Kim Zaninovich: From Working with Al Pacino to Staffing Digital Hollywood

Kim Zaninovich is the Founder of Crowd Control, a successful LA-based company that finds the best-in-class digital creative talent for projects and agencies.

Unlike a garden variety staffing agency, Crowd Control works with producers, creative directors, sound designers and composers, motion and 3D animators, interactive installation developers, game creators, and content creators like filmmakers and writers!

After growing up with a passion for independent film, it wasn't until she was a student at Boston University that Kim decided that she wanted a career in the movie industry. After seeing a presentation on the making of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Zaninovich spoke to the student who created it and was told about an internship. Shortly afterwards, she was hired as a marketing intern for Buena Vista Pictures. She loved every minute of it.

Kim worked on every film that three divisions of Buena Vista Pictures generated. Through Hollywood Pictures, Touchstone and Walt Disney Pictures, she helped build awareness around films like “Cool Runnings,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Ed Wood,” “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” She was soon after hired by Fox Searchlight, where she got to work closely with amazing filmmakers like Bernardo Bertolucci, Spike Lee and Al Pacino, before moving into television, where she worked as a Talent Executive for E! for three years.

Going into uncharted territory is nothing new for Kim. In 1999, before social media and the first Internet bubble burst, she worked in Interactive Marketing, primarily with entertainment clients, which meant taking the standard movie marketing protocol and blowing it out as far as you could on the Internet. 

It was at an agency called Genex that Zaninovich finally let her entrepreneurial spirit shine. It was there that she started Genex Honey, a kind of boutique shop within the company, and helped create their own branding, process, identity and pitch angle.

“Genex had great clients in automotive and banking and needed a little pizzazz in their portfolio that only entertainment properties can really give you,” she says. “It was like entrepreneurship-lite; we had a parent company that was willing to foot the bill for us to get established and to help cultivate our roster of clients.”

Not long afterwards, Kim’s real business success story began, when she went off on her own to launch Crowd Control. 

We spoke to Kim about the challenges of working in an industry where everything can change in an instant; about her role models; and which aspects of running her own business keep her up at night.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Crowd Control and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

Crowd Control was really born of necessity. As a producer, people were always asking me if I knew of great resources for their projects - and I usually did. I saw a need there but hadn't acted on it. A friend suggested turning the service I was already providing to people for free into a business. It was a great thought to consider. 

The idea of Crowd Control became more real when two totally unrelated people asked me if I could help them with their businesses - help rep them to get them more work.

It seemed like the universe was giving me the thumbs up to try it out. I jumped in and I haven't looked back! 

TNW: What lessons did you learn whilst running Genex Honey that you later went on to apply to founding Crowd Control?

I learned a ton working with the Genex Honey team. First, surround yourself with the most talented people you can and trust them to do the work you know they can do. Second, keep overhead low; the lower the better. Virtual offices are a blessing to new businesses. And finally, stay away from group think if you can. Let a great idea lead the way and defend it from being watered down by too many opinions. 

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

Being an executive producer and running creative production studios, I often found myself working with recruiters and reps. Recruiters would send over tons of possible resources but I found quality to be low, rates to be high and never found a real match for the specific skills I needed. The reps I worked with never seemed to be able to match the projects they had RFPs for with the shops they were pushing so I'd find myself in a pitch for something our shop was ill-suited to actually produce. I'd never come across anyone who saw a project from a producer's perspective, really interested in lining up the right resource with the right project and keeping budgets and timelines in mind. This is the real service that Crowd Control offers. It's an experienced, curatorial approach to creative talent management and resourcing. 

TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

In its first year, Crowd Control really relied on word of mouth in acquiring new clients. As we get into our second year, we're stepping up more formal marketing. Social recruiting is getting bigger and bigger so we're bolstering our presence on social networks, we're working with a great publicist, going to more networking events. This will be our first year to go to SXSW (as a business) which I'm excited about for sure. 

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?

The first is certainly never to put all of your eggs of energy or financial forecasting in one basket. In advertising and in digital production, plans change on a dime. 

Perfect matches can be utterly dissolved when the client pulls the plug on a campaign at the last minute. It's unavoidable. Flexibility is key. 

Client services are all about patience and empathy. If you can put yourself in your client's shoes--really, truly seeing a pain point from their perspective--you can help them get to solving their problem. 

And in general, I think you have to treat success and failure in the same way--never getting too high or two low. Some days, every call and every email seems to be a shin kick. Other days, it's all good news. You can't tell which kind of day it is until you jump into it, and no matter, you still have to work through it. 

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

My parents ran a family business, so I often think about all of the work they did when I'm getting worn down or anxious about next steps.

My first bosses are still huge inspirations--both women from the movie publicity world and both larger than life. When I have to deal with certain situations, I call upon their courage and sense of humor and toughness.

I have a few friends who have preceded me in starting their own businesses and they're inspiring too. 

TNW: What does your day look like?

It has no real start and no real end. I'm usually answering emails by 7, I try to schedule at least 3 meetings per week to discuss possible new business with clients (and get some lunches in there too). I keep meetings with a longer drive time to the mornings hours (a must in LA) and use the afternoons to connect with new resources, doing calls and interviews. I usually do general housekeeping at the end of the day, somewhere around 9 or 10 o'clock. 

TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?

Yes, almost every night. If there are specific tasks that I've set for the next day that are worrying me, I usually just get up and do them. It's easier than stressing about them in bed--a definite advantage to working at home.

The tougher nights are when the worries about business development and cash flow creep in. Then I just give myself over to the tossing and turning and make lists of things to check out in the morning. 

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

I think the biggest challenge is adjusting to necessary timing that is a part of the business cycle. I like to get things done well and done now--but some deals and some connections take more time to grow and foster. A connection you make today might not turn into an opportunity for 6 months, even though I know I can get that business what it needs tomorrow. It's an interesting exercise in patience. 

TNW: What is next for your company?

We'll be adding some more folks to the army on the Crowd Control side in the not too distant future to keep growing our web of resources and companies we service. Exciting times for sure!

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