Kevin
Welcome to the Content Machine podcast. I’m Kevin Adelsberger. This week, we’re joined by Greg Hammond, who is the Chief of Public Information for the Jackson Madison County School System. Greg, thanks for joining us.
Greg

Thanks for having me, Kevin.

Kevin

You’ve got a really interesting career journey, so I’d love to just hear your version of how did you get to where you are now.

Greg

Well, you’d have to go back to… No. Well, coming out of South Side High School in 1998, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I did know I needed to go to college. My uncle is a physical therapist, and so being a teenager and watching him operate, he didn’t appear to be living paycheck to paycheck. He seemed like he had a pretty good career. So not really knowing what I wanted to do and just knowing I needed to move forward, I enrolled at Jackson State Community College, and I had a great time there. There was an elective I don’t remember if it was called TV production or broadcasting. But the second semester I was there, I took this class. The first day, Dr. Cooper, I believe, was an instructor. He told us about an entry-level position at channel 7. And I’m coming right out of high school football in this competitive mindset. So as soon as he said that, I thought, I’m going to apply for that job. As soon as this class lets out, I’m going to go apply for that job. And so that’s what I did. It was an entry-level position, but I just knew if you work hard, you can go places.

Greg

So I told the sports director, I mean, that first week, Hey, let me know what help you need. I’ll help you. And so I’ll carry a camera. I’ll edit video. And so that’s how the journey started. And so I worked at channel 7, even through going to school at UT Martin. And so I was a junior in college the first time I was on TV here in Jackson. So it was fun working with Brad Douglas and Tom Brett and Gary Pickens. It was fun. It was a lot of fun. And so like most young people, you want to move away from home. And I didn’t move away for college. So leaving channel 7 and finding another TV station in a bigger market was a goal. When that goal opened up, I went to Lexington, Kentucky. I was there four years. I say I got a degree in Wildcat Basketball. It was a lot of fun. I learned about horse racing there.

Kevin

Horses are a thing there.

Greg

I didn’t know anything about horse racing. Also getting to cover another professional football team. When I was in Jackson, we went to a few Titans games. We’re working in Lexington, Kentucky. You cover the Cincinnati Bingles. Got you. And so that was a fun experience. The Cincinnati Reds from time to time. But then again, a horse racing at Keeneland. It was just a really cool experience. It was a learning experience that took place outside of the classroom. So from there, I called some of my mentors, and I was actually looking to, again, after four years, move another station. But it was really the time during the recession. And just to give you some context.

Kevin

’08-ish?

Greg

Yes, that’s it. I had interned at channel 5 in Memphis. When I was an intern there in 2002, there were four people in the sports department in Memphis. Okay. By the time ’08 rolled around, even in a market like Memphis, I think there was just two. Just the shrinking of the staffs and just not a lot of the right opportunity out there. I certainly could have stayed where I was, but I just felt the Lord lead me in a different direction. I do have a cool story. And so when I realized I was just going to get out of TV, I guess education was always my plan B, my backup plan. I contacted one of my former coaches, Kerry Craig. He was Humboldt at the time. And so my brothers and I really looked up to Coach Craig. I thought, hey, I’m going to go. I’ll go back to Jackson, work on another degree. And while I’m doing that, I’m going to be a volunteer football coach. That sounds like fun. Yeah. And so he said, Yes, come on. And so during this time, he had told me, a few weeks had passed, maybe, he said, Contact Mr.

Greg

Arnold, who was my high school principal.

Kevin

Yeah, at South Side, right?

Greg

Yeah. So lo and behold, Kevin, there was a broadcasting class at South Side High School, which, of course, wasn’t there when I was a student. Sure. But Mr. Arnold had added it a semester prior. And so I I had the opportunity to step off the TV desk on a Saturday, and I was teaching in the classroom that Monday because I had a degree. Because I had a degree in broadcasting. There was some additional education I had to pick up to add that teaching credential. But just that experience, when I think back on it-So that’s a jarring transition. Yeah, but I like people. Having gone through school and to college, and I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life, so I had people I could emulate until I figured out what I was doing. And so South Side also being, South Jackson’s where I grew up. And so being able to teach at my alma mater was a very cool experience. If I was having a hard day, I could just go down the hall and talk to the guy who was my freshman football coach when I was in school, or I could go talk to the teacher who was my English teacher.

