By Carol Busch (’02)
Jim Vidakovich (’69, speech arts) has garnered the reputation as one of the top media strategists in Hollywood. For the past 20 years he has worked on everything from THE OFFICE to BRAVO’s Real Housewives franchise, to The Voice and Mr. Robot.
“I get to work with executive producers, show runners, writers, and talent to strategize how best to position their show during the launch phase,” says Vidakovich who has also worked with such high-profile networks as NBCUniversal (cable and network), the Oprah Winfrey Network, AMC Networks, TNT/TBS, and STARZ.
Sit down and talk with Vidakovich about his consulting career and you get a sense of its scope, his impressive client list, and his industry reputation. You can understand why he fit right in with the organizers of the ACT Human Rights Film Festival, which debuted at Colorado State University last April.
In a few week’s time last spring, Vidakovich assembled an advisory committee in support of ACT’s goal to build a festival of national significance. Members include Robin Dawson, executive director of the Boston Film Festival; Neil Shapiro, former president of NBC News; Jackie Hernandez, chief marketing officer at NBCUniversal Hispanic Enterprises & Content; Rebecca Marks, executive vice president, NBCUniversal Television Group Publicity; Bruce MacCallum, former field director and senior producer for Entertainment Tonight; and Dr. Tony Frank, president of Colorado State University.
One month following the festival, Vidakovich put his expertise to work for ACT by leading a two-day think tank session with festival organizers and influencers to create a strategy and “playbook” for the festival’s second year. His involvement with the festival continues to flourish.
“I have seldom met someone with so much energy and such a positive perspective,” says Greg Dickinson, chair of the department of communication studies, which produces ACT. “He has thrown his vast knowledge of the media landscape behind the festival. We couldn’t have found a better champion.”
Vidakovich, who was raised in Glenwood Springs, Colo., came to Colorado State a happy kid who had moved away from home for the first time. “Every day I discovered something new,” he says.
He credits his speech arts degree for giving his professional life ballast. “I learned the importance of the communication process and networking,” Vidakovich says. “And even more importantly how to apply inter- and intrapersonal skills to everything I did, and those have been the foundation of my success.”
His compass was – and has been – pointed toward doing what others said he could not. ”When someone would tell me, ‘oh you can’t do that,’ I would go ‘OK’ and then I’d do it,” he says. “The philosophy I adopted early in my career was to focus on opportunities and possibilities – not limitations.”
Case in point – Vidakovich says he was probably not the top candidate for the position of public information officer for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., but he became one of five finalists, interviewed with panel of city employees, and got the job.
“I was articulate, had some innovative ideas and most importantly demonstrated an attitude of “I can do this,” he says. “My ‘secret sauce’ is knowing my personal brand and having the skills to communicate it with a sense of confidence and professionalism.”
He also had a knack for making friends, earning the respect of his colleagues, and diving into opportunity. “I’ve never been afraid to color outside the lines!” says Vidakovich.
The public information officer position led to working with FEMA, and in collaboration with local TV markets throughout the country, he produced educational mini-documentaries on fire safety that aired during local news broadcasts. This exposure landed him a job as the educational specialist at KNBC (Los Angeles), which opened the door to one of the highlights of his career: working eleven years for Children’s Television Workshop – Sesame Street.
Vidakovich says his time with Sesame Street provided him with the unique opportunity to develop his creative skills in an environment full of energy and encouragement. When Vidakovich left CTW he had worked his way to head of affiliate relations and marketing.
Vidakovich’s journey from Sesame Street to becoming a top media strategist has been a winding road of opportunity, extremely hard work, and an unwavering attitude to see the positive. “I like to think that I help people first and foremost, by understanding what they are doing well, and using that as the foundation to determine what they can do differently to reach that next level of excellence, and then come up with a plan to make it happen.”
Over the years, this single perspective – applied equally to himself as to others – also established Vidakovich as a facilitation and meeting expert, and author. His book, Trainers in Motion: Creating a Participant-Centered Learning Experience, published in 2000, became a best seller in the corporate training community.
That think tank session Vidakovich led for ACT in May 2016? It was cut from the cloth of Vidakovich’s ardent approach to creative and interactive facilitation, skills and knowledge he absorbed and refined during his time at Sesame Street and working with clients around the world.
Vidakovich says his journey from media strategist to human rights film festival consultant is a two-part act of giving back to the university that showed him his own potential and applying in a meaningful way what he knows how to do best: make people see and believe in their potential.
“Jim is committed to helping ACT become an internationally recognized film festival, and to building the department’s and the college’s reputation for excellence and engagement,” Dickinson says.
This commitment also extends to the College of Liberal Arts. In 2015 he joined the Liberal Arts Development Council.
No matter what he does, Vidakovich constantly reminds himself: “It’s nice to dream dreams – but true fulfillment is to watch a dream bud from an illusion into a reality by two things – hard work and persistence.”