Jeff Consoletti: “It’s so easy to be on the hamster-wheel of task lists and deliverables, churning from meeting to meeting; it’s important to remember the value you have in yourself and what makes your time so important”

Try and make time for yourself, even if just a five minute deep breath, every day. It’s so easy to be on the hamster-wheel of task lists and deliverables, churning from meeting to meeting to walk through to event site, and it’s important to remember the value you have in yourself and what makes your […]

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Try and make time for yourself, even if just a five minute deep breath, every day. It’s so easy to be on the hamster-wheel of task lists and deliverables, churning from meeting to meeting to walk through to event site, and it’s important to remember the value you have in yourself and what makes your time so important to your clients and colleagues. Finding time for yourself helps you enjoy your work more and realize the significance of even the most minute task.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Consoletti. Jeff is the Founder, Principal & CEO of JJ|LA. Jeff Consoletti, is an Executive Producer, Production Manager, Creative Director and Logistics Expert with over twelve years of experience leading special event production and design, festival, concert and show production and promotion, and innovative multi-platform campaigns, activations and promotions for a variety of entertainment, corporate and non-profit brands. He began his career in the ad agency world where a creative eye and a passion for events had him working on unique ways to enhance the consumer experience for clients. He designed innovative trade show booths, pop-up shops, promotional stunts and consumer facing activations for clients including NBC Universal, CBS Paramount Television, Kathy Ireland Home, Sprint, Mattel, Song Airlines and Turner Broadcasting. In 2009, Jeff embarked on his own trail beginning his firm and establishing himself as a sought-after event producer known for a sharp attention to detail, imaginative creative energy, logistical prowess, public safety conscious and diligent work ethic. He’s been instrumental in the national success of the LA PRIDE Festival and Parade and has been a lead team member on projects at major national events including SXSW, Super Bowl, MLB All-Star Week, Final Four, Coachella among many others. Originally from suburban Boston, Jeff graduated with honors from The George Washington University in Washington, DC before moving to Los Angeles. He enjoys traveling, reading memoirs, Italian cooking and staying active (so he can eat his Italian cooking)! He resides in the West Hollywood neighborhood with his partner, Rob, and his four-legged assistant, Rilo.

Thank you so much for joining us Jeff! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent my early twenties in the big agency world, before words like “experiential” and “activation” were buzzing. I was a hot-shot young exec that quickly rose through the ranks until the economy tanked in 2007/2008 where my high-paid salary made me an easy target to be let go. While angry and disappointed, I’ve never been one to sit at the sidelines. I parlayed my free-time into searching for new opportunities. I had a loyal and established portfolio of clients at brands including NBC, Paramount and ESPN that, although weren’t hiring full-time, all had project based work mostly on events. I got calls to oversee anything from holiday gatherings for division presidents, to trade-show booths, to swanky dinner parties to corporate sponsorship build-outs at the Rose Bowl Game. It was at this time in 2009 I also first got involved with Christopher Street West, the organization that produces LA PRIDE, as a volunteer. A year after my lay off, I found myself consistently busy with project work, so much so that searching for a full-time gig wasn’t priority. In 2010, I approached CSW with a suggestion for a contract position to help them with their special events, entertainment booking and sponsorship as they began planning their 40th Anniversary, and they bit, birthing JJ|LA. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to grow a roster of clients, from big brands to nonprofits, across industries from sports and entertainment to fashion and consumer products, all with a shared common goal: reinvention, re-establishment and consumer engagement. We have high client retention because we are hands on partners with our events. We immerse ourselves in our clients’ brands becoming a true partner to help shape their success. A great event starts at the core with great relationships. I’m lucky to have built a business that celebrates that and am so proud that shows in our work. I wouldn’t trade my life in events for anything else.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Parlaying off the anecdote above, it’s not easy to start a company, even as a company of one! Prior to landing the LA PRIDE gig, I was fortunate enough to steadily be finding the next event, but that wouldn’t come without constant moments of panic. I would try to book multiple events or projects at a time, and certainly was pitching myself while in the throes of a current project, but, at the time, nothing seemed to stick. As one project would come to an end I would lay awake at night wondering if anything would land next. Would I have to claim unemployment? Would anyone even consider hiring me full-time again? Was this really the life I wanted? And somehow, miraculously, just when I assumed I was terrible at my job and no one ever wanted to work with me again, an angel phone call would happen and I would be booked for the next big show and have another big contract. When launching JJLA, I liquidated most of my savings and, although I was young at that time, I had corporate jobs that had afforded me 401Ks right out of college. All of that savings was instantly gone, so it was a scary feeling. I wasn’t living “paycheck to paycheck,” as they say, I was really living job to job — some of them pretty small — so rationing enough off to cover my monthly expenses was very challenging at the beginning.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Just when I thought things were never going to improve, an incredible opportunity would land right at my feet. Super Bowl. MLB All Star Week. The Rose Bowl Game. Sundance Film Festival. I was getting invites to play a big role on various teams at some of the nation’s most iconic events. Even if I was entering that event with about $150 left in my bank account, the thrill of working on such a major event fueled my desire to succeed. I would be escorting an A-List artist to the stage, scouring over site layouts to fit one more table, making a last minute call to find 2000 lucite chairs, and would take a step back to relish the craziness, driving a desire to want to do better and more.

