Want great thought leadership content for the long haul? Don’t just flag down the next solo freelancer.
Let’s say you’ve just left a conference at rush hour, and you’re understandably anxious about catching your flight. When you get to the hotel lobby, what do you do next?
(A) wheel your bag out to the curb and start flagging down a cab, along with all the other conference-goers;
(B) run to the subway and hope there are no delays to the airport;
(C) hop into the limo that you’d arranged several hours earlier.
If you answered (A), no worries – I get it. I’ve done that too, far too many times, often in a misguided bid to save a buck. But that response resonates in another way: too often, it’s how content marketers choose freelance writers. They think of them as taxicabs, circling the block, constantly looking for a fare.
Content marketers who think they can raise a hand and flag down the next available solo writer will probably struggle to retain the kinds of writing resources their companies really need for the long haul.
Timing is a big factor. It’s commonplace for content development to take longer – often much, much longer – than the authors and marketers anticipate. The reasons are many: senior partners pulled away on urgent client work (happens all the time); authors who disagree about a particular line of logic (not infrequent); case studies may take ages to get approved (lesson: start the approvals process really early.)
By the time the writer finally gets author feedback – often weeks later and sometimes months later – she may be fully committed to other client projects. Or she may be traveling for work or on vacation. Then what? Authors and marketers may be left without the support they need at crucial points in the development of the content.
There are also issues related to scope. From time to time, along comes a project that becomes bigger than originally conceived: what the team thought would make a nice 1,200-word article is actually better suited to a 5,000-word white paper. The expanded piece may be well beyond the immediate capabilities of a single writer – and may warrant a duo of writers along with an editor, proofreader, and a project manager.
And what about commitment? If you “Uber” a new freelance writer for every new project that comes down the pike, there’s only a slim chance that you’ll get someone who is attuned to your unique – and often complex – business needs. And you’re far less likely to get a collaborator who is invested in the long-term success of your thought leadership program.
The better approach is to think in terms of an ecosystem of writers and/or editors who can back each other up.
Such coalitions don’t materialize naturally; they need to be orchestrated with care. Do you have the time, the network, or the skills for that?
This is where editorial agencies come in. (Full disclosure: yes, our firm, Ergo Editorial, is one such agency.) Far better to have a long-term relationship with an editorial business that has a wide range of resources – right? Here’s what you get from agencies that you just don’t get with solo freelancers:
Scale when and where you need it. Editorial agencies are expert at assembling and coordinating teams to produce the “big stuff” — your multi-chapter book or flagship research report. They use project managers to keep things on time and on budget by communicating progress clearly and constantly.
Continuity in discontinuous times. As mentioned, projects run late for all kinds of reasons. What’s your plan for when (not if) the writer who handled the outline and the first two drafts is no longer available when the authors do weigh in with their feedback? A tried-and-true team approach ensures continuous resourcing of your critical projects.
Content consistency when one voice matters. Say you’ve got a multi-section or multi-chapter piece with each part authored by different people. Is it at risk of reading that way? Clients absolutely notice when writing styles differ. An editorial agency has the resources and processes to ensure that your strategic content is consistent from end to end in tone, voice, and structure.
Flexible, comprehensive expertise. Editorial agencies offer a range of experience for you to draw on. If you work in the financial services industry, you may need a writer with a strong technology background for one piece and someone who’s steeped in the HR challenges facing financial firms for another. Agencies not only line up the right writer for each job, they can also facilitate the interchange of knowledge between writers for more wide-ranging projects.
To be a successful thought leader, you’ve got to create a continuous stream of high-quality content that leads to sustainable conversations with your target audience. You really can’t do that well if you hail solo writers like taxis – whichever freelancer is coming round the block next.
The companies that do thought leadership right do it differently: they invest in relationships with editorial agencies that are vested in their long-term success. So should you.