Specialized Program in Professional Writing graduate Helen Schultheis has a “great love for storytelling, and a knack for educating and entertaining consumers.”
This is not surprising: Helen received her bachelor in arts administration (combined arts, dance) from Wagner College (New York City), a field where stories are told through art and performances. Her initial career revolved around New York’s famed fashion industry—where stories are told on the runway.
In 2008, as the assistant to the public relations director at Versace in New York City, Helen started to write her career story. Her job with this iconic fashion house included editing press releases, compiling editorial reports, coordinating events and managing media.
By 2012, Helen had become a marketing assistant for Lovely Bride, blogging and managing the company’s social media presence. Her dual position in marketing and as a senior bridal stylist (she wore many hats when the company was still small) moved her career toward being a freelance fashion stylist for companies that included Vogue, Nylon Magazine, Elle, Target, Nordstrom Rack, Kenneth Cole Productions and Sandbox Studios, among others.
Redesigning Her Career
It was during her stints in 2016 and 2017 as a creative recruiter and an interactive recruiter when Helen realized that writing marketing copy was what brought her the most joy.
“I worked for numerous fashion brands in various capacities in my 20s: PR, on-set styling/production, retail management and bridal,” Helen recalls. “But I never felt fulfilled. It was only when I started working as a marketing recruiter that I discovered copywriting. I had always loved writing but never felt I could get a decent-paying position as a writer.
“I also knew from my position as a recruiter that I could not magically get a job as a copywriter; I needed a plan—some basic education, a portfolio and connections,” she continues. “Financially speaking, I also needed to support my life in New York City, so I started looking at online programs. UC Berkeley Extension has a great reputation, and it wasn’t going to break the bank.”
“The professional writing courses helped me tremendously. I was able to focus on basic writing skills, develop my voice and then tailor that voice to fit different niches.”
Helen was also able to draw upon her fashion industry connections to move her professional writing career forward.
“Very dramatically, I quit my job as a recruiter, enrolled in the Specialized Program in Professional Writing and picked up a freelancing job in on-set fashion production from my connections at Sandbox Studio,” reminisces Helen. “I also started writing articles for Upwork clients and for other clients such as The RealReal. Needless to say, I was a very busy gal!”
Professional Writing: Helen’s New Brand
While she worked toward a career as a content writer and copywriter, Helen was also helping sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands establish themselves in the marketing and e-commerce spaces. Her freelance work included writing web content, e-commerce product descriptions and blogs for clients on Upwork.
“I essentially decided to pursue a formal education to enhance my freelance business, build a portfolio and, ultimately, land a full-time position as a copywriter,” explains Helen.
In addition to it not breaking the bank, why did she decide on UC Berkeley Extension?
“I needed a program that was extremely flexible,” she says. “I was working on set during the day, and completing schoolwork or writing for Upwork clients at night. UC Berkeley Extension’s online course environment also provided the opportunity to thoroughly read—and be inspired by—the work of my classmates, in addition to getting my work critiqued by them.
“The professional writing courses helped me tremendously. I was able to focus on basic writing skills, develop my voice and then tailor that voice to fit different niches, such as PR, social media, journalism, et cetera. The biggest lesson was that less is more: Say what you have to say in short, impactful prose. Today’s reader has a million distractions, and you need to write in a way that hooks them initially and then keeps them interested.”
Some of the most impactful lessons came from instructor Tim Peters.
“Tim gave awesome critiques of my writing and has the best sense of humor!” says Helen. “I learned so much just from reading his comments on everyone’s work. His straightforward approach to the written word in the modern age is unforgettable.”
Once she completed the specialized program, Helen looked to merge her love of writing with her background in fashion to build a new career in lifestyle writing.
But first, she had to get the job. She applied to become a junior copywriter at Stuart Weitzman, a global luxury footwear brand based in New York City. And she had to stand out from a large pool of candidates.
“Receiving a proper education in your field is typically a requirement for larger brands, and UC Berkeley Extension helped with that,” says Helen. “It is a testament to the program—and to my steadfastness in working toward the goal of becoming a fashion/lifestyle copywriter—that I was offered the position. Now in my day to day, I write copy for emails, webpages, product descriptions, retail memos and press releases—all of which I learned strategies for in my classes.”
What else does Helen see in her new future?
“I would love to have my own successful freelance business one day!” she enthuses. “I am obsessed with traveling and dream about getting paid to travel and write about my experiences. Additionally, the fashion, beauty and lifestyle industries are booming here in NYC, and I would love to have the opportunity to write more long-form content for digital publications. Let’s see where life takes me!”