SMC Launches Program to Train At-Risk Students in Lucrative Careers in TV, Film Promos

Program Trains Students to Create TV, Film Promotional Spots

There is a bright – and lucrative – future in creating promotional spots for television shows and films.

That’s the underlying philosophy of a new program launched Jan. 3 at Santa Monica College. SMC is partnering with the South Bay Center for Counseling (SBCC) and with PromaxBDA, an association of broadcast promotion and marketing professionals, in the new Promo Pathway program.

A group of 25 at-risk students has been selected for the 2011 program – the first such group in the nation. Each of the students has received full scholarships to cover not only the fees, but also equipment, transportation, child care and more.

At the end of the one-year program, the graduates will earn a promotion writer/producer/editor certificate and could very well step into jobs with a starting salary range of $50,000 to $80,000 a year, officials said.

“I’m tremendously excited about this new program,” said Frank Dawson, chair of the SMC Communication Department and a former promotional writer/producer at CBS and NBC. “This is a great opportunity for the college and the students who will have a shot at getting some great jobs in the industry.”

The program grew out of a desire by PromaxBDA – a nonprofit, membership-driven association for promotion and marketing professionals working in broadcast media – to recruit young people from high-risk areas of Los Angeles into the field. Using SBCC’s Career Pathways Program as its model, PromaxBDA pulled together an advisory board of top professionals in broadcast media and entertainment and studied the feasibility of starting such a program, said Jonathan Block-Verk, PromaxBDA president and chief executive officer.

PromaxBDA partnered with SBCC to secure funding from the Every Child Foundation and a state grant.  SBCC is a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that develops career pathway programs for low-income individuals in addition to providing early learning, pre-natal, mental health, child abuse prevention, community organizing and economic development services to the community.  SBCC adapted its career pathway model to fit the needs of the television marketing industry in order to recruit and prepare under-represented groups for the industry.

SBCC and PromaxBDA started looking for a college that could provide the training and found a perfect match in SMC.

Dawson had the professional background, and he and Dean of Workforce Development Patricia Ramos went to work to get the program off the ground in just a few months. SMC worked closely with PromaxBDA, SBCC, and the advisory board to design the curriculum specifically to prepare individuals for entry-level positions in promo departments.

“Frank and Patricia did an amazing job creating a curriculum and certificate program,” Block-Verk said.

The students, 14 of whom are already at SMC, come from such high-risk areas as Compton, Wilmington and East Los Angeles, he said. PromaxBDA worked closely with the SBCC to target and recruit the at-risk young people. Altogether, the program received 308 applications, and the final group was chosen based on interviews, demonstrations of creativity, and a portfolio review.

“This program will help these young people understand there’s a future in creative ability,” Block-Verk said. “They can continue to do graffiti or turn their skills into what could be high-paying careers.”

The program is divided into four terms. The first term – a six-week session that ends Feb. 10 – will feature basic math and English workshops that are presented in the context of the entertainment media industry.

“So, if they’re learning Shakespeare, for example, they’re learning scripts and dialogue in the context of promos,” Block-Verk said.

The remaining terms will cover a wide range of skills, including principles of project management, digital video fundamentals, and promo writing and production. Paid industry internships are a key component of the program.

SBCC will provide support services to the students including providing a full-time coach who will attend classes with the students and connect them to resources such as tutoring, part-time jobs, transportation assistance and childcare. The SBCC will also provide soft skills training like interview preparation and resume writing. 

As long as the students apply themselves, they will have jobs waiting for them in the industry at the end of the training, Block-Verk said.