Dwight Caines ’87, president of domestic marketing for Universal Pictures, has come in as a guest speaker for the Syracuse University Los Angeles (SULA) semester in the past, but when he called me to say he was interested in teaching a class, I was thrilled to have him join the SULA faculty. Caines taught Marketing for Film and Television for the first time in the fall of 2021. The class is important even for students who may not be interested in working directly in marketing, because no matter what they intend to do, they will eventually need to work with a marketing department.
“The main reason I’ve become interested in teaching at this point in my career is really an acknowledgment of the importance of mentorship,” says Caines. “As I think back on my own career and even my own college experience, despite the fact that I’ve learned a tremendous amount from colleagues and senior executives, there are only a handful of people that I would consider mentors.”
Caines is dedicated to seeing all his students succeed academically and to prepare them for leadership roles in the industry.
I talked with Caines about the importance of mentorship and representation, the benefits of employing his collaborative management style in the classroom and what he’s learned while teaching at SULA.
Why have you become interested in teaching at this stage in your career?
I think about the job that I do and the fact that most students I encounter have very little idea about the intricacies of an entertainment marketing organization, or about the various career disciplines that one might pursue within such an organization.
Of course, there’s also a deeply personal element for me—I would like diverse and underrepresented groups to see themselves as future executives in companies like the ones I’ve worked for. And the only way that’s going to happen is if some of the folks standing in front of them in classrooms are in these roles. When I was enrolled in Newhouse I only had one Black professor and very few Black classmates. I think one Black professor over the course of four years of college is a pretty low batting average. But if that is the state of things then at least let me be that one professor for someone else to see and who helps them feels seen.
Are there any creative or management techniques you use at Universal Pictures that you have integrated into your teaching style?
I have a management style called MBWA, which stands for management by walking around. This means that I’m not only seen as approachable and available, but it allows me to drop in on my staff and sit down with them and solve problems or collaborate with them in real time. The biggest challenge of the pandemic is that we’ve had to create some safety protocols that disable in-person collaboration, but I’ve tried to bring my personal approachable style to the classroom.
You have now completed your first semester as an educator for the SULA Semester, is there one thing you learned about the experience that will inform how you approach teaching next semester?
We cover a lot of material in this class—audience research and data, creative advertising, publicity, media and media promotions, multicultural, and digital marketing. I want them to be prepared and armed with knowledge that will be useful regardless of their career path. The business is in a rapid state of change accelerated by the pandemic so of course I will be modifying the curriculum in order to keep pace. I’ll have to take some of my cues from the students but I think the class is going to become more rigorous.
Thank you to Dwight Caines for his time, his expertise and his mentorship of students in the SULA semester program.
Robin Howard is the director of the Syracuse University Los Angeles Semester.