By John White published September 10, 2010 Est Read Time: 4 min

Interviewing Content Marketing Writers? 5 Things for Your Shopping List

Face it, marketing managers: Whether the economy is humming or tanking, you’re going to spend about the same amount of effort to find and qualify professional writing talent.

  • In a brisk economy (remember those?), you’ll spend most of your time beating the bushes to identify a few qualified candidates, playing phone-tag with them and begging them to work with you.
  • In a lousy economy, you’ll spend most of your time vetting the dozens of responses you receive to your cattle-call to ensure you don’t throw away a strong candidate.

In either event, the more efficiently you can interview your candidates, the sooner you can put the process in your rearview mirror and get on with building out your content universe. Once you have the writer on the phone – puleeeeeze don’t try to do this all via e-mail or tweets – here are some perspectives on the interview process.

1. Remember who the customer is

That’s you. You’re spending the money, and in the capitalist system, that entitles you to at least one important thing: You get to talk first.

Explain your project to the writer. You should set the stage for your interview by describing the project, your goal for the content, the deadlines you face and how you envision setting up the project.

You should not set that stage by letting the writer tell you how great he is, whom he knows and how busy he is right now. This kind of person may be interested in writing, but he will not be interested in you and the business problem you’re trying to solve with content marketing. Find somebody else.

2. Consider technical chops vs. writing expertise

Many marketing writers will remind you that technical depth is necessary to build your product, but professional writing skill is necessary to describe it. If you cannot find or afford both in the same writer, you should favor writing skill.

But what if you can’t make that trade-off? What if your partner or boss or VP of marketing insists that you find a writer with published samples about the type of credit default swaps in which your company specializes “because we don’t have time to train anybody on this stuff”? Well, then, I guess you’d better opt for industry expertise this time. Still, keep an open mind for future projects, because I think you’ll do better marketing professionally-written content that your experts have revised than expert content written without a content professional’s eye for the ideal reader.

3. Remember your content marketing effort will require more than just writing

Think two steps ahead and ask, “What other things can you help me do with my content?” Some writers just write, some write and help people market, and some do even more (messaging, branding, positioning). Your content marketing effort will require more than just good copy, and it’s important for you to understand how else the writer can help you.

4. Ask the writer about his method

Professional writers have a method for writing a white paper, a case study, even a blog post. A building contractor doesn’t simply wing it; there’s a method to construction. That applies to writing as well. You need to know how your writer will work on your project and you need to agree to it, or arrive at something that will work for both of you.

A bad (because non-existent) method sounds something like, “Oh, I can work any way you want me to work.”

A good method sounds something like, “I’ll review any reference materials you send me and interview two of your subject matter experts. Then I’ll submit an outline and request a time when we can review it, either over the phone or in person. Once we’ve agreed on the outline, I’ll interview any additional subject matter experts. Within five workdays of the last interview, I’ll send you a first draft…”.

5. Communicate the control you need over the process

You may need to maintain control over the process, and the writer will need to work with that. This can have a big effect on the previous point. If you face pressures or politics that require your active involvement in creating the content, you’ll need to find a writer who can live with that.

Suppose:

  • You would really like to write the piece yourself, but you just don’t have the time, so you’re hiring a writer to do the heavy lifting for you.
  • You’ve sold your skeptical boss on the content marketing effort, but you need to ensure that it doesn’t fail.
  • You’re obliged to hire a newbie writer with good writing skills but no experience in content marketing.
  • The writer you wanted up in #2 is working for your competitor and you end up with a second-string hire.

These are all good reasons for keeping your hands on the project. Make sure the writer knows that you want it this way.

Keeping a shopping list like this is a good way of marketing to your writers, and a good way to set your content-marketing expectations for them.

What other things do marketing managers need to keep in mind when hiring a content marketing writer?

Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

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