Why Liberal Arts Graduates are Integral to Your Marketing Team

The humanities are attracting fewer students. According to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, less than 12% of college students were enrolled in the liberal arts in 2015. The cost of higher education—the average student loan debt for the class of 2016 was $37,132—has likely contributed to this decline, as more students pursue degrees that will lead to clearly defined careers. Since schools often base academic positions on departmental enrollment, the decline in liberal arts majors has also resulted in a challenge for humanities programs to keep tenure-track positions viable. In some cases, departments in the liberal arts have disappeared altogether.

But this discouraging trend in higher education doesn’t reflect the reality of liberal arts graduates in the workplace. According to a report from researchers at Strada Education Network and Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, 82% of liberal arts graduates are employed. And while the median salary for liberal arts graduates is less than the median for all graduates, liberal arts graduates tend to make significant wage gains in their 30s and 40s as they learn how to articulate how their backgrounds can relate to technical fields or gain some technical skills of their own. In a second report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, researchers report that nearly 87% of liberal arts graduates say they’re satisfied with their jobs.

“If a student has a deep interest in a major and works hard, then he or she will acquire skills that are quite useful in the workplace,” said Randall Stross, the author of the book A Practical Education. “I’m speaking not as a humanities professor who hopes this is true, but as a business school professor who has interviewed a number of recent graduates and has followed the progression of their careers,” he said during a 2018 interview.

What liberal arts graduates say

The skills you get with a liberal arts education transfer well to business: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy, foreign language proficiency and creativity. Marketing, advertising, public relations, management and human resources are all career paths that liberal arts graduates can pursue.

Liberal arts graduates who now work at Pace say they feel their educations have given them a useful perspective for their work in a full-service marketing agency.

“The liberal arts grounds you in a large range of subjects and gives you a broad perspective,” said Gordon Bass, vice president and creative director. “I use storytelling every day in my job.

In my lit and screenwriting classes, I learned how to create a narrative arc, which you need to make a connection with your audience.”

Josh Barrer, a senior editor, agrees that storytelling is an important marketing skill. “People respond to storytelling on an emotional level, which primes them for other messages such as … about a product or how they can do better at their jobs,” he said.

Any full-service marketing agency requires a variety of disciplines to be successful, including writing and editing, art and design, filmmaking, account and project management and analytics. Collaboration is essential, both between these disciplines and between creative team members.

“The multimedia nature of digital marketing and the high degree of collaboration involved in its creation and success make it a field that feeds on soft skills and multiple disciplines,” said Mario Passera, a senior editor.

Despite their many marketable skills, recent liberal arts graduates may find it challenging to get that first job in a field that makes full use of their talents.

Naomi Spicer, an associate editor and a 2016 graduate from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, advises current liberal arts majors to hedge their bets. “Definitely pursue your passion,” she said. “Do what you love but also take on the skills that will help you get a paying job. Step outside your comfort zone and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.”

What the future holds

The job market may well bring some very pleasant surprises; more than one expert sees surging demand for liberal arts graduates in the coming years.

Christine Henseler, humanities advocate and professor of Spanish and Hispanic studies at Union College in Schenectady, New York, believes that a liberal arts education may well be the cornerstone of a successful professional career in the 21st century. She anticipates new technologies will disrupt our current way of life and that the most successful workers will be adaptable, using skills like creativity, collaboration, communication, abstract and systems thinking and the ability to adjust to new environments.

In a 2017 Bloomberg interview, Mark Cuban, businessman, investor and an owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said he believes that as the result of advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence many technical jobs, such as programming, may disappear. Instead, liberal arts graduates will be in high demand because of their ability to think globally.

It seems clear that liberal arts graduates are a natural fit for the collaborative, creative environment of marketing agencies—and will continue to be essential employees in these businesses for the foreseeable future.

“At Pace, we’ve found our many liberal arts graduates make valuable contributions every day,” said Neil Marion, executive creative director. “Even as the industry continues to evolve, I feel that liberal arts graduates will continue to bring a unique perspective that will always make them an integral part of our team.”

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