It’s our obsession here at EBONY: finding the young, fresh talent of our culture making major strides in their lives. From entrepreneurship to holding CEO positions, there’s nothing better than seeing our youth grasping leadership spots. This week, we highlight Gabrielle N. Simpson, director of communications for NBC Universal, who in her everyday work is striving to help tell the stories of people around the world.
EBONY: Here’s the thing: you have such an important position at a mega-media corporation, and at such a young age. But what is it that you actually do during your day-to-day work?
Gabrielle Simpson: On a day-to-day basis, I am responsible for communicating NBCUniversal’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, in front of and behind the camera. NBCUniversal recognizes the obligation it has to reflect the diverse cultures and backgrounds of our audiences. Daily, I look for opportunities to tell diverse achievements, commemorate heritage, and foster dialogue on a variety of platforms. I am always on the lookout for chances to create powerful and engaging conversations about diversity.
EBONY: What was your career path that led you to your current role at NBCUniversal?
GS: It goes as far back as my Palisades Charter High School days, where I served as editor-in-chief of The Tideline, our school newspaper, at age 16. I knew then that I had an interest in telling powerful stories and making an impact through communications. During undergrad at Iona College, I majored in mass communications, with a concentration in TV, video and film, and studied from concept to execution how stories are told on various platforms.
When my senior year of college arose, I had an abundance of writing samples, and real-life experience gained from collegiate opportunities. I got an amazing internship at ABC’s Live with Regis & Kelly my senior year, and upon graduation I was hired as a production assistant. Shortly after, I started my corporate media career at CBS Corporation, where I worked for more than six years.
EBONY: When you received your role, did you at any point feel unprepared because of your age, or were you pretty confident?
GS: Personally, I love learning opportunities. At an early age, I knew that I wanted to become a New Yorker and work in TV, which is why I moved 3,000 miles away from everyone I knew to attend college in New York. So entering my current role at age 27 wasn’t very scary, it was exciting! Moreover, I believe that I am at a level in my career where my age is no longer a factor. The biggest factors are my work ethic, skill set, writing skills and industry knowledge. And due to these factors, I’m confident that I am on a great career path at NBCUniversal.
EBONY: With your experience in this industry, what would you say is the biggest mistake people make when attempting to get into this business?
GS: Not enough people put strong emphasis on mastering their skills. Passion is great and unquestionably needed to have a thriving career in media and entertainment, but in no way does that overshadow one’s skills. I have had people share with me that they want to work in the industry because they love watching TV, or love sports, or celerity gossip, but all of that has nothing to do with working in this business. I am a communications professional, and because of that I am able to practice those skills in media and entertainment, which is where my passion lies.
EBONY: Can you share the actual experience of working on the corporate side of TV?
GS: One of the benefits of working for a large corporation is that you see many moving parts of the business. I love the opportunity to be in the know about industry advancements across our many properties, as well as be[ing] a part of shaping the future of media and technology.
EBONY: What are the positive changes that you’re leading within the television industry, at least behind the scenes?
GS: Many people are hesitant to change when they don’t understand something or someone. I’m excited that every day, I get to provide examples of diverse success stories, role models and, most importantly, encourage the understanding of cultural differences on various platforms, from video to social media. At NBCUniversal, we have numerous vehicles that we use to make a difference in people’s lives, which helps to create behavioral and social changes. As a media and technology company, when we make a statement, or provide a stamp of support, it is a message to the masses. NBCUniversal truly embraces forward thinking and innovation, and is open to new ideas.
EBONY: A lot of people of color are afraid to talk about color in media. But what is your perspective on making it in, and shaping, this industry?
GS: I am proud to be a Black woman working at a leading media and technology company. I am proud that I can be myself in my work environment, and that my culture and background are embraced. Acknowledging that many may not be as privileged as I to work for a corporation that is dedicated to diversity on every front, I encourage all to be smart in their techniques and strategies for career advancement.
First and foremost, knowledge truly is power. For instance, understand the influence of the Black marketplace. Know that Blacks are one of the biggest users of social media. And when you can eloquently and effectively convey that diversity is imperative for business success and growth, and that diversity brings in dollars, you will win.
Looking at the trends of media, entertainment, and even technology, there is no doubt that there are cultural influences everywhere. The world we live in is more diverse than ever before, and our stories must be told. Knowledge and strategic execution are key.
EBONY: What has been the take-away you’ve received from your experience?
GS: When you can knowledgeably discuss dollars and the business impact, people listen. People of color impact business and people of color generate dollars. As a communicator, you must seek knowledge and strive to be proficient in your field. I’ve learned that one must always have a thirst for knowledge.
EBONY: What are you happiest about your career thus far?
GS: I am happiest about having the opportunity to give back to people that look like me. I am thrilled to be an adjunct professor at St. John’s University, where many of my students are Black young women.
In both my undergraduate and graduate studies, I never had an African-American professor, let alone a professor who was currently working in the industry. Most of my professors worked in the communications field for several years and then became professors.
I love and am excited to present firsthand knowledge and expertise to my students each and every class. I truly appreciate the challenge and the responsibility to prepare future communicators.
EBONY: Do you have any advice for the twentysomethings out here trying to be their best in the workforce?
GS: Be prepared! The media and entertainment, fashion and sports industries are not for those who aren’t prepared. Be knowledgeable about the field you’re looking to get into, know who the players are, and have samples of your work. For public relations in particular, your brand is essential to your success. A social media presence can take you far, or contrarily be responsible for your lack of movement.
Most importantly: be an effective communicator. Excellent written and verbal commutations skills are imperative. Have an impactful voice and tone on paper, a blog, or social media. It is vital that you’re conveying a message that is grammatically correct, proactive, relevant, and praiseworthy. Lastly, your interaction in person, phone, email, or online tells a story, so be aware of how you present yourself. You’ll never get a second chance for a first impression, so make it everlasting.