STOP STRESSING OVER GETTING THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY. JUST TAKE THE NEXT BEST ONE. YOU HAVE A LONG CAREER AHEAD OF YOU. — I used to stress over what my next step was going to be when I was early in my career. I wanted to be great, but great doesn’t happen overnight, little did I know. Instead of stressing about the perfect next step in order to achieve your perfect goals, look at every next possible step as a way to round out your skills. Even if something turns out to be a bad fit, at least you have that knowledge and will avoid repeating that mistake.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lori J. Hall, Co-Founder & Head of Creative, Pop’N Creative.
With more than 15 years of marketing expertise, Lori J. Hall has driven major successes in her career. She launched Tyler Perry’s comedies on TBS, developed marketing campaigns that led to the top 3 movies of all time on TV One, and created the first viral video campaign for UP TV, which garnered 43 million views.
A Northwestern University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Hall is a member of the 2020 Board of Trustees of Saving Our Daughters, an active member of Nielsen’s Advisory Council and a former 2019 WICT Board member. She was named a 2018 NYC Television Week “40 Under 40” honoree, a 2016 Multichannel News “40 Under 40” honoree, a recipient of the 2018 WICT “Know Yourself” award and has been a featured panelist for numerous industry events and conferences.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always loved TV and Film. When I was little, I remember seeing Oprah on TV and wanting to be just like her. I went to college and started as a TV/Radio/Film major at Northwestern University, but quickly switched to Communications because I fell asleep in film history class and felt it wasn’t for me. Was I ever wrong!
After college, I decided I wanted to be rich at 26 years old, and the best way to do this was to go to law school. I got into Vanderbilt Law School, went for a semester, and was miserable. I decided to quit, which was the hardest thing I had ever done at that point because I was so “Type A.” After leaving law school, though, I went back to my first love: TV and Film. I found a non-paid job on a small Christian movie set as the “craft services” production assistant (read: manning the snack table). I was the best snack table assistant you’d ever seen. I fell in love with being on a set.
After quitting law school, I knew I had to get back to my passion: TV and Film. So, I applied for an internship at Turner Broadcasting and was one of six people (out 100) who were invited to work with them as a T3 Trainee. From there, my career skyrocketed.
At 23 years old, I was asked to lead Tyler Perry’s first ever TV show launch. The success of that marketing campaign, which I did in conjunction with some brilliant people at TBS, led to Turner Broadcasting giving Tyler an unprecedented 100-episode deal. To have played a small part in that is one of the best memories of my career. From there, I went on to launch all of Tyler’s other TV shows at TBS, Hawthorne with Jada Pinkett Smith, and several other shows across TBS and TNT.
After my 9-year stint at TBS, TNT and TCM, I went on to become the VP of Marketing at UP TV, and after that, the SVP of Marketing & Creative Services at TV One. I left TV One in early 2020 and launched Pop’N Creative, a multicultural marketing agency, alongside my business partner and co-founder Jessica Lane.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
STORY ABOUT WHITNEY HOUSTON
Right after quitting law school, my third job on a production set was for Being Bobby Brown. Whitney Houston was my singing idol. I literally sang “Greatest Love of All” for my senior speech in high school. During the filming of the show, Whitney began to request me to help her with different things, from putting her mic on to random other things. She was amazing to witness in person, and up-close and personal. She was a force of nature. One day, after wrapping production for the day at a resort called Chateau Elan in Georgia, the camera guys and I went to the lounge bar to unwind for the day. They had a small karaoke stage at the front, and being the “ham” that I am, I told them we had to sing a song! I picked one of my favorite Whitney Houston songs “I’m Your Baby Tonight”. We get up there, and I start belting out the lyrics and we’re all having so much fun! My voice is hoarse from the day, but I’m singing at the top of my hoarse vocal range. All of a sudden, halfway through the song, I see someone waving their hands in the air cheering me on. It was Whitney. I almost died! She was so fun and totally pumped me up. I don’t share that story often, but it was absolutely one of my favorite memories in history.
