Netflix has 15 Oscar nominations and on Sunday the coveted statue may go to one of the films distributed by the streaming giant.
Behind the scenes generating buzz for Netflix is Kelli Hill, a UNLV communication studies alumna, who draws the attention of key award industry players to Netflix programming.
She works alongside the company's public relations, marketing, social media, and content teams to maximize the reach of the events among those in the film and TV industries.
Hill, ’03 BA Communication Studies, whose official title is “manager, awards events,” organizes events incorporating the films and shows Netflix wants to promote to awards decision-makers.
Leading a team of two to four employees, she plans everything from intimate movie screenings to huge award show after-parties for the Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes.
Recently, she returned from London where she and her team organized the after-party for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards.
Among the movies Hill has promoted is the documentary White Helmets, which is about Syrian volunteer emergency rescue crews. The documentary was distributed to audiences by Netflix and took home the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) in 2017.
Hill and her team were part of the promotional effort during awards season, organizing screenings of the film for people in the film industry and also putting on a reception for Oscar voters.
Her days are a mixture of fun and deadline-heavy business, particularly during TV and movie awards seasons, when she and her team split up the work and details of putting on the many events for which they're responsible.
Often, Hill finds herself using her years of experience planning and promoting events to navigate new opportunities, such as working with Netflix's engineering team to promote certain programs within the actual Netflix application. This is a new and different type of work — creating events for a business that not only produces content but also broadcasts it to users on its own technological platform.
“Things are so much different since I started (in the entertainment business),” she said. “When I first started working at Netflix, it felt like a technology company with an entertainment product. It’s different. I’d never worked with engineers before working here.”
Pushing Through Career Challenges
Hill’s adaptability and tenacity in the role comes at least in part from her trajectory to her position at Netflix.
Part of her love for the industry originates from the jovial environment she experienced growing up with her mom — former KLAS channel 8 news anchor Juana Hart Akers — and dad, who was vice president of boxing promotions company Top Rank Boxing.
With an upbringing steeped in the entertainment industry, she headed to UNLV, where she originally intended to pursue a political science degree before switching to communication studies before her sophomore year.
“I totally changed course. I hadn’t been listening to my conscience,” she said. “I definitely recommend letting your passion drive you.”
Her communication degree allowed her a foot in the door and prepared her for the first step of her journey, giving her a necessary background that allowed her to see how news and media worked, she said. In a broadcast communications class, she was required to produce an entire TV show, an exercise that was both fun and showed her the work that goes into producing a bigger project.
Once she set her sights on entertainment, she worked to earn an internship at a Las Vegas radio station, where she was later hired as a staff member. She remained at the radio station until 2005, when the station laid off the entire staff of the show she was producing.
Being laid off hurt, and as for most, tough financially.
Hill worked at a local party supply store to boost her income as she searched high and low for another job in the field she loved.
“As I got deeper into my job search, I realized that what I was looking for might not be available to me in Las Vegas so I had to broaden my search,” Hill said. “That decision paid off. It landed me in New York City, which I had actually never imagined for myself. It was an unexpectedly wonderful curveball.”
She worked AMC Networks Inc. and with her drive as well as her passion for the industry, Hill worked her way up to become director of events and communications. She managed affiliate communications and spearheaded efforts to promote Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, South by Southwest, and numerous series launches on TV networks.
“It was kind of a 360-degree role I was able to create for myself by raising my hand and saying, ‘I can do it. I’ll figure it out,’” she said.
Advice for Students
It was her willingness to volunteer for new opportunities as well as the business relationships she’d developed over the years that allowed her to flourish at AMC before joining Netflix, she added.
“I truly believe that I’ve been afforded the opportunities that I have because I've worked with awesome people and have maintained those relationships,” she said. “That has been one of the most beneficial and valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received.”
Hill is still in touch with Craig Knight, her mentor at the radio station who now works as general manager at Las Vegas-based radio station KCEP Power 88 FM.
She encourages students to find a mentor like Knight and then establish and maintain those relationships. Ask the mentor out to coffee to pick that person’s brain, email every so often to check in, and attend industry conferences or networking events when possible.
“Identify someone in your professional or personal life who gives you support, guidance, and sound advice as you pursue your professional goals. If you have someone like this in your corner, continue to tap into their wealth of knowledge,” she said.
She also encourages students to stay strong during temporary setbacks or failures.
“Don't get discouraged,” she said. “Keep pushing through the tough days, weeks, months. If you envision yourself somewhere, doing something you love, keep striving for it.”
In the end, she said, passion, relationships, commitment, and hard work are all vital to reaching the next level in your career.
“The journey can sometimes seem unclear but it's OK to experience uncertainty,” she said. “Stay rooted in your goals and keep pursuing every path that will help get you there.”