Skip to main content


Northwestern Professor Teaches Students How to Lead

By Jacob Nelson

For Northwestern Assistant Professor Gail Berger, good leadership comes from people who understand themselves as much as they understand their team.

Berger, who is teaching a spring course in MSLCE that focuses on developing key leadership skills, described how important it is for a good leader to have a keen perception for team dynamics. She plans to teach these skills to her students with a very experiential course that includes role playing and case studies.

“Experience is a great teacher,” Berger said, “but experience combined with candid feedback is one of the best teachers. You don’t get that in the real world.”

Berger would know. She’s worked both as an academic at Northwestern and as a consultant at a small boutique firm in Chicago since she completed her PhD at Kellogg in 2003.

“Keeping a door out in the real world is really helpful,” Berger said. “Academia informs work you can do with clients and work with client informs work with teaching and especially research.”

Berger will use these real life examples to help her students learn to navigate important negotiations, from salary talks to business projects.

“Many of the skills are transferrable regardless of what the industry is,” Berger said. “Negotiation skills are particularly important — mediation isn’t about winning, it’s about understanding needs and interests.”

Because she’s taught courses like this before, Berger is aware that negotiations can be tricky — and so attempts to teach it.

“It’s something that people aren’t typically comfortable doing… even though they know it would be helpful for them,” Berger said.

By making the class so experiential, Berger hopes to make her students more comfortable attempting the negotiations that will be important to them when they begin their professional pursuits.

“It’s a fun class because it’s interactive,” Berger said, “It just takes courage and practice.”

Jack Morton VP to Speak at Northwestern

By Jacob Nelson

When she was an undergraduate at Northwestern, Marie Davidheiser thought she’d be a video editor. Then she worked for an Evanston local television station, and realized that working in an editing station was “the most boring thing.”

“It was not what I was going to do,” she said with a laugh during a recent phone interview.

Marie Davidheiser will be participating in the next MSLCE Speaker Series event on Wednesday, April 8 at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle, Room 1-441 on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. To RSVP, click here.

Currently the senior vice president and director of operations at Jack Morton, a brand experience agency based in New York, Davidheiser began drifting towards the business side of creativity her senior year of college. She took some marketing courses, and found her way to an internship in Australia, where she helped put together reality television shows based around dating games.

“These were brand new at that point,” Davidheiser said about reality TV. “I had to find couples willing to be filmed as they screamed at each other for thirty minutes.”

Though the experience wasn’t exactly what she wanted to keep pursuing professionally, it offered her a lesson that she still considers important within her field.

“The act of doing is a big thing for me,” Davidheiser said, “Not just talking about it, actually putting something live together.”

After graduating, Davidheiser moved to Los Angeles, where she took a job at a healthcare nonprofit and helped raise money to provide free healthcare clinics. There she learned the importance of skills that don’t get talked about as much in the creative fields, like budgeting and marketing.

“Every dollar you spend is going to someone in need, so you want to be super thrifty,” Davidheiser explained of her philosophy at her job. “Let’s stretch the value of each dollar.”

Eventually, Davidheiser decided that she needed to move to New York. With no contacts in the city, three suitcases, and a one-way plane ticket, she hopped a flight and didn’t look back. She began freelancing for Jack Morton, and eventually was offered work planning events to promote Nascar. She joined them full-time soon after, and turned the tiny account into their largest. Now, she leads the New York office’s operations.

“My job is to … ensure we’re following the vision,” Davidheiser said. She says it’s not hard to do considering she works with brilliant people who bring an innate curiosity to their jobs.

“The office is insane, the energy is infectious,” Davidheiser said. Maintaining a positive, productive office culture is important to Davidheiser, who takes the task seriously.

“It’s not about the ping pong table in the cafe, it’s about acting like a family and encouraging people and making sure we’re competitive,” she said, “I go into work all the time and I make mistakes… they’re going to support me.”

