Marymount University, Arlington, VA – Bachelor’s Degree, Communications
American University, Washington, D.C. – Master's Degree, Interactive Journalism
It’s hard to believe that Rani Robinson was once a shy college girl.
In order to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in communications from Marymount University she first needed to complete an internship. Her eyes on National Geographic, she emailed them only to receive zero response. Undeterred, Rani shared her passion for working in the travel space with her dad. At the time her father, Leonard H. Robinson, Jr., had a partnership with Discovery Communications, Inc. (parent company for Discovery Channel and TLC) via a nonprofit called The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa. He invited Rani to a Discovery Communications reception so she could network, but the thought terrified her.
“I was shy and didn’t know much about networking,” Rani says. “But I quickly learned of its power. I met someone who introduced me to someone else, and then someone else, who then introduced me to then-president of Discovery, Judith McHale.”
Judith was impressed by Rani and invited her to join Discovery’s internship program in June 2002. Starting as a photo intern, Rani worked hard to make her work indispensable to her colleagues. Her internship turned into a full-time job, and now 13 years later, Rani still works for the Travel Channel (this time under parent company Scripps Networks Interactive; parent company of HGTV and Food Network) as the director of digital.
Rani is proof childhood dreams can come true, even if in a slightly different form than first imagined. And that shy girl? She’s long gone, and Rani is glad and now espouses the importance of self-confidence and speaking up to her employees.
I like to hire people who aren’t afraid to speak up, who like to brainstorm and who have great ideas.
How did you turn your internship opportunity into a full-time job?
After a year as a photo editor intern I was hired in a contract position to continue on with my work as a photo editor. After a year that contract was up, but I moved offsite and worked from home as a contingent worker for another year, still photo editing. But, at the time I had a good rapport with the video director who spent a lot of time editing short-form digital video for all the networks. I told him I wanted to get into video editing, and he invited me to come in during the graveyard shift from 4 to 8 p.m. and help with video editing.
So, during this point in my life, I was editing photos during the day and editing video during the evening. It was a great experience because the whole group felt like a tight knit family, and, for the most part, we all stay in touch to this day!
My boss at the time then asked if I had any interest in becoming a producer for FitTV.com. I wasn’t sure what that meant or what exactly what I would be doing. He told me I would be doing what I already was doing (editing) but in addition I’d be creating content and writing more. I got the job and ended up loving it. At the same time I also helped out with DiscoveryHealth.com and its annual National Body Challenge.
I was in this role for a while, and then in July 2006 my dad passed away suddenly. Around the same time my colleague, Jodi Bettencourt, sent me an email that said, “I know this is a rough time, but I’ve been asked by the president of Travel Channel to come and be the interactive producer for TravelChannel.com, and I want you to come with me.” In so many ways it felt like perfect timing. I was ready for a change and always had a passion for travel, which was a spirit instilled in me by my dad who was in the Peace Corps. He lived in India for 4 years and went to every country in Africa except for one. The love of travel always was there, and even though the timing was bad from a personal perspective, it was what I always had wanted to do.
It sounds like it was your dad’s last gift to you.
It totally was. My dad and I had been planning a trip to India so I could see all the places he visited and where he lived. We were never able to do that, but it’s still on my bucket list. But in October of that same year, I was able to travel to the Discovery International office located in Singapore, where I worked with five 20-year-olds on blogging and video editing, along with another colleague of mine. We prepared them for a new show called 5 Takes USA. Part of their job was to catalog their travels while in the US. So, while I couldn’t go to India, I did go to Singapore!
What does your job entail on a typical day?
[Editor’s Note: When we interviewed Rani she was a managing producer for TravelChannel.com. She’s since been promoted to director of digital for the network, and while many responsibilities stay the same, e.g. meetings!, others have changed and will continue to change.]
TravelChannel.com is split up into two parts. There is TV and then there is original content. Original content focuses on destinations and interests, and the TV side of things is what I lead up. I have a team of two other interactive producers, plus a photo editor, and we support all the shows and their airings Monday through Sunday. It’s my day-to-day role to be knowledgeable about every single show and make sure our website is updated, and the content is relevant and supportive of the shows on-air. We often work with the executive producers of each show, and it’s important to my team and me to make sure they’re involved in our content and that talent like Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods), have a voice on travelchannel.com.
I also produce content. Right now I’m working on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, as well as Ghost Adventures, which are two of our most popular shows on the network. I’ve actually worked with Andrew since I was an intern! I also used to work with Anthony Bourdain when he was on our network before leaving for CNN.
