A marketing communications career at STC Summit 2013

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2013, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. I’ll blog about the sessions I attend, and give you some links to other news I hear about too. You’ll find my posts under the tag stc13 on this blog.

I’m attending a session titled A Marketing Communications Career: Making the Transition. The presenters are Barbara Giammona, Vici Koster-Lenhardt, Rich Maggiani, and Eric Koup.

Summary of how marketing looks from the tech comm side

How does a technical writer move into marketing? Someone comes and asks you to write content for the website, or a proposal, or a document to solve a crisis.

Some technical writers aren’t comfortable with writing marketing content. We’re comfortable writing something we can touch and test.

Another way to come into marketing: Perhaps your manager offers to change your title to be tech writer / marketing communication. Or you move fully into marketing.

What’s different about the role: The messaging, advertising, understanding the corporate and internal communications messaging.

For the rest of the session, the panel answered a number of pre-set questions. These are my notes from the resulting discussions. I haven’t tried to put people’s names next to each reply, but rather just summarised the whole picture.

Key differences in attitude

Typically, technical writers focus on details. They may struggle with structuring and presenting something from a different strategic point of view. The ability to evaluate what’s important is key.

The skills of a tech writer can come into play, being able to simplify the language into just what you need.

Is marketing lying? To many of us, it does seem so. So we should think about the transition path, if we want to move into marketing. Choose what’s closest to what we want to do.

The target market changes from users to buyers, and the content therefore becomes much more strategical. As soon as you start on the marketing path, you become more visible.

The requirements from management are not as clear-cut in marketing as in technical communication. You need to know the wider goals of the organisation. This requires less time in front of the screen and more time in trying to understand the aim. This takes collaboration.

Personality types

Looking at the Myers Briggs personality types, what is the difference between a tech writer and a marketing communicator?

A marketing person will have more contact with humans. Take this into account, especially if you are more of an introvert.

A marketing person tends to be intuitive, and are more of a feeling person than a thinking person. Perception is a strong gift for marketing. If you’re too rigid, the transition would be difficult.

Even if you’re a strong introvert, you can still play the extrovert, and make sure there are times in between when you can recharge. If you’re an extrovert, you may want to go into management.

Education

How would you go about taking the next step to getting into marketing?

You could be extreme, go back to school and get a degree, such as an MBA of marketing. Alternatively, do some certificate courses. Analyse your existing skills and see what more you need.

Volunteer for any project you can. If someone needs a newsletter, be the person who writes it.Newsletters may give you the opportunity to talk to higher management, and network with people you wouldn’t normally meet.

Look for volunteering opportunities outside the workplace too.

Set a clear goal of where you want your career to go. Then fill in the needs as you move along the path. Remember that your route to the goal may change along the way. Take it step by step.

Pros and cons, perks and challenges

Marketing is “way more fun” and “way cooler”!

Planning parties, making posters, organisational, project management… you’ll use all your skills. You’ll also work on more concurrent projects than you would as a tech writer. Emergencies happen, so you need to be fluid and juggle changes and concurrent projects.

It’s harder to plan vacation. Your work cycles are not based on the product release cycles.

You feel more part of the strategic plans of the company. You leap into a different track. You have a higher visibility to management. So you need to be sure you know what you’re doing.

Perks include travel. And you’ll make more money.

And you still get to write!

On the other hand, if you’re into tools, you’ll find that marketing is not about tools. It’s about communication rather than tools. Often the marketer asks someone else to do the design.

How do you break in?

The panel recommends the International Association of Business Communicators. They have the same kind of resources as STC, in terms of publications, knowledge banks, and job listings. They’re also very extrovert and welcoming.

Indeed.com is a job aggregator that will give you a feed of jobs available.

An organisation called Melcrum focuses on the employee and internal communication, useful if you’re in internal marketing.

Networking inside your own company will find you opportunities. Network outside your company too, as you never know where the opportunity will come from. Talk to your neighbour, volunteer organisations, and so on.

Do some volunteering inside your organisation. Managers don’t have time, and hate, to do the marketing for the projects they’re working on. Network with your sales force (customer care). Ask them if they need help, say “I can write that”. Take people to lunch. There is tons of marketing communication coming from HR. Find out who is writing the newsletter in your company. There may be a great opportunity to improve it.

Questions from the floor

These are the notes I took during the question-and-answer part of this session:

  • When talking to designers and other people who produce the deliverables, have a vision of what you want. You don’t need to know how to use the tools. You just need to know what you want.
  • What about recent college graduates looking to break into marketing communications? College doesn’t prepare you for some realities in the working world. One is the iterative nature – you do things again and again. The review process, and the number of stakeholders who have a say on your work, can also be a surprise. It’s very collaborative. Every day at work is a group project. If you’re just coming out of college, find a place that offers an internship. Many places offer great interships, and there’s a variety of them.

Thanks to the panel

This was a good insight into what marketers do, and some different types of marketing roles. Thanks Vici, Barbara, Rich and Eric.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 9 May 2013, in STC, technical writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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