Name: Pamela Patton
College & Majors/Minors: Grand Valley State University, B.S. Communications, Aquinas College, MM (Masters in Management with an emphasis on Marketing)
Current Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Current Form of Employment: Owner, operator and chief wordsmith, Paragraph Writing Services
Since 1991, I have been incorporated as Paragraph Writing Services. Here, I do it all, from writing and editing to bookkeeping and petting the cat (a very important responsibility, as she can tell you with her little “pet me” nips).
But I didn’t start out as a writer. I started college as a vocal music major. I knew things weren’t going to turn out well when I couldn’t master the piano, and my voice teacher told me my nose was too small to properly sing in French. So, my then-boyfriend got me a work-study job at the campus-affiliated PBS station, where I discovered I loved to write promotional copy.
But did I immediately switch majors to accommodate my new passion? No! The promotion director got fired, and I landed the position—at the age of 19.
And she lived (and wrote) happily ever after, right? Wrong! New management at the station decreed that anyone in a management position had to have a college degree, which I did not. So I began on a career path that eventually lead me back to college. (It involved a cross-dresser, cocaine, and cleaning toilets.)
Older and wiser, I returned to Grand Valley State University, this time as a communications major. I took copywriting classes, public relations writing classes, business writing classes, and advertising classes, while working part-time at Opera Grand Rapids as promotion director. As my capstone project, I had a wonderful opportunity: To produce a marketing video to raise funds for the opera. I wrote the script, was the voice talent, and worked with a professional video production company.
Two things happened: Fundraising went through the roof, and I was promoted to full-time upon graduation. At the opera, the board president who checked my press releases was also the editor of the local paper, and I received marketing advice guidance from another board member who was the head of marketing for a local furniture manufacturer. Both of these people were great mentors, and I am friends with them to this day.
From the performing arts, I went to banking. I wrote for the holding company and the lead bank where I learned a lot about investments, finance, estate planning, 401(k) s, and just about anything else related to managing money. There, I wrote everything from statement stuffers to annual reports. (Yet I still can't manually balance my checkbook.) It was about this time that I decided to do a little freelance work on the side, and opened Paragraph.
From banking, I went to a multi-level marketing company. I won’t mention the name, but you’ve heard about it, I’m sure. There, I contributed to one monthly publication, three quarterly publications, and a website in need of constant updating. That equals approximately 60 unique ad concepts with clever headlines, multiple articles and mucho web content per month. Topics? Home care, water treatment, health and nutrition, and beauty, cosmetics and skin care. I came out of there as one versatile writer.
But then, I was “globalized. (Laid off.) So I decided to try the freelance life full-time, and here I am today.
One thing I learned during my hiatus from college was the importance of a portfolio, even as a student. Therefore, I volunteered to write wherever I got a chance. I wrote a newsletter for the local ballet company. I continued to write as a volunteer for the PBS station’s annual televised auction. I collected letters of recommendation from my supervisors. Because I was an older student, I made friends with many of my instructors, and would go out for coffee with them and have them critique my work and give me advice.
I have a confession: I wish I had taken more English classes. I wish I had paid closer attention to sentence structure and grammar. You need to know that I began my career before word processing. Before the Internet. Before spell check. Before desktop publishing. I made mistakes along the way and learned the rules on the job. (I worship the ground that proofreaders walk on.) And those rules are important, because you need to know them in order to break them, as we often do in advertising headlines and copy.
So my advice to you is this: Know the rules. (The Gregg Reference Manual is my bible.) Read. A lot. Especially writing in print. Check your facts and then check them again. Don’t believe everything autocorrect tells you. Find a proofreader to worship and an editor who will make your writing better. Develop your own voice. Be versatile. And know that advertising is nothing like “Mad Men” or “The Crazy Ones.”