Jim Babcock: Adult Swim, VP Consumer Marketing
WFU Class of 1991
Jim Babcock is the VP of Consumer Marketing at Adult Swim in Atlanta. You may have heard of shows like 'Rick and Morty' and 'Robot Chicken' - Jim oversees the marketing and branding surrounding these hits and more. We recently got his thoughts on the Wake undergrad experience and finding your way after leaving the Forest.
DeacLink: Tell us about what you do.
Jim Babcock: I am the VP of Consumer Marketing for Adult Swim, which is a TV network and part of Turner Broadcasting. I lead a team that handles all marketing and shows for our brand including social media, ads, promotions, and partnerships. We also do a lot smaller side projects, such as our direct consumer shop, web streaming shows, and podcast series. Anything that we can dream up that’ll stand out and get us attention, we do.
Additionally, I work on the ELEAGUE team, the eSports property that Turner helped start. We put on live eSports competitions, televise it, sell ads and do social media around these events to monetize them. As we move into a post-television world it’s something we want to experiment with; it’s sort of a startup within Turner.
DL: Very cool. Are you from Atlanta? How did you learn about Wake Forest?
JB: I grew up in Atlanta, so being here in the South you’re always familiar with Wake Forest. I had a family friend who went there so that was my personal connection to the school. I went up to visit and fell in love.
DL: How much did your time at Wake influence or drive your career path?
JB: While the schoolwork was great, the most impactful experiences for me came from working on Wake Radio and the Old Gold and Black. I was always interested in media, conveying information and giving my opinion. These outlets were great for learning about that.
My chosen fields of study [Politics and English] were huge in terms of teaching me how to write and communicate. Having the ability to form, frame and articulate an argument was the most important thing I learned at Wake. Having a liberal arts education made me well rounded, and my extracurricular activities kept me curious and interested.
Saying that, I did have a rough patch at the very beginning in freshman year. I hadn’t been truly challenged in high school, so I arrived at Wake expecting to do the same sort of thing. I quickly realized you have to really do the work- show up to class, take notes, do the reading. After freshman year I developed discipline and learned that if you do what’s required of you, most likely you’ll be fine.
DL: Too true. What was your journey like coming out of graduation?
JB: When I graduated from Wake, the job market wasn’t great. I came home with little motivation despite my shiny degree. Eventually I got a free internship on a political campaign that combined my background in politics, PR and communication. It was my interests in media and politics rolled into one. Volunteering for nine months allowed me to get my foot in the door… which tends to happen when you work for free. I met a future mentor at this point who took me into another job in Atlanta as he transitioned to a new role after the campaign’s conclusion. I worked in the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce doing PR and communications helping to boost the city’s profile as it prepared to host the 1996 Olympics. I took journalists on tours of the city, wrote press releases and came up with marketing campaigns for Atlanta. I was able to meet a lot of people in the Atlanta community between volunteers, the Olympic organizers and corporate sponsors.
After this I worked for a couple PR firms in Atlanta for a few years, then happened upon a job with Cartoon Network doing PR. I joined Turner in ‘99 and have been here ever since- eighteen years now. Within Turner I’ve had jobs in public relations, trade marketing and, now, consumer marketing at Adult Swim. I’ve had some great mentors here who gave me the chance to try something new and find things I’m good at.
DL: Was there a particular thing you did to help you stand out across all these positions?
JB: You have to be scrappy and do the job you’re not getting paid for. If you come in ready to impress people, to have good ideas and work hard, they’re more likely to take a chance on you. That’s what I tried to do and so far, so good, I guess!
DL: What project have you been most proud of thus far at Adult Swim?
JB: Launching the TV series ‘Rick and Morty’ was very fulfilling. We knew we had a great show, but we came up with a bunch of really fun and interesting ideas to get it in front of as many people as possible. We created a life-size UFO crash in the middle of NYC that turned into a viral phenomenon. We did some really innovative stuff on social media as well which got more people to try the show. It went from ‘here’s another dumb cartoon from Adult Swim’ to something being discussed in the New York Times, on Reddit, everywhere.
DL: The crash idea sounds epic. Whose idea was it?
JB: Like most things at AS, it was really collaborative. We had the marketing people, our creative team, all asking 'what will get MY attention?' The first scene of the first episode, Rick literally crashes the ship into the garage and Morty doesn’t know what’s going on. So we said, we gotta make a crash! In addition to the NYC crash, we also crashed into a billboard in LA.
The most interesting thing about things like this for me, are the nuts and bolts of executing the idea. Hiring the sculptor for it, working with an agency to get the right permits in each city, figuring out when and how you do it. We put up flyers around which read ‘Missing Spaceship’- aspects that added another layer. We try to avoid plastering our Adult Swim logo everywhere; the key is to have people walk past and not realize it’s an overt ad so they lean in and pay more attention. Resisting the temptation to over commercialize the experience keeps it curious and interesting. If you take a picture and send it to your friend, we have doubled or tripled the exposure in an instant.
DL: What show doesn’t get enough shine, or perhaps didn’t quite take off like you’d hoped?
JB: We get super weird with some shows.. There was one called ‘The Heart, She Holler’- a live action, gothic body-horror soap opera. It was created by the people behind 'Wonder Showzen' and starred Patton Oswalt. It was as bizarre as it was funny; like an art piece with bad puns. I wanted that thing to become the new ‘Dynasty’... but it just didn’t. Somehow I sort of knew it wouldn’t fly, but it then remains your own special thing anyways.
There was another kids’ show called ‘Chowder’ which was super sweet and funny. It got lost amid a few transitions, which is too bad because it’s a really good show.
DL: Attention spans certainly are getting shorter-- is it hard to keep up with children and adult attention spans?
JB: Well, today’s five-year-old is 7 in two years and that’s a huge difference. Then they’re 9 in another couple years, and that’s a big difference. On top of that, today’s child has access to beyond what’s on TV at that exact moment. They can choose to watch ‘Hey Arnold’, Japanese anime or ‘Scooby Doo’- at any time, anywhere and on any device. There’s even interactive shows whose story changes whenver you want. It’s hard to get kids’ attention. With adults we compete against video games, reruns of ‘Friends’ and Netflix. It’s tough to stand out and make people want to pay attention.
DL: What’s your trick to delivering constantly under the pressure of such a fast-paced environment?
JB: I always ask, ‘What’s the thing that’s going to get my attention? What’s weird, different, outrageous enough that when I’m driving down the street I’m going to stop and take a picture?’ If I haven’t seen it before, or nobody’s been courageous enough to try it, I go that direction.
DL: In that vein, what’s the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to our readers?
JB: I see many young interns come and go in the office. You’d think some of them were being forced to dig ditches when actually they’re in one of the coolest offices around! I’m always hoping to see someone give that extra bit of effort to make me take notice. My advice is to show up early, work hard and always ask if there’s anything else you can do. Try working a little bit harder than anyone else and be genuine- it makes a big difference.