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Podcast: Gen AI, Layoffs, and Network Building in the Creative industry

Connor Murdock
Author
Creative Ops

On this episode of the Basil Creative Ops Podcast, we sit down with Nathalie Harewood, a career producer, project manager, and network builder, having spent time at juggernauts like Participant Media and WarnerMedia

We chat through her journey with insights and thoughts on:

  • What it takes to roll with the punches as a creative professional
  • Layoffs in the entertainment/creative industry
  • The Creative AI revolution
  • The importance of staying connected to your professional network

Read the Full Interview:

Tell us more about your background and professional journey: 

I've bounced around a lot. I've been in different parts of the entertainment industry, always going back and forth between production and technology.  I started at Participant Media as an intern, then did temp work, went through marketing, and ended up on their product team as a project/program manager.

Afterwards, I went with my team to WarnerMedia, working on digital operations. The through line for my career has pretty much always been some level of project management, managing people, whether that be me managing an intern program or me staffing and handling projects. 

So, it's been about getting campaigns and projects launched, making sure that what is needed is there. It kind of turns into a bit of a Swiss Army Knife situation where you kind of have to be whatever you need to be to fit the role.

What about your personality traits and skill sets lent itself to that kind of career journey?

As much as routine is nice, I think being flexible and being able to adapt is important, especially in an industry that's merging with other industries and changing so quickly. What I thought the entertainment industry was when I graduated in 2009 is completely different from what we consider entertainment now and what we consider to be important in terms of what brings money in and what companies are going to invest in.

I think the ability to learn new things, the ability to adapt, the ability to recognize when you need to switch to do something else – that’s what keeps me going. But also just knowing that what I do for work and how I identify myself as a creative are two completely separate things.  

When I think of myself in terms of work, I see myself as a manager, whether it be operations, projects, people...  But I'm able to survive in this industry because I know that at the end of the day I'm an artist and that doesn't get taken away from me just because I'm not doing a particular role. 

I think it's the ability to adapt while still holding on to who you are being different from what your career is. Because careers will have to change, especially with the way technology is going.

Can you tell us more about one of your best roles?

I think probably the best of times and worst of times for me was at WarnerMedia because it was very, very challenging work, but the stuff I was doing was pretty cool.

Looking back on it now, I did get to work on some really cool projects. And the compensation felt right for what I was doing. I got to work with people that I really enjoyed working with.  When you have the ability to get compensated correctly and you're working on things that challenge you with people that you genuinely like working with, that's money. That's a great time to be able to learn, earn and connect with people you like. That's a hard thing to get.  

I think that that was probably one of my best roles. I think across the board, every company I've worked at, regardless of my experience or how I felt when I left, I always worked with some really, really dope individuals. I think I've left every job and have had major contacts, people who are just friends at this point. People who still mentor me, people that I mentor, people that I just talk to as human beings and just like to keep up with. So I think that's something I've been grateful for in terms of the experiences that I've had.

Speaking of leaving roles, there have been a lot of notable layoffs in the news recently. What’s your personal experience with layoffs?

Experiencing layoffs is different than being laid off. The first time I experienced a layoff was when other people were laid off. And I was given that dual choice that companies sometimes give you: “you either walk or you take the role that we're offering you.” I wasn't really in a position to walk  because I didn't have enough experience yet to easily get another job with short notice so I took the role that was offered, which I'm glad I did because it led me down this path of learning more about project management and technology within entertainment. 

But once you start shuffling people, you know it can go further. There's usually not just one layoff at a company. It's usually in phases as they try to figure things out for themselves.  So with this company, I went through the shuffle first.  Then I was passed over for a layover as divisions were closed.

And then later on down the line, I was one of the people laid off just a few months later.  That was my experience. And I think that came with a lot of anxiety where it's just like, “Am I next? Are they done? Have they figured things out? Am I going to be able to pay my bills?”

Even if you don't get laid off, you still feel the impact of layoffs.You lose team members, you get more work put on you, usually without a pay adjustment, and then you have to help restructure a company after people leave.  It's part of the reason why I feel like culture doesn't exist for businesses as long as they're routinely doing layoffs because people build the culture.

Once people leave, your culture has shifted. I don't care what you've written down or put into a powerpoint.  People are the culture of a company  and when you have layoffs that culture changes.

