Jenna Arnold Started Press Play Productions to Inspire Change in the World

by / ⠀Entrepreneur Interviews / November 10, 2010

Jenna Arnold photoJenna Arnold was not your average teenager who wanted to gossip about who she saw at the mall or who was hooking up with who. Instead Jenna began to notice simple problems in the world when she was traveling and thought about how they could be fixed.

After working in the education system and the United Nations Jenna started her own company, Press Play Productions. Jenna realized that the only way to educate a large group of people on social issues was through media and at the same time she needed the flexibility of her own company to produce things how she wanted. This attitude is what led her to success on numerous projects most notably “Exiled” which was sold to MTV and is now airing in over 100 countries. Read the interview with Jenna to see how she thinks and what drove her to start her company…

What inspired you to start helping people?

When I was 13 I went to Mexico for the first time. I was in a van with a bunch of kids from grade school when the van came to a halt because of a bottleneck. After about 20 minutes we realized it was because of a man in a wheelchair using the outside lane of the highway because there were no ramps to let him on the sidewalk.

I thought this was an easy problem to solve, someone just had to go do it. I then spent a lot of time traveling in middle and high school. Every-time I came home I wanted to tell my friends all about this new country I just saw and my experience but they were only interested in talking about who hooked up with who. That is what inspired me to bring the rest of the world and its stories to my peers.

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What was next?

While I was in undergrad I traveled around the world studying education systems. I wanted to see how other school systems made people care and realized our own systems were failing in certain areas.

When I graduated I moved to LA to teach. I liked to experiment with strategies to engage with students so they would care more. I realized that playing a piece of media was much more impactful compared to me just saying how important something was. Media became the best conduit for those lessons.

Looking at what media was out there I saw things like Barney which had a huge audience for a purple dinosaur. I realized media could reach massive groups of people and cross boundaries that individuals could not. I wanted to become faster and more efficient with my teaching and reach more people with my message.

I then looked to the state department and NGO’s which were great but still small and the UN which was huge but moved slow.  I decided on the UN after going back to school to get a degree in media education. I helped establish a program at the UN to educate people on what the UN was doing. I then left to start my own company for more flexibility and to experiment. The UN was huge but I didn’t have the freedom to experiment and when I did it still had to be approved by 100 people before it got done.

I started” Exiled” at Press Play Productions which sold to MTV and is now airing in 100+ countries.

How do you get your message out? D0 you agree with MTV and how they use things like Jersey Shore to pull people in and then a show like Andrew Jenks to change things?

Balance. Powerful networks have huge overhead so you have to make money to cover that. So they want high quality content on air. Content that is “deep” does not pay the electric bills. I don’t buy into content like Jersey Shore is helping anything but I do understand the need for a balance. MTV has a huge overhead to produce quality content so things like Jersey Shore pay those bills.

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The way today’s cable is produced will not stay the same. I predict a shift to smaller companies that have smaller overhead that can create better content. There are a ton of NGOs that create this content but dont need huge success to pay the bills.

If you want to have a company 5-10 people deep you have to realize you wont reach everyone. With the large companies when you give a dollar to them a large % goes to overhead where as in smaller companies it goes straight to production and content.

How can more young people make a positive impact on the world?

Do something that has not been done yet. You can sit there and say I’ll make a TV show or something. but what is the next twitter? It’s a crazy idea but you have to set yourself up for success.

What would you say are the 2 biggest business lessons you have learned while running Press Play Productions?

Managing expectations – For us projects 1-4 were huge but 5-7 have not been successful at all. I beat myself up if they don’t do well but you have to understand not everything you do will be huge.

Picking the right projects: With success comes a lot of people knocking on your door. I can’t have 35 projects, I have to pick 4 of them that I want.

What is the best part about running a company like Press Play Productions?

I don’t have to get approval for vacation days.

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