Meet our graduates: Mairi Wilson
An English Literature graduate, Mairi now works as a copywriter for Cello Signal. She is the author of the company’s perspective piece on social media and the Christmas advert race.
Mairi Wilson is a home-grown talent. She grew up near Edinburgh and graduated with an MA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh in 2015.
Having completed a Creative Advertising MSc at Edinburgh Napier University, she now works as a junior copywriter in a Creative team at Cello Signal, based in Leith in the east of the city. The agency also has offices in Cheltenham and London.
Explaining her interest in advertising, and copywriting in particular, she says “I’ve always enjoyed being creative and, thanks to almost six years of working in retail, I’ve become a bit of a saleswoman. Advertising seemed the best marriage of the two.”
“Driven by my passion for creative writing and love of literature, which were nurtured by my undergraduate degree, I chose copywriting over other areas, like art direction and account management.”
A career founded in a strong grasp of language
Mairi’s route into her current position was via a two-month internship at The Leith Agency (sister-agency of Cello Signal), and a smaller placement at Scottish Television (STV). She was then offered a rolling internship at her current agency, which became a permanent contract in January this year.
Speaking about how her degree helps her in her work, she says “Studying at Edinburgh University gave me a strong grasp of language, which is the foundation of my career. It also gave me a historical overview of artistic and linguistic styles, many of which have influenced my work.”
“It instilled a fierce work ethic in me. I learned that good ideas, like good grades, do not come easily. And I’m grateful for this when it’s 10pm and I’m still sitting in work trying to think of the right line.”
"A love of books and a desire to be a writer sent me to Edinburgh University. And it’s what’s made me into a better copywriter.”
A passion for changing advertising's image
Mairi is just setting out on her career and says “Although we’ve played key roles on a number of pitches, my creative partner and I are yet to win one purely from our work. You need to be resilient to work in advertising. Ironically, it’s this lack of success that drives me”.
“One of the ads we did during our first internship was nominated for an award. We didn’t win, but it’s still something I’ll try and slip into interviews.”
Asked what inspires her, she says “A quick Netflix binge of MadMen will give you a handy glimpse at the effigy of advertising we’re trying to distance ourselves from: 99% middle-class, 30-something men.”
“As a young, female creative from a state school, I’m also passionate about changing this image.”
Exploring the connection between creativity and academia
Not all copywriters have a background in literature, but Mairi is positive about the benefits.
“Although academic study may not be the first thing your future Creative Director looks at, attending a renowned university stands entirely in your favour. It proves that you work hard and are keen to learn - something you need to show your boss.”
“My two favourite courses were Creative Writing and Savage Laughter (excellent name and shout out to Professor James Loxley). And although I completely bombed a class about theatre as performance, these three classes let me explore the connection between creativity and academia.”
“Getting an overview of literature from Chaucer right through to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has fuelled me to always argue for the importance of my copy. Words have the power to change the world (even if I’m just trying to sell whisky for the moment).”
"I studied English Literature during its 250th anniversary year, and it’s a time I will always value and treasure. I still have a few very close friends [from university]. It’s a very warm place to study and spend time. It takes all sorts to make a world, and some of the best I studied with.”
Words of advice
Mairi has some advice for current students who may be considering a career in her field.
“My lecturers at Edinburgh, and the most talented creatives I know, have something in common: they love what they do. If you’re not passionate, you won’t go far in advertising. So, take a charismatic leaf out of both their books.”
“While you will find mentors in a job like mine (and you need them), they won’t come to you, you have to go to them. Take an interest, seek out opportunities, ask for help, experience, interviews, and advice. If you fail, immediately go back with a different option. If people ignore your email, send another - they’re busy, not rude, and as long as you aren’t either, they’ll get back to you.”
“At the risk of sounding too ‘The Lion King’, stay true to who you are. If you’re funny, inject that into your work. If you’re serious, make everyone take your ideas seriously. And if you’re shy, be kind – nice people go far in advertising.”
“Finally, be ballsy. Like the Pandora Christmas adverts show: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
In November 2017, we were delighted to welcome Mairi back to the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) to talk to our current, final year students about life after LLC. In this short video, she appears alongside fellow Literature graduates, Sarah-Jane Dale and Laura Nicol.
Are you interested in studying English Literature at LLC?
Based in the first UNESCO City of Literature, we are home to the oldest department of English Literature in the UK, one of the longest established in the world. Study with us and you'll explore the varying and vital roles that literary writing plays in our lives and societies.
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