STORY ABOUT TYLER PERRY
At the beginning of my career at TBS back in 2006, I was asked to lead the marketing campaign for a guy who was new to the TV World: Tyler Perry. He had done tons of plays and built a large fan following, and he wanted to launch a new TV series called House of Payne. The head of my marketing team asked me to lead the charge. I was so excited. The first order of business, after strategizing about the campaign overall, was to get some creative assets in production. I needed to get Tyler to record some radio spots for us, so I reached out to his Executive Producer, and they told me to come by the studio to record with him. I wrote the script and promptly headed to the very first location of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, GA. When I got there, I assumed we’d be recording in a sound booth or studio, but Tyler led me to the huge wardrobe room and asked if it would work. Of course, I said yes! So, we quickly rearranged the racks of clothes to create a pad the sound and I recorded Tyler reading his lines. Since I knew he was the talent, I assumed he’d record once and be done. After he ran through the lines, he said “How was that?” I wasn’t expecting him to ask my opinion as a young person who was new in this field. But, when he did that, I realized 2 things: 1) He respected my opinion enough to ask for it and 2) He gave me permission to assert myself as the expert, which was new to me, since most of the executives at the network looked at me as such a junior person. As a Black woman, to have someone “see” you and give you the permission, if you will, to be the expert is huge. That doesn’t happen every day for Black people in TV. From there on, Tyler did the most amazing thing for me and my career, which I’m sure was intentional — — he gave me the platform to speak up and assert myself in front of White executives every time we met with him. He always asked my opinion, and sometimes, he’d even whisper to me and the other Black woman I worked with “I’m so damn proud to have Black women in this room and at this table. Y’all are doing it!” I’m paraphrasing, but it meant the world to me then and still does today. To Tyler, I say thank you. I wish I could thank him personally, but the debt is so great, I don’t even know how I could do so properly. He’s the type of Black person, and Black man, that our people need championing us in the boardroom, on the set, and in rooms where you’re the only one.
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?
The funniest mistake I made when I was first starting happened when I was going to meet with Tyler Perry to get him to record a radio spot for our House of Payne marketing campaign. I was the lead marketer for his new show, but I was also just starting out in the industry. When I went to record with him, I assumed he was a “big name” and I was “small potatoes.” But when I got there, I had him read the script and he asked me “Is that ok?” I wasn’t prepared for that! But I quickly perked up and said it was good, but we needed more. I had no idea he looked to me for direction and input. It was my first time recording any superstar talent. I learned my lesson after mistakenly thinking I wasn’t enough of an executive to offer any real perspective. From that day forward, I learned I should embrace my space as an expert, even if I’m not sure I am one at the time. I’m smart, I’m talented, and I’m a quick learner. So why not? Remember this: when people give you invite you to share your opinion, give it! In every situation, you either take your power in the moment or give it away. Always take it.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
I am helping to make popular culture more representative in the fact that I started my own multicultural marketing agency, Pop’N Creative, on the sole fact that I was frustrated to not have enough Black-owned marketing agencies to reach out to for marketing ideas. My co-founder, Jessica Lane, and I also noticed there were not a lot of Black women-led marketing agencies. Given the recent faux pas moments that brands have had in 2017 until now, it seemed that there was definitely a space that we could carve out to help brands and companies win with multicultural audiences. After launching Pop’N Creative earlier this year, and upon the protests against the murder of George Floyd, this moment in our culture has made room for Pop’N Creative to be a strong voice in diversifying Hollywood and ethe entertainment industry. We also created a free, downloadable Brand Action Guide — available on popncreative.com — to help brands understand the nuances they need to think through when trying to dismantle racism from the inside out. This is the way we create change and forward movement in our industry. Sharing is caring.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
I’m not sure of an actual individual by name, but I hope someone has been impacted positively by the work I’m doing.
As an insider — this might be obvious to you — but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
Hollywood is masterful at telling stories, however, if all of the stories start to look or sound the same, people would be disinterested. People would say “I’ve seen this one before.” It would be like Netflix or Hulu having only one movie on its platform for you to watch. How long would that keep your interest? In similar fashion, the entertainment industry will only survive the dooms of potential boredom if it continues to have more diversity within it. There are 7.6 billion people in the world and no two stories are exactly the same. This means that there are infinite opportunities to tell stories that would resonate on different levels with different people around the world. The more diversity we see both in front of the camera and behind the lens, the more we will see this world become a better place. We cannot possibly meet every single person in the world, but we can become more tolerant, accepting, and loving of others if we can experience some semblance of their life story in the form of authentic storytelling. We will be able to understand different cultures, identify different struggles, and appreciate the rich complexity of life experiences that are different than our own. We need diversity in entertainment not to entertain us, but to educate us and enhance us as human beings experiencing life together on the same planet.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Challenge yourself to hire someone Black or Brown at every turn…not just your friend group. Stop being lazy when looking for diverse talent — it takes more than a quick Google or contact list search. When in power, demand diverse talent in front of and behind-the-scenes (more than just one) and decline to participate if they won’t make it happen. Recognize your power and wield it to demand change.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define leadership as knowing what you don’t know and leading from the back. For example, a good leader will assert that they have all the answers. A great leader will admit what they don’t know and be determined to learn what they need to know in order to become better. A good leader can lead from the front and get the recognition for doing so. A great leader leads from the back, as the quiet guiding force that allows others to showcase their greatness. Some of the best leaders I’ve witnessed in the entertainment industry and worldwide have a certain humility and willingness to learn, even if they are deemed the greatest person ever at their craft. That’s real power. That’s real leadership.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- DON’T CHASE THE MONEY. CHASE THE PASSION, AND THE MONEY WILL CHASE YOU. — I learned this lesson the hard way: by choosing to go to law school to make money instead of going because I loved it. I was miserable in law school and realized I would never make money as a lawyer if I hated it every step of the way. What kind of life is that? Now I’m doing what I love in entertainment and I feel blessed every day to be doing it, whether I make money or not.
