As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Sloan.
Since co-founding the award-winning creative agency and content production company 2C Creative + Content (www.2C.tv) in 2005, Chris Sloan has prided himself in building 2C into a leading producer of promos, brand integrations, live-action shoots, design and original series for TV networks, studios and national advertisers. As a result, his clients represent a who’s who of broadcast and cable networks that actively seek out his creative vision and hands-on production expertise.
Jason Crowley: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Chris Sloan: From an early age, I was fascinated with the television industry, and I grew up with the dream of someday running a TV network. I started working in the business when I was very young, taking on a variety of roles through the years that got me closer and closer. When I finally landed my “dream job” as head of reality programming for CBS, however, I quickly realized that Plan A wasn’t going to happen.
I was missing the X factor in a business that was extraordinarily competitive. Just like athletes dream of being the quarterback of the best team in football, I had actually scored that role in the TV world, only to face the reality that, for me, it just wasn’t going to happen. I was going to be cut from the roster.
Yet, for some reason, the experience was incredibly freeing. When I flamed out at the CBS job, I remember the meeting where I was sat down — the clarity, after only a short time, that it wasn’t working on either side. I also remember having a slight grin on my face coming to the realization that nothing was holding me back. I had always loved Miami, and this moment — the proverbial kick to the curb — was giving me an opportunity to return to a place I love. And the only way I could return to South Florida was to create my own business.
As you get older, you learn your strengths and weaknesses, and I learned that the places where I had achieved the most success were those where I also had a lot of autonomy and leadership. I wasn’t cut out for the typical corporate job. Yes, I had worked in larger companies, but I always did better when I was running departments with the freedom to be entrepreneurial… those that were startup in nature. So, rather than go back down the corporate path again, I decided to apply those entrepreneurial startup skills into creating my own business.
I’m thrilled to say that it was a gamble that paid off! 2C Creative — the name of my Miami-based creative agency — is now 14 years old and going strong. We produce the launch campaigns, episodics, rebrands, graphic toolkits, integrations and so much more for a who’s who of broadcasters, cable networks, streaming services and advertisers across the United States.
Crowley: Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
Sloan: The day before I had started my dream job at CBS, I read in the trades that the person who had hired me had been promoted. I found out I would be reporting to a new executive, someone with whom I had no previous rapport. I knew she was excellent, but after meeting with her on my second or third day, it was pretty obvious that the chemistry wasn’t there. By the end of the week, I was telling my wife that I didn’t believe I had made a mistake. I mean, here I was in LA trying to do something huge, something different, but I wasn’t sure I saw myself lasting in the job.
I tried everything I could to make it work for four or five months, but I was just trying to bail out water on a sinking ship… and I was the one doing the sinking. Needless to say, it was a high-profile flame-out. It was front-page news in the trades when I got the job and it was pretty much front-page news when I lost the job, which — by the way — I didn’t fight. I knew I wasn’t a fit.
To attempt the same thing over again would have been the definition of insanity, so I had to do something completely different and reboot myself.
Crowley: What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Sloan: When I was still in the job at CBS, I felt I owed it to myself and all the people who had supported me in this career role to keep trying. I’m not a quitter, and there’s a reason I wasn’t a fit at CBS: I wasn’t the obvious choice. People took a chance on me and I owed it to them to not give up. I was always there first in the morning and usually also the last to leave. I’m typically of the mindset that if you work hard enough and don’t give up, you will succeed, and I generally still feel that way, but that was a motivating factor. And, frankly, it doesn’t look good to quit a job or be fired after such a short time, so that was also motivating… just not motivating enough to keep it from eventually happening.
But what motivated me when I flamed out is that I was fortunate enough to have a number of people who showed me an outpouring of support, both personally and professionally. And they weren’t just offering to pass my resume along. They were bringing me the opportunities that helped me get my own business off the ground. Those lifelines came from AOL CEO Jon Miller, who had been my boss at USA Broadcasting; AOL VP of Kids and Teens Malcolm Bird, a friend who had also been a colleague at USA; and President of A+E Networks Paul Buccieri, a dear friend of 10 years who was head of production for 20th Television at the time.
It was almost immediate that the opportunities revealed themselves, the first project of which was a pilot presentation for Buccieri at 20th, and that’s how we started this business. My dream, at the time, was simplistic, but the truth is that I was so defeated and humbled by the CBS experience that I just wanted to be able to move back to Miami, live a small life and do well enough to be comfortable in a place I love. It was never my intention to create a company of this scale, but that’s what happened. And, ironically, launching 2C has been more work and more stressful, yet also more rewarding than any other job I’ve had.
