Let me clear this up first – this is not about real estate. (Pause to allow time for anyone exiting….) This is about finding myself in sales without realizing it. The one constant through my resumé of work adventures is the general activity of selling geography in different ways. Really, many of us in this field often serve as geography salespeople at one point or another, and honestly, maybe we should be more deliberate about it. People interact with geography every day, so as geographers, maybe we should try to share the insights offered by our field when we get the chance to do so, to share the benefits of a geographical lens as we all do our best to get by and share space.
I fell into teaching. If you stay in school long enough, they eventually lure you into it. If you are first-time teaching geography at the college level, there’s a good chance you’ve landed an introductory elective. Your students are most likely there to check a curriculum box, not itching to dive into the discipline. So there you are as a geographer, in front of people who maybe didn’t even realize the world had geographers, or that they did more than compete in non-spelling bees. (Does this sound familiar to anyone: Being the lone geographer at your organization, on your project, or attending a meeting? Surrounded by people unfamiliar with your profession and maybe needing some convincing of its relevance?)
While teaching was terrifying, I remembered I quite liked this geography thing. At first, promoting the field was probably about trying to justify my life choices, but soon I found myself championing it whenever I could. Geography is a mechanism you can use to relate with anyone – even grumbly, I-don’t-want-to-be-here freshmen (or cynical, what-do-we-need-a-geographer-for collaborators). I’ve found it as handy for social skills as for analytical thinking. Geography and its real-world revelations of connectedness provides those wonderful ‘Aha!’ moments for students (and for colleagues). I lived for those: For teaching that geography is useful to their lives, not just their transcripts. That geographers do exist and have a lot to offer. I wanted to sell them on geography, on thinking spatially, for their benefit. I think many geographers feel like this.
I didn’t convert any new majors, just aimed to nudge some minds to be more geography-inclined. Maybe that is a good underlying motivation for all of us — to help others be more geographically aware in an everyday, useful way. Hats off to all those sellers of geography in the classroom at all levels. You are the initial geography ambassadors. You are the ones that brought most of us here. And we’re grateful.
Outreach is one of those work areas that, honestly, seemed as vague to me as consulting — and then I found myself doing it. Instead of working in geography, I found myself working for geography — at a nonprofit, advocating (selling) for the discipline. It could be talking to students about career opportunities, talking to employers about the benefits of hiring a geographer, or talking to researchers or organizations about why they should collaborate with geographers.
At the Esri User Conference, the acclaimed “mappiest place on Earth,” I was asked by a shipping company executive why they should hire geographers. It was delivered a bit like a challenge. There, in one of the most spatial events on the planet, teeming with the most spatially-minded people, I was still getting asked, “WHY geography? WHY geographers?” I wonder how many geographers, from new graduates to career-established professionals, regularly find themselves having to make a case for geography — for what they do, for the expertise they bring, for how their perspective is valuable. Have you ever, impromptu or planned, delivered a sales pitch for geography? If so, we thank you for it. Every time you do so, you help to push for more opportunities for, and visibility of, geographers. Every sale counts.
There is a need for geography outreach to geographers — for helping them to sell their own trade. It’s not about memorizing a sales pitch delivered verbatim with rehearsed enthusiasm. It’s about helping geographers convert their own passion, skills, and versatility into a story that connects with others. From students wanting to explain their field and its prospects to their parents, faculty making the case for geography degree programs and departments, employees suggesting the establishment or expansion of geospatial technology at their organization, or researchers proposing why they are best suited as geographers to carry out a particular project. Each of these circumstances requires selling geography to a different audience, and each sale is quite crucial.
I’m now a mapmaker turned maker with maps, selling geography-inspired goods, but I still regularly sell geography as a discipline. I’m not in the classroom. I’m not on the conference circuit. I’m at markets, interacting with a wide range of people around the focal point of geography. I learn about their connection to places and I share mine with them. We pour over old maps together and I sneak in mentions of mapping techniques. It’s a great example of the real magic of our discipline. Geography brings people into my space, into conversation with me, who otherwise would have just been another stranger I passed on the street.
When customers ask about how I got started, the discussion often leads to talk of career paths and what geographers do. When people mention that a young one (their own child or a relative) loves maps, I want to give away any and all things to connect with that geographer-in-training. My pitches from prior roles still come in handy too. At a recent market (where I had my first ever slice of homemade cheese pie), a grandmother asked me, “What kind of job can my grandson get if he majors in geography?” He sheepishly stood right next to her with a look of “I’m sorry she asked but could you help me with an answer?” I didn’t make a product sale in that moment. I went for a geography sale, and frankly, it was as satisfying as the cheese pie. And that’s saying something.
We need to be in sales.
We see geography everywhere, and the work of geographers everywhere, but many people don’t…..yet. There are many opportunities to sell geography and many benefits to knowing how to do so, not least among them as a reminder to yourself of what you do and why you do it. Pitching anything on the spot can be daunting, but less so if you are ready for it. Practice your geography sales pitch. Hone your elevator speech about your career, your field, and what it has to offer. I promise it won’t be a waste of your time. You’ll end up using it. In fact, it might come in handy more than you think.
Do we have a deal?
What is YOUR geography sales pitch? What are your go-to one-liners, favorite resources or articles, or best stories/examples that you share to sell the importance of geography? If you’re willing, share them here. Let’s pool our sales experience. Let’s help each other be ready to sell geography. I hope to summarize your contributions to share in a future column!
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