Davidheiser’s commitment to doing over talking has been a huge asset for her management career, and she advises up and coming professionals in any field to not get too caught up in perfection if it means not getting things done.

“I am not a perfectionist because I would be stuck. I’m really big on moving things forward, and if you fail, you move on,” she said. “The worst part of any leadership team is you stand up in front of a team and say you’re going to do something and it never happens. Everyone thinks the leader is about the strategy but their single job is to get results.”

Panel Talks Startup Funding with MSLCE Finance Class

By Jenna Myers

Cory Sandrock’s finance class experienced a real-world example of the power of networking when Sandrock invited three of his former colleagues from the business world and the theatre world to speak to the class about finding capital to support a new business.

Panel members included John Stoops, founder and executive director of Three Oaks Theatre Festival, David Neilson, a managing director at Talmer Bank and Trust, and a director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch who works with large non-profit organizations. The panelists conversed with MSLCE students and provided real-world advice on the students’ business plans and ideas.

These plans comprise the final project for the finance class and also give students a chance to think through some of their real ideas for ventures after they graduate. Despite the fact that the panel included two bankers, the overwhelming advice was to forgo bank loans and to instead pursue creative ways to get free money. The panelists worked to dispel the myth that entrepreneurs who want money should head to the bank. Stoops, an entrepreneur himself, said, “Loans just terrify me.” He advised students that the best source of funds for non-profits is their future customers, whoever those might be. One example was a new theatre that might consider pre-selling corporate entertainment packages to get funds upfront. “Now you don’t have a loan, but you’ve actually validated your concept [by having customers]”, he said.

Another panelist added, “Trade your services for what you need that might not necessarily be money. . . What do I have that I can offer? What am I trying to build? Is there a way to partner with some other organization?” For example, an MSLCE student who is interested in starting a company that offers branding and media production services might begin by partnering with an amateur photographer or videographer to share idle equipment rather than purchasing her own upfront. The panelists’ advice was candid and direct, speaking to their years of experiences observing many unsuccessful new ventures. The take-home message? “Passion is incredibly important, but follow where the dollars are.”

MSLCE Class Looks at Business Models in Creative Enterprises

By Jacob Nelson

To teach his students about the relationship between business models and technology in the creative enterprises, Northwestern Assistant Professor Dan Gruber talked about Pixar.

The animation studio responsible for a string of huge hits like the “Toy Story” series and “The Incredibles” was acquired by Disney in 2006. When that happened, Pixar brought its creative culture to the home of Mickey Mouse.

“There was an acquisition of culture by Disney,” Gruber said. The move led Pixar employees to create “a creative culture in an organization.”

This is one example of what Gruber’s course focused on — media company business models and strategies. The course involved a string of guest speakers that ran the creative industries gamut, including a columnist at Forbes, the associate artistic director of Steppenwolf Theater Company and the founder and president of a public relations firm.

“We created a culture in the class where everyone felt comfortable asking questions,” Gruber said.

A running theme of Gruber’s course was that the students, like the guest speakers, were making career pivots. Gruber explained that none of the students were making drastic career changes, but that they were transitioning to a more business-oriented side of the creative fields.

“They’re here to make a career pivot,” Gruber said about his students. “It’s not a huge transformation, it’s a retooling. To have this degree will allow them to be successful in the business side.”

Gruber encouraged his students to turn the class into a community based on curiosity. Students would look for everyday examples of interesting business models in creative enterprises, and would tweet their thoughts using a shared hashtag. The class also split into groups to do case studies they presented to the class. Gruber was impressed with how creative his class got for these presentations.

“Students put on a three act play to present the case of creating an investor meeting,” Gruber said. “They really got into it and that inspired me to consistently be open to taking the class where they wanted to go.”