Crowley: Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
Sloan: Starting 2C was a huge leap of faith that saw my wife and business partner Carla (an award-winning producer) and I risking a lot to leave the entertainment hubs of LA and New York and found our business in Miami. There were plenty of naysayers that questioned whether high-profile network clients would put faith in a creative agency based outside of the usual epicenters. Sure, the leads I was given in those first fateful post-CBS days were a start, but could we actually sustain ourselves?
The next chapter was an exercise of time, patience and constant re-envisioning in order to come to an emphatic “yes.” Through relationships, tenacity and evolution, 2C was that little engine that could. And if there was ever a question whether South Florida headquarters would scare away entertainment clients, our volume of work would come to speak for itself.
Some of our recent project highlights include the programming event campaigns for NBC Sports’ Championship Season and TCM’s “31 Days of Oscar”; the launch trailers for Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl,” Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” HBO’s “Being Serena” and Paramount Network’s “Bar Rescue”; the episodic trailers for Hulu’s “Harlots” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” (both season 2); the toolkit and graphics teasing ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes”; the final-season, high-gloss bow of CMT’s “Nashville”; and the brand integrations that married Discovery’s Shark Week with Crest, ESPN’s Monday Night Football Analyst Jon Gruden with Dunkin’ Donuts, truTV’s “Impractical Jokers” with Universal Orlando Resort’s Volcano Bay and National Geographic with MINI Countryman.
2C has also created and produced original TV series and specials such as “Dr. Miami” for WE tv, “Growing Up Gator” for GAC, “Florida Untamed” for Nat Geo WILD, “Airport 24/7: Miami” for Travel Channel and “Swamp Wars” for Animal Planet.
Crowley: Based on your experience, can you share a 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t be afraid to fail, and when failure happens, embrace it. If you look at history, some of the most successful people were those who had been fired or those who were labeled misfits or oddballs. And in many ways, I was and am. When I landed the job at CBS, I had held only two previous production jobs and had a mere 3 ½ years of programming experience. I was now following in the HUGE footsteps of a guy who had launched “Survivor,” “Big Brother” and “The Amazing Race,” but I was never afraid to take a risk or be uncomfortable. I had to go for it in order to realize my true calling. I also had to be humble enough to recognize what wasn’t my true calling. That’s how you get to the core of where you’ll truly succeed. Being uncomfortable is your ally; comfort is your enemy.
- Be flexible and be realistic. We all have hopes and dreams. If you cling onto the same dream and don’t succeed, you often have two options: You can either downgrade your expectations and opt for a day-to-day existence (my initial thinking in moving to Miami for more work-life balance), or you can be flexible enough to reinvent yourself and see where that journey takes you (what ultimately happened).
In my own experience, I had two options: Plan A or Plan B. When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to achieve my dream of running the ultimate business for others, I initially looked to move back to Miami with the goal of making enough money to live a simple, comfortable life with my family. What I didn’t realize is that my real opportunity had been right in front of my face all along. It was there when I helped create a new business unit at USA and it was there during so many other pivotal points in my career where autonomy allowed me to thrive.
If I could just be flexible, it would all come together. My move to reinvent myself may have started as a downgrade, but it ultimately gave me a different way to achieve the dream I wanted… to run something. By starting my own business, I was able to embrace my gift with the kind of control and autonomy that had given me the most success in previous roles.
3. Always surround yourself with people that are smarter or more talented than you are, and don’t be insecure about it. In failing at my “dream job,” one of the biggest things I realized is that I was good at a lot of things, but never brilliant at anything, except being able to surround myself with the right people and build pretty amazing teams. I have a great product to sell and great people for which I’m responsible, so it’s my privilege to be able to market/sell their brilliant work. They’re the artists.
4. And one more in all caps: BE PERSISTENT. Keep going even when you feel you’ve hit a road block. Be that squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Anyone who knows me also knows I’m one persistent SOB, though I always do it with a smile. Whether it means going for your dream job or finding new ways to kick ass and take names in your reinvented life, never, never, never give up.
Crowley: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Sloan: This is a business of relationships, and that means you have to have good karma. I’ve been really fortunate to have a number of people that I’ve done well by and they’ve done well by me, and that reputation lasts a lot longer than any of our individual jobs. It’s reciprocal positive Kizmet.
