The transition from academia to the corporate world doesn’t require a do-over, just a recalibration of skills and an adjusted perspective.
The summer interns have started at Dragonfly. As part of their onboarding, each set up interviews with various Dragonfly members. As a senior-level team member who’s been around the proverbial block, I understood the assignment — be welcoming, answer their prepared questions, and provide general encouragement.
It didn’t surprise me that the interns I spoke to were articulate, respectful, and professional. What did surprise me, however, was how much hasn’t changed since my days as an undergrad in the 90s. Yes, there’s the technology, the sky-high student loans, and accelerated global concerns. But what resonated strongly was that familiarity of trying to square a strong pull toward creative writing with a need for stability. Both interns casually mentioned having to defend their choice of degree in the humanities to family and friends.
Coincidentally, earlier this summer, I presented a session called “Copywriting for Lit Majors” for the MFA students at my alma mater, the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University. Since it’s still fresh, I thought it would be valuable to recap some of those lessons here.
Copywriting as a career track
When I was a student and young writer, the clearest career tracks for a creative writer were teaching or getting a completely unrelated but steady job to pay the bills. Both are viable options, of course, but each has its burdens. While many students are encouraged to follow their passion for language, history, and other cultures through scholarly study, few are adequately advised on how to successfully translate those skills to the marketplace.
The truth is, even though your Uncle Mike might not approve, employers really do value the humanities. With an increase in digital outlets and a shift in how people engage in marketing, there’s more demand than ever for strong writers.
Beyond promotions and clickbait
The foundation of every piece of marketing collateral is the motivation to drive revenue (if it isn’t, it’s not marketing — it’s communications). At a basic level, marketing strategies provide straightforward solutions to easily articulated problems: Can your family survive if you were to die suddenly? Consider life insurance. Craving a salty snack? These are the best kettle chips out there. Want to make the world a better place? Donate to this charity.
But to stay competitive and be seen as thought leaders in their industry and beyond, companies must also offer something of deeper value. This means insights, advice, testimonials, and opportunities to genuinely engage with consumers. These are communicated across a wide range of collateral that includes white papers, case studies, blogs, e-books, infographics, webpages, emails, videos, and more.
That content begins with a copywriter. And the value of that content is only as good as the awareness, ability, and skill of its creator and/or collaborators. A copywriter with an educational background in the humanities can bring a unique perspective to necessary academic skills. This includes a deep understanding of human dynamics across time and cultures and the ability to apply critical thinking to problem solving.
Branding as the new hero’s journey
English teachers have been teaching the mythology of the hero’s journey as it relates to classic literature for decades. Popularized by Joseph Campbell in the late 1940s, the essence of the hero’s journey involves the identification of a hero, who has a challenge, and who encounters a guide, who offers a plan that helps the hero avoid failure, helps them find success, and establishes a dynamic call to action. It was only inevitable that the marketing field would co-opt this fundamental structure of classic literature. Who better to craft a StoryBrand framework for a client than someone with a humanities degree?
Likewise, buyer personas — in-depth characterizations of a company’s ideal customers — have become popular marketing tools in the B2B industry. The process involves identifying the job duties, challenges, preferences, and general personalities of those most likely to purchase (or influence) your products or services. Once created, buyer personas can guide businesses in creating roadmaps for targeted messaging. Sounds an awful lot like character development and plotting, doesn’t it?
Copyediting and proofreading
Early in my career as a freelancer, I made a concerted effort to expand the range of my skill set. Picking up jobs that focused my efforts of copyediting and proofreading certainly made me more attractive to prospective clients. But over time (and exposure to an impressive number of self-proclaimed grammar nerds), I understood that my interest and strengths leaned more heavily toward copywriting.
All this to say, marketing encompasses a full range of writing competencies:
- Applying creativity to strategic goals
- Crafting clear and compelling messaging
- Elevating that messaging through editing, and ultimately ensuring it’s free of errors
Writers with any or all of these skills have value to employers.
You don’t have to give up on that novel
One of the many things I love about being a Dragonfly is the genuine support of and investment in each team member as an individual. Sure, that attitude may be all the rage as employers scramble to find talent. But I’ve done work for many companies where the gesture fades very quickly into a business-only environment. My current colleagues (a great many of them English majors, btw) understand that our work can be smartly informed and greatly enriched by personal pursuits, not distracted by it.
Being a creative writer has certainly informed my professional work. But I can tell you with great certainty that being a professional writer — writing every single day, with deadlines, feedback, and collaborating with different partners — has made me a better creative writer.