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.