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A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Connie Orlando

Executive Vice President of Specials, Music Programming & Music Strategy at BET Networks

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Jul. 8 2024, Published 7:00 a.m. ET

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Connie Orlando
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Connie Orlando currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Specials, Music Programming, and Music Strategy at BET. She spearheaded BET’s “Saving Ourselves” virtual telethon, raising $16 million for COVID-19 relief, and boosted ratings by over 400% for the 51st annual NAACP Image Awards. Her leadership and innovation proves she is a trailblazer in her own right and the magic behind BET’s most renowned events and special moments.

Connie’s story is a reminder to prevail through and trust the timing of God while focusing on the work. Through her work, Connie not only elevates the culture and BET’s content but serves as a powerful example of how to make it in the industry. Throughout her career and beyond she has made it her mission to ensure BET is a platform where Black voices are heard, celebrated, and empowered. 

Connie oversees all of the specials and awards shows we know and love, such as the Image Awards, Hip Hop Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, and BET Awards. She also manages one-off specials, news coverage, and election coverage. With this year being a big year for voting with the Presidential election, Connie has her work cut out for her. On top of that, she is also in charge of developing BET’s music strategy, which includes how they approach music as a network and how it is presented and lives on their digital platform as well as other platforms. Connie’s role is absolutely crucial at BET because she prepares for the culture’s biggest night every single year, the BET Awards, a celebration of Black excellence. This year the BET Awards celebrated their 24th year.

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Her Agenda had the chance to chat with Connie Orlando, and we spoke about her favorite BET moments from the past to the present, how she has navigated challenges in her career, and the one celebrity that she was absolutely giddy to meet.

Her Agenda: The BET Awards is the type of award show that brings the family together. Can you walk me through how you approach crafting such a cultural moment like the BET Awards? 

Connie Orlando: Absolutely. It’s so ironic that you compared it to everyone coming together and watching the show because, from our standpoint, it’s the same thing. It’s family! It’s that one time each year that everyone comes back and they want to perform. We’re just one big family. We enjoy putting together the BET Awards. We always want the show to be bigger and better than the previous year. We always want to have a surprise and our goal is to always try to make that connection with the audience to the show. It’s about artistry, not only in front of the camera with these amazing artists that turn up but also behind the scenes with the producers, the artists, and the writers. It’s just this moment that culminates in this ball of creativity on both sides. It is about the desire to take risks.

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Her Agenda: What are some of the strategies that you and your team have implemented to achieve this level of success, given that this is the 24th year of this award show? 

Connie Orlando: It’s always about the moments. We want moments that people talk about before, during, and after the show. We get to create culture, and a lot of the moments that play out during the show become these iconic moments that live on and on forever and ever, which we love. 

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We always continue to find new ways to engage with our audience. Not only by bringing the hottest names but for BET, part of our responsibility is discovery. If you look at a lot of the superstars today, they had their start at BET, whether it was hip hop awards, a cypher, [or] on an amplified stage. We are really proud of the curation around [who is] next, and our track record is good. 

Her Agenda: There have been so many iconic moments from the BET Awards, what have been some of your favorites? 

Connie Orlando: They’re all my children, and that’s a hard question, However, some of my favorite moments are when art speaks to activism. Kendrick, when he opened the show with All Right. The Beyonce and Kendrick performance [for the song] Freedom. And it was just really stunning. Plus, Kendrick coming out of the ground was just everything. That’s definitely one of my faves because these moments really speak to us and what we’re thinking, plus what’s going on in our communities on a social responsibility level. 

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I also love the fun moments [like] when Monique did the “Crazy in Love” dance. That’s one of my favorites too. I could go on [and on] because every moment is very special. Monique’s performance was over a decade ago, and it still makes me proud, and it confirms that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. 

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Her Agenda: Connie, you are a Black woman in leadership in the entertainment industry, which some people would argue is one of the hardest industries to break into. What are some of those challenges that you faced either early in your career or later? 

Connie Orlando: If I were to think about challenges I faced, especially early in my career, as a Black woman, [it was] just being seen and heard in a very loud room. I started with Hype Williams and was the executive producer of his video company. And until this day, Black women, we always have to talk a little louder. We’ve got to

work a little harder just to be seen. At the end of the day, for me, I just made it about the work. And I was like, you know what, I’m just going to do the work. I noticed that people see that, and people respect that, and people reward that. And I’ve learned to delegate. 

It’s about really trusting that voice, trusting your gut and being willing to fight for what you believe. As a Black woman in leadership, we definitely have to approach our career strategically, right? We have to really try to figure out what we want and the path to get it. 

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You have to be endlessly curious. We have to be, we just want to learn everything. And it’s great to know a little about a lot of things. It only helps. I was a finance major in college. I was able to start as a PA and work my way through the system because I was always willing to take a different job that maybe wasn’t a producer, but I learned how to edit. 

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Her Agenda: Do you have any career highlights or a moment where you felt a sense of accomplishment? 

Connie Orlando: Bringing Black Girls Rock to BET. We were able to do Love and Happiness with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle at the White House. That was a moment that I’ll never forget. I think just being a part of history. We’ve made history on a number of different occasions. BET was the first to do a lot of things. I was part of the biggest expansion into scripted with BET. There are so many amazing moments, and sometimes it’s even overwhelming to think about it. 

Her Agenda: I know you mentioned, too, that BET is often first, and I feel like sometimes, being a trailblazer or being first, you may not get that recognition. Do you feel like the culture has seen [and respected] what you all have done? 

Connie Orlando: I think they do. And I think that’s why we’re a beloved brand, right? That’s why the connection with our audience is so personal.

Her Agenda: What are some things that you have incorporated into your life or your daily routine? How do you start your day? 

Connie Orlando: What I’ve learned later in life is self-care and how important it is. My day starts with prayer and gratitude. I always ask God to guide my thoughts, my words and my feet and then I sit and I pray.

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In addition, I’m not trying to be like anybody else that came before me. I’m not trying to be anything that I’m not. However, I am curious. I always want to learn more about different things that are out there so I keep making stew and adding ingredients. The best advice I can give is to just do the work, and do it the way you would do the work. 

Her Agenda: Especially with the Gen Z generation, sometimes they don’t feel worthy or [are] afraid to take up space. Have you ever experienced [similar feelings] in your career, and if you did, how did you overcome it? 

Connie Orlando: Absolutely, especially [when fulfilling huge] roles like Head of Programming. You’re in these rooms that you haven’t been in before. And the best advice that I ever got was one: you’re in the room because of who you are. You don’t have to imitate anyone. Once you’re in the room, you have to embrace it and take hold of it. Always be prepared. The biggest moments in my career happened because I was ready when they came. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.

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Her Agenda: Can you tell me about any upcoming projects or initiatives at BET that you’re excited about? 

Connie Orlando: It’s an election year and I’m very excited about our voting campaign that will be launched during the BET Awards. It’s so important. And as a network, we’re standing behind how important this election is and really rallying people to register to vote and be involved and engaged. 

Her Agenda: What is the legacy that you hope to leave at BET? 

Connie Orlando: It’s an honor and a privilege to steward this iconic brand. I hope when all is said and done, that people will look back at my work and say I made them proud, told authentic stories, that I saw them and basically helped to elevate the brand to hand it off to the next steward. 

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Her Agenda: Ok, last question. You’ve met a ton of different celebrities, tastemakers and disruptors. Did you ever meet anybody and internally you were screaming like, “Oh my God!” 

Connie Orlando: Yes. Michelle Obama. She’s my best friend in my head.

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[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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