http://blog.ebyline.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Freelance-Landscape.jpgFreelancers Turn to Content MarketingBrands are beginning to create and promote helpful, relevant content on a large scale.

The Lay Of The Land: Opportunities And Pay In Freelancing

Freelancers Turn to Content MarketingBrands are beginning to create and promote helpful, relevant content on a large scale. American Express’s OPEN Forum and Target’s A Bullseye View are perfect examples of effective content marketing. But from a freelance journalist’s point of view, writing content that ultimately promotes a business can be uncharted territory. So what’s the state of this junction of journalism and marketing today?

To learn more about the content marketing landscape, we spoke to two freelance writers who also run their own online writers’ groups.

Carol Tice launched Make a Living Writing in 2008 to help other writers keep up with the ever-changing state of the freelancing world. She also runs The Freelance Writers Den, a members-only site that focuses on helping freelancers grow their incomes.

Jennie Phipps has managed Freelance Success for over a decade, creating newsletters and providing a forum where freelancers can discuss everything from business management to new work opportunities. She has also done plenty of her own writing, contributing to sites from Bankrate to FOX Business.

Both women had plenty to say about their experiences writing material for corporate patrons, and it all points to an interesting turning point in the worlds of content marketing and freelance writing.

Ethics

Generally, freelancers don’t appear to have a problem with the potential ethical entanglements related to covering news for brands. Carol Tice views it as just another journalistic opportunity, though it does have some limitations. “Ethically I have no problem [with brand journalism]. It’s not an outlet for investigative journalism but it is a good outlet for how-to journalism.”

Jennie Phipps agrees. “There’s no conflict inherent in doing both journalistic and marketing work.” While she heard plenty of grumbling two or three years ago about content marketing being a soul-smothering endeavor for journalists, it has become an important part of many freelancers’ regular income.

Under the right circumstances, brand journalism should ideally contain unbiased information. Companies who skew their content one way or the other run the risk of alienating their audiences, essentially undermining the core concept of content marketing. An unreliable source of news and information is less likely to bring in the customer base most businesses need. At the end of the day, a brand’s reputation is on the line, and unsavory conduct can quickly turn into a public relations nightmare.

Reputation is also something freelancers need to consider. As content marketing budgets grow, there’s an opportunity to become a sought-after expert in certain verticals. Played the right way, this is a chance to build up a career based on a certain type of content.

Jennie Phipps of Freelance Success

Jennie Phipps of Freelance Success

Pay

So how does brand journalism work compensate freelancers? While high level journalism still pays well, the work is increasingly hard to come by. Well-known content farms like the struggling Demand Media provide the low end of the compensation spectrum, often paying just pennies per word, though the work is typically less labor intensive. Creating content for brands, however, seems to be an agreeable middle ground for many freelancers. Tice, for example, made $2 per word on a recent project.

Many freelancers boil their time down to an hourly rate rather than using pay metrics like cost per word. As many project rates drop, however, freelancers turn to volume to compensate for their lost wages. “The way freelance pay is structured has changed radically in the last five years…if you’re going to be slow and meticulous it can be hard to make a living,” says Phipps. But even then, brand journalism usually still stands up as a lucrative part of a freelancer’s income.

In another example, Carol Tice recently earned a rate in the neighborhood of $100 per hour writing for the online lending exchange Lending Tree. That’s well above typical rates for writers and even better pay than the average registered nurse makes. The downside? This type of work can be difficult to come by.

Availability

One of the biggest problems with working on content for large companies is project availability. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 30% of the average company’s marketing budget will go towards content marketing in 2014. With large B2B companies with marketing spends in the millions entering the game, that’s good news for freelancers. With further marketing budget growth, project availability will ideally expand.

The downside, however, is always going to be the large number of available freelancers. As print publications and traditional newsrooms continue to downsize, seasoned journalists turn to freelance work, flooding the marketplace. This is one of the real threats to the future of brand journalism, at least from the freelancers’ perspective. As Jennie Phipps puts it, “there’s no barrier to becoming a freelancer.” There is really no weeding-out process for writers, beyond building a portfolio. Intermediary companies help in this regard; they can create narrower talent pools and in turn make it easier for brands to find the quality content they demand.

LendingTree's content offerings.

Carol Tice found well-paying work when LendingTree built up its content offerings.

The Future

So where does the future of content marketing rest? In terms of pay, it’s going to be important for writers to prove the value of high quality content. The money is out there, and as the demand for good reporting increases, freelancers are poised to benefit. But it’s not a done deal.

“People have to resist the industry urge to take $100 for a post just because it’s for a blog,” says Tice. While blogs are sometimes viewed as a secondary, but necessary, marketing tool by many companies, other brands already see the opportunity in the added value of this content. And that’s leading to growth. But with that growth, freelancers need to avoid undermining their own rates. Without a set pay scale, content marketing will see some large fluctuations in pay rates, and it’s up to freelancers to take two important steps to maintain stability.

One, the quality of their content must remain top-notch. Setting the bar any lower hurts companies, customers, and the reputation of the freelance writing community.

Two, freelancers cannot settle for low rates. Once that downsliding begins, it threatens to set the industry pay standard at a low rate. This

Carol Tice

Carol Tice says brand journalism is a great marketing deal for businesses.

would effectively extinguish the opportunity at hand, driving away high-quality freelancers who command higher rates.

It’s important to remember that the writers aren’t the only party benefiting from these content marketing opportunities. Brand journalism “is a deal in the world of marketing, even at top rates. What [freelance journalists] bring to the party is reportage,” says Tice. Companies will continue to see the value in content marketing; after all, having a useful product is a surefire way to bring in — and retain — customers.

Even if some companies are still reluctant to fully embrace brand journalism, that’s still good news for freelancers on the prowl for new projects. Plus, it’s an opportunity for writers to put their best foot forward and make a name for themselves in a new space.

Overall, brand journalism is an opportunity for a symbiotic relationship, wherein brands can improve their marketing and business, and freelance journalists can make up ground lost to closing newsrooms.

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