How Did I Get Here? From Greeting Cards to Stellar Proposals 

By Becky Petty, CP APMP 

Have you watched the movie Catch and Release? This romantic comedy embodies the phrase “only in the movies.” It was a complete box office bomb but I loved the cliche supporting characters. Kevin Smith (from Jay and Silent Bob) plays a character who writes the short poems and profound messages that Celestial Seasonings prints on tea tags. When the movie was initially released, I was in college studying general marketing and had zero professional goals. This scared me as much as it did my parents. Writing messages seemed cool. I decided my ultimate dream job was at a large greeting card manufacturer, crafting clever, meaningful greetings with just the right amount of rhyming.  

It is always a treat to get a card in the mail, right? In college, at least 95% of my “not bills” mail were cards from my grandma. Messages in her inordinately slanted cursive on a pretty card made me feel loved. I started romanticizing how I’d craft the printed messages that grandmas (and other loved ones) would want to pick out. 

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t seeing a vast amount of entry-level greeting card writer jobs on job boards in 2007. I accepted an offer in technical sales for a data center infrastructure company. This was a clear detour from crafting messages that incite joyful mom tears on Mother’s Day. But I was motivated and had a plan. I would pay my dues selling battery backups and surge protectors for a few years, then move to the company’s marketing department. From there, it would be just a small hop over to Hallmark, right? 

Looking back, if I were truly serious about making it in the greeting card business, there were probably a few more obvious paths (i.e. studying English, networking with industry professionals, or opening an Etsy card shop to prove my chops.) Essentially, everything that would require effort and nothing obvious given my bachelors in business administration. 

I wasn’t languishing at the sales job though. I didn’t write satisfying quips or craft perfectly articulated anniversary cards but I was proud to be part of a team and enjoyed helping my clients to solve power management concerns. I had no clue the proposal profession existed. My understanding of proposals was limited to contributing technical specs and pricing a few times a year. It wasn’t until a recruiter messaged me about a proposal writer position that I started to realize the value and magnitude of our profession.  

A colleague at my first proposal job said we’re the red-headed children of business development, sales, and marketing. I loved filling this niche. I was learning the Shipley process, engaged to my husband, and had a mortgage in a new city. Life wasn’t what I had predicted five years earlier. I think I always knew I wasn’t really prioritizing my “dream” job but wanted to avoid the fear that comes with not knowing (a la Roosevelt). Idealizing the greeting card gig filled my need for a tangible goal. 

The parts that I had idealized were about creating a perfect message, collaborating internally with creative people, and promoting the feeling of connection. Sound at all familiar? Yes, these are common elements of working a proposal and the foundation of my passion for our craft. 

I realized my feeling of professional success was less about achieving the goal and more about clarifying the goal. There is the picture we paint in our minds and there is reality. Likewise, Kevin Smith is a talented comedian, actor, director, and author – more dynamic than the tea tag author he once portrayed. During the pandemic lockdown, he and his daughter started a podcast to “provide plant-based answers to Vegan-curious questions.” I’m assuming that wasn’t on his radar 20 years ago. 

No job is rainbows and unicorns but if I can’t write rhyming birthday wishes and 20,000 dad jokes for a living, I’m proud to help deliver strong win themes in a compliant, responsive proposal.  

About Becky:  

Becky is an APMP Practitioner with over a decade of proposal experience. She currently works as a Pursuit Strategist for EY where she drives the adoption of leading-class pursuit excellence and account management through exceptional client service and effective people engagement and teaming. When Becky isn’t working on proposals, she enjoys taking walks and watching old movies with her family.