So, my day involves a lot of meetings, a lot of teamwork with the original content team (led by my colleague Kwin Mosby) and then working to make sure that when a show premieres, both teams are working together on content that supports the destination being highlighted in our priority shows. For example, if I’m working on a Bizarre Foods show taking place in the Gulf Coast, I make sure to work with the original content team to ensure we have beaches and road trips content on the Gulf Coast, promoted on the site that night.
With such a full plate at work, what made you decide to launch your side business, Craft Web Solutions?
In March 2013, I attended the Get Radical Women’s Conference hosted by Doreen Rainey, after seeing a friend of mine completely transform who she was in an incredibly short amount of time. It was so phenomenal that I thought, “What is this conference? I have to go!”
At the conference I listened to speakers such as Giuliana Rancic, Jillian Michaels and Judy Smith, aka the real Olivia Pope (from ABC’s Scandal) The room was filled with hundreds of women just like me. There were mothers, entrepreneurs and corporate women who all were on a mission to be a better person or looking to do their jobs better. I went because I wanted to be a better mom and a better version of myself.
When Judy Smith took the stage and began talking about her life as the real Olivia Pope, she communicated that the life experiences and knowledge we’ve been given is not ours to enjoy for ourselves. It’s not ours to hoard and not share with anyone. Rather, we’ve been given these experiences and life lessons for a reason. This really hit me. I felt like Judy was talking to me directly because I was searching at the time for a way to give back, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
The speech stayed on my mind all night, and the next morning I woke up and was teary eyed, because I finally knew what I needed to do. I knew I didn’t want to leave my job, because I loved my job, and I figured there had to be a way to help other women and keep my day job. So, I started blogging about my life experiences and started a small boutique company, Craft Web Solutions, with the goal of helping teach others the digital skills I have so they can create an online presence for their businesses.
Where did the name Craft Web Solutions come from?
My middle name is Craft. It’s a family name with a storied history. On my mom’s side the name goes back generations. Her family escaped from slavery in Macon, Georgia. Their names were Ellen and William Craft. To make a very long story short, Ellen was incredibly fair skin and her husband William, had a darker complexion. Ellen disguised herself as an invalid man, so she didn’t have to write or speak. They traveled over a holiday, when most slaves traveled with their ‘owner.’ The two made it as far north as Nova Scotia and as far as London, where they lived for several years, before returning again to the United States – back to the south.
This story speaks to the perseverance, power, strength and fearlessness of my family, so I wanted the company to represent that and that family empire.
To do all of this you must have one incredible team! What type of people do you like to hire?
For Craft Web Solutions, it’s me and two others. It’s a very small team but we get the job done. In terms of hiring for Travel Channel, I like to bring folks onboard who aren’t afraid to speak up, who like to brainstorm and who have great ideas. I also look for those who are knowledgeable about travel, social media and like to write! Social media is growing in importance because it’s the main way we get our content out to our readers –- quickly. I look for my employees to to attend meetings and not be afraid to speak up! I want them to be comfortable enough, whether I’m there or not, or whether Travel Channel’s president is there or not, and be confident enough to brainstorm ideas.
People who don’t contribute stick out like a sore thumb. We oversee website content for all of the shows returning in 2015, in addition to 20 new shows debuting this year. It’s a big year for the Travel Channel, and there are a lot of fantastic shows for my team to get behind. This also means a lot of meetings, and I want to ensure that if I’m out on vacation or in anther meeting my team can handle the meetings on their own and continue to drive our work forward.
Not that long ago somebody told me that they put a Post-It on their door that said: Don't bring me problems. Bring me solutions. I put that same note on my door for a while too, and people who saw it went, “Damn!” I didn’t want it to be a bad thing, but I wanted it to be a reminder to my employees and colleagues to be independent. You need to be one hell of a brainstormer to work on this team!
Being in the digital space, how important is a person’s digital footprint to you?
When I hired someone last year I made the time to spend a lot of time looking at their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. I feel it’s their resume. While looking at a formal resume and seeing where someone worked is helpful. It’s also helpful to look at social platforms, especially when I am not as familiar with companies they worked at in the past. I feel I get a sense of someone’s personality from their social networks. And when I say this, I’m not knocking anyone who has pictures of themselves out partying with friends; we’ve all done that. But, I look at the caliber and quality of what else they are saying, and sharing and looking at whether it falls into our wheelhouse of ‘travel.’
What are some ‘office sins’ you’ve seen others make that you can warn our readers about?
Assuming! My dad always said assuming is the worst thing you can possibly do. Whether you’re going to a meeting and not speaking up because you assume everyone knows what you’re doing, or whether you’re assuming you know what you need for an assignment and then later realize you have no idea. Assumptions often get in the way.
Be self-confident. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t be afraid to follow up with someone who you’ve emailed. Don’t assume people know what you need and what you’re thinking.