Greg

It was an embedded support system. I was very fortunate in that manner.

Kevin

Was it awkward finding out that those people were real people and not just teachers?

Greg

I won’t say awkward. It was interesting. But it’s like when you’re in high school or an elementary school and you see your teacher in the grocery store.

Kevin

You exist out of those four walls.

Greg

So that was a cool dynamic, coaching beside the guys who coached me and then teaching with many other people who knew me when I was a kid. And so it’s a different dynamic, but it was a good experience overall.

Kevin

So how long were you teaching broadcasting at South Side?

Greg

Twelve years.

Kevin

Twelve years? Yeah. And that’s where we met.

Greg

That’s right.

Kevin

And so you had needed some help from media people on some classes, and that’s how we got to know each other a little bit. But then you moved out of the classroom.

Greg

Yeah. And so in 2016, I started my own business. And the reason I did that, folks knew I was teaching broadcasting at South Side. So they would Hey, could you film or could you edit this for us? Technically, it was the school’s equipment. The students and I could do it. It was a great experience for the kids, but I’m putting my professional touch on this. It’s like, I should probably be getting compensated for this. I bought my own equipment, started my own LLC. And at this time, it was, I guess, 2016, 2017. I was contacting high schools, community colleges, universities. I picked up some clients that way. And you know how business is. If you contact 50 people, 10 people might call you back.

Kevin

Yeah. And then one might do business with it.

Greg

Right. Dr. Marlin King was in Fayette County at the time. He didn’t call back. I had some other clients, but what I later found out is, he still, at the time, they didn’t want to do that type of marketing at the time or promotions at the time. While… So I would teach during the school year, and in the summers, I would hit it hard and heavy with my LLC.

Kevin

I remember that face. Because it’s like every year or every two years, I’m like, great, here’s new competitors. Now Greg Hammond is out here doing video work.

Greg

So it was funny because this was February, actually. So when Jackson State did their new rollout for their new mascot- Green Jay. A few years ago, they contracted me to produce that video. Kehoma Community College, which is in Mississippi. It was a client I had just picked up and produced a series of videos for them. Then COVID happened. So we went on spring break with the school system, and we never went back in. So I’m on my back porch, and it’s January from March, April, maybe April. And I get a message from the superintendent, our new superintendent, which my coworkers had asked me because I ran for county commission, and they knew I was interested in politics and things of that nature. They asked me if I had been keeping up with the superintendent search, and at the time, I wasn’t.

Kevin

What did time mean that year?

Greg

Well, and this was… Yeah, so that was, I guess the search started the end of ’19, going into 2020, and it was like, I’m not keeping up with politics. I’m teaching, and I’m making money on the side with SBL Media. That was my… That was very tunnel focus in that manner. But I got a message from the new superintendent said, Hey, glad to hear you’re working in the district. I’d like to meet with you sometime, et cetera. My mind thought, Oh, okay. It’d be cool to help the system. I’m not leaving South Side. Why would I leave South Side? It’s a great role. But the more we talked, it was evident that what he was looking for, I wasn’t going to be able to have my feet in two different places. That opportunity to move to the district office. Everything prior to June 2020, everything prior to that, it was for South Side High School. But when he called me, my mindset had switched. It was for the district at that point. It’s just that’s been a really cool dynamic meeting educators and administrators throughout the city. Because if you’re from South Jackson, you know South Jackson is a special place.

Greg

But getting outside of that bubble and meeting the administrators at Northside, at early College High, at the different elementary schools and middle schools. That’s been a cool experience.

