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Storytelling Content Creation

Once Upon a Brand Story: 3 Skyword Editors Share the Keys to Crafting Stories and Scoring Work

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As a freelance writer, it can sometimes be difficult to fully imagine the faceless editorial entities that exist on the other side of the computer screen. You can perhaps picture their fingers clacking against their keyboards and their eyes sweeping across your stories, but what’s harder to work out is who they are—and what they want.

At Skyword, our in-house editors come from a variety of backgrounds, and the glorious melting pot of knowledge they form helps us develop top-notch strategies for telling an effective brand story and choosing the right writers to craft it. But as a writer who is tasked with demonstrating to one of those aforementioned faceless entities that you produce quality work can get a little tricky—especially when you consider that along with having discrete backgrounds, editors all have their own preferences, styles, and definitions of what makes a story great.

To that end, I chatted with three members of our editorial team to get some insight about their opinions on content creation, story craft, how they evaluate quality, and what they value most from their writers and articles. Here’s what I learned:

What are the top issues you encounter when you’re editing content marketing pieces?

Jake RoundyJake Roundy, Senior Associate Editor: When I’m editing a content marketing piece, I often run into issues involving tone—specifically, tone that doesn’t match what the brand typically communicates. For editors and freelancers alike, this issue can prove difficult to overcome because we’re constantly switching gears to write about different subjects, topics, and occasionally, for different brands.

My advice to fix this issue is to read. Read as much of the brand’s messaging as possible, whether it’s on a blog, product page, or marketing copy. I’ve always believed the more reading you do, the stronger your writing will be—and that’s certainly the case when it comes to understanding brand tone.

Jess GilmanJess Gilman, Editorial Manager: One of the top issues I encounter relates to answering assignments. I often receive articles that may be really strong in some areas but only answer a portion of what was asked. Another common issue is not finding the tone and voice that is laid out in the guidelines. Or maybe it’s a resistance to adapting to the tone set by Skyword in partnership with the client. The guidelines exist for a reason, and it is so helpful when everyone has read them and understands them.

Matt Angelosanto

Matt Angelosanto, Associate Director of Editorial: Many writers have a tendency to try to tie their pieces back to the brand or the brand’s products. Content marketing has come a long way since the days when this was desirable, if not outright required. The greater push today is for content to embody the brand’s image and values without that explicit connection.

When you are communicating with freelance writers, what are your top pet peeves? How can writers resolve those common mistakes?

Jake: When working with freelancers, my biggest pet peeve is little to no communication. The people you work with are there for you, and vice versa. Sometimes, attempting to solve a problem on your own only results in more work on someone else’s end, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. This goes both ways, too: if you’re someone who works with a freelancer, go out of your way to talk with them. Don’t stop at instructions and requests—ask about their days, their schedules, their workloads, etc. Whether it’s over phone, by email, or in person, a little extra communication goes a long way in creating great working relationships, and it’ll show in your content. If everyone is enthusiastic about storytelling, then you can dedicate your collaborative efforts to meeting a shared goal, and you’ll exceed expectations.

Jess: When communicating with writers, one of my pet peeves is resistance to requests for revision. Sometimes what the client wants may not be exactly in line with the vision the writer had, but my hands are tied. I know that writers want to be true to their opinions and authentic in their writing, but that has to work within what the client is looking for. You have to meet in the middle and find a compromise. Getting a flat-out “no” or an article that is returned and essentially nothing you ask for is changed—that is going to create problems for everyone.

Matt: My biggest pet peeve is a lack of communication. Editors are well aware that many writers have other jobs, responsibilities, etc., beyond freelance writing. If you need us to extend a deadline, we are (usually) more than happy to do so if you tell us up front. You might not believe how many writers let deadlines pass with no explanation. And then when we reopen an assignment and extend the deadline—no reply, no follow-up, nothing. The key to communication is often overcommunication.

What do you look for in a writer’s work when you’re considering them for a program?

Jake: Voice is incredibly important. When I’m recruiting new writers, I often read their samples and look for their personality. If your samples don’t convey enthusiasm or a deep personal knowledge of a topic, I’ll move on and search elsewhere. I’m not reading a piece for surface-level knowledge; I’m interested in seeing legitimate passion for a subject. The best writer in my mind is one who can deliver accurate information concisely and in a manner that sparks my interest. Embrace your uniqueness and add your own flair and spin to your samples. While readers are primarily attracted to a brand story because of a certain topic, they stay for the personality. Good people keep readers coming back, and that’s really how you build a strong following—something we seek to emulate with our content marketing efforts.

Jess: Vetting new writers is one of my favorite parts of my job. I love being able to find new contributors for a program. Besides the grammar and sourcing aspects, I look for a strong tone that matches what we are looking for. It makes it so much easier to assimilate a writer into a program if their voice and tone fits with what we are looking for. I want it to match what the client is looking for with an authentic writer. If what we ask for is not far out of their realm, they are already one step ahead. I also want to trust this writer as a thought leader. If I believe them and feel like I am learning, they are a “yes” for me.

What are some surprising or lesser-known deal breakers that might cause you to not reach out to work with a particular writer?

Jake: One of the biggest deal breakers for not reaching out to a writer is a lack of a social media following or samples. Today, building a social media following is more important than ever. Clients are particularly interested in writers who are willing to promote their own content to their personal audiences. From a hiring perspective, we’re not even as interested in quantity as we are in quality when it comes to followers. You can have 10,000 followers, but what does it matter if they don’t actually listen to you? The more I can see you interacting with followers, the more I’ll consider reaching out. This speaks to your engagement level and enthusiasm—you’re not just writing for money, whether it’s to pay the bills or to earn a little extra on the side; you actually care about what you’re writing about. To the latter point, provide as much copy as possible. Again, the more I can read written by you, the better I’ll get to know your personality and style.

Jess: For me, a deal breaker is consistently missing deadlines. I understand that everyone has many things to juggle at home and at work, but we set our calendar for the month in a very intentional way. When writers keep asking for deadlines, it creates a domino effect that can really slow down a program or even cause the client to look upon Skyword in a negative light. I want writers to know that communication lines are open and I can help them out if they need more time, but if it seems like you aren’t reliable, I am not going to turn to you in the future.

From these short testaments, it’s clear that communication and preparation are key in freelance writing, since you don’t have the benefit of sitting side by side with someone you’re working closely with. It takes a village to craft a high-quality brand story, and recognizing each other as people first and foremost will go a long way toward streamlining communication between teams and ensuring the finished product is as perfect as possible.

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Brianna Hand is a senior editorial manager for Skyword. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in December 2012 and previously worked as a copy editor and page designer for the Portsmouth Herald newspaper in Portsmouth, N.H. She enjoys writing about arts and entertainment, travel, writing and editing.

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