Universal Pictures’ Film Music President Talks ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Soundtrack

Mike Knobloch (left) answered questions from MSLCE Professor Jacob Smith and students. (Picture by Amy Ross)

Mike Knobloch (left) answered questions from MSLCE Professor Jacob Smith and students. (Picture by Amy Ross)


By Amy A. Ross

When Mike Knobloch and his team at Universal Pictures first took on the challenge of developing music for the movie Fifty Shades of Grey, they knew they would have to impress.

The President of Film Music and Publishing at Universal Pictures, Knobloch directs the department that lies at the intersection between the arts and the industries of music and film. Not only was he and his team building off a trilogy with specific songs explicitly weaved into the storyline; they were also catering largely to a fan base familiar with the content of the novels.

The end product did not fall short: the soundtrack released last February in conjunction with the erotic drama brought together artists of the calibre of Annie Lennox, Beyonce and Sia and even drew more favorable critiques than those of the movie.


MSLCE Student Debuted Film at Cannes

By Jacob Nelson

Evyenia Constantine came to the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program to learn about the business side of the film industry.

“I really liked how this program is new, for artistic people to fine-tune and develop their business acumen for the field,” she said. That means she’s very excited about classes that, to others, may not sound that exciting, like finance and entertainment law. “What I’m working on now I will be able to use when I leave,” she said, “I’ll have a business plan to present to investors to get projects financed.”

Constantine earned a BS from The New School in New York City with a concentration in Film and Media Studies and worked as an award-winning producer on a film that debuted at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. When she decided to go back to school, she looked at Northwestern specifically because it’s where her mom earned her Master’s and PhD in social psychology.

Currently, Constantine is researching and developing two untitled projects, and what this program offers are the skills she needs to get “investors excited to invest.” She’s open to different jobs in the film industry once she receives her degree. “It really just depends on where the best fit is and where I can bring what I’ve learned here to the table,” Constantine said. Until then, she will continue to learn about the business side of media production, while considering ways to apply it to her own work. “Everything we’re learning now I’m finding a way to channel,” she said. Owner Brings Multicultural Media to Online Audiences

By Jacob Nelson

The owner of, an online video platform with a multicultural focus, spoke on Monday to Aymar Jean Christian’s MSLCE class about his experiences in the media industry and the trajectory of his career.

Lateef Sarnor started last May, and has since been building up its programming and distribution. Before then, Sarnor worked as AOL’s Head of Multicultural Sales, Marketing and Strategy, BET’s Director of Brand Solutions and Black Enterprises’ Interactive Media Manager.

His decision to start his own business focused on multicultural media came in part from the realization that media audiences seemed increasingly receptive to it.

Multi-cultural media is blowing up,” Sarnor said during his talk. “You’re starting to see a burgeoning influx of shows.”

He mentioned new television programs like “Empire” and “Fresh Off the Boat” as examples of shows that focus on non-white cultural experiences: “Fresh Off the Boat” is an ABC show that is the first American sitcom starring an Asian-American family, and “Empire” is a Fox show that centers on a hip hop music company.

“It’s not just black folks that are watching ‘Empire,’” Sarnor said, “It’s a much broader audience.”

In his discussion of his own company, Sarnor pointed to the different ways of tackling multicultural media. The big networks have a huge amount of money to support expensive, original productions — which means that smaller, online media companies need to find a different niche from which to focus.

That focus is on making kollide a way of distributing multicultural media rather than just producing it. Sarong said his video player is a platform for people to both find and distribute multicultural videos. It’s like YouTube, Sarnor said, but with a much narrower focus.

“We really see this as having a targeted option that fits the consumer,” Sarnor explained.

His discussion about kollide reflected a larger discussion about the direction of television, which he said would move away from channel packages towards unbundled channel and program choices. He hopes to support kollide with both advertising and subscriptions.

During the Q and A, Sarnor talked about some of the obstacles he ran into when starting his company, including raising funds from investors (he’s currently funding the company on his own).

“The challenges with companies that are content based its hard to get people to invest,” he said. “If it hinges on this one piece of content… Are you going to make your money back?”

