After I graduated from Clemson with my B.S. in Marketing, I took a job as an account executive at a large Greenville advertising firm servicing a large communications client (“Can you hear me now?”). When I realized the best part of my day was taking lunch so that I could drive through the historic neighborhoods near the office to get to my favorite burrito joint, I knew that my days as an ad exec would be short-lived. Driven by my love of the built environment, I packed up and headed to the South Carolina coast to get my masters degree at the Clemson University/College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation.
Moving on from a life of Roger Sterlings, Don Drapers, and Peggy Olsons, I felt sure that I had left behind my days of marketing and advertising. Instead, I would be rubbing elbows with the Bob Villa and “This Old House” types. I came to the program with little knowledge about architectural types and lacked any drafting skills. Admittedly, I had no clue about how I would use my new degree. But I knew that I was interested and that my curiosity would lead me to a place where I took more pride and pleasure in the work I did.
I learned in the first year of my masters work that old habits die hard. I found myself writing a paper in the first semester about the evolution of the kitchen stove in America, using historic advertisements as a primary source of information to illustrate trends and styles. I found myself wondering about the marketing and public relations of house museums and controversial preservation projects that we learned about in our Preservation Theory class. Surely, if people knew the importance of certain preservation projects – if it was communicated correctly to the masses – no one would want to tear down a train station or build a high-rise hotel in an historic commercial district.
Grad School City Wall: From left to right, Stefanie Marasco, Brittany Lavelle, Kelly Finnigan, and me (Katherine Ferguson) on the Old City Wall under the James Misroon House/Historic Charleston Foundation on East Bay Street
The summer after my first year, I was lucky enough to have an internship at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Southern Office on King Street in Charleston. I learned many things about the importance of preservation in our country by working with these folks, but what was most exciting to me was helping with a project that took the voices of real people and let them tell the story of why preserving historic Rosenwald School buildings around the South was so important to them. I assisted with a project to interview individuals to be used in a podcast series. After the rewarding experience of sitting with these folks who had spent so much of their own resources to keep history alive, I was tasked with filtering through our recorded interviews to piece together an 8 minute message using audio clips and writing copy for an initial script. (To listen to the finished podcasts, “Voices of Rosenwald Schools,” visit preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/sites/southern-region/rosenwald-schools.) This exercise brought home the importance of good communication in the preservation field, and inspired me to use my voice and previous work in marketing to be of use for a cause I felt passionately about. My thesis work during my second year of graduate school was centered around the use of print in influencing the preservation movement through much of the 20th century. Specifically, my thesis focused on Preservation magazine produced by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1949. I wanted to know how the national leaders in preservation marketed their cause and what was being said. The result was an analysis of the topical trends of the magazine through the years and an overall understanding of the types of conversations that are being promoted in the field of preservation.
Tenetha Hall and Ron Hope at Hope School, a Rosenwald School in Prosperity, SC
Two years after intentionally leaving advertising for a change of pace, I found myself right where I started. I wanted to know how I could be part of the voice of a movement I felt so passionately about. While looking for a full-time job after graduation, I took an internship at the Preservation Society of Charleston working with congregational leaders in Peninsular Charleston. My job was to help them identify the needs of their aging church facilities and to begin to form a network of professionals that would lead to creative solutions that tackled the issues that historic houses of worship face. My willingness to continue to work and learn in the process of finding a job as a preservationist opened the door to a job that feels tailor-made for me. I am proud to be serving as the Marketing & Communications Manager at the Preservation Society of Charleston – an opportunity that was available to me because of my internship. Every day I am giving voice to the importance of preservation in our community and connecting with people to fulfill our mission “to inspire all who dwell in the Lowcountry to honor and respect our material and cultural heritage.”
David Coles, (CofC Graduate student in Marine Biology’14) and me at the Preservation Society Membership Oyster Roast in January 2013.
In closing, I leave you with what those in the advertising world call a “Call to Action.” Bring all of your talents to the table. You may feel as I did – that your masters is a chance for a fresh start or a change of pace. Or you may be continuing in a field that you are all ready well equipped for. But your individual set of life experiences and interests add value to the brand that is yourself. Learn to communicate these “unique selling points” effectively and apply them to the work you feel so passionately about. And never forget your past.
Submitted by: Katherine Ferguson