We’ve all been there. Somebody asks you what you do for work, and you have to find a way to condense everything you work on and think about on a daily basis into a brief description that’s not totally confusing.
For those of us in the young and ever-changing digital marketing industry, this can be particularly difficult. It’s not like saying “I’m a firefighter” or “I teach preschool,” where people instantly understand the job concept.
We asked members of the Hurrdat team to share some of their experiences with describing their jobs to other people and how those conversations have gone. (Spoiler Alert: They went pretty much the way you think.)
Ross Allen, SEO Director
Usually, when I tell people that I do SEO, the response is “What is that? Is that like websites and stuff? You build websites?” My response is “Well…it depends!” Then, I descend down a diatribe of how I make changes to websites to make them rank higher on Google and other search engines, to which the response is “Oh, so you write content then?” Again, I respond with “It depends!” At this point, I can see the confusion, mild irritation, or sometimes unadulterated rage on their faces, so I explain it to them in terms like this…
Think of what I do for SEO like what happens when you take your car in for a service. A lot of what happens is under the hood and can’t really be seen, but you know it has been done because the car is running better. There are many different things that happen under the hood—sometimes not all of them need to be serviced—but other times, the whole engine needs an overhaul. Most of the time, you don’t see any of it. All you ever see is the shiny exterior after the carwash.
Other times, there’ll be that person that says, “Oh, so you just buy links then.” At which point, I abruptly end the conversation and walk hastily in the opposite direction yelling, “No, that’s not how it works!”
In my experience, especially in recent years, more people have an understanding of what I do so I don’t get the blank expressions as often now. But that also leads to the old proverb: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” They begin to recite verbatim what Bob told them in the bar five years ago about making sure you include a target keyword 20 or more times on the page, all whilst smiling and nodding in my direction, looking for affirmation only to be met with my slow, somber shake of the head accompanied by a deafening sigh.
Allie Burkey, Paid Search Director
In general, people are vaguely familiar with advertising as whole, if not the specifics, so I usually keep it short and sweet: “I put ads on the internet.” For the most part, they can wrap their brains around that. It’s tough to get more into the weeds while keeping someone’s attention, though. Like try to explain Google Ads to someone outside the industry—their eyes glaze over in a hurry. It would be similar to someone explaining financial planning or stocks to me.
Usually when I tell my family and friends that I work in advertising, they care less about the what and much more about the who. They always ask about the clients I work with. Do I work with any brands they’ve heard of? Do I get any family and friend discounts? Any special kickbacks? They don’t care about CPM or landing pages or bidding. They want to know if they can name-drop a big brand when someone asks them “What does Allie do?”
Another common follow-up is “So…are you like Don Draper?” I wish.
I’m really close with my family, but I do have one brother that I suspect has no idea what I do. Someday, I’ll ask him, but first I need to figure out exactly what he does. Because I know his inevitable response to “Do you know what my job is?” would be “ Do you know what MY job is?” And I do not. But I think he would probably say I work for Google. For a long time, that was my mom’s response as well. Given the media giant Google is, there’s probably some truth to that.
Bailey Hemphill, Content Director
My friends and family know diddly-squat about what I do. It’s not for lack of trying. Our industry didn’t exist 10-15 years ago, so it sounds like I’m making up my job on the spot to cover for a much more interesting job that I can’t tell anyone about—like international spy or masked singer. They at least know I do something with the internet, but I’m sure they’re picturing me screwing around on social media or watching dog videos.
When they ask, I explain that I’m a Content Director, which means I lead a team of content marketers at a marketing agency. I get that smile and nod—you know the one—that tells me they’re not following, but they’re too polite (or too bored) to keep asking. So I try to break it down with something they’re more familiar with. Most people are aware of blogging, so I can kind of get them in the door there. I’ve also used lines like “Hey, you know when you go to a website, and there’s text on it?” That usually seals the deal.
The best reactions I get are when I mention that we create content to help our clients’ websites get found in search engine results. “Like Google?” Yes, like Google. (Why, are you still using Ask Jeeves?) I tell them we use tools that allow us to see what people are searching for so that we can write content around those search terms to provide helpful information or answer questions.
Without fail, every time, they get freaked out because they think we can see their individual search histories. It’s like…no, calm down. I can’t see all of those websites you’ve been visiting that keep downloading viruses on your home computer. I see that the phrase “computer virus removal” gets 1,700 searches a month, which tells me there’s a decent opportunity to create content around a topic like “how to remove a computer virus.” You know, in case you need that information. I’m just here to help!
Kirsten Smith, Social Media Director
You know, I don’t know if my family really knows exactly what I do. I know most of them know I’m a director at a marketing agency, but I don’t think they actually know what that means.
One time, I was talking to my parents about an event I had to cover for one of our social media clients, and they thought I was literally working the event. My mom asked if I was a beer cart girl, and I was like, no, I’m doing this for my career. She still didn’t understand exactly what I was doing at the event, so I said, “You know my career and what I do…?” Crickets. So then I continued, “I’m a Social Media Director, and Hurrdat does social media for companies that put on live events.” I think she finally got it, but she probably still doesn’t know the exact purpose of my role at Hurrdat.
I was also talking with my sister-in-law one night about social media. She knows I’m in marketing, but maybe didn’t get my exact role or understand my expertise. She was talking about how she got this book that was called something like How to Get Noticed on Facebook. I looked over to her and said, “That’s what I do every day, and I can tell you how to do that so you don’t have to read the book.” She was like “Oh, wow! I didn’t know you knew how to do that.” That one made me laugh.
There are a lot of people that look at social media marketing as just getting posts on social media platforms published, but there’s so much more involved. It’s fun being able to tell my family and friends exactly how I go about doing my job every day and the strategy behind each social post.
Hurrdat Answers is an ongoing series of interviews with Hurrdat team members. Check back for more!