Letters to a Young Poet on Creative Content, Part 1
Last week a poet, musician, graffiti artist, and recent graduate (bachelors in English) asked me, “What are all these creative content gigs about?”
I thought this might be something that other people are thinking about. So here it is. Thanks for reading.
First, I want to admit that I’m no Tim Ferriss or even Brian Clark (http://www.copyblogger.com/about/). However, I know a little bit about this stuff. In addition to the usual skills and writing experience you’d expect from a dude who teaches college English, I’ve been working with “creative content” for a long time now. I’ve blogged here, at Critical Margins, and even for Jane Friedman (the former publisher of Writer’s Digest). I’ve produced and hosted radio shows and podcasts for KDHX (a station that has over 82,000 listeners per week) and Critical Margins. I’ve created the copy, the products, and the press releases that have landed coverage in as diverse publications as Riverfront Times, ESPN.com, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Now, let’s get back to the poet’s question about creative content. Every large company has somebody writing the words that appear on their website. Some smaller companies and non for profits do this as well.
Q: What’s all this about SEO and copywriting?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a game where you try to load as many key words into an article or the headings and titles of the articles to make that article return at a higher place in users search results. The algorithms that underpin search results apparently attend to the frequency of keywords as one of their variables. The best way to optimize search results is to consistently put up good content. I’m not the first to say this. All the tricks in the world aren’t worth as much as good, honest, thoughtful, and frequent writing that comes from a perspective that feels like a human wrote it.
Q: If I was a producer of online marketing content, what would this actually tangibly look like?
This depends on the company and the contract. Some gigs are for a jack-of-all-trades who can create internal materials (employee newsletters, CEO speeches, training materials for new employees…) and external materials (customer facing web copy, press releases, infographics, podcasts, videos…). Some of these gigs might want you to do just one or two of these things. There are gigs that people do from home and then some gigs where they’d have to go in for. Some of those tasks I mentioned above quickly become other job descriptions (and fields of study) of their own at larger companies: public relations, advertising, instructional design, audio and visual production, and even technical writing.
Like kung fu, all the rhetorical skills you’ve learned as an English major can be used for good as well as evil. Some companies might want you to write them out of a corner or explain away certain mistakes with your exceptional storytelling abilities. Theranos is a health tech company that, according to The Wall Street Journal, lied about their blood tests and then covered up their problems. Wired just wrote a story about how Theranos is looking for a writer to spin this (http://www.wired.com/2016/02/theranos-is-hiring-a-writer-to-solve-its-problems/?mbid=nl_2516).
Q: Content writing seems like a growing field. But what are the long-term career prospects for this (plus the salary/benefit/ full time vs. part time situation)?
Until you craft something big that sets you apart or get experience with top-level clients, you’re competing against an international computer using, English speaking mass of people who aren’t spending US dollars to live. They’re spending rupees, pesos, or duckets. They can afford to work for less than you can and still pay their rent. This is not an argument for or against outsourcing. You want to know about the economics of a situation, that’s all.
Q: Does getting a gig in this field require knowledge of HTML or programming?
Learning a little bit about HTML and CSS is easy. Spending two or three hours at codecademy (www.codecademy.com) will be useful to you know matter what you end up doing (as long as you’re not going off to a mountain to be a yogi or something). If you do creative content marketing HTML will come in handy sometime. Same goes if you become an English professor. HTML is just a mark up language. It isn’t a functional programing language. The functional stuff is more of a challenge. But surely not beyond your big brain.