Alumni Services

Career Journeys: working in the Culture and Heritage sector

Rebecca Leary works in communications at Edinburgh World Heritage. Here she shares her career journey of working in the culture and heritage sector.

Name Rebecca Leary
Degree Course MA (Hons) English Literature
Year of Graduation 2014

What path has your career taken since graduation?

My career has taken a varied path. When I graduated, I capitalised on three summers spent working for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society in their ‘Fringe Central’ department, where staff provide admin and emotional support as well as professional development opportunities to fringe participants. This gave me great experience in how the festival city worked, and at its busiest time of year.

From that, I landed a full-time role at the Traverse Theatre as an Administrator. This was a huge opportunity to see how a producing house worked up-close and was an excellent introduction to a career in culture. After 2 years, I moved to a smaller touring company which produced work for Scotland’s youngest citizens (0-5-year-olds). While these were incredible opportunities, I found it difficult to progress beyond my pay grade in organisations heavily affected by cuts from core funders and with limited resources.

At this time, I also undertook the Federation of Scottish Theatre’s Mentorship programme. This programme connects people in the early stages of their careers with established industry professionals to enable them to plot out their next steps. By the end of this period, I realised I needed to move on to move up, and I decided to seek out contract work in order to maximise development opportunities.  I took on a 6-month contract as Marketing Officer at Underbelly’s Edinburgh office where I worked on the Festival Fringe, Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. Following the end of that contract I delivered the festival marketing campaign for Luminate, Scotland’s Creative Ageing organisation in May 2019, which was also 6 months.

Currently, I am Communications Officer at Edinburgh World Heritage, the organisation responsible for protecting and promoting the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am responsible for our internal and external communications, including marketing and press. I have oversight across all our social media channels, as well digital (website and email campaigns), press, PR and advocacy. For example, in December 2019 we launched our 20th anniversary campaign with celebrity endorsements of our work (Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith featured – the English Literature student in me was very happy!) which promoted our membership offer. We also launched educational resources with Royal Mile Primary School children and their teachers, including online resources for teachers and pupils which enable them to use the World Heritage Site as a learning tool for history lessons on Mary, Queen of Scots, the Jacobites, and the Scottish Enlightenment.

Now I’m working with colleagues on a microsite which tells the story of one of our international projects based in two Turkish cities and in Edinburgh. It’s a great example of how conservation works in areas of conflict (one of the cities is very close to the Syrian border) and is an important tool for communicating the broad reach of such an initiative.

How have you used the skills and/or knowledge developed during your degree in your career?

I use my skills and experience from uni every single day. Skills development is absolutely a journey, and I am always revisiting a lot of what I picked up as an undergraduate. For example, in my current role, a lot of what we post on social media needs to be accurate because we are a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ve been relying a lot on research skills, such as knowing what a reliable source looks like, or being able to paraphrase something written for an academic audience to make it engaging for a totally different one (digital, mostly not experts).

Becoming confident in giving presentations and speaking up in seminars mean I have a great background in public speaking when I give talks on World Heritage, which I did last month for members of the public.

Even something as seemingly universal as proofreading – I do it every single day, and from that I have learned what I need to do to recognise errors (give myself time to step away and re-read later, print it out, read it out loud).

Also, “managing up” will become one of your greatest skills, especially when you enter the workplace. The ability to have a balanced relationship with tutors, lecturers, and professors that walks the line between something akin to friendship and a more professional relationship, will be crucial when you are dealing with managers.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in your area of work?

Engage in what’s going on in your industry on every side. In my case, that applies to both communications and marketing (new digital tools, social media developments, new companies, new customer behaviours) and culture (Edinburgh- and Scotland-based, festivals, city management, heritage and conservation). Sign yourself up to Google Alerts for key words and phrases. If you can, pay for a subscription to a newspaper to get full access to their content. Sign up to newsletters for organisations you want to work for. Have an online presence – especially on LinkedIn. Check for any part-time roles you could apply for. Ask what volunteering or internship opportunities they have – Edinburgh World Heritage currently has three in-office volunteers, two of whom are in the middle of their studies.