Sponsored Content Will Kill Us All

Image credit: Chris Ford/flickr

If you are like most writers, then the end-all-be-all of your writing career will be when you are paid to write. I even aided the academic dishonesty of my peers, and wrote papers for my friends. I know a good deal of my talented friends did the same. When I was a college student, all I ever wanted to do was write and be paid for it. I loved writing, and I I read lots articles saying I could make money just writing for ad agencies. What could go wrong?

I wish I knew this viewpoint is utter nonsense. If you get a job at a real news outlet like the New Yorker or Harper’s, (these are rarer than holographic charizards nowadays) then keep doing what you’re doing. This article is for the rest of us.

I’m sure you’re aware of the myriad advertising agencies out there in 2015. I almost worked for a few of them. I did work for one, called L&T CO. They are actually probably some of the best in the industry. Their writers are hail from Liverpool, Harvard, Yale, MIT, and other prestigious places. Briefly, I was their highest-ranked writer. Nothing to be proud of, trust me.

Sponsored content is a special animal. South Park created an amazingly salient episode about it. Jimmy could tell the difference between real content and an ad.

This is probably a great juncture to introduce the concept of sponsored content. Many large companies, start-ups, and mid-market companies engage in this new, hippity-hoppity form of advertising.

Sponsored content (sometimes dubbed “targeted content” or “brand journalism” or something similar) starts out simply enough. A seemingly well-written article, about a topic that is industry-specific, grabs your attention. It discusses a challenge or problem, is seemingly well-researched, and is unbiased. At the end though, you see something different. There is a CTA, or call to action for the brand / service / industry that co-opted your services to drive sales. Here is an example (that I wrote) for an industrial chemicals firm called Midwest Industrial. Here are some more examples of my writing here, here and here.

In the end, this industry drives people who are passionate about real journalism away from their passions. When I studied journalism and public relations at in college, Orwell was more salient than even when he noted that “Journalism is writing what others don’t want written. Everything else is public relations.” When you look at the health of the industry, you can’t refute anything that I’ve stated. PR / Journalism is basically just marketing now, it’s even how they teach it at universities. Many of you misguided writers will be swept up in the mania, and you will give up REAL writing entirely, or else you will go poor.

I wish I could offer something heartening, or grandly inspirational here. The reality is that I have nothing inspirational to say. I will always be a writer, I will always offer something larger than myself and try to explain the world I live in.

If you are a news media / journalism / public relations / political person like I am, then you should be able to see what I am hinting at. When the news and public relations, as they relate to a P&L report, become more important than your integrity as a journalist, QUIT. You will be held to account for what you’ve written.

You were given a gift if you are a talented writer. Most Americans read & write at the 6th grade level. Think about that.

Don’t prostitute your writing skills for a slimy advertising agency. If you really need a gig, I would be more than willing to use my network to help you. Don’t sell out.

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