I received my B.A. in Philosophy from Chapman University with a focus on Honors Studies, and I’m now working in marketing and public relations for a great arts organization. There’s more transferable skills between philosophy and marketing than you might think, and my academic studies have helped me tremendously in my current role.
An example of a skill learned in Philosophy departments around the world that is equally useful in the field of marketing is the capital-A “Argument.” An Argument is a pillar of the practice of Philosophy, and people use them every single day — whether its an ad showing you the benefits of their brand over a competitor, one of “those” political Thanksgiving dinners, or just you and the roommates trying to figure out the best place to get takeout, arguments make conversation go ‘round. As an oversimplification, an argument is an encapsulated reasoning for why one should decide an action or a point of view — very useful for both armchair philosophers and creative departments alike. After all, advertising is trying to convince you of a worldview.
Some examples: Audemars Piguet convinces you that their luxury watch is the most elegant and best-built watch on the market; Toyota’s Prius convinces you that their vehicle is a key step in a solution towards man-made climate issues; Apple convinces you that sleek interfaces and clean branding will impress your colleagues and allow you to work and live simply; Nike convinces you that their athletic footwear and apparel are best-of-breed in terms of engineering, comfort and functionality. These brand sentiments aren’t givens; these company’s marketing departments have built their place in the market, and your mind, through arguing their positions effectively.
Breaking it down further, argument is communication, clarity, and concept. These flow into Marketing and Public Relations in several ways. If one was to make an argument about the utility of a universal basic income program, from a utilitarian perspective, one must explain clearly what this entails: how it will affect the job and stock market, how businesses and individuals will react to changing markets and their financial situations, and how these costs will be covered by taxes or other funding. To make an argument for a specific brand of watch is no less complex, but it does appeal to different audiences and sensibilities — in this case, most likely aesthetics over pragmatism. You must clearly communicate why your position is a stronger one than your competitors — in the watch example, you must communicate why your product is superior to another, and in which ways. You must conceptualize the problem at the level your audience will understand, whether it’s pragmatism, aesthetics, morality, or otherwise. (This is often the most difficult for philosophers, given the academic tradition of expounding at length about one’s beliefs, at times to the detriment of their own position. It’s much simpler to just plainly say, “This watch will get you laid.”)
Research is another important cornerstone of any academic degree, whether it’s in philosophy to find the historical underpinnings of an ethical or metaphysical movement, doing market research for a business class paper, or even finding the best auto repair shop that fits your budget — self-driven research is an important skill to hone and continue to improve upon. Learning to truly research teaches you to learn and teach for yourself, and I’ve taught myself so much on the job. When I first began my role working in PR and marketing, I had almost no knowledge of the legacy software that keeps these industries fruitful. I knew I was a fast learner, and so I dove into learning all the important digital tools of my trade: Google Analytics and Google Data Studio; Cision and Meltwater; Hootsuite, Buffer and Bitly; Photoshop and other Adobe creative suite products; and Facebook’s labyrinthian Business Manager, focusing on their Ads Manager. While I’m not an expert with all of these softwares, the familiarity I have with them allows me to perform with a more holistic view of my position, and allows me to provide my organization insights or perspectives that they might not have considered before.
The great thing about our internet age is that you can teach yourself just about any of these softwares. I wouldn’t have been able to become an effective or efficient self-tutor without four years of cramming my head into original source texts for countless philosophy papers, exams and projects. You learn how to identify a solid, authoritative source, as well as superficial filler and bullshit. Are you interested in getting into commercial real estate? You can literally learn just about everything you need to know by starting to follow markets online, identify buying trends within demographics, learn about upcoming legal hurdles in property tax law— the list goes on and on. Being a good researcher means that you will be better prepared for a role or problem before you even begin, and that puts you in a power position, no matter what career path you’re on. My current supervisor is a massive proponent of self-guided research, as are my parents, who are academics. It’s a good thing for us that the internet’s rabbit-holes are plentiful, it’s easy to fall into them, and it’s a long way down.
Bringing everything back to my current role, I’ve laid an interesting groundwork for my career — whatever that might be. Starting as a Philosophy major, I never would have guessed that I would have the pleasure of working with a killer marketing departments, some incredible donors to our cultural institution, and world-class guest artists and orchestra musicians. It’s something I’m very proud of, and I know how much my degree has helped me get there.
Here’s the main takeaway from my academic and professional career so far: you don’t always need a degree in a particular area in order to succeed in that field. I have so much to learn and do in my professional life, but at least I feel like I’m on the right track. It wasn’t the subject material from my philosophy degree that aided my marketing — it was the way it taught me how to think, to teach myself, and to source information. I’d love to hear if this resonates with any readers, so let me know!