The Lucrative Writing Niche That Can’t Be Outsourced Overseas

Freelance jobs sail off into the sunset

Think all the good writing jobs are sailing off into the sunset? Here’s one writing niche that won’t be outsourced…

By M. Sharon Baker

A decade ago, I started freelancing by writing 1,000-word articles for $250, and working for magazines that took six months or longer to pay after publication.

At those low rates and dreadfully long payment cycles, I had to work like crazy and live on peanut butter and jelly to survive.

As a longtime business journalist, I knew there was a way to work smarter, not harder, to increase my revenues. A fellow technology-reporter-turned-freelancer supplied me with valuable information that helped my business grow annually and ended the feast-or-famine cycle.

Crossing a mythical line to PR writing

What did she say that made such a difference in my income?

“Why not try writing articles for companies looking for media exposure, and working with the public relations firms that often place those articles?”

Those articles — known in the PR biz as “contributed articles” — turned out to be my prime ticket to higher earnings.

Now, for many journalists, suggesting they work with public relations firms is like telling them to start selling advertising. After they stop gagging, they’d say certain lines shouldn’t be crossed.

But I wasn’t one of those journalists. Throughout my newspaper career, I had forged good working relationships with publicists and knew several who started their own agencies. All it took to start working with them was a phone call.

Pitching articles, writing press releases

Immediately, I was asked to write press releases and contributed articles, and was pitching stories and articles to the media rather than listening to those pitches as a journalist.

You might think journalists would be unwelcome in the world of PR, but you’d be wrong.

To these PR folks, I had secret knowledge: Because I was a journalist and magazine writer, I knew just what journalists and magazine editors wanted in a pitch. I knew how to talk to them, approach them, and treat them because I was part of the media.

Soon, I was making five times what I was paid by newspapers to ghost write “contributed articles” for CEOs.

Many of these columns and articles were placed in the very same newspapers I used to write $250 articles for! It wasn’t hard to see why many journalists make the switch to working in PR.

Which hat? PR or journalist?

Because I was also working as a freelance writer, it took some careful planning and full disclosure to make sure editors knew which hat I was wearing, that of a PR person or that of a journalist.

Additionally I never use clients in articles I am writing as a journalist – unless they are appropriate sources for a story, past clients, and I fully disclose my relationship. These instances are very rare.

Working for PR firms, I’ve gotten to do a variety of interesting assignments, including:

  • Landed television, radio and print coverage for an 8-city tour for a hip-hop teen band sponsored by Walt Disney Records
  • Generated print and television coverage for the 50th anniversary of a nursery’s poinsettia festival
  • Wrote press releases and created media pitches for a game company as well as telecommunications, technology, and health firms

Offering PR services, landing fat retainers

With every PR project, I learned more — this is a field where you really can learn on the job.

Soon, I added direct PR services for small businesses to boost my income and services mix. I learned what to charge, how to convince firms that an ongoing PR effort was vital to their marketing efforts — and most importantly, why offering PR services is a long-term marketing activity requiring an ongoing monthly retainer fee.

Sure, there are plenty of websites out there with jobs posted where you can end up writing a press release for $25. But if you know how to qualify clients, you can find much better pay, and I did. I routinely get $300 a press release.

Why PR won’t be outsourced

PR might sound great — but isn’t all the work going to cheap contractors overseas? No. Ain’t gonna happen, either.

Working as freelance PR writer requires sophisticated written and verbal skills to deal with media. So this isn’t the type of work that can be outsourced overseas. You have to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing, plus needing to understand what gets reporters and editors excited to cover a story.

Freelance magazine writers and laid-off journalists have several of the skills needed to pitch editors, write contributed articles and research publications. To add PR to your writing services, all you have to do is learn PR 101 basics — such as how to write press releases the media loves — and understand what it takes to work with agencies and the media.

I’m now making more doing a lot less than I had to when I first started, and you can, too.

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23 comments on “The Lucrative Writing Niche That Can’t Be Outsourced Overseas
  1. Hi Kristi,

    Lots of publications use contributed articles, from newspapers to Fast Company to travel publications in Australia. From a quick bit of research, I found acceptance in many niches.

