Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dean Miller, Senior Manager, Home Entertainment & Books, WWE

My guest blogger for today is Gayle Johnson, freelance copy editor and longtime Macmillan/Pearson editor before that. She interviews Dean Miller, another of our former colleagues. He is a prime example of someone who blended his passions into the perfect career for himself.

Today we speak with Dean Miller of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. Dean has followed an interesting and somewhat unusual career path over the past 15 years. He started with a computer-book publisher and now deals with professional wrestlers. Here’s his story:

What is your educational background?

My undergraduate days were spent at MIT, where I received a joint degree in biology and expository writing. I did spend a year at Indiana University pursuing a master’s in journalism, but I abandoned the effort, choosing instead a career track that allowed me to make money.

When you were in college, did you have an idea of the kind of job or field you wanted to get into?

Absolutely not. When I first started in school, I wanted to be a doctor (hence the start in biology). I caught the writing bug and thought that could be a future avenue, although I also did a bit of C programming for the Human Genome Project as an undergrad. MIT provides incredible opportunities to its undergrads to get involved in key research work in their chosen field. I literally had no idea that jobs like the ones I eventually got existed in book publishing until I read about them on a job board.

What were your first jobs in publishing?

Well, technically speaking, I covered high-school sports for the local newspaper when I was in high school (I believe I received $25 a week for my efforts), and I did a bit of documentation in college on the genetic mapping software I was helping to create, but my first full-time opportunity was copy editing computer books for SAMS Publishing.

Describe your job progression after that.

I didn’t copy edit long. My real interest and I believe skill was more at the higher-level edit (organization of the book, selection of topics, teaching methods, etc.) than the “micro-edits,” so I was moved into development editing. I did that for a few years, with the occasional book acquisition thrown in, before I moved into management and eventually an Associate Publisher position. After 10 years, I left computer books and started doing acquisitions and development of sports titles—instructional, historical, and biographical. After three years at that, I found my current position at WWE.

What was your first job with the WWE, and how have you progressed from there?

My initial role was Publishing Manager, which is to say I served as the liaison between WWE and Simon & Schuster, our official publishing partner. WWE has been doing books for about eight years, ever since Mick Foley shocked the literary world by creating a New York Times #1 bestseller. The prevailing wisdom that fans of professional wrestling are not readers had been proven wrong consistently over the last decade, and both HarperCollins and S&S have been official publishers of WWE offerings. These licensing agreements fit within the consumer products group, and as a result, I have seen over time my responsibility broaden within consumer products. My official title is now Senior Manager, Home Entertainment & Books. I am heavily involved in our home entertainment group (DVDs) and help with our video game, international publishing, and our Legends Program (a licensing initiative featuring the likenesses of former wrestlers from the past three decades).

Describe your primary job responsibilities.

Books probably take up 25% of my time. On these my job is to help get the books published and vet the content through all appropriate departments. I also work on setting up publicity and marketing for the books once they are published, including book signings.

I am also responsible for the creation of marketing materials and packaging information for all of our DVDs. I also help come up with the list of titles in both areas and P&Ls for the lists.

What’s a typical day like for you?

It’s pretty hectic at all times. We run original programming 52 weeks a year, so we do not have any downtime in our schedule. Obviously, some times are busier than others. Now is big as we are doing the final adjustments on holiday products. The period leading into WrestleMania is insane as well. I’m usually speaking to writers, S&S, and other departments about the promotion and marketing of books and DVDs.

We have an “all hands on deck” approach in Consumer Products, so I’m often called to help with other products. Recently I’ve helped approve models and game play for our next video game, helped select talent for apparel and toy products, and worked with international publishers on kids’ activity books. It’s really nice that I get to stretch my work experience beyond my core competency.

What kinds of people do you deal with? Do you ever interact with the superstars and divas (male and female wrestlers)?

All the time. I interact with the ones who are subjects of books and DVDs, often accompanying them on personal appearances and signings. They often have ideas for consumer products and contact us. I also occasionally go to shows and go backstage for meetings, but I try to avoid that when possible because I don’t want to interrupt their preparation for the show.

Of course, some of our biggest stars—the McMahon family—are in the office all the time. They are very involved with all day-to-day decisions, and I meet with each of them on different topics. In many ways WWE is the best of both worlds: it is a publicly traded company, but on many fronts, it’s a family-run business.

Do you travel for your job?

Yes. I visit retailers, accompany superstars and divas on personal appearances, and attend a variety of trade shows and conventions. We also generally have big partner events at WrestleMania each year, so I’ve been to the last two, and plan on being in Orlando this March.

What skills are most helpful in your job?

Flexibility and interpersonal skills.

What do you like most about your job?

The variety of tasks, working on a pretty exciting property (it’s shocking that wrestling is more exciting than computer publishing), the staff I get to work with.

What are your biggest challenges?

Probably continuing to overcome the stigma that many still associate with professional wrestling.

What advice would you give to college students or recent graduates?

Immerse yourself in your new position and company. Once you have your basic duties down, look to do more for the company with the expectation that you’re doing it for long-term career growth, not short-term financial reward. Ask a ton of questions—seek out people with experience and buy them a meal or a drink for the opportunity to pick their brain. Look at the first five years of postgraduate work as staging years. You want to build as many varied experiences as possible, and you want to lay the groundwork of being a hard worker willing to do what is needed to help your group achieve its goals.

You moved from technology publishing to sports publishing to the pro wrestling industry. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to move into a different job function or into a different area within the same basic industry?

Do not underestimate the applicability of your current skill set into other areas. When I first left computer publishing, I thought I couldn’t possibly do something else—that I didn’t have the skills an employer in a different area would want or need. But sitting down and looking at what I’ve accomplished, I started to realize that certain tasks are universal—project management, risk assessment, mentoring, basic problem solving, data analysis. These are skills all employers need. You absolutely will need to learn some basic information about your new area or industry, as well as learn how to successfully integrate yourself into a new corporate culture, but most employers understand this and give you the time you need.

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