When I began thinking about my career, way back when, I had very specific ideas. I was going to study journalism, but not become a newspaper reporter. I’d take a few extra classes in layout and design, and land a cushy job writing features, or doing layout for a glossy magazine. I had my eye on something edgy for a while, but shifted to more high-brow pursuits when it came time to actually look for a job.
In reality, this is not how my career started at all, nor have I ever worked for a magazine. Having studied journalism, it was difficult to connect the dots to a career outside of the industry, but then I discovered marketing, and realized how badly a department like that needed someone like me.
The duality of marketing
In my experience, there are two components to a successful career in marketing — selling and communicating. You have to be able to take a product or service and figure out why people should want it. You have to consider the way it looks, its price, and so many other fine points. That’s one unique skillset.
The other is communication. You have to create a message, write copy that resonates, know when to keep it brief, and so much more. You need good grammar and the ability to write to your audience. You need to modify copy for different mediums — what you write for a blog will never translate into a Tweet if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So much of what a marketing department is is communication, that by the time I left my corporate job to go freelance, I worked in the Marketing Communications department of my company. It’s a necessity, and the well-rounded capabilities of a strong communicator aren’t always prevalent in marketing professionals.
Why we struggle to communicate
I think this historically was an issue because skills were way too compartmentalized. If you studied journalism, you were in one building. Marketing was all the way in the business school. They never met. I’m not even sure if there were communication classes over there, and I don’t think marketing communications was even a major when I went to school.
It’s a little different today, mostly thanks to the digital media explosion that began happening a few years after I graduated from college. What changed most, in communications, was the variety of mediums in which you needed to communicate. It wasn’t just a print piece or a press release, you now need to now know how to write for social media, how to bring in views with the right blog posts, and don’t even get me started on optimization.
Writing today is a totally different skill, but without the foundation traditional fundamentals provide, you’ll fall flat.
Being a good communicator makes you stand out in any role
Today, as a freelance content creator, I see a lot of different types of writing. I see blogs that lack conclusions because the writer wasn’t sure how to wrap things up. I see typos in professional pieces and grammatical errors that make me cringe. Yes, I’m “old-school,” but I don’t balk at the idea of a long-form piece of content full of subheads, complete sentences, and a few bullet points.
I can write. I can properly attribute a source. I can take direction. I remember to look at a company’s style guide to stay on brand, on message, and on style. These are necessary traits for today’s communications professional, but there are a lot of posers out there too.
Maybe you can write amazing tweets and have a killer Insta, but how are you at interviewing a subject?
These are things to think about since being a strong communicator helps you in any role. It proved so useful to me to be the strong writer when I started out in marketing, and has definitely helped support my freelance work.
Brush up on your communications skills
There is so much value to having a strong communications background, but we don’t all have the ability to study it. I would suggest, for those who want to become better writers, that you brush up on your skills on your own.
There are plenty of communications-centric classes you can take, without being in college, to help develop your writing skills. It also doesn’t hurt to review basic grammar lessons and even read through one of the commonly-accepted style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Handbook.
I also find it helpful to practice writing as often as I can in order to keep the skill sharp. Consider creating a blog of your own that you write monthly. Pick any topic that interests you and stay on top of deadlines. This practice lets you work on your writing in a less judgmental environment, since you’re not writing for work.
Even reading your favorite blogs can help you become a better writer. Take note of writers you like, and ask yourself why they’re so good. Pay attention to how they organize their content, whether you notice any errors, and how they cite sources. This can all help you do better.
Communications is key
I love that being in communications means I’m always learning and always improving my writing abilities. I love that I can see the value I bring to an organization based on what I write and how it’s received.
Communications is a rewarding place to be in the wider professional world, and I couldn’t see myself have landed anywhere else.