Backpack Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Bertram

April 10, 2020

When did you graduate and what did you study? What were you involved in?

In 2015 I graduated with a major in cultural anthropology and a minor in retail. I was also fortunate enough to study abroad twice. The first time was with [one of] the U of M’s three-week study abroad trips, in which I walked the Camino de Santiago. The second time, I studied abroad in Florence. It was this experience in Florence that led me to add the minor in retail, as I was inspired to find a way to blend my interests in anthropology and design.

What is your current position? What do you enjoy most about where you're working and what you're doing?

I’m lucky to have found a pretty unique role. I am currently working as a Cultural Strategist at a full-service ad agency in Los Angeles. My department is a department of just two people (we work within the larger strategy department), and we serve as the go-to people for any and all research needs. What I really love about the role is that I am able to bring in my academic studies in a really unique way. Not every ad agency has a team of anthropologists on staff, and I am grateful to be one.

What has your career path looked like thus far, and what is your vision for your professional career?

My career path has been a journey, to say the least. After completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, I decided to continue my studies by pursuing a graduate education in applied cultural analysis at the University of Copenhagen. While my bachelor’s education was essential foundational knowledge, my graduate education taught me to apply ethnographic research (among other methodologies) in a business context. From there I took two different brand strategy internships—the second of which turned into a full-time role. While I was thankful for everything I was learning as a traditional brand strategist, I found myself missing opportunities to conduct primary qualitative research. I was excited when my current role opened up, and am glad to be here now! 

What role did Backpack (CLAgency) play in your undergraduate career?

I was a member of CLAgency 1.0, and it has been amazing following along and seeing how it has evolved over the years, [especially] now into Backpack. I am excited to see what’s to come! For me, CLAgency played an essential role. Before it was created, I didn’t really know what I could do with a degree in anthropology and didn’t really feel like I had a clear path. CLAgency showed me that I could apply my thinking in so many business contexts, particularly within an ad agency. I am very grateful for that guiding experience, and am proud that the U of M has supported this initiative. 

Any advice for students?

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but network, network, network. For the internship (the one that turned into my first full-time job), there wasn’t an opening—I just reached out. For my current role, I connected with my now-supervisor about three years prior, and we just kept in touch. When he found the budget to expand his team, he encouraged me to apply, and here I am. As you can see, not one of my jobs was from simply applying, but from [also] reaching out. LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for that, but Slack is increasingly being used as a networking and job tool. You can find a huge range of Slack channels to get started, from anthrodesign to Ladies Who Strategize.