What to look for in a content writer
In his post What to Look for in Freelance Writers, the “content marketing evangelist” (his words) Joe Pulizzi advises content marketers and digital publishers on finding the right type of content writer for their specific need.
Joe comes from the US. I’m European. So there might be a cultural disconnect of sorts here, but having read the article linked to above, I felt compelled to add my two cents.
Talking about hiring an external content writer, Joe’s number one bullet point talks about the writer’s personality trumping industry expertise. I have an issue with that.
If you’re an industrial company, the right personality will be nice to work with, sure, but be aware that you will have to spend a considerable amount of resources—time if not money—to train your new-found writer in the intricacies of your industry, your competitive situation and your goals. Are you prepared to make the investment, or would you rather go with someone hitting the ground running?
No professional content writer would have attained his or her status or kept alive if they had constantly been at loggerheads with their clients. “With whom you can’t stand to be in the same room with” is, pardon me, ridiculously far-fetched. At least here in Europe, we writers can’t afford to have egos larger than our competence.
Joe quite rightly emphasises that when you’re hiring, you should hire the type of writer who is best suited to the project at hand. Where I see it starting to go in a strange direction is “Understand that copywriters work very differently and have very different sensibilities than do journalists.”
It looks like someone is trying to squeeze us writers in far too small pigeonholes here. “If you’re looking for someone to write blog posts for you, a copywriter is probably not your best bet” leads me to assume Joe’s idea of a copywriter is someone with a dose of arrogance and high-flying “creativity” that is best suited for aggressive consumer advertising.
It’s a common mistake to understand “freelance copywriter” as being some kind of a hack between jobs or a moonlighter. A serious, professional copywriter will naturally adapt to the circumstances, take into account on whose behalf he or she is writing and to what kind of audience. Let me give some examples of what I personally have written about:
- Customer magazine articles for an oil refining company
- Article on deep-sea submersibles
- Brochures and print ads for paper mill condition monitoring system manufacturer
- Marketing material about cast iron, particleboard and building restoration
- Direct mail campaigns for an aircraft manufacturer, industrial security company, internationally operating construction company etc
- Website copy ranging from one-woman footwear company to Northern Europe’s largest IT services company
- Email campaign for a business gift company
- And so on
As you can see, this spectrum calls for persuasiveness, the ability to grasp complex technical issues and the competence to write about a wide range of topics in a human-understandable voice. It looks like the niches on this side of the pond are more flexible.
Under “Develop the right business relationship” it seems the client gets to dictate the terms of the assignment. Sure, the client must always get what is required when it’s required, but what works when dealing with content farms won’t fly with a serious, professional writer. An assignment is always a two-way street. The writer commits to fulfilling his side of the deal, and so should the client. For example, if your piece is required in 2 days, it’s unfair to expect the writer to consent to payment in 90 days.
The pay-for-performance model is a double-edged sword if there ever was one. The online success of any piece of content is dependent on so many factors outside of the writer’s control that it’s a professional suicide to accept payment based on performance.
What I wholeheartedly support is Joe’s last subhead: Before Diving In… Test. Yes. Because it will very soon reveal whether the work relationship is going to be a long-term one, taking into consideration both the personal chemistry and the quality of writing aspects.
What’s your view? As a content writer or someone hiring a writer? It would be great to have a comment from you.