Name: Leslie Nelson
College & Majors/Minors: English major/interdisiciplinary (English, History, Art 1850-1945)
Current Location: San Diego, CA
Current Employment: President/Creative Director of VisualConcepts.tv, LLC
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I currently run a video production company, VisualConcepts.tv, LLC in conjunction with my husband, Mark Nelson, who is a director of photography. I act as account executive, putting together estimates for video shoots and coordinating them. I also manage post-production, working with video editor and motion graphic designers.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
Since I had studied overseas in Oxford for a year during college (my entire junior year) I was quite obsessed with Britain so I secured a work permit and went back after graduating. I had a neighbor that worked for a publishing company and she had asked me to help edit a grammar textbook for her over that summer. This was 25 years ago, so it didn't require sophisticated computer skills, but I really learned a lot about grammar in the process of editing this book. After this, she also gave me the opportunity to write about five entries for a children's encyclopedia that I could send back from England and get paid as a freelancer. I wrote about topics such as the Commonwealth and the Industrial Revolution. This was a great experience to learn how to write in an easy to understand manner.
So though I had this income, the publishing company wasn't paying me much so I sought out an internship. I proceeded to get a paid internship working for a small ad agency with four men who had all worked for the big ad agency J. Walter Thompson. It was not easy. I had interviewed at the many of the ubiquitious London temp agencies and gotten nowhere and I had been to numerous restaurants without a hint of interest from anyone. One of my friends from Oxford told me about a start up ad agency. I got to work under the creative director. He didn't throw much my way, but he did let me give him some ideas and taught me how to sell through copywriting and I also got to watch him design. I also spent time talking with the partner that did the marketing research and he explained how market research was done in places like Africa and other international locations. The other two partners included the technical numbers guy who processed the marketing research data and then the president who was more apt to be dishing out Bloody Marys in the morning and hosting plenty of lengthy client lunches at the Cafe Fleur down the street.
I think they wanted to have their agency filled with bright young people because that was what they were used to. However, they had all of their big agency habits, and after 3 months, the stationers came by wanting payment for their letterhead one day and shortly thereafter, my checks started bouncing. So I headed east and became a waitress in Bath, England in a cafe working for Canadians. I finally was able to collect on bounced checks with help from my new employer. This experience and learning to be persistent on getting this payment was one of the most helpful experiences to prepare me for small business.
After working as an intern at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and for a three-person marketing consulting company in San Diego for about six months upon my return, I decided to start doing freelance copywriting and start my own business. I was 23. Over the course of eight years, I wrote sales letters, ads, business plans, wrote and designed brochures, edited manuscripts and enjoyed working with graphic designers. I learned a lot about how to write sales-driven copy that generated results. Then, after meeting my husband, I had the opportunity to work on a video production, so I dove in and read all the books I could on video scriptwriting. With time, he started his own video production business and shortly thereafter we merged our two companies into one. That was 15 years ago and we're still going. We no longer do print work and my writing goes as far as video scripts, proposals, emails, and web content.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Some of the summer jobs and internships I had helped shape my direction. My junior year of high school, I worked for San Diego Home & Garden Magazine. I got to work under the copy editor, where I learned to edit, and then spent some time talking with the amazing editor, Peter Jensen. He really helped me learn how you could use the English language to tell a compelling story in a very natural way. He was a great writer, and could take his readers to different places with such ease. Part of the internship enabled me to write a published article. So I learned how to do a photo scout, seeking out homes in San Diego with attractive, well designed game rooms. I learned which homes had the visual interest in order to be featured in the magazine, and then I got to interview different homeowners and sought out the best content for the article, and ultimately wrote a solid article. The time I spent talking with Peter really helped me understand how important his philosophical love of the written word affected the magazine's content and the company's culture.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
In college, I participated in a lot of intramural sports. I played ultimate Frisbee and tennis at Stanford, and then in England, I participated in Cuppers (the British word for intramurals) rowing, ballroom dance, and swimming and just about any other college sport that I had a change to participate in. Once I returned from England my senior year, I proceeded to organize an Oxford-type ball like they had in England at Oxford University's different colleges. It was no simple task, but we put on a great event in the end and I learned a ton about event planning.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Being an English major opens up a lot of possibilities and it's up to you to start cracking open the different doors and peering in to see if there's anything attracting you behind the doors as you consider different career options. Try things out that interest you. Go to a professional association meeting if you want to know more about a particular field. Talk to people working in areas that you are interested in. Offer to take them out for a quick lunch or coffee and see if you share any passions. Read books and blogs about areas that you want to learn more about. Call people up and talk to them and ask them what they do and what they like about their job. Listen and watch those who you admire. I think I learned so much from George Stock, the creative director in England, just by watching him work and listening to him and also from Peter Jensen in the discussions I had with him. Nowadays, I learn a lot listening to my husband explain technical information on camera and lighting gear. This is how you gain direction with a major that is extremely broad. Find out what types of samples you need for your niche or any technical classes you need and then get going and sign up. Also, check back with people you met in the past as you gain new experiences. You never know what new opportunities may open up.