“We wrote our first blog post before we wrote our first line of code.”
- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

Blogging is important for every business. So we don’t just offer ghostwriting services for others. We blog for ourselves. Why? To discuss big issues such as content strategy, commissioning and ROI, as well as tactics for effective copy creation or editing, not to mention news about Collective Content.

Remember, over a third of marketers say blogs are the most valuable content type. Let us know what you’d like to read about here.

Tag: editing

Quality work – why I constantly assess our agency model

On my mind: How to describe team members at our content marketing agency. That’s partly because we’re preparing a new website – nothing radical, just something every company does. But it’s also because of an article from a partner at a VC firm.

The founding general partner at Eniac Ventures talks about team slides in decks that companies use when they’re seeking seed-stage investment. Several things caught my eye, as they relate to Collective Content (although we’re not looking for investors). Number five on his list is “If you have shared history, make that very clear” – so we’ll be doing that, for example.

Our core team averages about 20 years working with B2B content, as writers and editors. That’s across a mixture of agencies, such as PR and content marketing, and working for B2B companies. But mostly we’ve all worked in journalism (another way we’re different from other agencies). Even our wider roster of part-time specialist writers and designers tends towards the higher end of experience.

This is in contrast to agencies where a team of junior writers often means lower prices, along with a we-can-turn-our-hands-to-any-content approach.

 

Process affects

How does all this affect the way we work with clients? There’s one obvious way and it goes like this: Collective Content works to a four-step process for much content – a white paper or e-book, say. Other agencies, often where content is produced by a faceless ‘pool’ of writers (have you heard about our ‘farm fresh’ content theory?) will feed content back into a cycle of edits and other amends numerous times.

This happens because each stage isn’t as well planned, and because their model is based on cheaper, less experienced writers who iterate again and again. I don’t want to mention Shakespeare’s monkeys. But I just did.

 

The difference

The results – to be honest – can be the same. In one model (ours), a group of experienced writers and editors takes fewer stages to get the right outcome. In the latter model, where a larger group takes several more rounds of work but at a lower per-employee cost, the overall price tag to a client is similar.

Clients don’t necessarily have a preference. They just want a good result.

But I prefer doing things thoroughly at each stage, with the highest-quality people and fewer stages, to keep everyone’s blood pressure at a healthier level.

There is always a trade-off across speed, quality and price. Focusing on quality doesn’t necessarily make you slower – but it can maintain project sanity.

 

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

 

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6 tips for writers pitching editors and agencies

Cash for words. That’s the brutal equation of much professional writing. But if you’re a freelancer or moonlighting (hey, it happens) pro writer, how do you start a relationship with someone new who will pay you?

As an agency, Collective Content relies not just on our in-house team of writers and editors but on experts who work with us on specific client accounts, projects or even just one-off articles. So every week we see a lot of good and bad approaches.

The following is advice for those who are just starting to talk to people like us (‘pitching’ maybe isn’t the best word). But this also applies to writers seeking work from publications and the editors who make those decisions. (We were once those kinds of editors, so know the similarities.)

  1. Be super responsive – So many conversations just dry up at some point for no obvious reason. Remember the “80 per cent of success is just showing up” line? (Actually, it was originally “80 per cent of life…” – good writers also check their facts 🙂.) Sure, sometimes this is a busy editor’s fault. Take the initiative if you think the interaction is dying.
  2. Be authentic – Be yourself. If you’re working through an agency – or even agencies – but meeting clients or on calls with them, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Check with your agency on how you’ll introduce yourself. “I’m your writer on this project. I regularly work with Collective Content.” That’ll work. Remember, it’s easy for anyone to Google you and find out about you. And we’re big believers in being open about everyone involved (what we’ve termed ‘farm-fresh content’).
  3. Show, don’t tell (mostly) – When you’re trying to persuade an editor that you’re right for an assignment, examples of work are better than qualifications or employment history or nice endorsements on LinkedIn. But there’s a big ‘but’ with that. All good editors know that content is a team sport. A great article in your portfolio might have been down to three, four – even more – people being involved. Share the process, and your role within it. Be generous about others who helped. Show you know that this is How It Works.
  4. Be available – We work with people across multiple time zones. Be generous about making meeting times with clients. Most, in our experience, will be flexible if at all possible. But the occasional late or early call will earn credibility. Most companies are now also used to working with people all around the world. Compromise on both sides is key.
  5. Don’t be “free in three months” – We know a few really amazing writers who have done what they do for a quarter of a century. They are ex-media or from the highest rung of an agency’s creative team. They get to take four holidays a year and set their own terms. Most of us aren’t in this group. When we hear someone say, “I’d like to work with you too, but I’m next free in three months”, we hear you passing on the gig. We’re not saying over-commit and end up unable to fulfil. But sometimes fitting in an important job will cement your reputation, much like making that 5:30AM conference call.
  6. Know and tout your niche – Most agencies and publications have very specific beats or industry sectors that they cover. Know what you do well. Position yourself as an expert. Counterintuitively, the more niche, the better – as long as it’s in an area with demand. Be the go-to contributor for subject X. You will be remembered and called upon more than the generalists.