Sarnor’s hope is that kollide proves successful enough that others begin to emulate it, increasing the exposure to and amount of multicultural media.

“I wanted to prove that there’s a model,” he said. “Between advertisers and the subscription piece maybe we circumvent going out and getting investments.”

Another student asked how he chose which cultural experiences he wanted to focus on within kollide. He said that, though diversity in the programming is his goal, the first thing he looks for in a program is its storytelling.

“At the core I’m trying to find really good shows,” he said. “To me there are universal truths around content. People care about strong characters, relatable story lines. They want to be entertained.”

In the Hostile World of Freelance, a Seasoned Photojournalist Reinvents Himself

By Amy A. Ross

At first glance, it can seem hard to imagine that a professional photographer with a portfolio as thick and impressive as Jeff Haynes’ would find himself struggling to find enough work to make ends meet.

Over the span of 25 years, Haynes’ career included news coverage of an seemingly endless list of news events from the OJ Simpson trial and the Columbine shooting, to numerous editions of the Oscars, the Grammys and the Olympics; most of them as a photojournalist with Agence France-Presse (AFP). However in 2008, Haynes found himself scrambling for work after his employer opted to relocate his position from Chicago to Los Angeles, New York or Washington, a demand he was unable to accommodate due to his personal life.

For the first few years, the veteran photographer found a relatively steady stream of work through a contract with Reuters, but in 2013 the international news agency decided to dispense of it sports coverage in the United States. As he struggled to make ends meet, Haynes found that the world of freelance photography is a hostile one. “There is a demand more for pictures than ever before, but there is less of a monetary value placed on them,” Haynes said. “Photography has been downgraded because anybody can take a picture at any time and it is pretty darned good.”

As he pointed out, the struggles of the news industry directly affected photographers, who were very often the first to be cut in company layoffs. Furthermore, people with much less expertise and knowledge of the craft are increasingly capable of taking publishable photos due to the increase in high quality consumer cameras. Not only can these cameras focus and adjust to the light on their own, they also enable users to take a virtually endless amount of pictures. In addition, postproduction tools and software facilitate the correction of mistakes that result from the lack of skill. Thus, in the midst of financial tensions, many news organizations prefer to sacrifice some of the quality that professional photographers can guarantee, in exchange for saving money on those salaries. “

The industry has started to hire people with very little experience and equipment for $120 a day, and we just can’t afford it,” Haynes said. On the photographer’s end of the equation, surviving off of freelance work has also become increasingly difficult as a result of the the overhead costs of photographic equipment. “The hardest part is not having a regular paycheck and at the same time having to purchase all the camera equipment that was provided as a staff photographer, from a cellphone all the way up to a $10,000 camera lens,” Haynes said. As a result, he has found himself at a place he didn’t imagine a decade ago: reinventing himself at 47 years of age.

Among other things, this implies branching far out from editorial photography. “Now my camera is a hammer and I’ll pound nails for anybody; I’ll go from a high-end corporate client to my friends’ family pictures for $100,” said Haynes. Most of his current work serves customers  like Sports Illustrated, the NBA, and Best Buy, where he does weeklong courses to teach employees knowledge about cameras that will aid them in sales. He also does some photography for the Associated Press, Getty Images, and some corporate clients in the Midwest. Haynes urges upcoming photographers to tread with caution and carefully consider other alternatives to supplement their photographic work.

“Maybe I am 47 years old and bitter, but I see where this is leading and the people at the beginning of the product are suffering the most,” Haynes said. “I’m not saying there aren’t going to be photographers but I am saying that I think it it is going to be very, very difficult to break into the industry. You are really going to have to stand out from the crowd.”

Pitchfork Media Finance VP Talks Getting Into Print, Organizing Festivals

By Jacob Nelson

What was your path to your current position at Pitchfork?

