Career Advice

7 Things Managing Editors Want Freelancers to Know

By Colton Cox February 8th, 2018

The relationship between a freelancer and an editor is about more than an exchange of services. It’s a personal collaboration, sometimes driven by conflict, but always in support of telling the best story.

In content marketing, the relationship between writer and editor takes on another layer of importance. Since editors also act as a touch point with clients, they must ensure that the content meets a business goal. For freelancers coming from the world of traditional media and journalism, that learning curve can be tough.

To pull back the curtain, I recently spoke to Contently managing editors to learn more about what they’re looking for from freelancers. Here are seven insights that could help you get more brand work.

1. Follow the brand guidelines

Freelancers shouldn’t assume they can coast by on past professional expertise. It’ll help, for sure, but there is still a need for freelancers to familiarize themselves with how a client operates and what it wants to accomplish.

Most clients have guidelines for voice, tone, and audience, so it’s important to review them while researching and writing. Since your content will target a specific audience, whether it’s a consumer or a business, spend time evaluating whether your approach will reach the audience the right way.

Writing a personal finance blog for millennials? You probably won’t need to speak with a risk analyst. Drafting a white paper for a B2B software company? You can probably lean into the industry jargon here. These details will be clear if you pay close attention to the audience segments detailed in a client’s content strategy.

2. It’s all about the pitch

Brands tend to work with a small, exclusive pool of contributors vying for assignments. As content production scales up, editors and client contacts will be eager to see pitches from freelancers who deserve a place on the team.

“I’ve seen great journalists submit lazy pitches. Two sentences just doesn’t cut it,” said Philip Garrity, a senior managing editor for a B2B technology site. “It shows me they aren’t giving the attention to detail the project deserves.”

Each pitch needs to be thoughtful, detailed, and directed toward a client’s business goal. If pitch guidelines aren’t available, don’t hesitate to ask the editor for direction. As with standard journalism pitches, you’ll want to a couple paragraphs that describe your angle, sources you plan to use, and any major takeaways for the reader.

3. Put a new spin on an old topic

Search “value of the dollar” on Google and you’ll come across 380 million results. Plenty of outlets compete for attention by covering the same topics, but most of them aren’t saying anything new.

Freelancers who consistently overcome that challenge are the ones who earn their editors’ trust. Take Chase, a Contently client, which published “5 ways the falling dollar affects your wallet,” rendering a high-level economic topic into something relatable for most consumers. While other publishers talk about the market implications or longterm projections for the dollar, writer Charles Wallace angled this topic to his advantage, pushing it above the noise.

“Especially in areas like financial services, where the same or similar topics arise over and over, keep looking for the new angle,” said Daphne Foreman, a managing editor for financial and professional services clients. “A genuinely original idea leaps off the screen.”

Before pitching a story, research how other publications have covered the topic. What unique perspective, trend, or data could you tie into your story? Your work needs to be more than interesting; it should add something new to the conversation.

4. Know your client

Content marketing is still in its early stages, and as a result, brands are learning the ins and outs of content production.

“In all likelihood, your client contact is going to be a marketer who is less familiar than you with a regular editorial process,” executive editor Deanna Cioppa said.

There will often be a transition period before you start working on projects, so you may need to adjust to their tempo. Enterprise brands often require additional rounds of review, compared with a traditional publication. These pieces aren’t always published right after the editing process, either —marketing and legal/compliance teams may vet your work and request changes.

If it’s unclear at the beginning how many revisions or approval steps are needed, ask your editor to set expectations and outline the workflow.

5. Keep it relevant

In highly technical and complex industries, especially B2B verticals that focus on policy and new technology, it’s critical that you use reputable sources to validate your work.

“If you’re working on a story about recent developments in climate change policy, for example, a 2015 report is not going to cut it,” said Erin Nelson, an editor for travel and technology clients. “A dated source isn’t only not useful for the reader, but it also compromises the integrity of the story.”

Some people may assume that content marketing doesn’t need to be as thorough as journalistic work, but brands want their content to have just as much substance. Editors will notice if you’re skimping on evidence. In any regulated industry, hunt for quality sources from the last year or two. If nothing recent is available, reach out to your editor ahead of time to vet relevant alternatives.

6. Recognize who’s listening

On platforms like Contently, multiple stakeholders keep tabs on an assignment—the writer, the editor, client contacts, and account managers. This transparency helps ensure all parties are aware of status updates and communicating in the same place. But no system is foolproof.

“One writer who was frustrated with a client’s review process began to vent in the comments section of an assignment,” Foreman noted. “They didn’t expect their client to see the complaints or to respond directly.”

When working on a platform, review any relevant tutorials to avoid such mishaps. On Contently, you can communicate directly with your managing editor—separate from an assignment—in case you need to express a concern.

7. Good impressions go a long way

Editors want painless relationships with their writers. In content marketing, the additional focus on a client’s bottomline adds pressure to the freelancer-editor relationship. If you can alleviate that pressure and make a positive impression, you’ll be at the top of the list when the editors have work to assign or move on to a different publication.

As Foreman put it, “You’ll hear a lot about Contently’s network of a hundred thousand contributors, but there are a finite number of managing editors. When you work with us over an extended period of time, it’s likely that you’ll see one of us again, so let’s build a great relationship.”

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