Survive… and thrive

Producer Ali Hossaini offers his survival toolkit for the tough times ahead
January 1, 2009

Every day the economic news gets worse. Spiraling debt, an enduring credit crunch and rising unemployment are making 2009 the leanest year since the Great Depression. For me the challenges are personal. After watching layoffs cascade through the film and television industry, I lost my job in December, and I’m starting the new year with no paycheck, in the toughest market I’ve ever seen.

Strange as it sounds, I’m optimistic about my prospects in 2009. Why is that? There’s an old saw that ‘crisis = danger + opportunity’ in Chinese. It’s an inaccurate translation, but it neatly describes my situation. My comfortable trajectory into retirement is gone, replaced with infinite possibilities, some of which are quite appealing. Getting the best opportunities is the key. Leaving a structured environment for the Great Unknown can be paralyzing, so I’ve developed a survival toolkit to keep things humming during the recession.


The first thing to do is stay productive. I love my work, so I’ve been seeking a new position. Looking for a job can be a full-time endeavor in itself, but I don’t think it’s enough in the current environment. There probably won’t be many jobs created during the next few years, so if you can’t find a job, make your own. Have you ever dreamed of being your own boss? 2009 may be the year to take control of your life.


You may harrumph that 2009 is a lousy time to start a company, but recessions are actually very good times, maybe even the best times, to launch a new firm. There are some good business reasons why, the main one being lower opportunity costs. You just got laid off, and so did thousands of other people in hundreds of professions. There’s never been a cheaper time to acquire talent, and, if you supply vision and drive, you can get people to work for equity rather than a salary.

As your company grows, it’s easier to contain costs if starting wages are low, making for a lean, survival-oriented corporate culture. If you don’t want to incorporate, consider forming teams around your projects. It gives them a better shot at success if they come with built-in expertise.


Your greatest assets are your expertise and creativity. Your brain is all you need to generate more assets, namely intellectual property. Dust off your old files, and start writing down fresh ideas, especially for pet projects. You’ve got ideas for TV series, documentaries, formats, new production technologies, websites. Flesh them out, and then write down places you may be able to sell them.

Your third greatest asset is your contact list. Sell your contacts something they may want – your next job is just as likely to come from a lively pitch as an application. Work on presentation. Design is important in creative industries, and I always gave points to good presentation when judging whether to pursue a project.


Sales is probably the toughest job out there. Most pitches don’t succeed, but good sales people smile and keep knocking. In 2009 we’ve all got to sell to survive. Everything you’ve done so far – organizing your days, developing projects and maybe even launching a company – relies on your ability to pitch… and pitch and pitch and pitch. How do you even begin, especially if you’ve been on the other side of the table? Channel the best salespeople you know, the ones who combine good cheer, persistence and a knack for anticipating your needs.

Anticipating the needs of others may be the most important trick to thriving during the recession. In 2009 there will be a premium on creativity and personal networking, and you need to make things easy for the decision-makers who still have jobs. Calling them with a slate of fresh ideas, strong talent and high motivation may be just the thing to kick off your career this year.

Ali Hossaini has been a programming executive at several television channels, including Oxygen, TechTV and Network of the World/London. He is now president of Pantar Productions, a media firm specializing in documentary film and factual television, with occasional forays into video art installations.

About The Author