I started as an intern at Pitchfork in October of 2005, prior to that I had worked as a bookkeeper for a couple manufacturing companies out in the suburbs while I completed my bachelor’s program at DePaul. From my internship, I dabbled a bit in ad sales at the company before becoming an administrative assistant. When my supervisor left the company a couple months after I graduated, I was promoted to General Manager with the opportunity to improve and streamline a lot of our day-to-day business operations. As the company continued to grow, I continued to look for opportunities to expand and develop my role and in 2013 I was promoted to VP of Finance.

What is your day to day like at Pitchfork? 

My day to day varies greatly. I spend a lot of time in meetings and on calls with our executive team developing our strategies, budgets and planning for new hires. I handle all of our AP and AR as well as our HR, so I’m back and forth with clients, vendors and employees all day. It’s very much a mixed bag.

Pitchfork is unique in many ways, but perhaps one of the most unusual things about it is that at a time where many print publications are going digital only, Pitchfork has expanded to print. As the VP of Finance, can you talk about the motivations for that decision?

The Pitchfork Review is a passion project that allows us to focus on long form content and feature content that has a more timeless quality to it and is difficult for us to find a place for on the site. It also allows for us to package, design, and deliver that content in a different way.

Working for Pitchfork puts you in two industries that have been seriously affected by the advent of digital media: music and journalism. How have you seen that play out in your current job, and your career in general?

Pitchfork happened at an incredibly important time where we were able to do something that few others were doing on the same scale and we were able to do it with relatively low overhead. I think the other piece that has been important has been consistently being aware of a community that exists online that we are a part of as well as the geographical communities where we operate. This encompasses thinking about how to bridge what we do online to the events that we do.

Pitchfork has had so much success with its music festival that it now feels like sort of a given that a music journalism publisher would naturally know how to organize and stage an outdoor music event. What was the learning curve like for it? How did it come about in the first place?

In many ways this relates to the community piece as well. For the Chicago Festival, we have been working with the same production company, At Pluto, since the festival started, and honestly we couldn’t do it without them. When it comes to organizing and staging the event, they handle every aspect and we have complete trust and faith in how they run the festival. They are Chicago-based as well and very simply put, there is an understanding of who we are and what we’re trying to do. It is a comfort that when I start working on the festival related projects each year, I’m continually working with the same people and when it comes to the week of the festival I’m seeing the same faces that I’ve seen for the last ten years. In addition to the working relationship with the production team, there is also an effort to make sure that Chicago talent is a part of the festival-line up and that we’re working with different Chicago charities each and every year. In regards to how the festival came about, it was another area that we saw as an opportunity to do something that wasn’t being done. We work to maintain all the aspects that we feel work and due to the festival’s size, the talent that we book, the vendors that take part, and the partners that we work with; the festival continues to be unique. It has been a conscious effort to maintain all of these aspects.

What skill set would you encourage someone to have who is interested in pursuing a finance position in a creative field? Would it look any different than that needed for any finance position?

When this question was asked during the session it was hard to explain exactly what that skill or experience set is, but it is absolutely important that candidates understand the company’s mission and the company culture. It is also important that the finance, accounting, and business background is in place. It is also important to recognize that in a finance related role you will not be separate from the creative staff at a company. Those relationships will also be closer at smaller companies so the finance and the creative roles do need to operate as a team.

What’s the best concert you’ve seen?

Robyn at our Paris festival in 2012.

Chicago-based Graphic Production Company Creates Titles for Marvel Movies

By Amy A. Ross

For someone who hadn’t the faintest idea of what she was getting herself into when she founded her own production company in 2009, Erin Sarofsky certainly didn’t let it show.

