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Sunday, October 4, 2009
Freelance Toolbox

Business news could be a freelance bonanza

By Ann Wilmer

Business writing is not as glamorous as investigative journalism or writing a column, but it can be more lucrative.

Back in the days when University of Florida was chary of giving us a “public relations” degree for fear of hurting our job prospects, we had to take almost every course in the journalism sequence (plus a few more that were not) to earn a degree in journalism. The thorough grounding in reporting has made me a much more effective practitioner of public relations.

One of my regular freelance clients is the local chamber of commerce, which produces a monthly tabloid. I have written as many as 10 articles for the publication in one month because I’m a good reporter who can meet a deadline. When you are actively seeking work — I am seeking to build my PR business by acquiring new clients — you mention that you are seeking work to everyone you come in contact with. The chamber assignments provide me with an introduction to potential clients for my PR services as well as showcasing my writing skills. Of course, if a client relationship develops, I no longer bill the chamber for articles about my client.

Once upon a time, a small tutoring business was the only game in town. Backed by the recognition of a well-known franchise name, they had no competition until shortly before their 10-year anniversary, when two other franchises popped up. Better capitalized than their competition, they wisely decided to leave nothing to chance. A colleague gave me a tip, and I contacted them at just the right time to offer help in promoting their anniversary year. We discussed their needs and I wrote a proposal, crafting strategies to achieve the goals we set together. I’ve been their PR counsel ever since.

Click here for more SPJ resources for freelancers.

My client’s newsworthy activities routinely become news releases. When you have a good news hook, you hope the newspaper will assign a reporter to do a story. After all, local newspapers have business pages to fill. But few have a reporter assigned exclusively to the business beat. With the exception of news briefs about promotions, hires and retirements, papers often fill the business section with news features off the wire. They know readers would rather read about a local business, but they can’t stretch their staff that far. In addition to news releases, longer news features can also be pitched to local media.

My tutoring client’s national franchise has a free, Web-based reading program so effective that a local Title I school used it in place of curriculum materials they could not afford. My client learned of their plans when the reading supervisor requested instructional materials the franchise provides free. A retired teacher, she kept in touch and, at the end of the year, underwrote a “party” for the little readers and urged me to see if I could place a story about the students’ achievements.

Kids and dogs always make news. Although my client serves students in several counties, only the media in the town where the school was located would find this story newsworthy. So I provided a news feature, with still photos, to the local paper. A shorter news release that followed was picked up by a local youth magazine. The school was delighted with the positive exposure, and my client paid me for the hours it took to do it.

Businesses value seeing their firm’s name in print — not just in an ad — but without a background in PR, counseling services is not something you should offer. When you make a media placement, you are functioning as PR writer for your client, not as a freelance writer for the publication. Still, I don’t invest a lot of time in producing a story unless I know a publication is interested. And, of course, from an ethical perspective you must disclose your business relationship with the client up front. And the news outlet is free to edit your work or do its own story.

The added benefit is that it helps you become a known commodity as a writer. As a result of my media writing for clients, when the newspaper launched a women’s magazine, it offered me regular assignments because I was dependable.

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