Anna Gunning was interviewed in Talking Business, a video series from the Business Department at Joseph Chamberlain College. She chats with business teacher Danny Pardoe about the good and the bad when it comes to coronavirus marketing. And she gives tips on developing a marketing career in the current climate. Watch the video or read the transcript.

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Let’s get to know each other

Danny: Hi, everyone. We’ve got Anna here with us today. I won’t talk too much about what Anna does. I’ll let her introduce herself. We’re going to be talking about marketing and copywriting today. Anna, thank you very much for joining us. Can you tell us what you do?

Anna: I’m the managing director of a copywriting and content marketing agency. We’re the part of the marketing sphere dealing with all things related to words. Every advert, website, brochure or social media post is a combination of strategy, words and graphic design/videography going into a finished piece of marketing that goes out to the customer. We deal with the words, as well as the strategy behind the word element.

Danny: That sounds really interesting. Where are you now? You’re obviously working from home – is that in Birmingham?

Anna: Yes, in Birmingham. I live in Harborne.

Danny: And you have offices in the city centre, right? Are they ready and waiting to go back to?

Anna: Yes, but we’re not going back yet. They’re starting to open up bits of the building. And we’ve been getting emails about what’s happening with the new etiquette and what we’re going to have to do with lifts and flow patterns. We’ll hopefully be heading back sooner rather than later. At the minute, they’re trying to space people out going into the building to help with social distancing.

Do you need a degree to get a job in marketing?

Danny: Understandable. One last question before we get stuck into things. What did you study? Did you do a degree?

Anna: I did a degree in politics. It doesn’t sound like it’s directly related to marketing, but one thing I always say to students is that a career in marketing doesn’t require a degree in marketing. It doesn’t even require a degree in business.

Important skills in marketing are critical thinking, the ability to analyse vast amounts of information, being able to collaborate well in teams, and being able to synthesise research. You can learn those in lots of different degrees and apprenticeships. It’s definitely a career you can go into with any sort of degree, as long as it’s something you’re interested in.

Danny: That’s really interesting, because that’s definitely about transferrable skills.

How has coronavirus affected marketing?

Danny: From a marketing perspective, has your job changed in the last couple of months?

Anna: Aside from the fact that everyone’s working from home now, there hasn’t actually been much change. Marketing doesn’t really require any equipment other than computers, communication devices and things like that. The big difference with coronavirus is that we’re all working from home and all our clients and suppliers are working from home. So we’re having lots of video conferences instead of in-person meetings. But as long as we have connectivity, it’s a very flexible industry. In terms of our processes, collaboration and ability to be productive going forward, nothing has really changed.

Danny: So your workload is about the same as it was before, just doing different things?

Anna: Oh, yes. We had a higher turnover in April this year than we did in April last year, so work is still coming in. There’s a lot of appetite from our clients to continue investing in marketing – to see through the lockdown so that they’re not behind when things start to open up again.

Danny: In terms of opening up again, where do you see your part of the industry going in the next few months or years? Do you have a feel for what’s going to happen to marketing? Or is it still very much up in the air like lots of industries at the moment?

Anna: I think we’re not as fluid as lots of other industries. For example, if you’re in manufacturing and need to have new health and safety procedures in place, you have to adjust your production lines and schedules to account for that. That has a really big impact on your day-to-day operations.

We can work wherever, which is very lucky. As long as we have a computer and our brains are engaged, we’re able to keep producing good output for our clients.

Coronavirus marketing: Do’s and don’ts

Anna: For the industry as a whole, I think one wake-up call from the pandemic is looking at ways we can be more considered in the communication work we produce. A big part of it is recognising and reinforcing the fact that there’s an individual at the end of every piece of marketing that goes out. That’s very easy for people to forget when they get caught up in mass campaign work. They have budgets and deadlines and want to get stuff out there.

The past couple of months have hammered home how unique people’s circumstances are with the virus and the lockdown. They’re affecting people in different ways. This means it’s very easy for marketing to come across as tone-deaf, and to lose effectiveness.

For example, a keyworker who is run off their feet at work isn’t going to like receiving an email saying: ‘Now that you have all this free time in lockdown, here are all the wonderful things you can do.

