“Get out there and network. Get to know people. Ask questions, get mentors.” says Diana Dixon, founder and executive creative director at Dixon, a boutique creative agency. “Try to get on great projects that inspire you. And don’t be afraid to connect with other people because this really is about relationships in your career.”
It’s this thinking that allowed Dixon to turn one project into a full-fledged business that today boasts clients such as Discovery Networks, TLC, Nat Geo, Food Network, Comcast, A+E Networks and more.
Daily Brief sat down with Dixon to hear her story and to uncover just what it takes to launch a business within the field of entertainment marketing.
An edited transcript with Daily Brief contributing editor Kareem Taylor follows:
DAILY BIREF: I’m here with Diana Dixon, who is the founder and executive creative director of Dixon. They do everything from creative direction and strategy, design, writing, editorial production both field, and studio pitches and decks, and print. And I guess my first question after. Listing all of that is how do you have time to sleep?
DiXON: (laughs) I don’t very often but luckily every once in a while I do I do get some Z’s, but I know, we are pretty busy over here at Dixon. Luckily, I’ve got a great crew that works with me as well so that helps.
How did you get this job?
Originally, I came from the client side. Back in the day, I started off in production at Wisconsin Public Television at WHA and going into my last year of college, they had an opening in their promotions department. I didn’t even know what promotions was at that time. And then, that parlayed me into going to work for Starz Movie Networks in their promotional department and then went to Discovery and then ended up going to the vendor side at DZN Design Group. And then when that closed I ended up starting my own company by accident. And here I am.
That is amazing! To have founded a company by accident. What was going on at that particular time when you said ‘I have found my own company?’
I was doing work for DZN and in December of 2008, we found out that DZN was no longer going to exist. It was bought out by a grandparent company that was focused on our parent company that did consumer marketing and packaging and they didn’t really understand what broadcast was and what we did. And even though we had a great year and won a lot of awards, that really wasn’t on their radar for what they were looking for. So for us, for my company, I ended up- originally it was little just me when I say us - it started with me in my living room. My client who used to be a co-worker of mine at Discovery had called and said “hey I have great news of a project for you” and I said “well, good news and bad news, DZN is closing but hey I’ve got some availability I need some help on anything.” And she said “well why don’t you just do it yourself?” and that’s how I started the company. I had a project before I had a company or a name and went from there! So I ended up working one project at a time and it turned into a company that just kept growing and growing and went from working in my pajamas in my living room to having a bonafide company and staff. (Laughs)
It sounds like the underdog startup story.
It really was. I had no backing. It was just myself that started this company and worked project to project. I never had anybody give me money to start a company. It was just working from one project to the next and just kept on investing back into the company to help it grow. And it really was just based on having a passion and a dream to keep doing what I was doing. I’m fortunate because I get to work with lots of wonderful people, I have great clients that are my friends that I continue to work with. And the team that I cultivated – a wonderful team —that I also consider my friends. We get to work on great projects together and it’s really the best of both worlds.
You’ve got Dixon now and then you mentioned that you’ve worked at a whole bunch of different high caliber TV networks. Was your first job out of college at Starz?
Yes, while I was in college I was still working at WHA in Wisconsin and that’s when I found out about promotions, which I didn’t even really know existed. I was going to grow up and become a movie director. That’s that was my big dream — I didn’t even know about this little thing called on-air promotions. That led me into working in the on-air department at Starz in Denver which was a really wonderful experience. The one thing I love about promotions is that it’s not like you’re one person in the cog of a huge project. When I’m writing and producing a project in promotions, I’m seeing it that idea from start to completion. I’m coming up with the idea, writing it, shoot it, direct it, post it and work with the editors and see it all the way through.
Did you have any mentors at Starz? If so, what did they do right?
There were many mentors, which is what I really enjoyed. Throughout my career, I’ve had lots of different mentors. I think the thing that they do right along the way is just taking the time to be present and available and to answer questions and to guide. It’s really important to help young people who are curious and want to learn. I’m more than happy to take that time and help along the way because other people did the same for me. There are even things for mentors where you learn what to do and you also learn what NOT to do. I’ve had great mentors who have taught me what NOT to do along the way.
What’s one of those things? What should we avoid?
It’s a very personal thing for each person but for me I’ve had mentors who I learned creatively from. But I also learn, for myself, to be authentic. I’ve had mentors who wanted me to be more like them and maybe they were more like a yeller or screamer type to get things done. And that just isn’t me. I feel like you have to be authentic to who you are. And for me being nice and kind is way more important. And for me to be authentic to myself, I’m not going to be the yeller and screamer to get my way or to get what I want from a vendor or from an employee, right? You have to be authentic to who you are and be true to who you are.
It seems like you’ve baked mentorship into your company simply because you’ve experienced what it’s like. What do you think are some of the tenants of great mentorship?
You have to find what people’s passions are and help develop that. I always ask people when they want to come work with me like “what’s your passion?” You know, “what’s your path to happiness? How can I help you get there? What are you interested in? What are the things that you know make you tick that make you get excited to get out of bed in the morning? What gets you going?” I always love to give opportunities, whether it be someone feels passionate about writing, which I’m a writer, producer, So that’s something that I definitely feel strongly about mentoring in. But, sometimes people come to me and while I have a background in photography and I’d love to develop that within your company; some people are more interested in editing and even though they might be a project manager, they’re like “hey, I actually want to take some editing classes”. For me, you help foster were someone’s passion is and then the rest will follow. You want to not shut someone down and put them into a category.
Being an entrepreneur and a business owner how do you improve yourself now?
I feel like you should always be learning. You should never feel like you know it all. Even when I graduated college and went to go work at Starz I kept taking classes. I felt like I just wanted to keep learning all the time I was always ttrying to figure out the next step so you’re always having input. Because our industry is always changing. Even as the owner of a company, I don’t feel like I know every single thing. You have to always keep updating yourself always keep adapting. There’s a whole new world order every time you turn around. So you have to keep, keep updating. PromaBDA is a wonderful organization that helps with that. You’re keeping abreast of what’s going on in the industry through their conference every year. I’m always taking classes, even not being afraid to Google. Sometimes we forget how powerful the Google buttons can be. If you don’t know something, just Google it. You’ll figure it out.
Is there something people can do now in order to move their career forward? Is there something that they can do now to help accelerate that?
Get out there and network. Get to know people. Ask questions, get mentors. Yes, work on great work — volunteer for great work even if you’re not getting a chance through your own company, work, or school. Try to get on great projects that inspire you. And don’t be afraid to connect with other people because this really is about relationships in your career. That will help open other doors for you whether it be immediately or 20 years from now. Knowing other great people is your resource. I always say you never burn a bridge because the person who’s getting the coffee today could be your boss tomorrow.
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