Jan-Harmen Meijerink graduated from Communication Science in 2005, a time when it was even uncertain if the study would continue to exist. He was an active student, being a writer and eventually the editor in chief of our very own Medium Magazine during 2003 and even going so far as to create the editor’s counsel for Medium Magazine in order to make sure the knowledge that was gained was passed on onto the next generation of aspiring writers/communication professionals. Later on, he taught internal communication. Nowadays, Jan-Harmen works at ABN AMRO as a copywriter and communication professional.
Hi Jan-Harmen! Go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you and what do you do?
Hi, so I’m Jan-Harmen, 38 years old. I live here in Amsterdam. I work at the marketing and communication department of the ABN AMRO as a copywriter. I work in teams of different disciplines on marketing campaigns. A campaign that I worked on which is currently still running is the one on ‘spaarverslimmers’. It’s a television commercial. It’s a campaign that requires a lot of texts to be written, like emails to clients for example. The campaign was born out of a research which dug into what were the biggest concerns among our clients. The research found that most clients worry about the interest rate on their savings account, which is quite low. Through this campaign we are trying to provide our clients with alternatives they can use that money for. As a copywriter I provide the company with three kinds of texts, the first one is campaign texts. The second is texts for events and the last one is duty of care mailings, e-mails to inform clients about changes that can affect them in some kind of way
Like when the interest rates on their savings account change?
Yes, something like that for example, or when there is a new product. If conditions change, we must always inform our clients. So these are the kind of texts you HAVE to write. They are often quite boring, but still very important and they have to very clearly explain what is changing to our client. Campaign texts, then, tend to be more commercial. They have a goal of motivating people to undertake some kind of action. Then the last one, texts written for events, are for example when the ABN AMRO is a sponsor of a certain event. For instance the recent Dutch Design week in Eindhoven. We usually have seminars on some topic, like sustainable investing. We send invites to these seminars to clients who we think might be interested and then we also grant them free access to the related event. These texts have a completely different tone of voice then duty of care mailings. They are mostly meant to describe what the client can expect during the night. You’re actually describing the setting to them in the text.
What do you like most about your job?
What I like is that I have a lot of freedom to experiment and figure out what works best. Especially with campaign mails. For example, when is a client more likely to click on a button? I make two versions of a text, version A with a picture of a women and version B with a picture of a man. Then you check which one generates the most clicks and what the client does after. So you have to guess upfront what would work best. You always have some kind of hypothesis.
So you actually also do research?
Yes, that’s right. Together with a data analyst. He is responsible for making sure that the right version of an email gets to the right clients and then he also has to analyze what the client does afterwards. Anyway, I get to see the results of this analysis and I really like that, because then you find out what really works.
Okay guys, we’re not sure if this study will still exist in six months, because the examination board gave us a red card.
Nice! So I was wondering, you started Communication Science in 1999 and did a master straight after. What was your experience of the study program like?
I found it quite chill that you had only 8 contact hours, ha-ha. I also liked the fact that it was a lot of self-study. Half of the classes you had were lectures and the other half was tutorials. I liked the tutorials, because you had the opportunity to make something every week, like an essay or presentation. It was something I was good at. Doing all that reading wasn’t really my strong point. I studied psychology for a while before switching to Communication Science and I found it to be way too theoretical. It’s quite funny, because my very first lecture started with the line: ‘Okay guys, we’re not sure if this study will still exist in six months, because the examination board gave us a red card.’
At the time, the bachelor was really growing, there was a record-breaking number of first year students. About 560, I believe. They just didn’t have enough teachers for the number of students. So, they got a second warning for that. That is actually the year in which they implemented having a bunch of tutorials. I was wondering what I had gotten myself into and if I had made the right choice when I heard this. Luckily, they let the bachelor live forth.
What a relief. Is there anything you did during your studies to which you look back on now, which makes you say ‘wow, that was actually super useful’?
I was planning to graduate within four years, but in the end, I added two more years to my bachelor. During those two years I wrote my thesis and became the secretary of the Sport’s board. I also started editing and writing for Medium. That’s when I learned what I really like doing. So that was really useful. I also did a minor in the Dutch language, focused on journalistic writing and argumentation, writing and rewriting of texts. You get to put writing into practice a lot, which really comes in handy.
What did you do after your studies?
I really liked writing my thesis, so I asked my thesis supervisor if there is a job where you can research news and he was like, yes that exists. You do research on how companies are represented in the news and you write reports on that. Then you present those reports to companies. I worked there for two and a half years. One of the perks of the job was that you read a lot of news, so at some point you know exactly how which company is represented in the media. At some point I decided I wanted to write more so I put my resume online. I got a call from a recruiter who told me they were looking for an editor in text design. So I did that in order to write more. After a few years for ING, I was looking for a new challenge and that’s when I started my job at ABN AMRO.
How has communication changed as a discipline over time?
I feel like when I was studying Communication Science a lot of stuff was based on social psychology. Nowadays, we have so much data. We can use this data for so many things. Even at my current job, when I send out emails, we can see who actually opens the email and reads it and then what they do after. Back in the day, they would just send letters and there was no way of knowing if a person actually read a letter or just threw it out without opening it, so that’s pretty cool. I also like that nowadays there are so many channels through which we can reach people. In the past, companies would place all their bets on tv commercials. That is clearly something that’s in the past, so companies really have to think about the best way to reach people.
Lastly, I would like to ask if you have any advice for current students of Communication Science?
Gaining experience by practice is a must, doing things next to your studies is a great way to learn what you like to do and gain experience in. Seeing what you like and you don’t like is very valuable. Communication is a very practical discipline and you can only learn by doing, so try to gain as much experience as possible. I can recommend that to everyone.
Cover: Kristina Arnaudova / Final Editors: Ivo Martens & Thomas Korver