Marisa Sloan graduated from Ball State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She also double minored in Art History as well as Professional Writing. When we interviewed Marisa for this article, she was working as a digital copywriter at the Asher Agency in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she put her writing background to use in traditional and digital marketing campaigns, content marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Since then, she’s moved on to Crowe LLP in Chicago, a public accounting, consulting and technology firm with offices around the world.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
Being able to research thoroughly, think critically, and tailor messaging to various audiences have been the most valuable skills hands down. I’ve written authoritative content, which is referred to as thought leadership in content marketing, for multiple industries since starting at an agency. I’ll be the first to tell you that I was not initially an expert in the quick service or finance industries, to name a few topics, but they needed someone who could learn quickly. Even more importantly, a business needs someone who can synthesize research and communicate it to stakeholders who have varying levels of knowledge about a topic.
Empathy and devotion to solving another’s problems are also key qualities for success, and essential for a client-facing role. Being able to get inside of another person’s head, listen intently, and gently offer up suggestions are often more critical than technical skills or portfolios in client retention. When clients seek a good “fit” it means they are searching for someone who aligns with their needs and communication style, so emotional intelligence is crucial.
I will also add that being strategically-minded has helped me to differentiate myself as well. You must have a rationale for why the deliverable is being created rather than getting caught up only in the fun of content creation. Smart managers will appreciate a nuanced opinion, and I certainly think the English department has helped me cultivate my analytical skills.
What does a typical day/week/month look like for you?
About half of my time is devoted to copywriting for traditional or digital campaigns. Digital ads can be broken down primarily into social media, search (i.e. the ads you see at the top of a page when you use a search engine), and banner ads. I also help with the occasional billboard, direct mailer, and TV or radio script. Then about a quarter of my time is spend managing content marketing efforts by developing long-form, whitepaper-style blog posts, and case studies.
What really gets me excited is content strategy and content auditing! I love working with the web development team on building sitemaps, assisting with wireframes, analyzing web page performance via Google Analytics and SEO research tools, and making content recommendations. I love the challenge of thinking about how each piece of content on a page influences the user’s journey (i.e. the steps required to get a potential customer to buy a product).
Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?
I took a class on networking through the English department because I felt like another portfolio-building class wasn’t the final ingredient in preparing me for graduation. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision with the idea of getting a job that sometimes you don’t take the time to be honest with yourself and acknowledge if you even like the work you’re preparing yourself for. Additionally, having all the proper certifications and technical skills isn’t enough when you don’t have the confidence part of the career success equation.
During this course, I had the privilege of listening to so many successful people tell me about their career journeys, which gave me a much more nuanced view of the workforce landscape. While my English classes pushed me intellectually and helped me develop fluidity in my writing, I needed to see through the eyes of people who were already in the field.
With that being said, I would highly advise English majors to figure out, based on your own values, what workplace culture you want before graduation. Company culture can significantly impact your well-being once you enter the workforce, so don’t take it lightly.
What advice do you have for English majors?
I stand by everything I said in my previous post about English major strengths, but being in the workforce has strengthened my belief that you’re often going to need to package your experiences to certain audiences even if it feels like you can’t quantify your education. When you look at the LinkedIn profiles of professionals, they have distilled their work in measurable ways with industry-specific language that their target audiences understand and appreciate.
There are so many ways you can apply your experiences to other industries, so bring your storytelling arsenal with you to the interview. For example, if you’re in The Broken Plate, then you can talk about how you pitch ideas to people with literary preferences that are different from your own. To translate that to marketing, agencies often must compete with upwards of 6 competitors to secure long-term business contracts with clients. This process involves developing presentations and using all the tools in the rhetorical toolbox to win your case. In short, you don’t have to know everything about a position, but having deep knowledge of a subject and being able to see patterns between processes will encourage employers to take a chance on you.
Also, Marisa will be speaking at Stars to Steer By: “Storytelling Careers: Advertising and Marketing” on Thursday, January 23rd at 5 PM in North Quad 160. We hope to see you there, #bsuenglish!