Eight Questions with Alumna Julie Bensman
Interview by Claire Mitchell
You're a host, a writer, and a producer. In your own words, can you tell us more about your career?
I started my career writing for magazines but found that I enjoyed watching a story come to life through all parts of creation (pitching, writing, photo, design, etc). When I would write feature stories, I'd often accompany a photographer to photo shoots and started getting involved in production that way. Especially after 2008 crash, more media companies were looking for individuals who could create an entire content package, or at least had a network to tap into to make it happen. As far as hosting, I would be at red carpet events to interview celebrities anyways so when the magazine group I was working for asked if they could send a camera along with me, I said yes and learned on the job what it means to be a video host.
- You recently started working at Reebok as a Digital Editor. What’s your role there, and what do you enjoy about your current position?
I'm on retainer with Reebok, so [I'm] not a full time employee, which gives me the freedom to pursue other projects at the same time. I work with the digital editorial team to pitch and write stories that support product launches and SEO [search engine optimization] goals. I also help put together larger content pushes, like the redesign of their sports bra page. For something like this, I'll produce a video that we plug through social media, that then links back to a Q&A with a sports bra designer, which then links to a shop page. A modern content ecosystem has no dead ends, so you want to encourage the consumer to keep on clicking.
- On your website, you showcase a lot of your experience with copywriting. What is the day-in, day-out work of a copywriter like?
Being a (good) copywriter is actually a lot more listening than writing. I work with clients to understand their goals, their content channels and the consumer they want to reach. I'll help them put together a brand voice style guide, which will end up being the content "bible" for communication across all their brand channels (website, social media, packaging, etc). Many times, clients change their minds throughout the course of a launch and they can be reactionary to external factors (i.e. competitive brands). The best brands I've worked with are confident and consistent.
- What did you learn in your communication classes at UIUC that was most applicable to your work “on the job?”
I think learning how to speak to a variety of people is super important in any line of work, but especially one where you're pitching your services as a freelancer. I took a lot of classes at UIUC that focused on what motivates people and how to work as a team to accomplish a goal. I think listening is a really underutilized skill in business - so many people like to be the loudest person in the room, but being loud doesn't mean being right.
I thought your experience with BBC and RSVP Abroad was really amazing. How did your communication degree apply to this role? What was your favorite travel destination?
Because not everyone I met with spoke English fluently, using facial expressions and body language to communicate was huge with RSVP Abroad. Getting people to trust you and open up during an interview can be really hard. Eye contact and a smile go a long way, as well as following up on the things you said you'd do. Also, when the cameras cut, so many people invited our crew into their homes for a meal. If possible, I tried to accept any and all gifts with grace (even a meal of stomach intestines). We visited so many amazing places but I think Penang, Malaysia was my favorite!
Getting hired can be really difficult, especially right now! What are some tips you would give to communication majors entering the workforce? Are there any specific qualifications or certifications that you would recommend?
I would recommend finding the company you want to work for and then getting in touch with someone there, even if they don't currently have a job opening posted. Do some sleuthing as to who might be a hiring manager and figure out their email or connect with them via Linked In. If you're in the same city, ask them to go for a socially-distant walk or grab a cup of coffee. You might feel lame or desperate hunting people down but I promise you that enthusiasm and hustle are impossible to ignore. And when a job opening does become available, you'll already have a relationship with the company. Also, keep your Linked In or personal website updated and list it in the signature of your personal email. Always be marketing yourself!
- What do you think good communication majors bring to the workforce?
I'm consistently surprised at the number of people (in work and in life) who don't know how to have a two-way dialogue, meaning they talk at you and not with you. Communication majors know how to foster conversation.
- You’ve got an excellent online presence and website! What parts of an online presence do you think are the most important for students to cultivate?
Lots of writing samples. Your social media links (only if applicable to your job/brand). A smiling photo.