Roc Nation's EVP Jana Fleishman Talks Longevity & Surprise in the Entertainment Industry
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Jana Fleishman, Roc Nation’s EVP of strategy and communications, talks longevity and surprise in the entertainment industry.
Jana Fleishman PHOTO BY SEAN WALTROUS
Jana Fleishman logs onto Zoom four minutes before our meeting time. When she turns her camera on, she flashes a polite smile and raises her pointer finger. She is on mute and her cell phone is up to her ear. She unmutes for a couple of seconds.
“Hold on one second. I just have to wrap up this call, I’ll be right there,” says Fleishman.
The Roc Nation EVP is seated at her desk, wearing a white crew neck and leather jacket, faux locs cascading and framing her face. She ends her phone call just as our interview is about to start, offers an apology, then an elated hello. Fleishman is entering her third decade in the music industry and has achieved the careful balance of being accessible and efficient, social and professional, and experienced but never too busy to be on the lookout for the newest, coolest thing.
“We want to give people an amazing, positive experience that they’ll never forget,” says Fleishman.
It all started when her mother made an extreme request: She’d have to get an internship or move out. Fleishman grew up in the club kid era in the Bronx and dreamed of owning a modeling agency or fashion magazine. She hadn’t worked before and didn’t quite know where to start. Luckily, her charismatic godmother Sandy, an aspiring singer who had once mentioned that Fleishman would be great in the music industry, intervened and put her in contact with Mercury Records. Although she was just a freshman at Hunter College and all the radio promotion slots were full, she landed an internship at the publicity department at Mercury Records, home to artists like Tony! Toni! Toné!, Brian McKnight, Lionel Richie and Vanessa Williams. Not long after, she had worked her way up from intern to manager of publicity. Fleishman took the minimum number of school credits so she could spend more time at Mercury. She followed up her experience with stints at other legendary labels including Virgin and Elektra. By 2000, she was the VP of public relations at Island Def Jam Music Group—five years before JAY-Z served as Def Jam’s president and CEO—where artists like Ludacris, Method Man, LL Cool J, Ne-Yo and Rihanna were on the roster. It was Fleishman’s job to make the kind of real-life connections that would eventually cement those artists as some of the most memorable rap and R&B acts of all time.
“We’re paid to have an opinion. We’re paid to advise. One thing that I’ve learned is to always at least have a thought, an opinion,” says Fleishman.
Fleishman remembers a time when labels had music departments specifically designed for Black talent. Acts would be booked on Soul Train or at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, but didn’t have access to appear on late-night shows. She remembers when people would wait in line for an album release, read liner notes, flip through magazines and anticipate music video drops. She’s planned memorable photo shoots, organized fan experiences, hosted giveaways and often provides official comments for JAY-Z’s sprawling entertainment company, Roc Nation. She naturally progressed from Island Def Jam to Roc Nation in 2009, just a year after its founding. It’s safe to say that Fleishman understands the inner workings of the music industry, from CDs to NFTs.
“Everything is much quicker now. Years ago, an album would come out, and it would resonate for a very, very, very, very long time,” she explains. “Videos were appointment viewing. You waited for videos to come on and you couldn’t just do it whenever you felt like it, right? That’s for everything across the board. There was nothing on-demand.”
That early training and hands-on experience with tailoring marketing communications strategies to reach a captive and patient audience carries through to her ethos around artistry today. Although she’s not opposed to virality and thinks it’s a useful tool for artists to quickly garner attention, she’s much more concerned with longevity and intention. She takes a holistic approach to artists, their music, their careers and their humanity.
Behind the scenes of Fleishman’s photo shoot in New Jersey PHOTO BY SEAN WALTROUS
“It’s not selling the CDs. It’s now looking at an artist and a brand and understanding that no matter what, every artist is more than just one album,” says Fleishman.
In fact, one of the only ways to please, shock or awe today’s overstimulated audiences is to catch them by surprise. That means that even doing something simple requires that you do it in a new, unexpected way. Before Fleishman sets out on any publicity venture, she asks, “How can I surprise people this time?”
In 2013, she set up a scavenger hunt ahead of JAY-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail release. Although she didn’t have many followers, she took to Twitter and posted clues about where folks could find her in Brooklyn. To Fleishman’s surprise, the tweets took off, and pretty soon folks were deciphering clues and making their way to her. Participants were asked to say “new rules” when they spotted her in order to snag a book with song titles for the soon-to-be No. 1 album.
“Everything is based on what you want to communicate. Everybody is communicating whatever it is inside them outwardly. As soon as you know what you want to communicate to the world, you can go in any medium,” says Fleishman.
Although her teenage dream of owning a modeling agency and fashion magazine hasn’t come to fruition, Fleishman is a leader in an industry where so many of our cover stars and trendsetters are also the top musicians of the moment. There’s no telling whether an artist’s latest single, photo shoot, brand campaign or juicy life event will get them on someone’s radar. There are a multitude of ways to engage with your favorite artist, and she knows that. Fleishman came up in the age of the supermodel, and we’ve progressed to the time of the superstar.
She’s met the everchanging metrics and demands for success with empathy and patience, a set of skills that she thinks everyone can benefit from. When she’s not preparing for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show (which Roc Nation produces) or mapping out its next business partnership, she’s catching dinner with a tight circle of trusted friends or bouncing ideas off other like-minded creatives. Yes, she goes to therapy too. Most often, she spends time with her beloved 6-year-old Chihuahua, JJ Monster Jr., a play on Fleishman’s Twitter handle. All of these elements contribute to her ability to be grounded and well-rounded, but Fleishman finds herself returning to the same centering thought.
“Every day, I’ve got to wake up and go to sleep knowing who I am. My values have not changed,” she says. “I’m blessed to work for the individuals that I work for because I can be me. I do things from the goodness of my heart, and that’s the only thing that I can do.”