Spotlight: Arizona State University

Paul O'BrienEducation, Engagement5 Comments

Traditionally, our Spotlight articles have highlighted an individual notable in media innovation but given summer has started and my alma mater is on my mind, I wanted take a walk down memory lane and uncover some of the Devils making a mark in media.

Tempe, AZ was in many ways the start of my own career in media, though I didn’t yet realize it, and it was certainly a spark of MediaTech Ventures. To this day I tell the story of how this introverted computer geek from Michigan learned to socialize thanks to ASU while turning into my University Ave dorm room to code from scratch a music history website that got the attention of someone at Yahoo! Prone to late nights as I am, the college radio station at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication kept me on the air as an amateur DJ well before podcasting was a thing.

Given the ballooning cost of secondary education in the United States, it’s personally exciting to see that not only was Arizona State a great experience for myself and so many peers I’m about to introduce, College Factual reports that it’s nearly among the best values in education, certainly well above the average.

What really sparky-ed my attention on ASU was a series of coincidences that one just can’t help but notice…

Arizona State University Alumni in Media

Just a few weeks ago, I sat in a coffee shop off the University of Texas campus. In my bag, the spring edition of W.P. Carey, the quarterly alumni magazine published by the School of Business. On it’s cover, “The Serious Side of Entertainment.”

There for a meeting, my friends mentioned Michael Helfant, and whether or not we’d spoken, since Ted Cohen is based in Los Angeles. Michael graduated with a BS in Political Science from ASU in 1978 and went on to launch, Amasia Entertainment and Troika Pictures, following a career with Marvel Studios, Beacon Pictures, Miramax/Dimension Films, Interscope Communications, and Sovereign Pictures.

As we parted, I opened to the article written by Tequia Burt and Claire Zulkey to get to know more of where and how, through whom, Arizona State has had an impact in our collective work.

People like, Stephen Teglas (BS Finance ’89), now senior vice president of North America merchandise licensing at Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

“It’s always fun to see fans playing with the toys or wearing the apparel that you helped create,” he shared with W.P. Carey Magazine. “Whether it’s a Disney or a Warner Bros. product, when I see children and adults wearing our apparel or playing with our toys, I’m proud to work in the business that helped create it. The joy our fans have when interacting with our products is evident. For example, I see them when I’m walking through an airport. I will see a child pulling a Batman suitcase or wearing a backpack and I immediately think, ‘I had a hand in that.’”


Matt Michalowski (BS Finance ’09), is the founder and president of digital marketing agency PXL, and he shares something we all know too well: there is a glut of imperfect advertising online.

Based in Los Angeles and working with television networks and movie studios to market their upcoming theatrical, home entertainment, and television series online, Michaelowski’s work in PXL was recently awarded a prestigious Silver Clio for their engagement with Paramount’s 2018 Sherlock Gnomes. PXL used real-time face-mapping technology to translate an improv actor’s performance into a digital character who interacted with movie fans.

Launching recording artists to the next level, Eric O’Connor (BS Marketing ’10), is an entertainment attorney and co-founder of the management company MPM Partners in Los Angeles. “We take artists who are already popular on YouTube and try to convert them into more traditional avenues,” he says, sharing with Burt and Zulkey, his client rapper DDG, who joined Epic Records in 2018. Their goal at MPM sounds eerily similar to what John Zozzaro is always talking about in music, “to mold scrappy DIY social media artists into a more polished brand.” Perhaps it’s not an eerie coincidence but rather how all artists can thrive.

Joel McFadden(MBA ’06) focuses on one-to-one marketing in the sports and entertainment world and has been involved with Fan Interactive Marketing in LA since it was founded 10 years ago.

McFadden tells W.P. Carey that the agency’s goal is to provide multichannel marketing campaigns to clients — email marketing, digital advertising, and data analysis — to give them a better understanding of their own customers; in turn helping them create stronger relationships.

Michael Burns (BS Political Science ’80), the vice chairman of Lionsgate. “Right now, you have disruptors like Netflix that have taken the world by storm, and then you have more traditional companies like Disney, which has made some terrific acquisitions including Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. It’s a new world.”

Sounds familiar.

Marketing and advertising, film, television, music, this community is really leaving a mark throughout media.

Michael Zimmerlich still finds himself in Arizona, the BS Computer Information Systems from 2007 is president of 80/20 Records and advising artists in crowdfunding. His spark? In high school, getting his hands on video footage from the school television station and developing and selling a version of the yearbook on DVD.

And I was thrilled to see the Arizona State University Alumni article wrap with a profile very near and dear to our work, working as an engineer on Hulu’s data team, Irfan Khanmohamed (MS Information Management ’14) blends art and science to help develop compelling content for viewers.

“Data is at the center of everything Hulu does,” he says. “We’re in such a competitive space. We’re trying to grow our subscriber base, figure out what content people like, and figure out how we can keep our subscribers happy. You can’t do any of that without going through the data.”

The serious side of entertainment

From sparks to lightening in a bottle, my passion, and the work of Corey Butler and some of the incredible scientists on our team, is in helping every artists and company catch up with the information age.

Later that day, I had a quick catch up with some old friends at True North Venture Partners in Chicago and almost as if putting a bow around what we do – from partners and education in media, to data and optimization, to venture capital – I learned of True North Venture Partners’ founder Mike Ahearn.

Mike Ahearn founded True North Venture Partners based on a belief that early stage companies seeking to disrupt socially important business sectors require a fundamentally unique approach to funding, growth and market expansion. With B.S. and J.D. degrees from ASU, continues to serve by way of the Board of Cox Enterprises which of course operates Cox Media Group, Cox Communications, and Cox Automotive.

Suzanne Chabre graces the cover of W.P. Carey Magazine’s Spring edition and that drives home a final and pivotal thought about our media industry and how artists might thrive. Venues matter. Suzanne a graduate of that W.P. Carey school at Arizona State University, in Marketing, is the Vice President of Marketing Communications at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. Through her former work with Pinnacle Entertainment, MGM Mirage, Harrah’s Entertainment, Caesars Entertainment, in branding, marketing, and data related to venues at the epicenter of so much of our entertainment industry, Arizona State University’s impact on media has touched every aspect of our industry and uncovered the value of education in enabling our artists to thrive.

What about yourself? Get to know everyone with a comment below and we’ll connect everyone up!

5 Comments on “Spotlight: Arizona State University”

  1. Paul O’Brien pretty sure it has been a decade since I came to Silicon Valley asking for your advice… so yeah, I guess we’re old! ?

  2. PERRI COLLINS, Brennan Forss, Amanda Kichler, Elyssa Dull, Matthew Bintzler, Monica Ballesteros, Crystal Gustavson Miller …. what do you think?? How do we make something like that happen?

    Suzanne Chabre, your place or mine? 🙂 Or a big road trip to Tempe?

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