In a matter of just five years, Sarofsky Corp. has allotted an impressive portfolio with work for clients as noteworthy as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Verizon, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, Fox TV Studios, the Russo Brothers and John Wells Productions. In 2014, Sarofsky Corp.’s work made its way into movie theaters across the country, after creating the main-on-end titles for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a custom-made typeface for Guardians of the Galaxy. Her success in the commercial and film industries earned her a spot as an honoree at the 2014 Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards. Sarofsky describes her work as design driven production, which encompasses all types of graphical products from live action production, visual effects and 3D development, to design and animation for both the entertainment and advertising communities. She is a graduate from of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in graphic design and an MFA in computer graphics, both with a strong photography influence. In 2006, Sarofsky was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her work on the Ghost Whisperer main title sequence. Sarofsky Corp. company now consists of 15 full-time employees, but often has twice that many people working on projects through freelancing.

A few weeks ago, Sarofsky talked to the MSLCE blog about her experience in the design industry, her success as an entrepreneur and the direction of her creative work.

Your company does work both with entertainment and advertising. Where do feel most comfortable now and where do you allocate most of your time?

Even though our website looks like a lot more entertainment it is actually about 80% commercial and 20% entertainment. The budget from the entertainment side is significantly lower so in order to be able to afford it we have to make sure our work is firmly rooted in advertising. 

What made you want to pursue a leadership position with your own enterprise, rather than work at some of the big name companies you were previously associated with?

It is interesting, I thing naivety is the biggest reason. I had the talent and resources to be able to put it together but I didn’t necessarily know what I was getting into. If I knew then what I do now, I think I would have thought about it more. I grew up in New York and came to Chicago to work at Digital Kitchen. I returned to New York but missed Chicago. I wanted to come back but no company aside from Digital Kitchen was doing the level of work that I was doing.

What was the biggest challenge?

Getting access to the work and convincing people that you are worthy or their jobs; it wasn’t actually the work itself… It was like starting over to prove to people that you are capable of bigger projects. It’s all about relationships. When I was at Digital Kitchen, I also became friends and a resource for my clients so even as I moved and started my own company they would come to run things by me. I was a resource and I was helpful. If you are good to people they will be good to you when it is appropriate. All these people that were my clients became my friends and then became very supportive of me as I started my own company. A lot if it comes down to word of mouth. That is how we got work, especially in the beginning.

How did your company start and how big is it now?

The initial mindset was to depend a lot on freelance because there is a lot built into the overhead. At first it was just me and some of my freelancers who are now full-time employees. Now we are 15 full-time and double that half of the time. Sometimes we have people in animating or story boarding artists. I usually hear about them through word of mouth. It’s a pretty small design community so we generally share resources and recommend them to other companies. I ask my friends that are professors at the Rhode Island School of design about their upcoming designers and I call dibs on them. When designers are starting out, I like taking them in and teaching them. You do lots of work across platforms from television and film to the Internet.

How does this multiplatform context affect the creative work?

For the most part it doesn’t. For me production is production. It’s all moving pieces that go somewhere. Now content is becoming more about the person getting it than where it is coming form, and that is key. It’s really about what you are all about as a user and if you like to watch on your phone while you commute that is fine, we can supply content for all of that. It just depends on the client and who they are talking to.

Where do you think industry headed, and how do you see your business fitting into that?

There are two sides. On the creative side it is the trends. We have just been through this dry trend that has been going on for a couple of years, like a guy with kitten for a shirt and Old Spice. I think that is running its course. I think the design and illustration and hand-done looking work is starting to come up. Even though things are digital, there is really a movement for it to feel crafted by hand or like stop motion animation, etc. I think there is an art to that. Either it looks so seamless or it looks hand made and there is a crafty quality. There is also a rise of paper, natural materials, and everything has very natural feel. I like that, creatively. On the tech side, it’s matter of how to best produce things smartly and cheaply. With all the media, the advertising budgets aren’t changing and there are way more delivery mechanisms. It is challenging to continue making the budgets work even for a Samsung or a McDonald’s. Now they do audiences; they want apps to speak to different people. Everything is becoming more segmented. You can tailor the content but the issue is that they still need the content and the challenge is producing it for those different audiences.