The following is a Q&A with Aubrey Allison, Marketing Associate at Image, a journal of art and literature. Aubrey graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2013 with a B.F.A. in Writing. Aubrey has worked for Ruminate Magazine and Art House Dallas, and her writing has been published by Ruminate and Relief.
I got in touch with Aubrey to find out more about how her writing background led her to her career as a marketer:
We were both writing majors in college; let's start there! Why did you get into writing, and what kind do you like most?
I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for writing and photography, and my interests in both of those mediums are similar: I love putting things side by side. In photography, I love pairing images and making diptychs. In writing, I’m drawn to braided essays and poetry.
I think what interests me most in prose are section breaks—what has the writer presented in order to make this silence mean what it means? A pause can be heavy with meaning—it can suggest thoughts that the writer never actually says. The writer has to scaffold their words around that weight.
This fascination lends itself well to marketing. Instead of “How do I express this thought?” it’s “How do I cause my reader to have this thought?”
Tell me about your first foray into marketing as a job.
I was hired right out of college by a nonprofit literary arts magazine called Image. It was a complete surprise to me. I’d interned at other literary arts organizations, but I thought Image was way out of my league. I applied for the job thinking it would be good interview practice, nothing more. Seeing my name on the masthead for the first time was like seeing my name in lights!
My job is sprawling and includes big picture things such as Our Online Presence and small details such as formatting reply cards for appeal mailings. I wear a lot of hats, some of which fit me right away, and some of which I’m still growing into.
Take our free email newsletter for example. It goes out to about 8,000 readers, and it includes book and art reviews, program news, staff recommendations, interesting links from around the web, and a community message board. I’m compiling, writing, editing, and/or designing all of that, which I felt pretty equipped to tackle from the get-go. But the newsletter presents other marketing opportunities such as, what about sending targeted promotions to those 8,000 readers? How often should you offer discounts? The question of how our various offerings can contribute to an overall strategy to increase earned income and donations—those are the areas that didn’t come as naturally to me. I’ve learned a lot since I started the job, and I’m still learning.
What has your writing background helped you bring to the table in your career?
I would say that my undergraduate training in writing and design actually prepared me for a career in Communications, not Marketing. That distinction manifests differently for different companies, but generally speaking, Communications is the execution of a Marketing strategy or vision. Communications traditionally handles the production and distribution of content that accomplishes Marketing’s strategies. Communications teams often include graphic designers, web designers, and copy writers. They’re in charge of maintaining brand standards, whereas Marketing decides what the brand should be.
But it’s a huge advantage to be well-versed in both areas, whether you’re at a small company without the resources to employ separate teams or at a large company where you’ll need to be knowledgeable in order to communicate with your colleagues.
I love that my role at Image is both. Not only am I planning a discount deal for our newsletter subscribers, I’m also taking the product shots, designing graphics, and writing copy. I’m thinking about what every element on the webpage will communicate to the user, and making adjustments accordingly. You need an end-to-end view—from design elements to analytics reporting—in order for the things you create to be as effective as possible.
I think it can be hard for people who haven’t done this work before to imagine what it is, exactly, that you’re “strategizing” about—can you give an example from your work?
Sure—about a year ago, we got a completely new website, and that thing is my baby. Go ahead, go to imagejournal.org and try to tell me it’s not gorgeous. I love the challenges that the website presents. And it presents a lot of challenges.
One challenge is, how should all of this stuff be organized? Our website is home to annual conference registrations, quick info like how to submit to the journal, a free daily blog, curated film lists, an archive of artists, online classes, and more than a thousand individual essays, stories, poems, and interviews originally published in Image journal. How do you present all of these things so that users can quickly find what’s valuable to them? And further, what is the visual environment in which the reader encounters this poem, this essay? Someone once told me that most places on the internet are like chaotic shopping malls, but visiting imagejournal.org is like stepping into a monastery. That’s a third challenge—how to get more people to visit the monastery!
I know you so I know you're always absorbing, always learning; what have you been mulling lately about marketing as a practice?
A lot of the advice and resources for “content marketing” is aimed at marketers who are new to content. For those comfortable with content—especially those with a background in the humanities—the challenge is flipped. The content part of my job comes more naturally: curating links and quotes to share on social media, putting together the contents of a newsletter, filling a daily blog. What I need to know more about is the nitty-gritty, technical side of growing our reach and converting readers into paid subscribers, workshop attendees, or donors. And I need to know how to do those things in a way that’s financially lean and gives excellent returns on the time I invest—because time as well as money are precious resources.
One thing I think we're all searching for is a job that allows us to exercise our ideals to some degree; in other words, there's an ethical dimension to choosing work if you have the privilege to choose it. How has your work meshed with your sense of doing good in the world?
Absolutely. I feel supremely lucky that my work aligns so closely with my values. It was Image itself that drew me to a marketing career. Image is a literary journal that focuses on the Abrahamic faith traditions, primarily Christianity. When I started this job three years ago, my faith looked different. I was enthralled by theology. I was devout.
While I’m not sure I would call myself a Christian anymore, I have no desire to subvert or even disagree with religious faith. I know it shapes and informs the way I see the world, and it always will. It remains central to my family and many of my loved ones. The fact that I’ve found compelling art and literature within this journal that has spoken to me at every point on that continuum between faith and doubt—I think that says a lot about Image. I can’t find this kind of editorial vision anywhere else.
Because my relationship to this art has been so formative, I feel privileged that I get to shape the context in which readers encounter a story, essay, poem, or work of art—whether that’s through the design of the page or the hook I offer on social media. I think of the work I do as ancillary to the art and the deeply personal experience between the art and the reader. I feel lucky that my role is about getting these pieces in front of people who will love them, and increasing the number of people who get to have deeply personal experiences with Image.
Okay, last question: is there anything you wished you knew about this work you wished you'd learned sooner?
Document! Document everything! When I first started, I operated more on instinct and on the advice of others (other staff, board members with marketing backgrounds). I was new to marketing—and a little overwhelmed!—and I didn’t yet think of all the ways I could use data to hone my practices. My perspective was shorter. Now that I’m documenting more and accumulating data, I want to know more effective ways to interpret and apply it!