Or this: You begin working with a client, and during the initial days, you’re provided with a values statement. You’re cautioned that if you speak out against any of the stated beliefs, the client will no longer be able to work with you.
Maybe you’ve never encountered this in your writing jobs, but there’s a good chance you might someday. What should you do if and when that day comes? There’s a lot to think about.
By writing for a brand, you’re tacitly endorsing it, its policies, and its values. By hiring you to write, even as a freelancer, the company is tacitly approving you. In most cases, this relationship will move along with no hiccups, benefiting you both. Some clients, however, have strong stances on certain subjects, and they could be publicly embarrassed if someone who publishes with them speaks out in opposition.
You may be expressing the opinion in articles for other clients, posts on your personal blog, tweets, or even on Facebook—the venue often doesn’t matter. If the content can be found, it can influence your relationship with the client. Imagine a freelancer writing for a company that espouses green living. He tweets one day that he doesn’t feel recycling is worthwhile and there’s no point in bothering. A reporter sees the tweet and writes about the green-living company’s hypocrisy of employing writers who are working against their cause. The company goes into damage control to try to save its reputation. Extreme? Yes. Possible? Absolutely.
A company may try to avoid this action by asking you to refrain from advocating certain ideas or by disassociating themselves from you if you do. It’s not always possible to know exactly what will cause a problem, but in most cases, reasonable judgment will be enough to prevent losing writing jobs.
No, not at all. Of course, the First Amendment gives you the right to free speech, and that’s a great thing. It means the government can’t limit your speech or expression. However, it doesn’t apply to private companies like your clients. The amendment also doesn’t regulate consequences to your speech. Individuals and private companies are allowed to dislike you or decline to work with you in the future because of views you expressed, even if they weren’t written for the client’s site. So if you’re a freelance writer, your rights aren’t being violated if a company chooses not to work with you based on something you say on social media or your personal blog. You still have the right to say it, just like they have the right to stop working with you.
Is this ethical? That’s not for me to say. While a company may choose to stop working with you for almost any reason, some causes may seem more reasonable than others. In the case of our nonrecycler, he’s advocating against a major facet of the green-living company, so this might seem like a well-founded course of action for the company to take.
Imagine he’s now writing for a client that sells school supplies. The company owner has strong religious views, and they are considered core to the company’s values. Our freelancer’s articles focus mainly on education and classroom projects. He writes an article on his personal blog in favor of something that (respectfully) supports a law that is in conflict with the owner’s religion. He may still lose this writing gig; however, he knew all along how the owner felt. How do you feel about this dismissal? That may inform your decisions regarding which jobs to take.
We’ve talked before about making sure you’re writing for companies you support and respect as well as curating your social media presence. If you’re not picky, you could end up writing for a company whose values you oppose. In the case of our freelancer above, these two writing jobs were probably not the right fit for him.
If you’re at all uncertain, ask the company for specifics about policies, because each client will have different opinions. Some may not mind as long as you don’t mention them in any way. Others may accept well-researched, respectful disagreements. And still others may not want you to write anything expressing a counter opinion to their main values. Don’t be afraid to ask your client a lot of specific questions so you know exactly what to expect. The client shouldn’t be coy about providing answers, since a writer solidly understanding company policy can only benefit you both.
That’s up to you. If you’re asked to refrain from publicly (and this means social media, too) speaking or writing opinions about certain subjects, you have every right to tell the client that this isn’t the project for you. If our school-supply writer feels strongly about the law and decides speaking out is the right thing to do, he should part ways with his client. However, if you don’t feel strongly about the company’s policies, or if you really need the gig, you might not mind remaining silent.
Whatever you decide, make sure you’ve carefully thought about what the consequences of your choice will be. Writing for a certain company may affect your personal brand either positively or negatively. Make sure you’re in control of what will happen. After all, it’s always better to maintain a good relationship with clients—even if you’re choosing not to work with them.
Take the leap today and start developing your own career as a full-time freelance writer by joining Skyword’s community of writers.