Likewise, someone whose family has 2 people in working from home with full-time jobs while dealing with childcare and home schooling. Getting e-mails like that is jarring because you’re thinking: ‘This person does not understand my situation. Free time is the last thing that I have.’ Or somebody who is shielding or grieving getting marketing saying: ‘Isn’t it great to have all this lovely weather? Here’s how you can barbecue in your back garden!’ Or people living in flats without access to gardens.

It really highlights how the wrong communication approach doesn’t just put people off, but can also engender negative emotions in a way it wouldn’t have before the pandemic. So it’s about figuring ways to segment your databases, and, as much possible, personalise and target what you’re putting out there. You want your marketing to chime in with the mood is and make somebody say: ‘Yes, this company gets where I’m at. They’re really trying to help me.’

The flipside is the number of adverts, emails, social media posts and press releases we’ve seen that start out with something like: ‘In these unprecedented times, we at [Business Name Limited] etc.’ That’s not differentiating – and it’s not doing anything for your marketing in terms of getting people to engage with you. That’s just paying lip service.

We need to figure out how to communicate in a considered way, so that marketing still works (because people still need to buy products and services in the midst of a lockdown and going forward). It about making sure marketing finds the right note for all the different customers companies have. That’s why I see very positive developments going forward. People are going back to marketing basics and saying: ‘In terms of our strategy and the messaging, words and images we’re putting out to market – how can we make those as thoughtful and as compelling as possible?’

Danny: That’s really interesting. I’ve always been interested in the ethics of marketing and how things are sold to people. For example, I’m an American football fan, and looking at my inbox and my junk emails, I have emails from businesses saying: ‘T-shirts are ready for the start of a season! Get your new hat!’ But getting ready for football season is the last thing on my mind right now. So, I hope the ethical element you’re talking about comes through. And it’s a tricky one because people still want your money. Fingers crossed the change comes through. Do you see that in emails you get, and then wish you could change it?

Anna: I keep a file of ones I think are good and bad to use as a reference for clients. Lots of clients want to email customers about coronavirus. And you think: ‘OK, but why? Because it’s happening? Let’s start with what you need to say to your customers at this time. Don’t just push something out there to fill an inbox  because you feel like you should acknowledge the fact that it’s happening.’

And does it even have to be a marketing communication?

Is there something more helpful you can do for your customers and the situation? For example, we’re seeing lots of businesses being really generous with corporate social responsibility – donating a percentage of the profits of certain items, donating time, donating parts of their production lines. There’s a lot of goodwill for people that are acting instead of just talking. I think businesses will do quite well out of that in the long run.

Danny: Before the pandemic, businesses would shout about it when the time was right. It seemed like people didn’t believe in it as much – and that it had to be doing something for the business. It’s nice to see businesses getting stuck in and helping, and to see people respected them more for it.

Is marketing an exciting career for young people

Danny: As you know, we normally give advice to students on getting into marketing. Last year, you emailed a student with loads of information, which was really appreciated. Is it still an industry people should want to work in? Is it changing, growing and exciting? What’s your take on young professionals? Are they going to come into the industry at the moment?

Anna: We definitely need them. Marketing thrives on new blood, new ideas and new perspectives. And it’s not just the cliché of: ‘We need somebody who knows how to use TikTok.’ 18 to 24 year olds are a powerful demographic in terms of consumer marketing. And you need people who can we can relate to that.

You also need people with new ideas and fresh thinking to help market to people who are older than that, as well as to businesses. It’s important to remember that marketing isn’t just selling to consumers. There’s also business-to-business marketing, which is what we specialise in, which is selling other businesses. So things like technology, manufacturing, property, professional services. The more perspectives and the more creativity you get into it, the more effective the campaign is. It’s definitely a sector to consider getting involved in.<

I always point out that marketing sits within a wider context. You could work for an agency like us. We work for different companies, selling lots of different products and services. You can also work directly for a business as part of their in-house team. For example, at Jaguar Land Rover in their marketing department.

Every company making any type of product or providing any sort of service needs marketing – because they have to sell whatever they’re doing. If you’re interested in engineering and don’t want to be the person doing the CAD drawings, you can do marketing for an engineering company. That way, you’re still embedded in the environment you’re interested in. So if you’re somebody that likes analysis, research, writing, creativity, project management – marketing is a really good way to get involved in an industry without being the person you think of as ‘on the front line’.