- DON’T THINK FOR OTHER PEOPLE. IF THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU NO…DON’T TELL YOURSELF NO. THAT’S HOW YOU MISS AN OPPORTUNITY. — In my early days of my career, I used to be nervous to ask someone for a meeting or advice because I worried that they would be too busy, and I would be infringing upon their free time. I was actually scared that they would feel bothered by me asking for 15 minutes of their time. As I got older, and more people started to ask me for advice and for time, I realized that those are the people who make it. The ones not afraid to speak up or make someone uncomfortable. If you make someone uncomfortable, so what? That lasted 15 minutes for them, but you may walk away with the advice and experience of a lifetime. Give someone the chance to turn you down, but don’t turn yourself down before you even ask.
- INVEST IN ANY 401K THAT’S MATCHING AS SOON AS YOU CAN AS YOUNG AS YOU CAN. THE DAYS OF FREE MONEY ARE DWINDLING DOWN. — When I was starting out as a marketer, I had a friend who didn’t believe in 401Ks. He was a genius, and I took everything he said as factual instead of thinking for myself. I didn’t contribute to the 401K at my first company, and now looking back, I want to smack my younger self for listening to anyone other than myself (and Google). Always think for yourself and invest in any matching 401K you can!
- STOP STRESSING OVER GETTING THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY. JUST TAKE THE NEXT BEST ONE. YOU HAVE A LONG CAREER AHEAD OF YOU. — I used to stress over what my next step was going to be when I was early in my career. I wanted to be great, but great doesn’t happen overnight, little did I know. Instead of stressing about the perfect next step in order to achieve your perfect goals, look at every next possible step as a way to round out your skills. Even if something turns out to be a bad fit, at least you have that knowledge and will avoid repeating that mistake.
- TRUST YOURSELF AND TRUST THE PROCESS. — At different turning points in my life, I have felt a restlessness right beforehand and it would always frustrate me. Have you ever felt like you need a change, but don’t know how to make it? Or that you need a new job, but you haven’t found one that fits? That was me. Every time I felt this restlessness, it was teaching me to be patient and trust the process. I didn’t know it at the time, but reflecting back on it, that’s exactly what it was doing. Even most recently, I experienced my first layoff due to COVID-19 budget cuts. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I’m finally fulling both my passion (working in entertainment) and my purpose (creatively solving challenges for a variety of businesses and brands). Had I not learned to trust myself and the process, I would have freaked out at a layoff. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a bit of an identity crisis when you go from being a corporate executive for over 20 years to an entrepreneur, especially if you launch your business right before an unexpected global pandemic (just saying). But it’s been the biggest blessing of my life. My advice: stress less. You have been given everything you need to succeed in this life, and God and the Universe will make it happen for you if you trust the process.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“FLIP THE SCRIPT” movement — a movement that encourages those in privilege and power to “flip the script” and give up their seat, their exposure, their knowledge to help those who are not, specifically Black people. Our industry is severely lacking in diversity as it relates to Black people being hired, retained, and promoted to higher levels in the workplaces, especially on sets and in executive entertainment offices. There are bound to be a few Black people at the top sprinkled throughout entertainment organizations, but there is obviously a pipeline problem that shows there are not enough Black people being recruited, retained, and promoted. With the most recent Black Lives Matter protests, several companies released their diversity numbers, and the most transparent of them all, released the diversity numbers by level of management. The numbers are dire across the board as it relates to Black employees and executives. Let’s “flip the script” and find avenues and pipelines to elevate Black professionals in our industry. I’d suggest we start with those in power lending it to those who often are without.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s nothing like the lesson you paid for. When things get bad, and you feel you pay a hefty price, you’ll never make that same mistake again because of how great it cost you. The costlier the mistake, the better you’ll be the next time. When bad moments happen, I try not to freak out; I push through and dissect it after to figure out what went wrong and how to never do that again.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
BOZOMA ST. JOHN — Her creativity from Apple Music to becoming a lifestyle brand herself, while still performing as a Chief Marketing Officer, is remarkable. She’s the perfect mix of Black Girl Magic, rebel without a cause and creative genius. I see myself in her and would love the opportunity to talk about the moves, pivots, and leaps she has made to create her incredible and powerful success story.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!