24/01/2017, by CLAS
Interview with Rebecca Jeffery, former American and Canadian Studies student and BBC Apprentice candidate
- What are you doing currently and what made you decide on your career pathway?
When I graduated in American and Canadian Studies from Nottingham University in 2006 I wasn’t entirely sure where to go next – I knew that I wanted to work in business… but I didn’t know what to focus on! I managed to get a job as an HR Administrator (starting at £15k a year) for a B2B Telecoms company and after 18 months I had worked my way up the ladder to being a Resourcing Advisor. I decided to apply for a secondment covering a six-month maternity leave in the Marketing Team and I found my niche. My role included writing and designing internal newsletters for the business and I finally started using the writing skills I had learnt during my degree! With a newly found passion in marketing, I was lucky enough to get a position on a Times Top 100 Graduate Management Programme at The Co-operative Group in 2008. This was a fantastic scheme and over the 6 years that I worked at The Co-op I managed marketing and PR projects in The Co-operative Food, The Co-operative Legal Services and The Co-operative Funeralcare.
I left The Co-operative in 2013 on maternity leave and bravely decided to start my own marketing and design business with my sister. Building our business around our children (working 9am to 3pm, picking up our kids and then working again from 7.30 to 10pm at night) we created quite a unique business model and managed to grow our business rapidly – much faster than we expected! We currently work with over 120 clients across the UK, China, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the USA. Offering flexible, creative and friendly marketing and design services (including: copywriting, branding, website design and graphic design) our client portfolio currently includes well-known UK brands such as Matalan and Mothercare. At the start of 2016 I was chosen to be one of candidates on the 2016 series of The Apprentice on BBC One. Having been fired in week six (I’m not sure I was hard-nosed enough!), I’m now determined to keep growing my little business Fi & Becs Design & Marketing and we have some exciting plans for the next 18 months!
- What made you choose an American and Canadian Studies degree at Nottingham?
I initially chose to study American and Canadian Studies at Nottingham University because I loved both Literature and History during my A Levels and I wanted to do a degree that would allow me to combine these passions along with an interest in Politics. I didn’t really have a specific career in mind when I was applying to university (I vaguely thought that I would like to go into business…) I just knew that I wanted to study something that I found fascinating and I adored reading novels! I’m also a self-confessed history nerd and I had found American history interesting since I had visited America and Canada with my family as teenager. The degree seemed like a perfect combination to me!
I chose Nottingham University because it was ranked as one of the best places to study this degree, and I totally fell in love with the campus when I visited on an open day! I’m from the countryside (I grew up in rural Cumbria) so the rolling downs, pretty lake and leafy surroundings appealed to me, plus Nottingham seemed like a really cool city.
- What was your experience of doing the ACS degree and were there any particular highlights?
An absolute highlight was going to Toronto University for my study year abroad. It was such an amazing opportunity to move over to Canada and experience university life in a different country. I lived in one of their Halls of Residence during my stay and it was so much fun – a bit like having another year as a fresher! I made friends with loads of Canadian students but I also became close with many of the English students studying abroad too – some of the people I met are still my good friends now.
My passion for Canadian literature also grew while I was in Toronto and this shaped the topic that I decided to study for my dissertation: the short stories of Alice Munro. Some of the modules that I took were unusual, modern and exciting, for example: Science Fiction in Literature, Creative Writing and Canadian Short Stories. The lectures over in Toronto were also very different to those in the UK. The lecture theatres are huge (150 – 200 people) and I enjoyed how much more participation there was from students, plus everyone used laptops to write their notes – that didn’t happen at Nottingham back then!
Toronto is an incredible university; it is like the Oxford or Cambridge of Canada, so we were absolutely spoilt with amazing lecturers and famous authors visiting to do talks and readings. I was lucky enough to meet Margaret Atwood at a University book reading which was amazing as I am a huge fan of her work!
- Did the degree programme inform your career pathway in any way, and how did the degree (and year abroad) help shape your professional aptitude and skill set?
I firmly believe that American and Canadian Studies equipped me with some of the key skills I use everyday in my marketing and design business. It is a challenging, interesting and inspiring degree, which gave me so much scope for reading, researching and writing creatively. Skills that I have found invaluable during my career!
During my degree I had to read A LOT of books (sometimes 2-3 novels a week with all my different modules!) and write a lot of essays. I was constantly having to think creatively about the pieces I was reading, identify key themes, find research papers to back-up my theories and deliver essays which were well though-out, well written and original.
Now that I am a copywriter working with hundreds of businesses to deliver creative, engaging and well-planned wording or content (often for websites, adverts, blogs, leaflets, brochures etc.) I am grateful to my degree for helping me learn these writing skills. Studying American and Canadian Studies taught me to think creatively whilst on a deadline!
- What’s the best thing about working in marketing and what top tips would you give an American and Canadian Studies student who is thinking of going into marketing and/or setting up their own business?
Some of my favourite things about working in marketing are…
Having a license to be creative. I worked in HR when I first graduated from University and although I enjoyed that job I really craved a creative outlet for my ideas and enthusiasm! Working in marketing is great because you are paid to have ideas and you can genuinely use your creative skills (writing, graphic design, video production) in your everyday job.
Seeing ideas turn into money. It is very (very!) satisfying when you see your idea turn into real revenue. Marketing is about having ideas, but it is also about making sure your ideas are realistic, goal driven and are going to make money for the business or client you’re working with!
Seeing everything evolve. I love working in an area that is always evolving. It is inspiring and energising to see new concepts pop up, businesses trying new ideas and customers engaging with campaigns in different ways. I would get bored working in an environment that never changed!