Perhaps more than anything, relationships are everything. You are your network. And doing this well takes time. Good luck out there.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

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What is… editing?

Writers tend to be solitary creatures but bringing writing to life is more often a group effort. That’s especially true in B2B communication.

Whatever the business writing project—a blog post, a white paper, an e-book or a script for a video—there are usually at least a few other people, if not whole teams, who have a say on the final product. But, just as too many cooks can spoil the broth, too many editors can turn a promising written work into a mess.

To avoid that outcome, it helps to understand a bit more about what editing is and isn’t.

First off, it’s definitely an art and not a science. Unlike two chemists told to produce the same compound, two editors—no matter how skilled—aren’t ever likely to produce the same results. There’s no one way to correctly edit anything.

While the process of mechanical editing, also called copy-editing or sub-editing, corrects spelling, capitalisation errors, noun-verb disagreements and other fundamental language errors, substantive editing or line editing focuses on the content itself and how it can be fine-tuned to make messages clear and effective.

Here’s how The Chicago Manual of Style, one bible of the editing world, describes the substantive editing process:

The editor will know by instinct and learn from experience how much of this kind of editing to do on a particular manuscript. An experienced editor will recognize, and not tamper with, unusual figures of speech and idiomatic usage and will know when to make an editorial change or simply to suggest it, when to delete a repetition or simply to point it out to the author, and many other matters. Since every manuscript is unique in the amount and kind of substantive editing desirable, no rules can be devised for the editor to follow.

Despite the ‘no rules’ description, editing is not an invitation to a Mad Max-style attack on someone else’s words. Whether you’ve asked an in-house writer to craft a short statement for a press release or commissioned an agency to ghost-write a book for your CEO, it helps to remember some guidelines during the editing process:

  • Respect the writer’s unique voice—As the Chicago Manual notes above, it’s often best to preserve personal wording and phrasing choices if your alternative isn’t more accurate or more appropriate for in-house style. One person’s ‘hodge-podge’ is another’s ‘smorgasbord’… but either is OK.
  • Keep your focus—While suggesting changes to copy, keep your eye on the goal of the final piece. For example, a product brochure needs to provide brief, user-friendly reasons for a reader to place an order or contact your company for more information; editing here shouldn’t involve adding material that’s better included in a lengthy white paper.
  • Offer useful suggestions—“No query to an author should sound stupid, naïve, or pedantic,” the Chicago Manual advises. “Nor should a query be so phrased that it seems to reflect upon the author’s scholarly ability or powers or interpretation… Every author has a right to expect conscientious, intelligent help from an editor.”

Editing, as New York Book Editors says, “addresses the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. But the purpose of a line edit is not to comb your manuscript for errors—rather, a line edit focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. Is your language clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read? Does it convey a sense of atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Do the words you’ve chosen convey a precise meaning, or are you using broad generalizations and clichés?”

Consider all these things. And don’t feel shy about asking for expert help when you need it.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a new corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

 

 

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

Facebook: facebook.com/CollectiveContent

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/collective-content

Phone:  0800 292 2826