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National Press Club

Custom content industry needs freelancers, says Club panel

September 26, 2014 | By Tam Harbert |

Andrew Seibert, managing partner of custom content agency Imprint, told a National Press Club audience on Sept. 17 that most of the firm's projects are done by freelancers.

Andrew Seibert, managing partner of custom content agency Imprint, told a National Press Club audience on Sept. 17 that most of the firm's projects are done by freelancers.

It goes by many names – custom content, content marketing and brand journalism are just a few. Whatever you call it, it’s a growing and high-paying market for freelancers.

That was the theme of a Sept. 17 panel on custom content, sponsored by the National Press Club Freelance Committee. Attendees heard from two custom content editors; the head of the Content Council, the industry’s trade association; and two writers with experience in custom content.

Panelists highlighted the opportunities, including:

• Relatively high pay: anywhere from $1 to $2.50 a word, according to panelists
• Plenty of work: custom content publishers are looking for good freelancers
• Variety of work: assignments can be magazine-style features, blog posts
video/audio segments and white papers, among other things

Brock Meeks, executive editor for Atlantic Media Strategies, explained the “brand journalism” that Atlantic Media produces, noting that it is very similar to traditional journalism. The company has so many new clients that he has a constant need for freelancers.

“The favorite saying of our president these days is, ‘We are going to need a bigger boat,’” Meeks said.

Custom magazines at McMurry/TMG typically use freelancers to write 40 to 50 percent of their content, said Chris Blose, executive content editor at the company.

Nearly all the writing at custom content agency Imprint is done by freelancers, said Andrew Seibert, managing partner of Imprint and chairman of the Content Council.

The two moderators of the panel, Freelance Committee members Tam Harbert and Scott Sowers, shared their experiences.

Harbert, who said custom has grown to make up more than 65 percent of her income, described the different types of custom work available. Sowers shared some of the frustrations he’s experienced with custom publishing, including multiple layers of editors that provided contradictory directions.

The panelists discussed whether it was a conflict of interest for journalists to write both for independent publications and for custom content publishers. Opinions covered the spectrum, from a strict policy of doing one or the other, but not both, to the possibility of doing both, depending on various factors.

“You have to use common sense,” Blose said. “If you are an investigative journalist covering the drug industry, then you probably shouldn’t do a piece sponsored by a pharmaceutical company.”

Panelists stressed that they want freelancers who specialize in particular areas rather than generalists. They also want writers to be flexible and willing to adapt to the process of custom content creation.

“We look for good listeners,” Seibert said. “We want a person who really listens and doesn’t bring an agenda. You are writing for a particular audience, so you need to listen and get to know that audience.”

An audio recording of the entire panel session is available until Oct. 2.