Wednesday, February 18

What college isn't teaching marketing students

Caught an interesting article from Fast Company.

They mention areas that colleges do a poor job of teaching in marketing. While I agree with a lot of the points, I think they missed one huge area that makes a successful marketing professional.

This handshake basically cost me thousands of dollars.
Marketing, especially in the digital realm, moves at a faster pace each day. New technologies, social networks and methods of communication seemingly change by the minute. There is no way a college could possibly keep up with all the changes in marketing. I mean, they force you to buy books! Is this 1950? But before I digress into why the college system is a nice little scam and will eventually collapse in on itself, here's the one area that you NEED to master before entering the marketing world.

So, what's the skill you need to have?

Writing. This is the basis for all communication jobs, period. While the technology and platforms may change on an almost daily basis, the need for exceptional writing will never change. If you can't communicate a message, then it doesn't matter how cool a new social network looks on Mashable, you'll fail. Just because Twitter only requires 140 characters does not make it any easier than coming up with a print ad or TV commercial script. In fact, communicating the right information in such a small amount of space, with the large amount of other clutter in the timeline can be even more challenging than if you had unlimited space and prime placement in Time.

Writing will always separate you from the pack, and learning to become a good writer will ensure that you don't hitch your wagon to something fleeting, like being good at picking the right MySpace song on your profile. Look at every era of marketing. From giant gaudy billboards in the 1920s, to copy-heavy magazine ads in the 1950s, to wordy TV commercials in the 1980s, writing has always been at the core of marketing. And now we live in a digital world, where content is churned out at a faster rate than ever before. More content means more writing, which means the need for more people who can write.

So how do you become a good writer?

Two answers. Reading and writing. There is no better way to learn how to write than reading good writing (tongue twister to keep you on your toes). The Internet is a deluge of terrible writing. Twitter is a mess, any hack can make a blog, and gutter sludge like Buzzfeed and Upworthy rule journalism. However, there is some great writing out there in most areas of interest. Find those sites and blogs, and take time to ingest the writing, instead of skimming it for gifs. Longform journalism is in a great place today, and there are many writers churning out fantastic content on a daily basis. It might take you more than 5 minutes to get through some content, but if well-written and interesting, you'll be learning and enjoying it without a second thought.

Don't forget about books, either. FYI, a library card is free, and you have access to millions of titles from millions of authors writing about millions of topics. Books, check em out. The more you read, the more you learn. Seeing good writing on a regular basis will make bad writing (hey Buzzfeed) stand out like a sore thumb. You'll find yourself adopting certain styles, words and formats in no time.

The second best way to write well is to actually write. And I don't mean school assignments. Writing about your passions is a fantastic way to show your creativity, learn how to write and it even gives you something to show future employers. Starting a blog is totally free, and even if you get two views from your parents, you are still working the part of your brain that controls writing (I'm sure that's not how the brain works, but you get the point.) Find a few of your passions (or all of them) and just start writing. You don't need to be Grantland or Pacific Standard, because the simple trial and error of writing (and forcing yourself to write) on a regular basis is invaluable. Plus, you can learn a TON about SEO, social media, design, website building and digital marketing, as you jealously push for more pageviews. Bonus, you can make some money on the side from Google AdWords. Straight cash, homie.

In the end, marketing trends are a dime a dozen, and colleges have almost no ability to adapt quickly enough to give you a proper education on all of them. The best way to learn is on the job, which is why finding a marketing internship is where you will learn 100 times more than any dusty old book can teach. In the mean time, focus on your writing, because once you've built that base, you can apply it to thousands of different jobs in the marketing world and beyond.

Becoming a good writer is hard work. It takes tons of practice, reading and more practice. However, if you show up to an interview with a link to your well-updated, well-written blog, you are already miles ahead of the shlub who skated by on the idea that "Social Media 201" and a membership to PRSSA will get him or her that social media job at the cool company in town.

Write on, writers.

By Aaron Brandt, former zoo worker.