Laurel Bernard, President, Entertainment Marketing, Simulmedia, Inc., and PromaxBDA Board Member
Laurel Bernard joined marketing technology company Simulmedia in July 2016, where she’s working to expand the agency’s presence in Los Angeles, with a focus on television, film and gaming.
Her new role follows a 27-year career at Fox, where she wore many different hats across a range of departments: from her decade-long start in theatrical marketing, to the opportunity to work in home entertainment when DVD players were beginning to explode, to joining the broadcasting side just as American Idol was getting underway, to working with independent films at Fox Searchlight.
Her work in film, which has long taken a multiplatform approach to marketing, gave her a unique perspective during the emergence of digital as an important medium for television.
We spoke with Bernard about how she got her start, tips for embracing new technology, and the value of knowing when it’s time to move on to new opportunities.
Who or what inspired your career in television marketing?
I started off in film. My path was an easy one. At California State University, Fullerton there was an internship program—a relatively new thing back then—at Foote, Cone & Belding. Nobody from Orange County wanted to drive out of Orange County, and I got it. I worked there in the spring of my last semester in school.
They got computers in the office the same time I arrived, and nobody knew how to use them, so I became a very important part—teaching them all how to use Excel and work with big spreadsheets that they had been doing by hand.
When the internship was over, I was hired. I got the luck of the draw—the spot that was open was a media planner on Orion Pictures. I worked there for a year and a half, then came to Fox.
What do you think were the important steps in getting you where you are today?
Build a network of people that you can go to for any number of things, and then when something new emerges … I’ll use digital as an example; I started before cell phones. There were two distinct groups of people. Those that said ‘Oh my God, this is going to kill us, I can’t learn something new.’ And those that said ‘Okay, this is amazing. It’s going to change our industry and I’m going to jump in and learn about it as much as possible.’
Those who pushed their careers forward have been in the second group. Seize the opportunities, the changes, the new things—don’t be scared of them; everyone is wading into the water at the same level. The second you can start to become an authority among your group of peers, that’s something that really promotes you.
Like knowing Excel?
Speaking of embracing new opportunities, after 27 years at Fox you took the voluntary buyout. How did you know it was time to move on?
It was the obvious signal I was looking for that it was time to do something else. I had started to wonder if I was going to put my gravestone up at Fox, and was thinking about the next logical move. I thought about what are the things that are important to me as a marketer and what are the assets I have to bring. I came up through media and expanded my marketing role, so I’ve always had a keen eye of understanding the world of media—creative messaging, how to hook that audience, and knowing how to find the right people to deliver that message is becoming increasingly important. When the buyout came, it led me to Simulmedia. I had been a client of theirs for a while and it just felt like the right marriage.
Part of it is keeping your eye open to opportunities when they come along. I finally got to the point where I realized I could probably add more to a different company than in the structure of where I was at Fox.
What is a specific marketing campaign that you’re proud of and why?
At Fox, the launch of Empire a couple of years ago was definitely a standout because I feel like we as a company worked hard to go find an audience that wasn’t in our network.
We took a hold of the right culture, moved them, and got them to buy into the crazy, soapy, gangster, rapper show. It became a cultural moment, and I think that’s something you can always be proud of.
What is one of the most important things to keep in mind when promoting a show or series?
Have a straightforward message to the audience. As much as you can stay solidly focused, then that’s going to create the most understanding in the marketplace of what you’re getting out there. Minimize the confusion.
Have a strong strategy that the whole department can rally around. And make sure the media, digital, social people know it so that everyone is not wasting their time going off in different directions to be creative. It can be chaos if there’s not a centralized focus on what you’re trying to accomplish. It may be obvious, but I’ve been in situations where there wasn’t much communication and it works much better when you have an established direction across all of marketing.
What show (or shows) are you obsessed with right now?
I’m completely addicted to Ray Donovan. I’m a huge drama fan. A big Game of Thrones fan. We just watched Stranger Things and really enjoyed it. I’m anticipating the return of Empire this fall because I’m still a junkie, especially when it comes to the music. My husband and I, late to the game, just started watching Masters of Sex and I think it’s really well done. So far, we’re in the first season.
What is your most important piece of advice to aspiring television marketers?
Be a great communicator. You can’t wait for anybody to talk to you. Go talk to them. It will make all the difference in your career.
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