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June 23rd, 2014

Knowledge, Relevance, and Speed: What Brand Publishers Are Looking For in Freelancers

Last Wednesday, the brightest minds in brand publishing gathered together at the Bowery Hotel in SoHo for the Contently Summit. Throughout the day, we asked some of the brands, publishers, and agencies what qualities they’re looking for when hiring freelance writers and designers. Here’s what they had to say:

On writers:

Ben Tamblyn, Manager of Storytelling at Microsoft:

I think they’ve got to have a background. Quite often I’ll leverage some of my Kurt Vonnegut [knowledge] and ask them to give me an example of that type of story, and to think about it from a corporate context. I’ll generally ask for a few examples. We’ve now got five or six really great freelance writers who have a lot of those skill sets, that have got the ability to not only understand technology but also translate it into a language that everyone else can understand.

Elizabeth Quiñones, Content Manager at Noodle Education

In addition to finding a writer who has writing experience and who’s passionate about the subject matter she’ll be covering, I like to work with writers who are receptive to feedback. I’ve worked with writers who were not receptive to edits and requests for article adjustments. If I find that a writer is difficult to work with…I am very inclined not to give that writer any more assignments.

Laura Mignott, Cofounder/Managing Partner at Digital Flash:

I have to see what they actually write and also how fast they write. Oftentimes, we’ll have a project and it needs to be done relatively quickly, but it also needs to be high-quality. What we’re looking for is people that are able to turn out really great content really efficiently. We’ll normally see their profile and have them write a quick sample about a topic to see how fast they get it back to us.

Meghan Graham, Vice President of Women’s Content at DEFY Media:

The most important thing is that they’ve read the site that they’re pitching to and they know what kind of stuff we write, and they just pitch things that are useful for us to be publishing. We get a lot of emails from people who say, ‘I’m a freelance writer who writes about X and I would like to write for your publication.’ Well, if you write finance, we’re not going to put it on a fashion site, so you’re just kind of shooting your foot with that. But if you know that we happen to do a lot of personal essays on a certain subject and you really connected with an essay that we did and you want to send us something similar, it’s a lot more likely that we’ll be publishing that.

Olivia Koski, Head of Community at Atavist:

We want writers who demonstrate experience in long-form narrative non-fiction. A lot of our stories are 10,000-15,000 words, so the types of pieces that we commission are deeply reported stories. The writer really understands the story in terms of the narrative but also in terms of the potential issues around it, if there’s an investigative side to it. It’s the best narrative writing combined with the best of journalism.

Tarek Pertew, Cofounder of Wakefield Media:

The most critical thing is that all of our freelance writers do the research, so they have to discover really interesting companies. They have to have a knack for discoverability. But also for us, voice is very particular, because we’re a publication that sends daily emails with a very particular voice, so we’re not really a broad media house like the New York Times or Mashable where we have a bunch of different voices. A writer that has our voice is critical—intelligent with a little hint of snark.

On designers:

Aniq Rahman, President of Moat:

The first thing is portfolio. If I see the portfolio and if I can get a recommendation, that’s also really key, because I want to make sure they’re easy to work with, that they meet deadlines, and that they’re really detail-oriented. I tend to actually favor designers that are technical. Maybe they don’t necessarily code, but they have an understanding of front-end coding so they know what is possible with JavaScript and HTML, etc. My company tries to reach more of a B2B audience, so [we look for] designers that have familiarity with consumerizing B2B and making it fun and accessible.

Jay Schacher, Art Director at Klick Health:

[We're looking for] someone that can think strategically but be really creative. Strategic is not just designing pretty pictures but also understanding the audience and knowing what to think, not just for yourself, but more so for the people that the product is for and the brand is for.

Laura Mignott, Cofounder/Managing Partner at Digital Flash:

We’re looking for people who have a certain aesthetic that fits the type of brand. If we’re doing a more fashion-oriented brand, guy or girl, their portfolio really shows and demonstrates a great understanding of color and aesthetics, so that when they actually make something, it looks beautiful. Normally, I wouldn’t use a street illustrator for a high-fashion brand because that’s not going to fit well in terms of the design. However, if I have a client that needs rock ‘n roll, funky colors, that’s going to make much more sense for that kind of brand.


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