Do you consider your higher ed marketing vocation to be a profession or a craft? Or maybe the better question is, Do you consider yourself to be a professional?
A lot of us like to talk about professionalism. We talk about taking a professional approach to our work — whether it falls under web development, graphic design, media relations, market research, writing, videography or any other aspect of this broad umbrella of marketing and communication.
But are we really, technically professionals?
Twenty-six years ago, when I was a fresh-faced graduate of journalism school, it was understood that the field I was about to enter was a noble craft, not a profession. One reason for that distinction was that a profession, in the traditional sense, requires an intensive academic study and typically has at its core some sort of code of ethics. The practice of medicine, for example, is one obvious example of a profession. It requires an advanced degree and its practitioners must swear to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. Accountants, lawyers and engineers also have similar requirements, and they must be licensed or registered by some oversight organization.
Journalism, though, does not require intensive academic study. In fact, three-fourths of the curricula required for my bachelor’s degree was in fields other than journalism. Also, some of the best journalists around don’t even have journalism degrees. A few don’t even have college degrees, period. (This is rarer now than it was 30-40 years ago.) And a code of ethics? The Missouri School of Journalism, my alma mater, has something called The Journalist’s Creed, which devised by Walter Williams, who founded the school and attempted to turn journalism into a profession. (He even began the creed with the statement, “I believe in the profession of journalism.”) But it wasn’t a full-fledged code of ethics, and no one who completed the academic requirements for the journalism degree had to swear upon it before they were allowed to go forth and commit journalism.
In the murky field of higher ed marketing, however, people enter from all walks of life. Things are not quite as clear cut. It’s obvious to me, though, that marketing does not fit the definition of a profession because it does not require intensive study in that particular field and it does not require a code of ethics. (Maybe it should, but that’s another kettle of fish.)
The idea of our work as “craft,” however, may rub some of us the wrong way. We like to think of ourselves as professionals in the sense that we take pride in our work and we do it well. But many of us also take more of an artisan’s approach to our work. We learn by doing, from experience and from experiment. (So do doctors, frankly, although we hope that we won’t be the subjects of their experimentation, and we hope much of that was completed in med school.)
You could argue that I’m making a big deal about semantics, and that the definition of “profession” and “professional” has changed over time, becoming more generic. But my point is this: the next time you talk about what you do as a profession, or talk about yourself as a professional, maybe you should rethink your words and think about what it is that you really do. There’s nothing wrong with being a master at one’s craft.