Dialed In: James L. Anderson of Turner Broadcasting on Arts and Entertainment

July 1, 2016

James L. Anderson
James L. Anderson

“I fell in love with the arts early in my childhood, so I wanted to have any job that would allow me to work near greasepaint,” says James L. Anderson, senior vice president of communications at Turner. Today, he is still involved in arts and entertainment, and serves as the company’s chief spokesperson.

Anderson oversees all domestic internal and external communications strategies, as well as global franchise PR efforts for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang and their ancillary businesses — Cartoon Network Studios, Williams Street Studios (Adult Swim) and Cartoon Network Enterprises (Consumer Products).

Prior to joining Turner, he was senior vice president of publicity and public relations for the Carsey-Werner Company where he supervised campaigns for: “That ‘70s Show,” “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Roseanne,” “Cybill,” “Grace Under Fire,” “A Different World” and “The Cosby Show.”

Anderson is a graduate of Denison University, where he is on the Board of Trustees and also serves on the boards of the SIFMA Foundation, NAMIC and the Tony-winning Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

What was your dream job as a child?

For a brief moment, I wanted to be Ben Vereen when he was singing and dancing on Broadway, but that ended by age 12 when I realized he had something called talent.

How did you first become interested in communications and get your start?

After college, I was fortunate enough to find myself working for the Carsey-Werner Company as a production assistant on “The Cosby Show.” That job led to me being the assistant to the producer on the series, “A Different World.”

This producer would always send me to the set to help out every time there was press and I really enjoyed it. One day, she said to me: “I think we’ve found what you’re supposed to be doing in this business.” That comment led to me being a PR coordinator and, as the company grew and became more successful, I was also allowed to grow, make mistakes and learn. (Thanks, Joanne, Marcy, Tom and Stuart.)

What are some challenges (and exciting things) you face in your role at Turner?

At my core, I love being a strategist. One of the exciting things for me is sitting down with the team and brainstorming ideas, developing strategies and then seeing their excitement as it comes together when a journalist says, “yes.”

The challenges are the fast pace at which news is being disseminated today and continuing to find ways to make sure your content and messaging can break through a cluttered environment and be impactful.

What are some best practices when engaging on-the-go consumers with so many digital stimulants and social media platforms out there?

Be wherever they are and know the behavior of the consumer you are trying to engage, and how they like to receive content. The message may need to be the same, but how you deliver it has to be platform-specific. Second, find a way that stays true to your brand and allows you to be creative and break through the noise. I work in a visual business and a lot of our success happens when we also deliver our message or story with images or video.

What are the challenges of reaching new audiences and those of various backgrounds and cultures?

The biggest challenge is breaking through the clutter, especially to those audiences who may not know your brand. Another is making sure that you don’t make the mistake of crafting a message or releasing content that assumes all cultures are monolithic.

What are the keys to implementing strong, strategic storytelling?

Know the true narrative of your story and what may differentiate it from others. I grew up in Baltimore and the No. 1 rule for making a good crab cake is more meat, less filler. Make sure there is clarity. No matter how complicated it may be, make it simple to digest. That doesn’t mean be less creative, but get to the core of your story, especially when you’re trying to engage a journalist. Then use all the Old Bay Seasoning you want to illustrate your point.

What are some best practices for influencer outreach and brand communication?

Be clear and strategic about your outreach to influencers and why they are a fit with your brand. Do your research so that when you approach them, you are coming with an authentic voice that shows why you want to work with them. Most true influencers have a brand to protect as well and want to make sure that the people they are working with are genuine and understand what has made them an “influencer” in the first place.

What makes a good leader and who are some leaders you admire?

The leader I aspire to be every day is one who tries to listen more than talk, one who “empowers” (John Maxwell) and one who is about “nurturing and enhancing” (Tom Peters). I want to encourage people to do their best work and let them know they have my support.

Why is fostering diversity in the communications profession important to you?

When I first got into communications, someone told me that embracing diversity was not only the right thing to do, but it was also good business because there was an “emerging audience,” and the face of the consumer was changing. It is key for our profession to have diverse voices and experiences in the room when decisions are being made and messages are being shaped. It is the only way we will succeed in communicating authentically and staying relevant.

What advice do you have for new pros looking to break into communications?

Take whatever job will get you in the door for the profession you are trying to pursue. Then navigate to where you think you may want to eventually land.

Join and network with organizations that will help connect you to that profession, but do it strategically and make sure you can point to how it is helping you. I’m a big believer in intellectual curiosity and you can never know too much. Especially in communications where things are changing every day and being relevant is crucial, it is imperative to stay on top of best practices and learn what is working for others.

Read everything you can about the business because it is changing quickly and the role you may want today could evolve into something else tomorrow.

How do you protect such a storied brand like Turner and what role does public relations play in protecting that brand?

I am lucky to work with some of the best PR professionals in the business across all of Turner and, because of them, communications plays an important role in helping create value for a brand that has a long-standing reputation for being innovative and having great content. Make sure that reputation is emphasized and protected every day in whatever stories we are doing about Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang.

Though each brand has its own identity and voice, I need to make sure those stories are playing an overall role in the brand building of Turner.

What are some trends you see on the horizon for PR and TV/broadcasting?

We are living in a multi-platform universe and technology is moving at a rapid speed. Giving the consumer an immersive experience now is essential. We are seeing more exploration with live video on social media platforms and virtual reality is being used more to tell stories.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your nearly 30-year career? 

Stay flexible and know that this too shall pass. Whatever story has you losing sleep today, try not to worry because something else will come along and that other story will soon be forgotten. (Yes, easier said than done. Please remind me of what I said when I am in the middle of my next crisis.)

Also, make sure you’re not that person who always needs to hear himself speak.

Getting to Know… James L. Anderson

Any three dinner guests — past or present? 

Warren Buffett, Audra McDonald, Bayard Rustin

Favorite TV show?

“Charlie Rose”

Best place to travel?

Florence, Italy

Favorite downtime activity?

Dinner with friends

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


Brianna Drisdale says:

Great article, Amy & thanks for the gems, Mr. Anderson!

July 19, 2016

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