Editor’s note: The following article is part of a new series intended to provide UC Davis students advice and information on various careers.
For UC Davis alumna Tina Cao, a career in marketing and public relations was not something she ever meant to pursue – in fact, until her junior year, Cao planned to work in medicine.
“When I started at UC Davis, I was a biological sciences major because my parents wanted me to become a doctor. I didn’t know any better and took other classes unrelated to my major – one being Design 1. I loved the ability to create,” said Cao, who graduated in 2000 with a degree in environmental design with an English minor.
Now, Cao is the marketing and public relations manager at St. Supery Winery in Rutherford, California. Creating promotional materials, organizing wine tastings and setting up media events are all in a day’s work at the vineyard – tasks she said take advantage of her creativity and strong writing skills.
“What I really like about my job is that it’s varied every day. One day I could be doing photo shoots, and we also are in charge of all the packaging,” Cao said. “I love figuring out what makes people tick and using that to build a story product consumers wouldn’t have otherwise known about if it wasn’t for the marketing programs.”
Senior Jacob Frank, American studies major and student advisor at the Internship and Career Center (ICC), said creative students interested in sales, writing and working with people like Cao are well-suited to a career in marketing and public relations.
Any interdisciplinary major that allows students to reach out to a diverse selection of departments can give students the communication, writing and design skills necessary in the field, he said.
This ability to write clearly and succinctly is a skill Liat Kobza, UC Davis alumna from 2002, said she learned while majoring in international relations. Her daily tasks as the media relations coordinator for Stanford Hospital and Clinics include writing press releases, accompanying news television crews to their interviews, posting on the hospital’s Facebook and Twitter pages and interviewing employees for company newsletters.
“We get called for stories and everything goes through me,” Kobza said. “I’m the middle man between the media outlets and the experts at Stanford.”
To jump-start their careers in marketing and public relations, Frank recommended students sign up for computer skills classes such as ECS 10: Basic Concepts of Computing and ESC 15: Introduction to Computers, PLS 21: Applications of Microcomputers in Agriculture and the business writing course, UWP 104A. The Marketing and Business Association, a student club, is another resource that can expose students to professionals and help them hone their skills, he said.
Frank, who recently completed a community and public affairs internship with the National Football League, said doing internships is key for learning how marketing and public relations actually work, even if the internship is in an area of business you aren’t interested in.
“Even if it’s marketing in the College of Engineering, you’re still learning the fundamentals of marketing. Or if it’s in campus recreation, who cares if you don’t want to work in sports – you’re still going to have that background,” Frank said.
The staff at the ICC can help students find internships on the Aggie Job Link, which can lead to full-time positions if they prove to be valuable members of the company. Students should also regularly look for job openings on company web sites.
Because UC Davis does not have a marketing or public relations major, Frank cautioned students against expecting to find anything more than an entry level job immediately after graduation.
According to the job search web site indeed.com, most marketing and public relations employees earn $80,000 per year or less. Cao said salaries depend on how big the company is – a large company may be able to pay more, while a family-run business may not.
Kobza did not enter the public relations field right after college. She credits her years of working at a law firm with providing her the necessary skills to succeed in her marketing career. She took advantage of every opportunity to learn a new skill and established herself as a good writer and hard worker.
“I don’t think it’s an excuse for anyone to say, ‘I’m going to school full time so I can’t really work.’ Yes, you can. You can do an internship over the summer, you can do 5 to 10 hours per week or you can volunteer,” Kobza said. “Just get the experience, because you don’t know what’s going to happen five years down the road. You show up at a job and they ask if you know how to do something and guess what, you do.”
For Cao, being a good writer and a creative thinker are marketing and public relations’ most important requirements. Like Kobza, she emphasized the value in agreeing to do any job assigned to you, no matter how small.
“There are days when I could ask someone to go clean something up in the warehouse because we did a major press mailing,” Cao said. “There’s no one to pick up after you, and being flexible is what really counts.”
Though some earn a Master of Business Administration before pursuing marketing and public relations, it is not required. Strong writing skills, a good work ethic and the ability to work with many people and projects at once are ultimately the keys to success.
“Anywhere you are, you have to prove yourself and people really appreciate it,” Kobza said. “Even if it’s a young person, if they do their work and really dedicate themselves, that’s something they’ll look for and really notice.”
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.