Faces of NPR: Events Team

Mar 6, 2018
Originally published on March 6, 2018 9:00 am

Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what inspires them. This week's post features the NPR Events team.

You all work on the Events team. What are your roles?

Jessica Goldstein, Director of Events and Strategic Initiatives

Joanna Pawlowska, Senior Manager, Generation Listen

Allie Prescott, Events Manager

Nancy Chow, Project Manager

Pilar Fitzgerald, Tiny Desk Contest Events Assistant

Marissa Lorusso, Tiny Desk Contest Production Assistant

As a team, we oversee almost all of the public-facing editorial content-driven events in the organization. Our goal is to create events that elevate the organization's rich news and programming content by producing live experiences that deepen our audiences' connection to our brand, talent and editorial properties while also working closely with NPR's robust network of Member Stations.

How did you all get started at NPR? What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?

Allie: I interned with NPR Music in 2014, spent a few years working in events and sponsorship for a creative agency in New York, and applied in early 2017 for the Events Manager role. I was lucky enough to get it and moved back to D.C. last March!

My advice would be to keep in touch with your colleagues and collaborators, and in each position you have, work hard and think about what you're learning, even if it seems trivial, could be an asset down the line.

Marissa: I started as an intern with NPR Music in January 2016 and have been temping between the music and events teams since just after that internship ended. In the fall of 2016, I started working on the Tiny Desk Contest with the events team, and am grateful to be working on the Contest again this year.

Pilar: I was finishing up a two-year fellowship with the Office of Student Life at Harvard College and looking for new opportunities. I got in touch with a friend who works for NPR after seeing his name in the credits of an NPR Music video, and it just so happened that there was an opening on the events team. Coming from producing college-wide events at Harvard, I couldn't have asked for a better transition.

Nancy: I interned with NPR's Digital Media team in 2008. Since then, I graduated from the University of Maryland, worked at two law firms, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and, most recently, National Geographic. I was ecstatic to hear about an opportunity to return to NPR and am excited to be a part of this team.

My advice for people who want to be a project manager is to listen to people and figure out their needs; every project takes a village and in order for it to be a success, you need to set everyone up for success.

Joanna: I worked in tech for a number of years after graduating from UCLA. It was fun and interesting to be part of the early stages of startups building the shared economy (remember when people thought getting into a Lyft was a crazy idea?), but I was ready for a change. There was an opening for a community manager position out of NPR West, and I jumped on it. I transitioned my job quickly to apply my start-up, community-focused mindset to building out NPR's Generation Listen program, which was a bit of an internal startup itself. The task is to work with Member Stations, programming, and the newsroom in innovative ways to help younger listeners and new audiences discover public radio.

My advice? Try a million things and wear as many hats as you can. This helps you learn, of course, but also helps you figure out what different jobs actually mean in the day-to-day. And be nice! The more skills you pick up and relationships you form, the more doors open to interesting and unique work.

Jessica: I've been at NPR a looong time, and been lucky enough to follow several different career paths. My first job here was as a producer for the NPR/National Geographic Society collaboration, "Radio Expeditions." In that gig I had the opportunity to travel around the world from the jungles of Sumatra to the glaciers of Antarctica, reporting on threatened cultures and environments. Following that, I was a producer on the Science Desk, contributing radio and multimedia stories for all of the news magazines. In 2012, I became the Senior Supervising Producer at NPR Music and helped to create the Tiny Desk Contest, which I continue to oversee. My advice for others is to be a good listener, connect with others inside and outside of your niche, and collaborate—there are so many smart, interesting people in our organization who are eager to try out new ways of sharing content.

You host events all over the country. Does hosting an event for a podcast, a host, or NPR as a whole change your approach? What are the goals of these events?

Whether it's for a podcast, a host, or a series like the Tiny Desk Contest, our event goals are the same: showcase NPR's top-quality editorial content; highlight existing content, and/or generate new content that can be used for podcast, air, or online; connect with Member Stations across the country by partnering on events; develop NPR's talent by giving hosts opportunities to shine in a live event setting; and create a financially sustainable business within NPR.

Generation Listen focuses on designing engaging experiences with Millennials in mind—whether at Generation Listen-specific gatherings, or by adding audience-specific elements to all NPR events. The question we ask is, "How can NPR keep up with the next generations and deepen our relationship to those listeners and communities?"

How does the team take a project from start to finish? What is it like to oversee logistics, production and marketing?

We're constantly considering and communicating with our stakeholders, both inside and outside the organization. We work with editorial content producers from the newsroom and in programming to understand desires (or not) to do live events, and what a successful event would look like through the lens of the four main goals laid out above. If we deem something to be feasible and start to move ahead with logistics like venue scouting, determining an event date, and content production, we inform stakeholders across the organization from Member Partnership, Marketing, Branding & Communications, Legal, Finance, NPM, Development, and Audio Engineering.

We view our role as laying the logistical foundation for content producers to come in and do their thing at a live event, and to support and consult on the content and production decisions.