So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?

Today? Wow! I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet. I have a full-time staff of 12, in a real office, with a view of the Hollywood sign! I have a 5000 square foot fabrication shop downtown, where I get to employ over 50 artists, designers, carpenters and event technicians on our builds and job sites. To have people show up for me every day takes my breath away. I feel lucky and passionate to do my best work for them. That scared, young event producer still lives inside me too. Despite having repeat clients and retainer relationships, I’m always fearful that it could all vanish tomorrow. I feel a great sense of responsibility to all those that I surround myself with knowing that I’m only as successful as I can make them all. I use my grit to get me through each day to keep growing, learning and achieving for my clients and projects.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my very first events was Judge Judy’s star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for CBS Television. All was moving along in a fairly streamlined fashion and I was feeling quite good about myself for running everything so efficiently. This was happening in the days of good old-fashioned printed invitations that were mailed and sent. Despite looking over multiple rounds of revisions, both internally at the company I was working at, and even sending to the client for approval, there was a spelling error that printed in the final invite! We received a call in the office a day or so before the ceremony from an aggravated client. Not realizing I was on speaker phone; I was apologetic but reminded the client that they actually had signed off on the final proof. No sooner had I said that when a very New York voice blasted back at me, “Checking grammar is the responsibility of you, you little nitwit!” I was shocked but to this day how many of you can say you got called a “nitwit” by Judge Judy without appearing in her courtroom! These days, I never let anything go out the door to the client without quadruple checking all spelling and grammar! It’s that attention to detail that makes a difference to our clients.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re really fun! I am so proud of the kind, generous, funny, personable and hardworking team I’ve put together. Our clients are like family. We challenge them to do their best work, which means we sometimes have difficult conversations. But instead of sugar-coating challenges, our approach is to work through them together. Similarly, if a client proposes a direction that we aren’t excited about, we aren’t shy to express that. Creating an event is about exploring all avenues of the best guest experience and working through those scenarios in a collaborative way has certainly put us on the map for exceeding expectations time and again. We have client retention because we care about our relationships and our work in honest, productive and friendly ways.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Try and make time for yourself, even if just a five minute deep breath, every day. It’s so easy to be on the hamster-wheel of task lists and deliverables, churning from meeting to meeting to walk through to event site, and it’s important to remember the value you have in yourself and what makes your time so important to your clients and colleagues. Finding time for yourself helps you enjoy your work more and realize the significance of even the most minute task.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My very first job in LA was with a boutique creative agency owned by my dear friend and mentor, Melanie Paykos. Never would I have thought that I would meet such powerful, connected, industry contacts that have stayed with me for the entirety of my career because of the doors Melanie opened for me. I saw Melanie’s hard work as a business owner at a time when I never even thought having my own company would ever be a thing, and when I moved on and grew in my career, Melanie was always there to advise, pitch ideas too, or simply go laugh and unwind with.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I like to think so. We are lucky to work on some really big, corporate events each year, but separate of that producing events in the nonprofit sector has been very important to me. We try and work with small nonprofits each year to produce their events in big ways helping them to standout. Separately, we try and do a JJLA Community project a couple times a year. Not only is this great team building, but this allows us a chance to showcase the importance of doing work for our community in a visible way. This year, we did a pop up Valentine’s Day photo booth in Venice Beach where people could come up and write a Valentine’s Day card that we would mail for them and take a photo for free at our photo booth! We’ve also supported the LA-based nonprofit Project Angel Food preparing meals in their kitchen!

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