurred to me to write. I’d always been creative. I was a terrible musician and I quit right before I started here. So I think maybe I had some sort of lingering creative drive that was going unsatisfied.
But then once I was here, I had a class my first semester where we had to do a creative project and I wrote about a house that my family built; I believe that was what I wrote about. It was really an enjoyable experience writing about it and I turned it in being like, “This is such a crazy thing.” Up until that point, I had just written college papers with a five-paragraph format or whatever. My professor ended up enjoying it but I think more importantly, I enjoyed it. And I knew a lot of writers. I’d always been hanging out with them. So I started to explore other ways to do it and get feedback, and as much as I could, do it here as well.
TURNER: Do you still continue, even though it’s not part of your job, are you still writing?
TREMBLAY: Yeah, part of the reason why I wanted to take this particular gig is that thinking at an organization level is helpful for me in my own writing because I tend to get very minute without it. So that’s helpful. Also, it’s a different part of my brain so I have more energy to write when I get home, if I want to.
TURNER: Okay, and what advice could you give to some of our graduate students who are looking into maybe not the exact career that you have but they wanna get into media like you. You’ve had a ton of experience with different companies. What’s the best way for a graduate student, who’s mainly in academia, to move into something like media and communications?
TREMBLAY: The best way is to do a lot of grunt work. It’s hard when you’re coming out of a graduate career. I was the oldest intern in the world when I first went into media. I was so old and they made fun of me all the time, the other children interns.
TURNER: So it starts as an internship usually, is that –
TREMBLAY: Not all the time. But you need to get clips, even if you’re not gonna write. For starting in the media world, writing is really the best way to get a toehold in that there are a lot of very poorly paid media positions that involve writing that will give you clips. The second you have clips, you can say to someone, “Oh, I’d love to work for you, write for you, or do something with you. Here’s the other stuff I’ve done.”
If you’re just conceptually being like, “Theoretically, I would like to do this.” That’s a difficult ask to get. I’ve been on the other end of that. I’m like, “Well great, go ahead. I can’t help you.” If I knew the person was worthwhile, sure. But the way I usually know they’re worthwhile is if I look at what they do and then I’m like, “Okay, yeah.”
TURNER: So these clips are samples of work?
TREMBLAY: Samples of work and it may not be anything that you really are that proud of on some level. I’m sure you’re doing work here that you’re more proud of but every single person that has worked in media can tell you what terrible thing they had to do when they were first starting, whether it be writing, show blurbs, or – oh, God. There’s one month that I spent editing death dates on a famous politicians who died database or something terrible like that.
That’s just part of it because part of what you’re trying to express to these people is that you are talented, and smart, and know what you’re doing. The other part is that you’re very willing to work hard. Some people are able to circumvent that process. But generally speaking, in a media organization, you very quickly figure out who those people are. If you are willing to work hard, you’ll advance.
TURNER: That’s great advice. So whatever it is –
TREMBLAY: And don’t be narrow. If you are like, “Oh, I don’t wanna be a sportswriter but I have this sports writing opportunity; I think I’ll pass.” Don’t. Take it. Write about sports. Figure it out. Then don’t tell anyone you don’t know anything about sports. The Internet exists, Google it, and talk to people that know about sports. People aren’t gonna look at your stuff and be like, “Oh, I see you once wrote for a cooking website. We don’t want you because we just do news.” That maybe could’ve been true 30 years ago but it’s definitely not true today. And the best thing that you can do for yourself is to create a lot of work that you’ve done.
TURNER: So diversify too.
TREMBLAY: Yeah, absolutely and then you learn different things. I’ve never learned more about editing than when I was doing these second screen TV things which were horrible. But it was such a restrictive format that I learned more about what makes a sentence pop, what are the important parts of content, in that particular job, than I have anywhere else.
TURNER: I was gonna ask what kind of skills make a person good at what you’re doing now? What kind of skill set do you use in content strategy exactly? It’s a very generic –
TREMBLAY: Oh man, it’s a lot of understanding the content but also understanding the people that make the content. Trying to do the most problem-solving you can while understanding that they are the experts on this particular piece of content. Honestly, it’s a lot of stuff that I imagine makes graduate school much easier. Learning how to write a conversational email, figuring out where there’s gonna be issues with the group, and heading them off as quickly as possible, being diligent about working on a large project, being able to articulate when something’s not right. That sort of thing. Being honest about the problem.
TURNER: Are you doing a lot of people management too in your position?
TREMBLAY: Less with people that report to me and more horizontal.
TURNER: Right, organizing the group.
