From grad student to ... marketing-type-guy?
May 15, 2012 12:04 PM   Subscribe

[Asking for a colleague filter] Marketing people, how do I jump from academia into your world?

"I'm about graduate with a PhD from a well-respected school, but have known for a long time that academia is not for me. I want to try working in marketing / advertising / content management, but know next to nothing about these fields. My background is in the social sciences (quantitative research), but not in a related area. (If I spin it really, really hard, it could come off as having slight relevance.) I have had the several part time administrative office jobs in the past, and some light experience working with databases (but not from a coding perspective).

In terms of the meager marketing-related experience I have: I worked part time for an event firm and (among other tasks) ghostwrote(?) some industry articles meant to both inform readers and promote the business. [Also what is the right term for that? I wrote most of the articles, the boss edited it some, added some content.] I also ran a blog for a few years that reviewed things (no longer active). This entailed dealing with PR teams, participating in a cross-promotional network, and holding an annual fundraiser/contest via the blog.

I think I might be good in the marketing arena because I enjoy trying to create persuasive content, and am pretty social-media savvy. I am a good writer/communicator, and in my grad work, have enjoyed the challenge of putting together presentation materials (e.g., posters, PowerPoints, etc.) that are clear and visually interesting.

1. With my strengths, but with no actual experience/training, should I even bother applying for marketing/content management jobs?

2. If you were to hire me for such a position, what would persuade you to overlook the lack of experience?

3. What can I do (short of another degree or interning for free – no money/time) to increase my chances of getting into the field?

4. Any other advice for this increasingly panic-y post-academic soul? (Resumes, networking, salary expectations, etc?)

Thank you."
posted by MouseOfHouseofAnony to Work & Money (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How about a compromise that uses those quant and research skills to help drive marketing strategy? I am currently sitting in a conference about business analytics. Companies that have been collecting data for years are just starting to get a handle on how to use it to make decisions in marketing, finance and operations. Huge opportunities, from what we've heard today.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I made the jump from government to copywriting (I had done some script doctoring and annual report writing a few years before, though), so it can be done. On the other hand, copywriting is really just the first rung on the marketing ladder, for a number of reasons, one of them being that writing is not scaleable - to put it in very general terms, if I want to make more money, I have to crank out more words. So, when getting into the industry, it's important to figure out a rough career path that takes you up the value chain, be it into permission-based email marketing, oneline PR, online advertising, or even product management.

The term "content strategist" is also pretty trendy right now, but I think it's going to become an established and recognized job title. A content strategist doesn't actually create content; on the other hand, he or she figures out what content is the best fit for a client, and then figures out how to market the content through online channels (YouTube, blogs, social media, blah blah blah).

Even though Google's algorithms now favour "fresh content" over everything else (well, there are other important factors) when determining search engine rankings, it's going to be pretty challenging to get your foot in the door as a writer.

You'll need to look for a small integrated agency that combines things like SEO, online advertising and strategy, social media marketing, and content creation. I would stay away from agencies that focus on web dev and branding, because those two disciplines, while important, are also expensive, meaning the end client won't really be considering what content they are going to put on their site.

A good understanding of the basics of SEO will help you get your foot in the door. If you're writing a blog post, who do you optimize that post for Search? Can you do competitor analysis, and do you know how to use the basic tools of keyword research?

The ability to be able to write, while a pre-req, is just the first step.

If you can't find an integrated agency with an enlightened attitude towards content creation and SEO, you could always try finding a job in the comm shop of a larger organization, like local or state government. They always need people to update the content.

As for me, I've gone from about 10 hours a month of content work 18 months ago to 160-180 hours a month of work. So it's great.

However, the challenge is that if you're writing for a living, you're writing for a living. If you're not writing, you're not earning, so it's really important to figure out how to move up the value chain.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:22 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does your friend have experience doing quant and qual social research? If not, she should take those courses. IMHO, those will be the most useful.
posted by k8t at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2012

Your colleague is looking for market research. It's unlikely your friend - coming from the social sciences - has the quant skills necessary for "big data" work (these jobs usually go to Masters-level hard scientists, mathematicians and statisticians, at a minimum, many are PhDs or ABDs).
posted by downing street memo at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in a digital marketing company and the best way in is to start at the bottom, if your friend can afford it. All that is required for an account-executive type position is intelligence and enthusiasm. Your friend has more than enough hobbyist type experience to impress.

Tell him/her to steer clear of the copywriter label, unless they're going to go into advertising and become a real creative copywriter. I can't tell you the number of times I've been employed as as a copywriter only to later discover a copywriter was not what the company required and there was in fact not enough work for someone who was a pure copywriter. Actually I can: twice.

In my present position I started out as a copywriter and soon morphed into 'content strategist', basically selecting, placing and promoting content. Actual writing is now about 20% of my job.

Writing skills, on the other hand, are always handy, but unlikely to seal the deal for your friend.
posted by Summer at 2:35 PM on May 15, 2012

I work for a NY-based brand agency. Were your friend's resume to come across my desk, I would at least have them in to interview for junior-level copywriting/content strategy, market research, and account executive roles.

I would most want to see your friend demonstrate clear written, visual and verbal communication skills, a willingness to learn, and a good cultural fit with the existing team. In my experience, smaller agencies, and agencies that have a client base in complex areas like technology, healthcare, financial services or education, are more likely to hire people with a wider range of qualifications. Your friend should also look at in-house positions, especially at companies in the verticals above where qualified entry-level employees with directly-related credentials may be difficult to find (this was how I got my start).
posted by psycheslamp at 3:13 PM on May 15, 2012

I do marketing for a small-ish (less than 100 employees) non-profit. I literally worked my way up from the mailroom. The facilities manger noticed that I was good with words and a fast typer and he recommended me for the job.

I had worked as a journalist and a manager, but never in a marketing role before. FYI.
posted by tacodave at 3:24 PM on May 15, 2012

Response by poster: From my friend:

"This was good advice, thank you. Even learning the type of lingo/position labels to look out for is very helpful. I don't have large-scale quant skills, and I won't have time to take more courses before I graduate. It's good to know the areas I can try brush up / explore though. Also reassuring to hear that other people without traditional training in these areas do get hired. I can afford (for a little while anyway) to start at the bottom rung, though I'll have to get over the "disappointment" of achieving a doctorate just to potentially start at the bottom again. But that's just a mental thing on my part - it is a necessary stepping stone, a strategic move, is all. Besides, in this economy... a job is a job, right? Thank you again."
posted by MouseOfHouseofAnony at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2012

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