26 Sep 1 on 1 with the Communications Manager from the Oprah Winfrey Network
“Not only are we killing it on screen, we are making it happen behind the scenes in major ways”
–Who is James Ward III
I am consistent, persistent and I am focused on living out my purpose and going wherever I feel God leads me and needs me. God puts passion in our hearts for a reason. I know that where there’s passion, there is purpose and when those are aligned, that’s when you have a true impact on the world. True purpose is not just about me as the individual, it’s about how I can impact others. You never know who’s rooting for you behind the scenes, and with that I continue to strive to be the best me that I can be.
I was born and raised in Seattle. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be in LA (the heart of entertainment). At four years old I told my parents “Mommy, Daddy, I wanted to be on TV!” My parents supported me in this pursuit which allowed me to be signed with an agent by age 7; and by age 10 I joined the Screen Actors Guild. I continued to act in commercials, voice overs, stock photography and local theater. Out of high school, I knew the University of Southern California (USC) was my first choice. I did everything I could to be the well-rounded student that colleges look for. I was the president of multiple organizations, I built houses in Mexico through a program called Esperanza, had excellent grades etc. With all of that, I still got denied after my first time applying to USC. For my freshman year in my undergraduate studies, I went to Occidental College in Los Angeles. My freshman year at Oxy, I applied as a transfer student to USC, I got denied again! I applied once more my sophomore year and I got accepted—the third time was the charm.
From that moment, I realized I have the tenacity needed to pursue a career in entertainment as you cannot give up. My vision of seeing myself already there meant everything. I understand it was all God’s planning and on his time. After I graduated in 2011, I started a production company called Meraki Entertainment; my business partner and I hit beginners luck having produced two commercials for local businesses in the Los Angeles area! With a production company, I knew I could do more than act; I could also impact how people of color are represented on screen.
One important and constant factor to my success thus far, is that no matter where I am at currently, even if it’s for a season, I always look to maximize the current opportunity in preparation for the next. While working at a restaurant after college, I sat and talked with the franchise owner about business with the understanding that although I didn’t want to go into hospitality, business principles are the same across the board. After the second Obama inauguration, I came back to the restaurant in hopes of quitting and I ended up getting laid off the day I decided to turn in my 2-week notice. I just looked up at God and internally shouted praise “Unemployment Benefits!”
After having some time off being unemployed, I finally decided to reach out to everyone in my rolodex that I knew worked in entertainment—I didn’t care if I was going to be pushing mail at an agency, I just needed to be directly in the industry. I got an opportunity to interview for a job with a marketing/PR firm, and although it went well, they gave that specific position to someone with more direct experience. A few months later, I was called back to be a paid intern and I happily accepted. After a few months as a paid intern, I was offered a job as a temp; a few months from temping, I became fulltime as a Publicity & Promotions Assistant in the Urban Division where we developed and executed strategic targeted marketing/publicity campaigns reaching a multitude of African American audiences. Some notable campaigns included the series launch for “Empire,” “The Carmichael Show,” “Underground,” “The Wiz Live!,” the most recent 007 film “Spectre,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Central Intelligence” and “Kung Fu Panda 3.” The cool thing with executing targeted PR campaigns is the fact that I was responsible for how the messaging reaches our people. For example, I conceptualized and spearheaded the “Black Women of Bond Tribute” for “Spectre” where we honored the five black women who have been a aprt of the bond franchise—among those in attendance were Halle Berry, Naomi Harris, Trina Parks and Gloria Hendry—garnering national media coverage. I was with the agency for three years and I took pride and ownership in being able to serve as a representative voice for any given network/studio and how they are reaching the African American market. According to Nielsen, Black women watch 37% more TV than any other demographic. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to go “in-house” doing PR at a TV network . At first, I wanted to be an actor growing up and although talent can build awareness for any given topic due to their following, the change is on the inside with the decision makers. I am looking to bring inclusion into PR and entertainment. When they had #OscarsSoWhite this past year, this came from an inclusion problem, that will never change if the decision-making rooms aren’t more diverse themselves. Lastly, I’m a firm believer of “to whom much is given, much is required.” Thus, a fellow USC alum and I started a non-profit called “For the Love of Acting (FLTA),” that was created in direct response to the removal of arts programs within the Los Angeles Unified School District due to budget cuts. With our programming, we expose the students to the arts and teach them professional development skills (www.ftla-arts.org); and I volunteer as a judge for the past 5 consecutive years with the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP branch’s ACT-SO competition.
-Can you tell us about your role as the Communications Manager at OWN:Oprah Winfrey Network?
As a publicist at the network, we each get our own shows to work on. I am currently working on the record breaking doc series “Black Love”, “Released”, “Greenleaf”, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”, and contribute to “Queen Sugar”. We are responsible for publicizing particular programming; PR is not marketing. Marketing costs money, PR is earned media. If I get an actor to do an interview with a certain website because the website has a lot of traffic, its an even trade. Airtime space is very competitive. You have to pitch to get airtime space. We are constantly pitching, and building relationships. Relationships are huge! In PR you have to be able to pitch and nurture your relationships with media get the word out in ways that don’t require ad buys.
Anytime you see someone on the cover of a magazine or on a talk show, someone like me got that done. We are like secret Santas. No one knows who we are, but we just provide gifts. Strategy is big as well, making sure we have the right plan for the right campaign. It’s challenging, constantly changing, and it gives me a chance to learn something new everyday. We also have to stay current, which means be ahead because once you think you are current you probably are behind.
-Any advice for black males?
Don’t be afraid to think big, some of my biggest PR success came from thinking big and not worrying about who was going to like it. I would also say, you have to be comfortable being the only one, and when you are the only one don’t be afraid to use your voice. This past year, I got heavily involved with Black Hollywood, this consists of mostly African American actors that wanted to raise awareness about police brutality in the black community. They are currently creating a non-profit that I have been able to do PR work for behind the scenes. So it’s not always about making changes at work, you can make them outside of work as well to fulfill your purpose. It’s important to remember that each of us has our own journeys so you must remain humble. Have confidence—you’re a King. Lastly, have faith, trust the process, and enjoy it!
-How can readers keep up with you?
@Jameswardiii on Instagram
This article was written by Justin Sims, (IAMMRMENTOR), In hopes of not only inspiring entrepreneurs, but young black males to be the best and the truest version of themselves.
If you like this article and find yourself interested in more positive stories about black millennial age males, please visit WWW.IAMMRMENTOR.CO and follow him on his social media pages IAMMRMENTOR on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.