TREMBLAY: There’s a lot of large names that work on these things, yeah. They all have very different specialties and they’re working towards their own goals.
TURNER: How do you talk about graduate school when you’re applying to jobs?
TREMBLAY: All they wanted to know about grad school is that it’s made me a better employee. They don’t really care about the specifics of my classes or this or that. They just wanna make sure that I did graduate from here and then they want me to spin it in a way that advocates –
TURNER: How do you spin it? That would be good advice for us.
TREMBLAY: That it’s very hard to go to grad school. I don’t say it exactly like that but it requires having, obviously, all the things I just mentioned; project management skills, people management skills, and understanding of your own capacity. Finishing a goal you set for yourself is always a big, wonderful deal. Yeah, I think that’s usually what I talk about. The ability to research a lot of employers are, or at least HR folks, seem to be very concerned about people’s research skills which is good. I guess, on some level, I’ve always stressed that it taught me some patience. And that school sometimes requires patience and so does the workplace.
TURNER: Good, great, that is good advice.
TREMBLAY: I feel like, for me, the biggest thing that I learned here was to lean into any intellectual curiosity I had and to not limit myself based on my preconceived ideas of that. That certainly has helped me in my career. The stuff I did here, figuring out, “Oh, I really like writing.” Getting to do more of that; getting feedback on that obviously has helped a lot. But also stuff like talking to people that I find intellectually intimidating. Before I applied to the database job, I was like, “There’s no way I’ll be qualified for that.” I feel like, on some level, having to deal with that particular shade of self-doubt well at school helped me to just be like, “Okay, fuck it. We’ll do it.” Excuse me.
TURNER: No, that’s okay. Were there any Graduate Center specific resources or experiences that helped prepare you that you would recommend to current students?
TREMBLAY: We didn’t have the career center while you were here.
TURNER: Yeah, but I think it’s amazing. Last year I went to your fair or presentation thing which was great.
TREMBLAY: I wasn’t here there so I forget the name but I know exactly what you’re talking about.
TREMBLAY: Okay, and it was wonderful to hear the various panels of people that have gone on to stuff. This is off-topic, but even in my offices, it’s amazing. We do Girls Who Code every year. We have at the last three places I’ve worked. Part of the program, if you’re not familiar, is you get a whole bunch of people from your department and they all talk about their career paths. It’s fascinating how very few people stick with that thing that they studied. I’m sure everyone who’s at the Graduate Center currently look at the job that they want and the field they’re planning on.
But like at Daily Beast, we had a CTO who had majored in theater and had gotten an advanced degree in it, I believe, as well. It’s just fascinating to see how much people’s lives change. For me, while I was here, that was the start of understanding that; my time here. I wish I’d taken more advantage of the resources here that were set up to help me with that exact same thing. But it just didn’t occur to me.
TURNER: Yeah, we all are sometimes a little too focused on our own studies and we forget to look around. I’m hearing that a lot from various people, graduates and current students. What do you enjoy most about your job or what do you find most rewarding?
TREMBLAY: Okay, so I grew up in a very religious, super conservative home, a little off the grid as well; a little prepper – prepper light. I didn’t really have access to a lot of entertainment. I didn’t really have a lot of access to books or things like that. I had some – limited. The stuff that I was able to get a hold of meant so much to me. In hindsight, some of it was terrible. The quality, it was just the worst. But that didn’t matter. Now, to be able to work with some of the same programs, or brands, or even just work in that field, in general, is fundamentally satisfying. I enjoy it.
TURNER: Mm-hmm, some of the most recognizable networks in the world.
TREMBLAY: Yeah, even before I was at Viacom, and obviously, I would speak very highly of their stuff. But, yeah, there’s something really nice about either educating people through news or entertaining them at the end of their long day. I really, really find that satisfying.
TURNER: Great, that’s really good to hear. I think I have everything unless – is there anything else you’d want to add at the end of this?
TREMBLAY: No. Congratulations everyone for doing their stuff. That’s good.
TURNER: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming all the way over and –
TREMBLAY: Of course; happy to do.
TURNER: Yeah, have a great rest of the day.
TREMBLAY: Thank you. You too.
TURNER: Thank you so much to Brea for coming to the GC today to speak with us. Brea participated in one of our alumni events at the Graduate Center. So if you wanna attend one for yourself and hear from more graduates in person, you should check out our Twitter, Facebook, or website for event announcements and updates. You can also enjoy more of our episodes of Alumni Aloud where we bring our graduates’ stories to you. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud and you’ll automatically be notified of new episodes. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @careerplangc. Thanks for listening.
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