How to snap up writers like a commissioning editor

February 24, 2015 4:05 pm

We often help organisations find writers for their content programmes, which are increasingly well-funded and focused on high-quality. That kind of sourcing is all about tapping experts – whether internal or external – who will give a core content team or editor depth and breadth. But how? Quill 2
This post will give an overview of looking internally and externally for such help. Let’s start with your colleagues.

‘Corporate writers’?
Stop right there. If you cast the net within your organisation for ‘writers’ or anything else that sounds like a call for the next Mark Twain you will be making your job much harder. We’d advise starting by simply asking for help with some ideas.

If we were to order what makes the best contributors, good ideas would top our list. Does someone – and we’ll get to the someone in a moment – have something to say? If they don’t, you’re organisation is wasting time. Having ideas, preferably unique or useful or exciting ideas, must come first.
Next we look for people who are consistent and reliable. Remember, success is a habit.

Then we’d list those who are eloquent – who can write or even speak well.
Finally, we would look at job titles, though we understand the reality of most companies feeling the need for top brass to have their name against content.

Who?
Why don’t you only want to have executives with their names on your content? For one thing, and we bang on about this, others within the organisation have plenty of value that’s worth sharing. Think about front-line support staff, engineers, longest-serving staff members. Cast the net wide. Be inclusive.

We guarantee it’ll mean a better mix of content, take the pressure off the C-suite and marketers, reflect well on the organisation and resonate with your audience.

But they’re writers, right?
To say it one more time, your best internal contributors don’t have to be natural writers. If they have a message, you can speak to them and get the bones of their argument written down. Every day you probably read a number of ‘ghosted’ articles. You, as their editor, can do this ghost-writing or you can call in external specialists who do this all the time.

There is an anti-ghostwriting movement. It’s more prominent in the US and has grown as lots of inauthentic social media accounts have been created. But we still think ghostwriting has a place and is valid if the person whose name appears – what’s known as the byline – has been involved.

Pros
Whether as an alternative to internal contributors or alongside them, there are plenty of professional writers who can help you with your content. You will find domain experts across every field imaginable, many with decades of experience working with people just like you.

But they cost more, right? You will definitely see an external cost for anyone who is any good. We’d urge caution around those willing to provide copy for free or at very low rates, probably hiding behind a webmail address and asking to be paid via PayPal.

But consider the cost of internal contributors. How much is half an hour of your CFO’s time worth? As opposed to hiring a professional editor, for example, how long would it have taken you to find the right team of contributors and convince them the gig is right for them?

First try word of mouth and trusted contacts, including other agencies, to find the right people. There are also services such as Contently in the US and Content Cloud in the UK that act as a kind of marketplace bringing together writers and brands. Even some media publications use them.
It is common to think about writers pitching you. That will happen, just as it happens at established publications every day. But reckon on you pitching them about half the time.

Know what you want. Know how to sell your content efforts, from a pilot project through to an established brand publication. Know how much you can pay – most freelance contributors will work to a set fee or price per word. Be sure to ask what is and isn’t included.

Finally, do you want external contributors who write under their own names – which might come with some caché and therefore added cost – or write anonymously? It’s your call – unless a writer expressly doesn’t want their name to be used.

Lastly – ‘the soup’
We also wanted to say something about a technique that means you will never run out of content.

One editor we used to work with referred to his “soup”. What he meant was that at any one time he had a number of stories, ideas and contributors bubbling away. Maybe they weren’t needed for a week or two. Some maybe never at all. (Ed: Those burnt bits on the rim of the pot?) But content was always there at a moment’s notice, usually after a little customisation to suit circumstances.

Even think about some people – busy internal stakeholders, trusted third-parties, consultants – as ideas people, with others as the doers.

Increasingly your job might be to get a content programme running, maintain it and improve the results over time. Commissioning like a pro will be a key part of all that.

* photo credit: Prehistorisch Dorp #7 via photopin (license)

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