Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty about Content Marketing
In late July and early August of 2017, I spent whatever spare moments I had at a content marketing gig planning my exit. The gig, a three-month, full-time content writing job, introduced me to a wealth of knowledge on SEO, email marketing and blog posts. My co-workers were mostly pleasant people and the money—though I asked for but wasn’t successful in receiving more—was enough for me to save a decent sum over the course of the summer. And during my time there, I wrote pieces for Chicago Inno and Vogue.com and got the green light for an investigative feature for Cosmopolitan. It seemed that I was able to do journalism on the side while earning a good living at a benign 9-to-5. But there was one problem: I missed reporting.
So, at the end of my three months, I made the difficult decision to turn down the opportunity to stay at the company longer, a decision that prompted a close friend of mine to ask whether I had made the right choice as I initially struggled to get my freelance business off the ground. Looking at my numbers since early 2018, I have made a little bit more monthly than I made as a staffer. And I hope, now that I’ve acquired a new client, that my growth will continue. It has been a very rough journey, but I feel so happy to see the work pay off.
I thought about all of this recently while browsing social media and noticing a discussion about the ickiness of content marketing. As the term “content” has crept more and more into the news business, I find it useful to separate and balance the roles content and reporting have to play. A fellow writer asked others within our group how content writers got over the discomfort of content writing. This is something I’ve struggled with, too. Here’s how I’ve made my peace with it:
You’re running a business.
Part of the reason I freelance is because it’s so difficult to find a stable job in journalism. Reporters are being laid off left and right. Publications have shuttered entirely. Outlets across the country are suffering, driving freelance rates far lower than they once were pre-internet. But as freelancers, we’re small business owners. And business owners have to find multiple revenue streams. Content marketing happens to be a good way to use your transferrable journalistic skills to drive sales.
You’re acting ethically.
You should never accept payments from sources who want press coverage. Though it has reportedly happened at outlets like HuffPost, Entrepreneur and Forbes, it’s an absolute no-no! My content marketing services are provided for industries that I don’t see myself writing about in the foreseeable future like uniform rental services or time tracking software. As long as you don’t do something that damages your credibility, you should be fine. If you feel like an ethical conflict may occur later, don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
Content marketing clients are nice.
Journalism is where my heart is, but as is true in life, love and money don’t always mix. Because the news business is suffering, freelance rates are often pretty low. Of course, you want to aim for the holy grail of high-end per word rates, perhaps features for high-profile magazines. As you climb toward higher paying publications, you’ll be hit with subpar rates from local and regional publications along the way. Meanwhile, content marketing clients, in my experience, pay well, pay on-time, and are eager to have writers with a journalism background. They’re also, in my opinion, a bit more likely to tell me when I’ve done something right. For that, I’m deeply appreciative of my content marketing clients, because I know they value me.
It’s the advertising to your editorial.
It’s no secret that many publications are pivoting to a subscription model. Now that print and digital advertising are declining, more publications are turning to subscriptions to supplement their ad slump or becoming mini-ad agencies for brands looking to advertise in their publications. When it comes to my own freelance business, I know that content writing has enabled me to spend time on stories of which I’m most proud. I can live comfortably without worrying if I’m going to pay my rent. I can focus on the thing that matters most to me, which is telling stories that matter.
How do you balance content marketing gigs with freelance reporting? Tell me in the comments or email me at email@example.com.