Alumnus helps celebrities navigate the spotlight

“You have to be quick on your feet and able to handle heavy situations – especially in entertainment,” said Sam Naimi ‘16. “The emphasis on theory and liberal studies (in Arts & Sciences) allowed me to be a really good critical thinker.”

After positions with the Ellen DeGeneres show and TMZ, Naimi now works at PMK•BNC, a public relations agency that specializes in entertainment and popular culture. He double majored in feminist, gender, & sexuality studies (FGSS) and English literature, concentrating in popular culture studies.

“The fact that Arts & Sciences students have such a broad scope of knowledge in so many different subjects shows that we’re very aware,” he said, adding that his broad education has proven instrumental in the entertainment industry.

When Naimi first arrived at Cornell, he planned to major in Spanish, but after taking “Body as Text: Pleasure and Danger,” his first semester, he began to change direction. The course, taught by Associate Professor Elisha Cohn, explored how the idea of “the body” has been constructed over time, through examinations of literature, film and science.

After taking courses that were cross-listed as FGSS and English, he says he “just fell in love with the topics” and ultimately ended up shifting gears.

Following his curiosity for pop culture

Naimi pursued his interest in popular culture as an intern with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, rotating through the talk show’s six departments in human interest, talent, audience, research, production and social media. He says this opportunity opened his eyes to all the different facets of the industry, especially in terms of working from within.

After graduation, he worked at TMZ as a production assistant for the summer, covering a number of breaking news stories by doing court runs and taking notes on celebrity cases. One case involved Justin Bieber’s run-ins with an Argentinian court and involved Naimi doing research on the Argentinian embassy in Los Angeles. 

Naimi then returned to the Ellen DeGerenes Show as an audience assistant, serving as the central point of contact for the 300-person audience and also assisting with tapings, booking shows and managing VIP audience members.The show also focuses on social justice efforts, which Naimi said aligned well with his FGSS degree.

“It wasn’t just about celebrity pop culture. It was about real life heroes and people, about kindness and generosity,” he said.

In Naimi’s current job as a talent assistant for PMK•BNC, he represents individual actors and actresses including Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves and Robin Wright. He acts as the middleman between his clients and their interview requests and handles everything from written press materials to draft memos sent to media outlets and clients.

Naimi also works with clients at events, serving as the intermediary between the client and the red carpet press.

Just recently he worked with a client at a Halloween party held in Michael Jackson’s family home, showing his client around the red carpet and ensuring that he spoke with the right media. Naimi said confidence and communication skills are key in his job.

“It can be nerve-wracking working with such huge stars,” Naimi said. “But they’re very personable.”

On the value of a Cornell A&S education

Naimi said his Cornell degree is a bonus in his industry. “From my background, my supervisors know that I can take on certain tasks,” he said. “They know that I’m motivated and dedicated in whatever I do.”

His advice to current students? Market your communications and critical thinking skills because they are liberal arts characteristics that can be extremely lucrative, he said.

“My knowledge from FGSS was so integral in shaping me as a professional,” Naimi said. “I can delve into many intense topics with people.” 

In an interview for his current position, for example, Naimi recalls talking about popular culture theory. The conversation escalated into a topic about gender and sexuality, and the fact that he was socially aware and articulate about those issues was a plus.

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