Ask Valerie: How can I get into corporate writing?

There are many genres in writing. Crime and thriller writing. Memoir writing. Travel writing. Some of these can conjure images of exciting plots or exotic locales. But not all genres evoke this same kind of romance or glamour.

Like corporate writing.

But wait. Before you screw your nose up at a style of writing that many consider dry and technical, let's explore this area to see whether it might work for you.

What is corporate writing?
First, what in the world is it? Well, corporate writing is typically the kind of writing that needs to be generated by a corporation. This may involve marketing materials, newsletters, case studies, brochures, proposals, magazine articles, websites, speeches, prospectuses and annual reports.

It doesn't refer to business correspondence like letters, emails, and memos.

Why would I be interested in corporate writing?
Well, you might. And you might not. Some writers love it. Others avoid it like the plague.

Chances are that you may like corporate writing if you enjoy:

  • working in a logical fashion
  • learning about different industries and meeting people from all walks of life
  • interpreting complex information and distilling it into a simple message
  • working in a corporate environment

While this may sound like a fairly dry process, it can actually be incredibly creative. The world of business is often full of fascinating stories. And a good corporate writer can bring these stories to life.

How can I get work as a corporate writer?
There are two main ways of working as a corporate writer: as an employee or a freelancer. Large organisations employ corporate writers in their communications departments (in some companies, these departments may be called “public relations”, or “marketing” or “public affairs”). Many of these organisations employ ex-journalists because they have writing skills combined with an understanding of writing to high-pressured deadlines.

If they don't have a full-time corporate writer on staff, chances are that they use freelance corporate writers especially if their needs are seasonal. For example, corporate writers may be more in demand during annual report season.

If you're looking for work as a corporate writer (whether as an employee or freelancer), here are my top two tips:

 1. Do the words “corporate writer” feature in your bio?
If you actually want to get work in this area, then prospective employers or referrers need to know about it. How do they know you are a corporate writer if you don't explicitly state that's what you can do?

Is it stated in your:

  • Linkedin profile
  • Twitter bio
  • Website/blog
  • Business card?

 2. Are you networking?
While I know some people groan at the idea of networking, I truly believe this is one of the most effective ways of getting work as a corporate writer.

Before your eyes glaze over, I first want to dispel any idea that “networking” is about going to functions in a suit, handing out your business cards and then trying to sell yourself. That's so 15 years ago.

These days, effective networking is about meeting people and establishing a real connection with them. This doesn't have to be at a “networking event”. It can be at a BBQ, a writers' festival, the school trivia night … you get the idea. It's not about selling yourself at all, but merely mentioning what you do. The rest will take care of itself.

The trouble is that I meet so many writers who struggle with getting corporate writing work but, when I quiz them about whether they even tell people in social situations that they do corporate writing, they answer is often “No”.

Is corporate writing just putting your journalistic skills to work for a corporation?
Well, yes and no. You'll certainly use many journalistic skills such as researching, interviewing, and – of course – writing.

But the reality is that your “boss” or your “client” is the company. And that means that they are likely to have an agenda – or a very clear message they have decided they want to convey.

This is where some dyed-in-the-wool journalists come unstuck. They've had years of training to write stories that are objective, and which represent all sides of the story. For example, if aviation laws are changed, and they quote a comment from Qantas, it's likely they will also include a comment from Virgin (and possibly even the other smaller airlines).

However, if you are a corporate writer working for an airline, it's likely that you would only represent the views of the company you work for (and not even mention the competition).

So while corporate writing certainly involves all the technical skills associated with journalism, it does not necessarily adhere to the same philosophies of editorial independence prevalent in newsrooms.

How much can I expect to get paid as a corporate writer?
Ahhh, great question, because there are so many parts to the answer. Most journalists and freelance writers are used to being paid “per word”. However, the corporate world is more used to working with people who charge an hourly/day rate, or a project fee.

And here many people will say that this is like asking: “How long is a piece of string?”. That's because there are corporate writers who charge anything from $80 an hour to $800 an hour (sometimes more).

Corporate writers who charge $80 an hour are likely to be new to the game and are typically given straightforward writing assignments. At the other end of the scale, those charging $800 an hour are likely to be bringing specific expertise or experience in a particular industry. (At this level, they are likely to be working directly with CEOs).

If you are determining what rate to charge, my advice is to charge an amount that you are happy with – and that you don't resent. Make sure it's high enough that you feel you are providing this value. But never underprice yourself just to get the job if there is a risk you will resent charging this lower amount when you DO get the job!

If you charge an amount you are happy with and that you don't resent then, if you get the gig, it's a win/win.

One thing that is certain is that you can make significantly more income from corporate writing than you can from general editorial writing for magazines, newspapers and online publications. Many writers successfully combine the two: earning their bread, butter and champagne money from the proceeds of corporate writing, but gaining creative rewards from their editorial writing.

Is there anything I need to be aware of before I explore the world of corporate writing?
Quite simply, you have a client. Or a corporate boss. And, ultimately, they have a specific goal in mind. Some ex-journalists finding it challenging to transition from working in a newsroom where heated debate with the editor is often encouraged, especially if it makes for a better, more well researched story.

The reality is that, in most cases, corporate writing is representing the point of view of the company. I've seen some journalists treat the “client” or “boss” like the enemy, while they try to imbue a hardened journalistic approach to their corporate writing. While you may well do this, chances are it's not going to get you second gig with the company if you are then perceived as argumentative or difficult.

You need to go into corporate writing with your eyes wide open. Your “client” or “boss” probably does have an agenda or wants to focus on their side of the story. That's the way it is. If you only want to write as an objective journalist, don't go into corporate writing unless you can't handle the fact that your story may be edited or you may be briefed with a very specific angle.

Before you recoil in horror (as is the tendency of steadfast journos), let's remember that corporate writing is not evil. It's just different. It often exists for marketing purposes. So if the values of the company are not at odds with your own values, or if the writing you are expected to do does not jar with your own writing style, this could be a lucrative string to your bow.

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