As for the process, we are all detail-focused and consult each other as we are planning events. Joanna has a design-trained eye and focuses on millennial engagement. She's very good at refining the look and feel of events, even on a public radio budget. Allie has worked in sponsorship before and knows how to scout venues and spot opportunities for sponsorship activation, and is a number cruncher. Pilar and Marissa have lots of experience working with artists and musicians, who can be tough to pin down. Nancy, our newest team member, comes from a digital project management background, and we're excited to see what we can learn from her. And as the leader of our team, Jess provides overall creative direction and strategic vision to the NPR Events platform, bringing her 20+ years of journalistic expertise along with her invaluable knowledge of how the organization operates.

Can you give us a sneak peek at some of the events you've got planned for 2018?

We are really excited to be working on an Invisibilia live show with Story District in DC on April 19. Tickets will go on sale soon! We are also planning a new live interview series with Audie Cornish in Studio One—intimate deep dives with creatives making and shaping culture—which we hope to launch this coming spring. In addition, we are working on a live It's Been A Minute show in collaboration with WBEZ, live Code Switch shows, and a big Planet Money 10th Anniversary show in the fall. We are also excited to be working on additional How I Built This live shows and a big event in the fall to be announced soon.

How do you bring a podcast to life on stage?

It depends on the show. For something like How I Built This, the show's editorial team spends a lot of time researching the guest and prepping materials for Guy Raz's one-on-one interviews, and our team's focus is more on laying the logistical foundation for them to do that. For something like the live Code Switch show with WBEZ in November of last year, we collaborated with the hosts and producers to create a multimedia, multi-guest show that enabled meaningful conversations on stage. We also work with audio engineering to make sure that our live shows will sound excellent in person and when they're recorded. Shoutout to Andy Huether, who travels to our live events across the country!

Listening Parties double down on the intimacy of public radio and podcasts. The idea is to bring small groups of people to listen together. Like a book club for radio stories, it's a throwback to the times when people gathered around the radio. It allows NPR's storytelling to catalyze the conversations with our friends, families, and communities that might be otherwise challenging to broach.

We've set it up so that listeners can host their own (like for our upcoming #invisiparty for the launch of Season 4 of Invisibilia), though we partner with stations and hosts, desks, or podcasts for more official and sometimes more creative listening parties, like last summer's Listening on Location with the Science Desk.

The Tiny Desk Contest tour events are a huge collaboration between the Events team, Music team, and Member Stations. We try to retain the intimacy that people love about Tiny Desk Concerts (even though we're typically in venues much larger than Bob's desk!) but also make the events feel specific to the cities we're in. The Tiny Desk Contest is much more than its winner; it's a collective of artists from all over the country drawing from all different musical influences.

Are there any previous events you are particularly proud of?

The Tiny Desk Contest tours have been huge undertakings since they started in 2016, and those set the foundation for the other events our department does. The How I Built This live shows, which began in July 2017, are something we're proud of because we had to put something together extremely quickly. We partnered with Kelly McEvers and Embedded for a unique, interactive event in LA last year in which we brought the audience into the story. The energy at those shows, at the David Greene and Tom Hanks event in L.A. last fall, and the Code Switch show in November with WBEZ, was tangible and awesome. We also love working with the NPR Politics team and Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Favorite Tiny Desk?

Jessica: Sorry, but I can't pick just one! Cat Stevens for nostalgia, Tank and the Bangas for the laughter and joy, Chance The Rapper for the passion and love, and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, which moved me to tears.

Marissa: Tank and the Bangas! Perfume Genius is a close second.

Pilar: Tyler the Creator.

Joanna: The one that eventually happens in LA #TinyBeachConcerts.

Nancy: Punch Brothers.

Allie: It's a tie among Chance The Rapper, Julien Baker, and Sylvan Esso.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Jessica: Spending as much time outside hiking, running, biking, swimming; hanging with my family and friends; cooking and baking (especially bundt cakes).

Marissa: Going to concerts (and playing shows with my band, Keeper), spending time with friends, and keeping up with RuPaul's Drag Race.

Pilar: Playing music, taking photos, listening to podcasts, visiting museums, yoga, and watching bad movies!

Joanna: Outdoor adventures, traveling, good long conversations with friends, Korean Spa, reading, writing, dancing, obsessing over my puppy, pranking my husband.

Nancy: Running as a way of exploring cities, hanging out with my energetic dog, Zelda, trying new restaurants, checking out exhibitions, taking photos, and playing Nintendo 64.

Allie: Going on long walks through the city, yoga, cooking, spending time with friends, going to concerts and museums.

What is your favorite thing about working at NPR?

Jessica: Being surrounded by interesting, smart people who are creative and enthusiastic about what they do.

Marissa: Working at NPR means working with people who are passionate, serious and thoughtful about what they do, and who care about telling stories that matter. And Tiny Desk concerts are a pretty great perk, too.

Pilar: Being in a fast-paced environment with folks who like to get stuff done. And the Tiny Desk concerts are a consistent exclamation point in the middle of the work day.

Joanna: NPR West! We have our own laid-back vibe that encourages the incubation of new ideas and we have a supportive, close knit environment where folks from all departments regularly interact. Also, people that work at NPR are kind and have great taste: in books, music, movies. There are always great recs for what to dig into next.

Nancy: One thing that hasn't changed since I interned almost a decade ago are the employees that NPR attracts: they continue to be smart, congenial, creative, and dedicated.

Allie: The people we work with are intelligent, kind, thoughtful, and mission-driven. Plus, Tiny Desk Concerts.

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