Climbing the Ladder – Is it Easier to Get Promoted in Editorial or Marketing?

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When the thrill of landing a publishing job and the excitement and challenge of tackling new responsibilities fades away, it is the goal of every entry-level new hire to get out of the ‘assistant ghetto’ as quickly as possible. In doing so, there seems to be a mix of opinions about which department has it easier: Marketing or Editorial? And the controversy only continues when you examine how long it should take to climb that coveted next rung up the industry ladder, and how you know when you’re ready for that next step.

I decided to explore my own skeptical observations on this topic, drawn from the year and nine months that I’ve worked in the book publishing industry to date, by discussing them with several colleagues who work in either department and who were recently promoted.

One of the first people I spoke with about getting ahead was Jen, a twenty-something Assistant Editor with a background in magazine journalism. Jen started working at HarperCollins in October 2006, and admits that it took her about six months of settling into her new job in order to get over “the initial uphill learning curve.” After that, her boss guided her as a mentor along her career path by allowing her to see her role in the big picture while clearly outlining the goals she needed to reach in order to move up. Within about a year and a half, Jen was promoted from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor. In terms of which department she thinks is more difficult to move up in, Jen responded, “I think the editorial department is difficult for advancement because there are less people in the top positions so it’s quite difficult to get [ahead].”

Another colleague at HarperCollins is Greg, a 25-year-old Marketing Coordinator who felt slightly different about the marketing and editorial promotion process. Before getting into publishing, Greg negotiated online branding campaigns for General Motors. After about 6-8 months at HarperCollins, he felt very comfortable and confident in his position within the company, and was able to easily write tailored galley letters, interact with the sales department, and generally anticipate the needs of his bosses. So one year after being hired as an assistant, he decided it was time to initiate a discussion with his direct supervisor and her boss to secure a promotion to Marketing Coordinator. His proactive approach paid off. In talking about achieving his promotion within one year, Greg said, “it pays to be aggressive about getting your promotion!” Responding to whether he thinks it’s easier to move up in either marketing or editorial departments, he adamantly remarked, “Marketing, no question” since marketing is more linked to “off-the-cuff creativity and adaptation” and editorial is more of a “prestige” and time-honored position that is generally slower in terms of upward mobility.

The last person I interviewed, Michael, currently works as an Assistant Editor, but started out as a Marketing Assistant. His career at HarperCollins began when he was hired as a rotational intern in June 2005 and then as a Marketing Assistant in October 2005. Throughout his three-and-a-half year career path at HarperCollins, he mentions that two people (one in marketing and one who worked in editorial until 2007), helped him understand the commitment and enthusiasm needed to excel in the industry and the day-to-day ropes that one needed to master in order to move up and succeed in any department. These supportive coworkers, along with a well-timed opening as the publisher’s assistant, helped Michael decide to make a horizontal move and take on some editorial responsibilities, effectively shifting gears from marketing. The lateral move ultimately led to Michael’s promotion to Assistant Editor last winter, which has jump-started his career in the department that he feels suits him best. Though his path to Assistant Editor was not a straight one, Michael believes that the editorial department ultimately promotes “faster” since there are “simply more promotional steps to take.”

After learning more about my three recently promoted colleagues, it’s easy to draw some comparisons across the paths that they took to successfully move up in a fiercely competitive field. First of all, they all felt supported and mentored by their boss or an influential coworker and were comfortable enough to plead their case for promotion when the time came. Second, they all realized that they needed to get over that steep initial learning curve that comes with starting any new position. And third, they were realistic about their opportunities for advancement and the time that they needed to put in with their first position before advancing to that next level.

So while I don’t think promotions in either department come without blood, sweat, and tears (literally – paper cuts, a claustrophobic office/cube, and emotionally trying days all take their toll), and it doesn’t help that the economy is taking its toll on every industry, publishing unfortunately not excluded, it’s encouraging to remember three things when vying for a promotion. Remember to connect with influential people in your own department, as they will likely be your best resource and support when moving up. Be patient with yourself in a new position (you will get over the learning curve, but adjustments always take time). And be realistic about your advancement opportunities, especially in light of the economic downturn that necessarily changes any regular expectations for promotion. When the timing is right and all of these factors coincide, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work and dedication, whether you’re in marketing or editorial.

This post was written by Stephanie Selah.

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