What I Wish I Knew Seven Years Ago
I know, I’ve been AWOL for the longest time. Stop with the foot-tapping already.
Anyway, some time ago, I got asked some questions by a journalist for some feature she was doing on careers in the media. I had written down something in the hurry, which it strikes me now, could have come in handy when I was getting into advertising. So, for the benefit of all the poor suckers who’re trying to enter my not-so-esteemed-at-all profession, here it is, good luck, and change your mind now.
How did English literature (at both BA and MA level) help you as a copywriter?
Firstly, I’m actually just a BA in English Literature. I did only my MA Part 1 and then enrolled directly for a Post Graduate Diploma in Communication Management, which is a fancy phrase for media studies.
Over the past few years, this is what I have learned:
A copywriter, according to the traditional definition, writes ads. But that’s not strictly true anymore. Today, a copywriter thinks of ideas for everything from press ads, TV commercials and radio spots to leaflets, booklets, annual reports, fliers and an essay for his/her boss’s kid’s 2nd standard history class. Writing is part of the job – but it’s not the entire job.
That being said, a degree in English Literature usually means that you have a fairly good knowledge of English language, grammar and sentence construction. This is usually helpful when you’re putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, if you will. And naturally, since your course would have demanded that you wade through tomes of the printed word, you will be fairly comfortable with the language and hence somewhat if not entirely qualified in its manipulation – which, by the way, forms a large part of all advertising.
So yes, I’d say English Literature has helped me quite a bit in my job as a copywriter. If nothing else, it gives me a nicely snooty, overeducated air that’s quite handy when I want to irk my colleagues. Nothing irritates people more than someone who can quote a dead writer.
Can you comment on how jobs in the media and communications field depend more on skill than on degrees?
Absolutely. A career in the media means that you learn everything about the job when you’re on the job. Education has diddly-squat to do with it. One of my colleagues is a trained investment banker, another has a B.Sc degree in agricultural science and a third hasn’t even cleared his graduation. None of these things have anything to do with advertising, but they’re all doing exceedingly well in their jobs, thanks to the skills they’ve picked up along the way. So basically, what or how much you’ve studied doesn’t matter if you want a job in the media. It’s the difference between reading Flying For Dummies and actually getting strapped in the pilot’s seat. Some things will seem familiar, but mostly it’ll just be gut-wrenching fear till you take off.
As far as English Literature in particular is concerned, I’d love to say that knowing your Kafka from your Karnad is a huge career requirement, but it’s really not. Most people who read your CV will think Italo Calvino is a kind of pasta. All you really need is an average knowledge of the English language, a way with words, the desire to learn and a little bit of a mental imbalance. The mental imbalance isn’t really compulsory, but with the media you’re heading that way anyway and let’s face it – it’ll make life much more interesting.