Write On: 7 Tips to Meet the Right Content Writer

I was recently asked to write a blog for The Meeting Pool on how to hire a great content writer. Here are my thoughts, which apply across the board, not just to the meetings market:

You know the old saying about the bear and the woods? Well the same idea applies across a lot of proverbial forests. If you put on the world’s most scintillating event, or plan the most awe-inspiring meeting, and no one shows up, where does that leave you?

With a whole lot of swag bags.

Event marketing is critical to your event’s success, and just as it’s imperative to market it to the right people, it’s also important to find the right content writer to cast the event’s narrative, craft blogs, update social media and more. But when searching for a writer, where do you even begin?

As a professional journalist and content writer for the last 15 years, 8 of which have been freelance, I’ve worked with clients who have found me in the most unexpected ways. One read a magazine story I wrote seven years ago for an inflight magazine and remembered my name. A few have been neighbors of family members. I’ve even gotten cold calls via LinkedIn that led to ghostwriting a book. Along the way, I’ve had encounters with new clients that made me excited for the new work, and others that inspired my gut to say “No flippin’ way!” before my brain could rationally respond.

Finding a professional writer involves research, cooperation and a fair amount of chemistry. Here are 7 tips to connect you with the right talent for your next event.

  1. Let the soul searching begin. Before you start reaching out to writers, you have to know what you want. Are you interested in storytelling? Blogs generating buzz about the event? Marketing collateral? Event coverage? Post-event wrap up? Social media management? Pitching the event to media? Prior to initiating a conversation with a writer, it’s important to establish your goals and have a framework to discuss them.
  2. Establish a budget. Professional writers will have their own rates in mind, but going into it, you should at least have a budget set aside and know how far you’re willing to stretch it for the right talent.
  3. Reach out to the pros. If you want to find established, experienced writers, I suggest starting with the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA, of which I’m a member). This is a network of more than 1,200 professional writers who have passed the rigorous membership achievement standards of the non-profit organization. Members have bylines in national publications and have written content for Fortune 500 companies, major PR firms and more. You can post a job listing in the Freelance Writer Search section of the site for free. Also, search out local freelance journalists. Many of us were trained in sniffing out stories for newspapers and magazines and are now doing content writing, as well. We know how to find “newsy” angles and we know how to write under deadline.
  4. Start digging. When you find a few eligible candidates, request to see their portfolio. They should have a website or at least some clips to show you that demonstrate writing that is similar to what you’re looking for.
  5. Talk turkey. Like the clips? It’s time to talk money. Here, you can either show your cards and let the writer know your budget, or you can ask the writer his or her rate. I, personally, have a by-the-word rate or an hourly rate that I offer clients, so you may want to ask about pricing options. If you’re talking to a number of different writers and they all quote you different rates, don’t make your decision by price alone. Make sure you ask for an estimate of how many hours it will take. Some writers work faster than others. While the writer with the best quality clips may have a higher hourly rate, he or she may also may work more quickly, require fewer edits and be the best fit.
  6. Pick up the phone. Email can be a pretty deceptive communication medium, where it’s easy to see what we want to see. I recommend setting up a phone call before agreeing to work with someone. You don’t have to be best friends with your writer, but if he or she is going to be interfacing with clients or doing interviews, you’re better off getting to know them just a little better, and a 15-minute call gives far more insight—to both you and the writer—than a slew of emails. Don’t like what you hear? Return to step 3.
  7. Set the parameters. If you’ve made it this far, it sounds like you’ve come to an agreement. Establish the assignment and provide a reasonable deadline that works for both of you. In your early assignments, as you’re getting to know the writer, make sure to pad the deadline with some wiggle room in case edits are necessary.

Kate Silver is a professional writer based in Chicago. Her work appears regularly in Washington Post, Crain’s Chicago Business and Chicago Tribune, and her content clients include Chevy, GM, American Heart Association and Behr Paint.

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