How can people get involved in marketing as a career?

Danny: You said you’re prime example of coming from a different discipline and using transferrable skills. It’s not a case of being pigeonholed as soon as you’re 18, is it?

Anna: Definitely not. And it’s important to remember that there are lots of disciplines within marketing. There are people like us who are writers. You also have graphic designers, videographers, data scientists, project managers.

There’s a whole host of skills involved, and people jump between them all the time. I started my career in account management and then went into copywriting. That’s what I really enjoyed, so I pursued it that way. There are so many different skills and avenues.

Like we said before, you can really study anything and then get involved in marketing. You don’t need a degree. Lots people go straight into work. I would say that apprenticeships are an area where marketing can really step up, compared with a lot of other industries. I think there are lots of opportunities to offer more creative apprenticeships for school leavers. You tend to find the bigger agencies and companies are the ones offering them at the moment.

What’s your advice for starting out in marketing?

Anna: In terms of advice on getting started, there are lots of resources out there – magazines and books you can read to get knowledge about how marketing works. Your students are always free to get in touch for advice and direction on that.

Work experience is worth pursuing, even if it’s not a formal placement. Even writing to somebody saying: ‘Can I shadow you for a for a day or two? Just to see what it’s like and to be a fly on the wall?’ Then, you can put that on your CV. And when you’re interviewing, you can say: ‘I was in an office. I saw what people did.’ That makes you a much more compelling candidate.

The other thing I always say to your students is that marketing is salesmanship in print (or on screen or video). Part of it is understanding what makes people want to buy things. That relates to my top tips for getting a job or placement.

First of all, think about your covering letter

Don’t be the person who says: ‘Hello, my name is John Smith and I’m a student at Joseph Chamberlain College.’ Don’t start it that way. You want the person reading your covering letter to call you in for an interview. So, you need to think about what they’re looking for in their candidate.

Instead of saying ‘I am, I am,’ – think about how to rephrase what you want to say to address what the person reading your covering letter is looking for. They’re looking for somebody who has shown initiative, who is involved in activities, is organised, trustworthy, has good analysis skills. Then, incorporate that into your covering letter to make yourself stand out.

Secondly, look at all the different marketing you see around you

Whether it’s a sponsored social media post, an Instagram story, a piece of junk mail, spam, email, websites you go on – think about things you see that make you want to take action.

For example, if you see an advert for a pair of trainers and click on it. What made you want to click? What’s going on in that marketing that’s changing your perception and making you want to go through to the next step? Be aware of what those drivers are. That’s the way marketers think. If you can get yourself into the habit of this, it will stand you in really good stead – in interviews and with the work that you do in your placement and onwards in your career.

Danny: What fantastic advice – that’s so spot-on. I saw a thing the other day saying if students want to progress, they should do work for the company before they’re hired. It suggested things like writing a press release for that business and their new product design. Or making an advert/slogan or designing a home page of an app. Then, if you’re feeling confident, get in touch with them and say: ‘I’d love to do this work experience.’ By going through that process, you learn more as an individual, like ‘Can I write press releases? Can I do an advert or a home page of an app?’

Is it too brazen to do that? Or is it just to get you thinking about how you’d actually do the work?

Anna: I think it depends on the company and their culture. That’s something you can find by going on their website and looking through their social media.

If you’re writing to the marketing department at a big corporate saying: ‘I thought your press release could be improved, and here’s how I would do it,’ – you might encounter people saying, ‘Well, we’ve been doing this for a little while. You don’t necessarily have lots of marketing experience.’ It might come across as a bit brazen.

A more positive way might be to go through something you think is particularly good and say: ‘Here are the reasons why I think this was effective.’

Part of it is psychology. People respond well to being flattered. So, if you’re flattering people as part of the process, that makes people feel good inside and feel more positively towards you. At the same time, it shows you’re thinking critically about the strategy and process going into marketing.

Another thing I’ve seen is taking something from a different company, so you’re not tearing down something they did. Again, you’re showing you have the critical thinking processes.

So I think it’s a good exercise to go through, I would just be wary about the way you push it to the company you’re approaching. Make sure you seem respectful – like somebody who’s going to be a team player and who wants to learn. You don’t want to seem like somebody who knows all the answers – which none of us do!

Danny: I agree with that! That’s absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and our students today.