Putting words to work
Imagine the scene: Natural light pouring into an open, industrial-modern room, muscular metal beams soothed by aged wood. There are desks, many of them, where English major after English major type away, crafting words for something called a “paycheck.”
They’re productive. Happy. Valued members of society’s workforce.
Welcome to The EnVeritas Group company headquarters in Greenville, which, you may be surprised to learn, is not the backdrop to an unpublished fantasy novel written by one of those sad, unemployed English majors but a real, live business that has become a bit of a go-to destination for Furman degree holders. Laurel Reese ’10, Taylor Davidson ’13, and Lauren Vaughn ’14 have all found a home at EnVeritas working in internet content marketing, an emerging industry that may begin to assuage suffering parents desperately hoping children foolish enough to follow their artistic passion in college come to their senses in time to get into law school.
Reese, an Atlanta native who majored in English and art history, got a job as a writer with EnVeritas four years ago after fellow Furman alums Katie Levans ’07 and Emma Rayner ’08, who had been working for the company as contractors, encouraged her to apply. She has since risen to project manager, where she supervises a team of 11 editors and writers who maintain the content on hundreds of Web sites for five hotel brands.
“Publishing and newspapers, it’s harder to get a job in those industries,” she said. “Content marketing is kind of a forward-moving, progressive industry that’s a good place to be right now, and it’s definitely interesting. It’s exciting to be a part of a company that’s growing along with the industry.”
Like many English majors Davidson grew up dreaming of being a writer, but as graduation day approached job-market reality reared its head. She was alerted to an opening at EnVeritas by Furman English professor Lynne Shackelford, Ph.D.
“I have always wanted to write, since I was a child. I did not go to school thinking I want to write for marketing or I want to write Web site content necessarily, I just went thinking I want to write,” she said. “I was trying to find a job that would let me write in some capacity.”
Which is exactly what she’s doing while also learning valuable digital marketing skills like search engine optimization. The Internet has certainly taken a healthy chuck of traditional publishing jobs, but now it looks like at least some of those positions are being replaced—albeit in a different form—as the Web exposes people to more words than ever before.
“There’s a lot of independence, which I like a lot. You are trusted to get the assignments done the way they need to be done on time, which is good for me,” Davidson says. “We have some journalism and some communications people, but we are an extremely English major-heavy organization. There are a lot of skills that English majors have, and I think businesses are increasingly recognizing they can be really valuable, especially with Web content. There’s a growing recognition you don’t only need people who can crunch numbers; you need people who can write something that’s concise and well-worded and engaging and that people will actually want to read.”
It’s not a coincidence there’s a heavy Furman presence at EnVeritas. The school has built a reputation.
“Furman students bring to the table more than just what I’m hiring them for,” EnVeritas chief operating officer Aubrae Wagner said. “Every Furman student that I’ve hired does their job really well, what I’ve hired them to do, but then they also layer on these other abilities and we kind of sniff out these extra skills as it were.”
Internet content marketing isn’t limited to Greenville, of course. It’s the kind of career that affords people the opportunity to move to a better place, which is what usually happened to Furman grads back in the day. Not anymore.
“I still run into people I graduated with all the time, and I honestly did not think I would stay in Greenville,” Reese said. “A lot of people told me when I graduated if you want to write for a living you’re going to have to move to New York, period. I’m really glad that I ended up back in Greenville. Greenville is growing so much, even since I graduated. It’s a great place to spend your early career.”
“I definitely knew that I wanted to come to Greenville because I feel like there’s a lot to offer here,” Davidson, an Anderson, S.C., native, said. “Not just in terms of more job opportunities, which there were, but the culture and downtown area and the park and the theaters . . . I feel like the culture is becoming more and more vibrant and more and more art-centric, and I really liked that.”
Davidson, who went out of her way to credit Shackelford and Furman English professor Joni Tevis, Ph.D., for recommending her to EnVeritas, isn’t sure where her career path will lead, but she has confidence it will include writing for a living. Even if it wasn’t quite like she planned.
“Right now I’m still like, I have a desk?” she said with a laugh. “I would love to use writing and marketing to work with non-profits or diversity and that type of thing . . . I want to use writing to do something social-justice oriented because that’s something I am really passionate about. I still want to write novels, but no one makes a living writing novels except J.K. Rowling and Stephen King.”
Asked what advice she has for English majors, Wagner says the key is to view your education as a path to a profession.
“I myself was an English major, and I thought that I would never find a job. But it’s a very unique degree I think because it really does prepare you for a lot of things. You just have to find the right niche and think outside the box,” she said. “I would tell them as they’re developing their love of literature and writing just to always be considering the practical ramifications of their degree and what they might do with it. Really get interested in careers and look around, whether it be journalism or digital media or somewhere in the magazine world, even book publishing. Look out and find real-world internships and look for practical experience.”
Learn more about the Furman English Department.