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The assembly line world of content marketing

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BY TOM KEER

It goes a little something like this…
A bell goes off on Outlook notifying me that a new email arrived. I look quizzically at the address because I don’t recognize the name but my spam filter didn’t stop it, so there must be something to it. Fountain pens and high cotton stock are more in my wheelhouse, but I’m feeling lucky today. I decide to play a low-speed game of Russian roulette and open the email. Part of me is stunned that the entire operating system isn’t wiped out in an instance.
“Wanna write for me?” says the email from Hunter Malamut, a person that seems beyond fictitious. Man? Woman? Child? I wasn’t sure, but Hunter Malamut was an editor who wanted to buy several hundred of my pieces. Man, woman or child, Hunter Malamut was offering wire transfers of cash.
It turns out Hunter Malamut was with a content marketing provider. Content marketing providers are like warehouses for stock photography, but for words and they are becoming more prevalent.
I yawned. Several similar letters have hit my inbox in the past and they generally request a high volume and low pay sort of deal. The first one that came through was just after Y2K and my bank account would have netted out $.000025 per word- plus images.
Hunter Malamut requested contract writing services for a chewing tobacco client. The work would appear on the company’s website to a registered, 18-year and older crowd. The fees were $.50 a word, and the content needed to be outdoors-oriented with a strong fishing and hunting bent. Images would be supplied by a professional photographer, so content was all that was needed. “Write as much — or as little — as you would like” said the note.
I signed on. Why not? I could write the pieces whenever I wanted and they just needed to be in sync with the publishing parameters. A brief tutorial familiarized me with the customized WordPress site. A second correspondence tied into an email prompt, alerted me to an assignment. The assignment paid $120.00 for 300 words. It required a three-day turn around, some light SEO work and a rewrite or two. If I failed to hit all the outlined keywords, the mistakes could be corrected and audited, and resubmitted once revised.
She was my mechanical bride, so down the assembly line we went. Sometimes the piece cleared the uprights and the points, my compensation, went on the score board. No checks appeared in my post office box. Instead, payments appeared during twice monthly cycles, deposited into a PayPal account.
I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. The pieces were quick and easy. I wrote them when I wanted and the process was simple. A few months passed, and one day I thought to check my PayPal account. Several payments cleared and boy was I in high cotton. My initial reaction was to wisely deposit the funds in a savings account, but then the voice of reason was gone in an instance. I snatched the money from the PayPal account, all of it, and took my wife out on the town. We had a big time.
After a pot of coffee the next morning there was another assignment. The group was looking for a saltwater fly-fishing piece. I proposed fish patterning on the flats. They accepted, I wrote and submitted, and there were a few tweaks and modifications. The client wanted more narrative and fewer facts, then a little more focus on keyword use and a rewrite in the meta description. No problem. Back and forth, back and forth, and so on and so forth.
A year later it was time for me to move on. The agency lost its client, and while there was an opportunity to write more words for other magazines I was tired. After a year of work I never met my editor. We never scripted stories together. There were no live conversations, we never laughed over mutually agreed upon points and never argued over theoretical rewrites. The process was formal, neutral and business like, with no feelings attached.
More content marketing providers launching every year and they will become a normal part of the communication industry. To my mind they are like ATM’s instead of banks and they are the way of the future. Do I like ‘em? I don’t know yet, but I guarantee you this: it’s a Brave New World. ♦
– Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines and owns The Keer Group, a full-service, outdoor marketing company. Visit www.thekeergroup.com or at www.tomkeer.com.
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