I recently spoke about careers in marketing with U of I alumna Melissa Kuhl, who graduated in 2011 with a double major in English and Creative Writing. Here’s what she had to say about her professional life after graduating from U of I:
VO: What did you do after you graduated?
Melissa: When I graduated, I was working with the University of Illinois Press in their marketing department. I had an internship with them that began in August 2010, so I continued that internship throughout the rest of the summer of 2011. Then, in August 2011 I got a position in the marketing department in Human Kinetics in Champaign. I worked there until July 2015, when I started with University of Illinois Extension doing marketing for them in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermillion Counties.
VO: Can you tell me a bit more about what your current job entails?
Melissa: It’s a lot of communicating with the local media and with the public to share information about our upcoming events and programs to try to get people to sign up and to raise general awareness about what we do.
VO: So what would a typical day at work look like?
Melissa: Marketing for programs involves a lot of different things, from creating flyers to hang up around town to sending out press releases to the media to sending out emails to people on our email listserv about our upcoming programs. So my typical day is more or less spent getting information about the different programs that are coming up from people in my unit and creating a marketing plan for that specific event and going through the steps to get that plan out to everyone.
VO: So are you working on marketing multiple events at once?
Melissa: Yes. Extension covers seven different areas, including horticulture, consumer economics, and family life. Educators oversee each specific area, and underneath those educators are program coordinators who work specifically with some of our bigger programs to organize events and get people signed up for them. I generally work directly with the educators, who have programs about once or twice a month, depending on their specific area and the time of the year. So I’ll usually have around five upcoming programs I’m working on at any time. I usually begin marketing programs about a month in advance.
VO: What’s an example of a program that you’ve recently marketed?
Melissa: In June we have the annual garden walk that our horticulture team puts on with the Master Gardeners, who are a subset of Extension. The Garden Walk is essentially a day-long walk where people can come and see a bunch of different gardens in the area to get inspiration for their own garden.
VO: In marketing for events like the Garden Walk, you mentioned creating posters and press releases. Is social media also a part of your job for marketing?
Melissa: Yes, it is. I work directly on Facebook. Within our specific unit, we don’t do much with other kinds of social media because our audience isn’t generally on other social media. But when I worked for Human Kinetics, I was on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
VO: Do you also contribute to the Extension website?
Melissa: Yes, that’s actually a significant part of my job. For each of our programs we typically have online registration, where people can go and register ahead of time so we know how many people are going to attend the program. I work directly with the educators to get the copy written for each program and to get the registration up on the page. I’m directly involved in arranging the programs so that the page “flows” correctly and I write the copy so that people are inclined to sign up for the program. I also coordinate getting content related to upcoming events in the scroller at the top of the page and am responsible for keeping the scroller up-to-date with our upcoming events. The scroller has a short tagline, so I take the whole registration text and reduce it to just the really important parts to try to get people to join that registration.
For most marketing positions, I don’t think you need to know how to code an entire website or anything, but knowing basic html can be helpful. I took a website design course my last semester as an undergrad, and that was a very good course and very beneficial to my work because it taught me the basic html that I use now and then, but it also gave me a new way of thinking about interacting with media. I feel like as an English major, you can get caught in this tunnel of seeing things just as papers. But doing this web design course taught me a way to use the web to get your message out. I’d recommend that students check out web design courses that are offered. Having that background in any field would be beneficial.
VO: As an undergrad, did you know that you wanted to go into marketing?
Melissa: No; I actually was planning on going into publishing and doing editing, and I just kind of fell into marketing, which worked out very nicely for me because now that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I really ended up loving it. When I first got the job in the marketing team at Human Kinetics, I was planning to eventually transfer to their copy-editing team, but I ended up liking my position so much in marketing that I decided to stay with it and go down that career path.
I did take a Marketing course as an undergrad my last semester. But I didn’t think at the time, “Oh, I want to do this overall for the rest of my life.” Once I actually got into the field, I figured out that I really liked it.
VO: Would you recommend such classes to students who are trying to figure out what they want to do after graduating?
Melissa: Definitely. I took it mostly because at that point I was doing an internship with the Press in their marketing department, and I figured it would be good for me to get that experience while I was doing the internship. But I would definitely recommend to any undergraduates who don’t know exactly what they want to do after they graduate to just look at electives and other departments to get a more diverse look at what is out there.
VO: What skills from your English and Creative Writing background do you feel you draw on in your current work in marketing?
Melissa: I write a lot of press releases, so I’m constantly leaning on my ability to write in crafting them to send out to the media. I think that the media appreciates that I have that good background from English and Creative Writing, because the press releases are clear and to-the-point, and they have the information that they need. Also, being an English and Creative Writing major required creativity, so creating flyers draws on my undergrad background as well.
VO: What would you say is your favorite part about your job?
Melissa: I really like working with the public to get information out to them. I feel like the University of Illinois Extension’s mission is a good one—getting free education out there, and making people’s lives better because of the information that they’ve gathered. So I feel like the work that I’m doing is important because I’m getting that information out to the public so they know about the events that we have. Just knowing that I’m making a difference within our organization is my favorite part.
VO: Are there particular skills you’d recommend for students who think that they might be interested in marketing? Should they be familiar with certain software programs, for instance?
Melissa: Anything in the Adobe Creative Suite is good to know for marketing. It kind of depends on the position, because a lot of marketing is more about creating the backbone marketing plan and then sharing it with graphic designers who put together the posters or communicating with the copywriters. So it depends on the place where you’re working. But for a position similar to mine, knowing Creative Suite and Design, Illustrator, and Photoshop, is very good. You definitely need to know Word, obviously, because you’re constantly writing. I also use Outlook and Excel, but that’s the kind of thing you’d get at any office. The Creative Suite is something that I had experience with as an undergrad, but it’s definitely grown considerably since I’ve graduated.
VO: And would you recommend also that undergrads seek out internships in marketing?
Melissa: Yeah, definitely. Like I was mentioned earlier, I don’t think I would have ended up in marketing if I hadn’t gotten that internship with the University of Illinois Press. It was what started me down that road and made me figure out that that’s what I wanted to do. So I would say for undergraduates who don’t really know what they’re going to do, or even if they do know what they’re going to do and want real-world experience, getting any kind of internship, even outside the typical field of English is a good start because you never know what it might lead to.
VO: What other advice would you offer to English or Creative Writing majors currently in the program?
Melissa: Just get out there and see what fits you well. You never know what you might fall into or what you might end up enjoying, so don’t get stuck on one certain path, because your career will evolve, so it’s important to keep an open mind and go with the flow.