Perhaps the biggest professional example in my life is Jeff Rowe, a kindred spirit who — like me — was somewhat of an outsider who never went to college and took an unusual career path. We were really brought together by a stroke of good fortune that NBC senior executives Vince Manze and Jon Miller recognized when they put us together. Jeff became my boss when I was cutting promos at NBC, but he also gave me my big break. Where everyone else saw me as a video editor, he saw me as a visionary and somebody whose passion meant everything, even though I didn’t have the natural experience or resume. He knew I wanted to run a department, and so he really championed me when the opportunity came up.
As it was also a risk for him, he rode me very hard, but — in the end — I learned so much more about the way to conduct yourself, the way to present yourself, the way you soften the edges in relationships. It wasn’t just about the craft or the industry, although he certainly taught me a lot about that.
On the personal side, my wife would be the biggest influence, because, at the end of the day, she understands me the most. The odds of marrying your soulmate and having someone who totally gets you on this ride called life are tougher than winning the lottery, and I won the lottery with her.
Crowley: Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Sloan: We recently completed a robust campaign for NBC Sports’ Championship Season, with a full effects-driven graphic toolkit, launch trailer and other elements. We’re also very excited about our launch trailer for TCM’s “31 Days of Oscar” programming event, and we just finished a pretty epic trailer for Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl,” to name a few.
But I guess the truly exciting project is that we’re also working to reinvent ourselves to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. For 2C, 2018 was a creatively successful year, but also challenging as a business in an industry fraught with major change and consolidation. We could have continued business as usual, but we opted to take a lesson from my personal story of reinvention to realize it’s time to reinvigorate. We’re attacking 2019 by pursuing new markets and new approaches to the way we create, communicate and market ourselves. I’m taking pride in my team for rallying around the cause, as we’re now beginning to experience the fruits of our labors.
Crowley: You are a person of great 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. 🙂
Sloan: I’ve been blessed in a lot of areas in my life, and when my family suffered the tragedy of the sudden, unexpected death of our oldest son, Calder Sloan, a week after his 7th birthday five years ago, we saw a lot of people rally around us. To make sense of what happened, we wanted our boy to live on forever, so we focused attention on harnessing his energy to do good in the world, and try to prevent the tragedy that befell our family from happening again.
What I love about this business and my job is having the platform to make the world a better place. You do have influence, whether it’s the creative abilities of your team, the financial backing or the relationships. Having this platform, owning a business, forging those relationships — all of that has allowed us to give back. Even though our son is gone from the earth, we learned Love Never Dies, as so many have worked together to perpetuate his spirit for eternity.
As you get older, you start thinking about what will be your legacy. And what we create in entertainment — while noble — is also pretty fleeting. Companies pour years into a blockbuster movie like Netflix’s “Birdbox.” For a week or two, it’s top of the zeitgeist, and then it’s gone. We’re not creating architecture and buildings that last forever in what we do. The stuff expires. Promos, marketing, reality shows… it all has a pretty short lifespan. Like a butterfly, it comes out of the cocoon but only flies and shines very bright very briefly.
Your legacy is what you do and put out into the universe, whether that’s giving people opportunity, helping them achieve a certain lifestyle or doing the philanthropic or charity work that puts good back into society. That’s a big deal for 2C, an ongoing commitment we fulfill through humanitarian support, charity drives and grassroots change making. In 2017, my dear friend/colleague Lara Richardson of Discovery and I joined forces with Barbara Webster of Spirit Airlines to tap our collective relationships and strengths in delivering more than 200,000 pounds of relief supplies to Puerto Rico and evacuating hundreds from the hurricane-ravaged island. Our family foundation, the Caleb and Calder Sloan Awesome Foundation, engages in many charitable events year round.
Crowley: Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Sloan: It goes back to really drilling into the essence of your true talent and your ability and go beyond it. This may not be the obvious like a craft or a certain trait. It may be something like recognizing you’re a good leader, team builder and entrepreneur that needs to set yourself up for success. In my case, I had always thought of being a leader in the context of a bigger company, and when that didn’t happen, I had to look beyond my initial vision and recognize the times — those entrepreneurial moments and opportunities — I had been successful along the way. Then I just applied it to myself as a small business owner. If you look deep inside, you’ll discover your true essence and talent.
And, finally, always have empathy for your friends and your enemies.
Crowley: How can our readers follow you on social media?
Sloan: Follow me on
Crowley: Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.