While the buildings are new and the faculty and staff have changed over the years, my appreciation for the education I received from the UW Oshkosh Journalism Department has not wavered. I graduated in a year that shall remain unnamed, and to this day I carry with me the experiences I gained then into my daily interactions with international, national and local clients.
I will be part of the panel, “Be Your Own Boss – Entrepreneurial Work in Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising,” hoping to impart what I’ve learned over the years to alumni and current students alike.
While the face of journalism—and writing—has changed drastically in the 25+ years since my graduation, a few things have remained the same.
- Good marketing writing takes work. I am a firm believer that all writing should be grounded in strategy—whether it’s website content, a speech or a blog post, it needs to drive back to an objective that supports your organization’s goals. At the heart of all sales and marketing writing lies one crucial question that customers will ask and the business must answer: what’s in it for me (WIIFM)? If you’re not telling your readers why they should care, you haven’t done your job.
- Good news writing takes courage. While Writing by Design operates primarily in the marketing and advertising industry, we do continue to write press releases and blogs and recognize the importance of sticking close to our roots in journalistic objectivity. “Just the facts, ma’am,” is enforced in all aspects of our business so we can maintain a good reputation as journalists and represent our clients in a respected, professional way.
- Listen closely to your friends, listen even closer to your critics. As a journalism major, I learned to develop a thick skin when it comes to receiving criticism and feedback on my writing. I lived for the days when writing assignments were returned to us in class all marked up with red ink. I craved the evaluation of my professors and peers because I knew their constructive criticism was making me a better writer. And I still get feedback on my writing today, from co-workers and clients, and know it aids in the process of continuous improvement.
- Go ahead, take that leap of faith. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” I couldn’t agree more with what John A. Shedd said in his 1928 book titled, “Salt from my Attic,” and it’s that mentality that led me to launch my own company. I started my career working as a marketer in the financial industry before gaining a wealth of knowledge in my marketing and communications role at Kimberly-Clark Corporation. When I left KCC in 2001 after I had my first son, I couldn’t keep the writer inside me contained. I enrolled in a children’s literacy course, but still felt something was missing.
After being called upon as a subcontractor for various new product launch projects, I took a leap of faith and launched my own company, Writing by Design, in 2006. If I have one piece of advice for my fellow journalism majors with entrepreneurial spirits, it’s to be smart about taking leaps. In our journalism training we learned to be excellent researchers, so be sure to use those researching skills and have a plan before you take a leap of your own, but don’t let fear stop you altogether.
- Don’t get too big for your britches. It’s important to take pride in your work, but remaining humble is the true key to success—it’s how I approach all aspects of my business. In my interactions with clients I try to stand as a mentor and consultant, never assuming I can do their job better but considering what I can do to help make their lives easier.
We don’t have a giant, fancy office—sorry, no wet bar or pinball machines here, because we prefer to share our space with other small businesses and keep our costs low so we can pass the savings on to our clients. No matter how much we grow, I will still roll up my sleeves to dig into our latest assignments just like all the staff at Writing by Design because together we make a small-but-mighty team.
Remembering where I started and the people who helped me get where I am today—especially the UW Oshkosh Journalism Department—helps keep my feet on the ground and my heart focused on helping clients develop Crystal Clear℠ communications.
Patti Purcell brings 25+ years of journalism and marketing skills together to provide national and international companies with outstanding concept writing and marketing communications services via the company she founded in 2006, Writing by Design LLC. She and her growing team, based in Wisconsin, tie strategic thinking, efficient processes and Crystal Clear℠ thought and execution into all projects supporting clients large and small.