Kevin

Yeah. You get to have a relation with those because you were a teacher. It’s not just like you’re not some guy who has a marketing degree and does this. You were in their shoes to some extent. So what does the Chief of Public Information for the school system do? What is your practical…

Greg

If I’m going to explain it to a fifth grader, I’m the main storyteller for the school system. In order to be a storyteller, you have to have a story to tell. Because I’m a product of the school system and I worked in the school system, I know much of the story, but there’s a large chunk of the story I didn’t know. Interacting with the different administrators, being on the different campuses, spending some time with the Bio-STEM students at Northside. Didn’t know what that offered until I went and spent time with those students and that teacher and just learning the story and sharing that story with the school system. I’ll tell you, Kevin, when I moved back to Jackson, I got married in 2004. We moved back to Jackson in 2008. It was interesting. At this time, we were 28 years old-ish. So people would ask, Hey, you got kids? No. So then the education… At that time, education really wasn’t a conversation. We didn’t have kids at the time. But just as soon as we had our first child, Hey, what are you guys going to do for school? What are you guys going to do for school?

Greg

It was a weird dynamic because, again, I’m a product of the school system. So it was almost like, What do you mean? Yeah, obviously. We’re going to go to our local school. That’s what I wanted to say, but you listen. There’s a perception, right or wrong, that people have about public school. Unfortunately, a lot of that perception is simply painted from political talking points at the national level that have seeped down into local education. To quote the superintendent, I’ll say, We’re not perfect, but we have a good product, and we have good people. We’re constantly working to get better. Being able to open up a portfolio and say, Hey, look at our schools, look at the options we have. We have such a diverse range of options. Even before we started rolling, talking about Jackson Academic Steem Academy, it’s essentially a Homeschool under the public school umbrella that has all the flexibility of a homeschool, but all the supports of what you would expect from a large school system. Just a wide range of options. Just helping the schools tell their stories and then also telling a story. But the superintendent, he tells his principals all the time.

Greg

The principal is really the chief storyteller at every campus. And so learning how to tell your own story has been, I think, a learning process for all of us, even myself. And so it’s been fun. Dr. King had already been a superintendent in two school systems by the time he came to Jackson. So he’s providing a context, not only for me, but for other peers around the district that we don’t have because you don’t really know what it is to run a school system if you’ve never been in charge of running one. But he brings that context.

Kevin

You don’t get training bills on that thing. You just do it.

Greg

He brings that context. It’s It’s been a really cool learning experience to learn under Dr. King and, of course, the Deputy Superintendents, Ricky Catlett and Dr. Vivian Williams, and, of course, our fellow chiefs. It’s just been a really cool experience.

Kevin

When we were emailing about this, you made a comment about communications versus marketing. Okay.

Greg

Do I need to grab my phone to see exactly what I’m saying?

Kevin

I don’t remember exactly what the quote was, but it seemed like you drew a delineation between the two. I would, too, but I’d be interested to hear what you’re…

Greg

Well, the way I recall it, Kevin, you drew a delineation. It’s something like this. I think… What was it? Communications and marketing are cousins. They’re under the same umbrella, but they look a little differently. I think you asked me a question about marketing, and I just look at it as communications or public relations in marketing, they’re like cousins. They’re both in the business of storytelling. How you go about doing that in both of the fields is slightly different.

Kevin

You moved from being a teacher of this to doing it. Did teaching, broadcasting at Southside for all those years help you be ready for this or not related?

Greg

Well, I would say my experience in television at WBBJ in Jackson and WTVQ in Lexington, Kentucky, those experiences helped me in this. But then also teaching, knowing what teachers go through, knowing the pattern of a typical school day, it just was a perfect combination. I would say. Some days I really lean on that broadcasting background. In some days, in a lot of my conversations, I really lean on my background as a former educator. Yeah.

Kevin

All right. Well, we’ll take a break here, and we’ll come back and talk a little bit about the work that you’re doing for the school system. So this is the Content Machine. We’ll be back with episode 2 soon with Greg Hammond..

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