How often have you experienced layoffs throughout your career?

I think I've been either laid off or close to laid off or near people who have been at every job I've had since I've started working because that's just the nature of these businesses now. They eat each other up. They have to let people go to make up for the losses of gaining another business.

These mergers and drop offs and changes will always impact lower level workers first. It's unfortunately kind of just part of doing business.  We're not going to work at companies for 20- 30 years anymore. If you stay at a place for more than two years, that's impressive now.

You could work somewhere and then immediately get laid off, and have it have nothing to do with your performance.

How’re you feeling about the future of creative and entertainment, especially with AI and shifts in tech?

This is a great time for people who've always had creative ideas but didn't have the means to express them.  There are futurists who are looking at entertainment and saying that we now have a new class of creators.  There is now a new group of people who can enter the creative landscape and make really cool things that, before AI, wouldn't have been able to make anything.  So now we have  all of this creative competition that didn't exist coming in.  

People will choose what kind of content they want to engage in. Do they want to create and engage with AI content or do they want to engage with something that's human-made?  Both are fine. Some people will do a mix. 

If you still want to entertain, if you still want to tell stories, you can still do that.  That's not going to stop.  But how you do it will have to adjust.  I think people are going to be forced to have to do more OTT work if you're in video production.  I think people who do UX and graphic design work will have to come up with some sort of creative collective to protect what they do. 

When I talk to friends about it, I compare it to the Industrial Revolution, where you had artisans and tradespeople who lived where they worked,  and then once factories came about, they were out of both. Some people were able to find benefactors and kept going, and then some people had to go to the factory and just take a job. 

But humanity survived the industrial revolution.  And I think we'll survive  the AI edition of the industrial revolution that we're going through right now.  We just have to decide what we want things to look like collectively.

I think it's going to be on us to find people with that mindset, people who say, “Yes, I could use an AI. Yes, I could use an auto generator. Yes, I could go no-code”,  but sometimes you want that expertise. And I think people need to continue to value their expertise.  

I think we're going to see companies put up AI-produced content and that content will probably do fine.

When it comes to awards, I think people are going to start to push more and more  for recognition of things that are 100 percent human-made.  And then, if you use AI in your work and you did a good job, sure, that's great, win something. But I think those categories are going to be broken up, and there's going to be more value placed on the work that was human-made, or majority human-made, over what's prompt generated. 

Here’s another thing: We're not all prompt engineers.  Not everyone is going to know how to prompt a good result from AI. 

So until that happens,  we're going to be in that weird in-between.  But eventually it'll catch up.  And then that's where you choose (from a factory/artisan perspective). Can you afford the glassblower (human made content)?  Or are you going to get your glassware from Target (AI generated content)?

So much of a person’s career is marked by the people you work with and stay connected to? Your roles have involved building networks and so many relationships with talented folks. How do you do it?

That's where you just have to do the legwork. When you are interacting with dozens and dozens of people, you're not going to know everyone super well. They're not all going to be close friends. But if there are people within your network that you think are talented people that you would want to work with again in the future, just try to stay in touch with them.

You're not going to talk to everyone every single day, but just making sure that maybe once or twice a year, you reach out to people, see how they're doing, see where they are in their careers. 

And I think that's going to be incredibly important over the coming years. We kind of have to do a better job collectively of supporting each other, seeing where people are at, and talking to people. And then just being open for people to talk to you. 

Sometimes there are going to be people who are second or third connections to you that see that you're doing something that they're interested in. If there's time, why not talk to them? 

I think giving yourself a couple hours out of each month just to catch up with people… it doesn't have to be about getting a job, but just to catch up and see where they are… It’s helpful for you.  It keeps you knowledgeable about the wider edges of things where you might not be existing.

Any final thoughts on our conversation around AI and the future of the industry? 

Hopefully, people use this time to think about how we want to shape the future. I don't think we should hand that responsibility off to other people. I don't think we should hope that companies do what's right. I think we should collectively decide what we want to do together. 

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Find Nathalie on Linkedin

About the Author
Connor Murdock
CEO/founder of Basil. 10+ years working in the creative industry as a professional video editor, motion designer, & creative director
Creative Ops
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