From writing about bathrooms to building social strategies


How to use an untraditional path to elevate your career.

As a student at Wesleyan University, I would head to the campus center bathroom every day at noon  but not for reasons you might expect.

I lurked in the corner and stared at its lunchtime users, collecting notes for an ethnography on bathroom etiquette for my final essay in anthropology.

The awkward interactions I witnessed, and instigated, were my first encounters with collecting insights about human behavior through intentional observation. Today, as a social strategist at Ogilvy, this process is my bread and butter, although my original methods are a legal nightmare.

As an anthropology student, I was apprehensive to enter PR, fearing my academic pursuits would hinder me from landing a job at a competitive agency. Like my bathroom fieldwork, advertising demands a similar curiosity. My academic pursuits were a framework to understand the PR industry and inspired how I positioned myself within it; a process that mirrors my now daily contribution to social strategies.

The first piece of any social strategy is audience analysis — the process of understanding whom you are speaking to — and the start of a PR job search is no different.

Instead of sifting through consumer databases, I scoured LinkedIn and met with campus career advisers. I noted company culture encoded within job descriptions and company websites, taking note of the language used to outline responsibilities. I identified where I might fit in through these nuances.

Next came the competitive audit, or as I came to find out, a way to make my anxieties productive. I thought about students in marketing programs and what they might highlight in their applications. What skill sets and professional experiences would they tout? Considering what narratives were already being shared, I began to establish the unique power of my own social ambition.

No, I didn’t conduct market research for Toto toilets, but I could speak to the social culture they facilitate. This step helped me map out the white space where my candidacy took shape.

Once I established my unique asset to the industry, I reflected on experiences and built my personal content strategy. Messaging themes took the form of my strengths, and thought starters became interview questions. I followed up with my interviewers and reached out to the people I wanted to speak to next. I invested time into nurturing these conversations to embolden my understanding of the industry.

Looking back, my ethnography on bathrooms wasn't just a creative essay but also a testament to the mindset I brought to the world of communication: a combination of connections in unexpected places across audience analysis to community management.

Alma Pres is a social strategist at Ogilvy.

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