Getting into the Custom Game

By Joe Pulizzi

I get approached at least once a week by freelancer writers trying to get involved in custom publishing. For those of you not familiar with custom publishing, it’s the business of corporations creating and distributing their own content, much like media companies. Sometimes called content marketing or branded content, custom publishing is challenging for writers to break into because it’s becoming a “reseller” or “distributor” based business.

Learn more from Joe Pulizzi at our Nov. 17 webinar

Joe will share tips on how writers and editors can start their own media ventures at our webinar, A B2B Journalist’s Guide to Creating the Next New-Media Resource. former PC World editor-in-chief (and ASBPE guest blogger) Harry McCracken will also be a presenter.

If you are looking to develop a relationship with a media property, it’s pretty easy to find out who the contact is. Depending on the company’s size, your contact will most likely be a managing editor, editorial assistant or chief editor. If only custom were that easy…

If you are searching for custom business, there are two different organizations to target. One would be the corporation doing the custom publishing, the other would be the custom publisher, which produces the turnkey content project on behalf of the client.

ContentWise (formerly Publications Management) recently found that over 80% of companies produce custom content projects (mostly custom magazines and newsletters) internally. That comprises a $30+ billion dollar industry alone. If you were smart, you’d think to target companies in your expert industries for editorial projects. Titles to contact would be the marketing director, marketing communications manager, PR manager or sometimes even the human resources manager (for employee projects).

The problem with focusing on companies includes three things. First, you are limited in the amount of projects you can get from one single company. Second, the trend is toward nonmedia companies outsourcing to custom publishers. And finally, most marketing types don’t have a good understanding of the publishing process, so getting them to understand that you are needed is hit or miss.

Because of these challenges, more and more freelancers are targeting custom publishers. The upside to getting “in” with custom publishers is that once you develop a long-term relationship, the opportunity for more projects increases significantly. While I was at Penton Custom Media, we used to rely on about six to 10 freelancers for the majority of our projects.

The problem is getting to the “in” part. Custom publishers like using journalists they are familiar with, and usually only go outside when there is a topic they don’t have in their editorial database. Custom publishers literally get tens of calls and packages each week from writers looking for work. Those packages usually end up in the “pile of good intentions” and nothing happens.

That said, the potential will continue to be with custom publishers, since more and more corporations are outsourcing their content, and because of the fact that content marketing is becoming increasingly important to the overall integrated marketing program for businesses in general.

Here are some tips for getting an opportunity with a custom publisher:

1. Specific expertise is key. If you are a generalist, you’ll have a tough time with a custom publisher. Figure out what your “key content expertise” areas are and then find custom publishers that align with that expertise. Once you figure out the companies that match your strengths, the pitch will be that much better.

2. How’s your website? You can send the best welcome package in the world, but today’s editorial directors for custom publishers check out the web first. If they’re at all interested, they Google you or view your website. How’s your web presence? If it needs some work, get moving. [Editor’s note: See Joe’s previous post, “You Are What the Web Says You Are: Writers and Social Media,” for some ideas for beefing up your web presence.]

3. Can we meet? Busy custom editors have trouble making the time to review anything you’ve sent, or even take your call. If there is a way you can swing it that you’ll be in town, future business is more likely. I would say we ended up doing business with almost every editor that paid us a visit.

4. Do your research. Before you give the editor a call, make sure you know the publications they work on. Maybe there is a new section you can recommend for their client’s magazine or website that they haven’t thought of. Sure, some editors might be taken aback, but the ones who aren’t will love you and hire you.

For more, check out this post from the Junta42 blog by guest contributor Tom Peric on the relationship between editors and freelance writers.

Joe Pulizzi is a writer, speaker and evangelist for content marketing and recently named American Business Media’s “Custom Media Innovator of the Year.” He is coauthor of the book Get Content. Get Customers. and founder of Junta42 Match, a marketplace for matching custom publishers and writers with corporations looking to launch content-based projects.

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