While working in series development at a television network, one of the main reasons I decided to apply to business school was my desire to understand and better anticipate the factors contributing to major shifts in the media and entertainment landscape. Ultimately, I ended up using my MBA from Columbia Business School (CBS) to transition from entertainment to a different industry (tech), but I consulted with many of my classmates who were interested in doing the reverse—moving from their careers in other fields to a role in entertainment strategy, analytics, or business development. I also tapped into many of CBS’s entertainment offerings myself, which was beneficial as I moved into a role at a social media company, and I still follow industry news very closely (thank you, IMDB!).
In this post, I lay out four of the main resources that MBA programs provide to help set you up for a successful transition to media and entertainment.
Many business schools offer an entertainment-focused program or specialization within the broader curriculum. Examples include CBS’s Media and Technology Program, UCLA Anderson’s Center for Media, Entertainment & Sports, and USC Marshall’s MBA specializations in Business of Entertainment and Business of Creative Industries.
You can also take complementary courses from a university’s film school. For example, NYU Stern students can pursue a dual MFA from the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at the Tisch School of the Arts.
Be sure to leverage the professors of these courses, as they likely have active networks in the industry—evidenced by the guest speakers they’re able to bring in for lectures. At CBS, I heard from producers, directors, and studio executives and made sure to follow up when they made themselves available for coffee chats or phone calls.
If you’re interested in a topic but don’t see a course that will dive into it, see if you can have a professor sponsor a white paper on the subject. My classmate and I teamed up on a paper about Netflix’s use of automation to improve content recommendations, which I referenced in subsequent job interviews.
Most schools have a media- or entertainment-focused club (and if yours doesn’t, find some like-minded individuals and start one!). I suggest getting involved as a board member and looking for committee roles that maximize your exposure to networking opportunities, such as planning the club’s annual conference, a trek to Los Angeles or other entertainment hubs, or guest speaker panels (whether on campus or via video conference).
However, you don’t have to limit yourself to industry-focused clubs; there may be other outlets available to help familiarize you with the creative side of the business. For example, I wrote/directed/edited videos for the CBS Follies shows to keep my creative juices flowing (I certainly have a deeper appreciation for the filmmaking process after spending many hours using Final Cut Pro!), and I saw a lot of overlap in membership between that group and the school’s Media Management Association.
Business school provides an excellent training arena for the backbone of the entertainment industry: networking! Your peers who come from entertainment backgrounds, or second-year students who completed internships in the industry, can help paint a more vivid picture of the typical day-to-day and help you prepare for similar internships or full-time roles. Your career center should have a robust directory of alumni who work in entertainment and with whom you can schedule calls or coffee chats—or, worst case, you can use LinkedIn. You can also follow up with guest lecturers from courses, clubs, and conferences. To help ensure a warm introduction, make sure you’ve researched their company/role and can ask informed questions; or if you’ve done relevant research (such as a white paper, as mentioned in the Courses section above), offer to share any useful insights. This could help lay the groundwork for an internship or post-grad opportunity.
4. Internships: Summer, In-Semester, In-Person, or Remote
Finally, the best way to equip yourself with skills for a full-time transition into entertainment is to get as much relevant work experience as possible during business school via internships. Although the proximity of some programs to entertainment hubs such as Los Angeles (e.g., UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall) and New York City (e.g., CBS and NYU Stern) helps when seeking in-semester internships, companies are being increasingly flexible about scoping remote options. Don’t shy away from asking whether an opportunity that’s listed as on site can be done remotely!
By 1) coming from another industry and 2) immersing yourself in relevant business courses, you give yourself a major advantage via building a more diversified perspective on the business problems companies are trying to solve. When writing cover letters or interviewing, highlight how you can leverage your skills from another field (analytical, quantitative, etc.) to stand out.
In addition, several entertainment companies leverage case competitions to find their summer interns, including Paramount. Keep an eye out for such competitions, and then use your network from relevant courses and clubs to create your team.
If you want a bigger-picture look at the industry before diving into an entertainment company full time, another option to consider is an internship or post-grad role in TMT (telecom media and tech) consulting. This approach can help you bridge the gap in your past experience while providing an overview of the interrelated industries influencing entertainment trends today.
Media and entertainment companies are wisely increasing their investments in data-driven and strategic decision making, and these areas are core to the skills that an MBA provides. By complementing these skills with internships, networking, and extracurricular leadership, you will set yourself up to be a desirable candidate for entertainment roles after graduation.
If you would like to increase your chances of getting into a top program, book a free 30-minute consultation with a Stratus MBA Admissions Counselor to discuss the strengths of your application.