by Teri Fritsma
Green marketing is a new and emerging career field — so new, in fact, that there’s not much standard information on wages, skill requirements, or growth projections yet. If you’re interested in going into this field, or another new and emerging occupation, how can you learn about it? One way is to talk to people who are already working in the field. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Michelsen, green copywriter and co-owner of Marathon Renewable Energy in Wasau, Wisconsin. During our conversation, Michelsen offered some great advice for green career seekers.
TF: How did you get started in a green career?
AM: My husband and I own a music store, and I started helping out around the store — cleaning horns and vacuuming so on. Soon though, I began getting interested in the business side of things. I started to look for ways to improve our store’s marketing efforts, and wound up taking a correspondence course in copywriting. I’ve always been interested in the environment, and eventually I realized I could build a career by combining my writing skills with my passion for sustainability.
TF: What exactly is copywriting?
AM: Basically, it’s persuasive writing. In journalism, you’re writing to convey both sides of an argument; in copywriting, you’re taking a stand on one side or the other. Copywriting can include brochures, white papers, subtle sales, and so on.
TF: What are the main skills and competencies you need to be a copywriter?
AM: I’d say there are a couple of key things. First, you need to be able to write well. There are lots of good copywriting courses out there; look for one that’s taught by a master copywriter. Second, you really have to understand and enjoy people. Since copywriting involves persuasion, you have to have some knowledge of personal psychology to understand what motivates people. Finally — and this one really applies to whatever business you’re in — you need to promote yourself. Writers tend to be introverts and sometimes aren’t comfortable with self-promotion. But if you’re going into copywriting, especially as a freelancer, you really need to get comfortable with this.
TF: Do you need to take special “green” courses to prepare for a career like yours?
AM: Personally, I majored in Art and German! But I also have a coursework equivalent to a minor in Biology, and took quite a few courses in Ecology. Beyond taking specialized courses, I’d recommend that someone interested in green copywriting simply read. Read whatever you can get your hands on about sustainability, climate, water, agriculture, energy production, or any other specialty you’re interested in. There’s so much information out there, even the most informed person can know only a tiny fraction. So read whatever you can, and listen to tapes in the car when you’re not reading! You also have to make it your business to know your industry. If you want to be an effective copywriter, you need to understand the issues that face the companies you’re writing for.
TF: In your field, is it better to generalize or specialize?
AM: I think it’s better to specialize. If you’re shopping for a kayak, you’d rather go to Kayaks Unlimited than a department store, right? The same is true in copywriting. Rather than a “green” copywriter, become the “wind” copywriting specialist, for example.
TF: What other general advice would you give to someone interested in green copywriting?
AM: I have a few thoughts.
- Hook up with mentors and experts in your field. Find people online. Hang out with people who are making it. In green copywriting, I’d recommend checking out Clayton Makepeace (a top copywriter) or Dan Kennedy (who’s a business and marketing guru).
- Check out American Artists and Writers, Inc. AWAI puts out a lot of good coursework for aspiring copywriters.
- Talk to people. Tell them what you do. Work free for awhile if you need to, just to get the word out and establish a reputation.
- Write every day. Start a blog. Even if you have no other writing samples, a blog is a great way to demonstrate that you can write and that you have the discipline to write regularly.
- Don’t wait until you know enough, because you’ll never know enough. Just get started with what you do know.
- Create an online presence. This is important for anyone in business. Have a website. Get on LinkedIn and join groups that relate to your field. It’s a great way to learn about new things and make connections with people like you.
TF: What general advice can you give to someone who’s interested in breaking into a “green” career?
AM: The great thing about green is that is encompasses so many different career fields — agriculture, energy, communications — you name it. You can take just about any background or set of interests and move into green. So I’d really recommend looking at your own strengths first. Think about your own background. What fires you up? What are you passionate about? Then go out and find out how you can apply that to a green field.
TF: Any final words of advice for young career explorers and job seekers?
AM: I guess I would say that you have to deal with that little part of yourself that doesn’t want to do it. You have to master self-discipline and get over self-doubt. Having fear isn’t the problem — what can really do you in is not realizing that your fear is holding you back. If you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself: what am I afraid of? Why am I sabotaging myself? Then look at those around you who are successful and realize that if they did it, so can you. If someone else did it, then it’s not impossible.