    As a writer, the most profitable way to benefit from contributed articles is to work directly with companies as clients, not with public relations agencies.

    To find publications that accept contributed articles, search for their writer guidelines. If you find one accepting free articles from experts, that’s the same as a contributed article.

    Hope that helps!

    PR agencies might hire you to write a contributed article, but pitching publications would be their realm.
    M. Sharon Baker recently posted…Do You Have Questions About Contributed Articles?My Profile

  2. Are contributed articles primarily used in business publications or are there other types of publications that use this material? I write parenting, travel and some lifestyle. Would PR agencies be able to place contributed articles in these niches?
    Kristi Valentini recently posted…6 Things Parents Around the World Think You’re Doing WrongMy Profile

  3. Katie says:

    I’ve written a couple articles for the local newspaper in special advertising sections (and got paid rather poorly), but this seems like something different… are the PR firms the ones who cut you the check or the company getting the publicity?

    I don’t have any contacts in PR firms that I could contact without risking conflict on interest with my day job, so it might be hard to get the foot in the door on this one, but I would like to work more with that client base. Any advice for contacting a PR firm without networking? Do you work with local or national firms?

    I’ll try to listen to the recorded call before it gets taken down, hopefully more details were covered there.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah – definitely head over and listen to the call.

      But if you are hired by a PR firm, they pay you on behalf of the client.

      If you can’t work with PR firms, you’re still free to pitch noncompeting businesses directly, which is how many of us get PR gigs because we like to earn more and cut out the middleman anyway. 😉

      And we go into chapter and verse detail on HOW to get business PR clients in our upcoming bootcamp – be sure to check that out as well: http://freelancewritersden.com/landing/pr-bootcamp.

      Sorry to hear about the advertorial pay – should be very well paid work. I got $1 a word when I did it.

    • Katie,

      Writing for special sections as a newspaper writer is different than writing a contributed article. And truth be told, many newspapers and magazines have drastically cut the pay they offer to freelancers, as you’ve found out.

      To contact a PR firm, I’d write a letter of introduction stating what services you offer, and including some clips or samples of previous work. But remember, you are just writing articles for PR firms, you aren’t pitching them to publications or guiding the process; that’s the PR company’s role.

      The best success from contributed articles comes from working directly with companies where you are both the writer and the PR person. As Carol said, you are cutting out the middleman.

      We did cover a lot in the call so I encourage you to listen before it goes down on Friday night.
      M. Sharon Baker recently posted…Do You Have Questions About Contributed Articles?My Profile

  4. Candice says:

    I do PR for all of my clients. I write for several blogs but the PR writing is my bread and butter and I’m glad I got into that niche.

  5. Tanya,

    It sounds like you already have a lot of the chops of what it takes and it shouldn’t be too hard for you to be successful right out of the gate. Good for you!

    Contributed articles might just be another lucrative service add on to what could be a full slate of services, which is how I get monthly retainers.

    “See you on the call.”
    M. Sharon Baker recently posted…Learn How I Get Big $$ Gigs in PRMy Profile

  6. Tanya Adams says:

    Sharon, I got really excited reading your post. I’m just feeling out my niche and starting in freelancing. From what you describe here, I would be totally comfortable in the freelancing PR. I’ve worked as an inhouse Marcom Rep/writer in the past for an entertainment entity, a publishing company, and a transportation company. I wrote press releases, got media exposure, wrote content articles, and planned events. So, it’s kind of a mix of all of what you described above. Additionally, I worked in promotions for a television station, and wrote a few magazine and newspapers articles as a budding journalist. I’m so excited to be on the call this afternoon. Can’t wait!
    Tanya Adams recently posted…Are Promotional Items Effective?My Profile

  7. Oliver says:

    I am thinking of starting PR freelance writing, but doesn’t the claim that PR can’t be outsourced because it requires sophisticated writing and verbal skills is specious, not to say a bit prejudiced. The quality of language used by people from the native English speaking countries is, right now, better than those who have a different mother tongue. But that is going to change. Other countries are catching up in their English use and ability. There’s no reason why in 10 years time a Chinese person won’t speak English as well as an American or a Brit. Google “TED English Mania” for an amazing video on how desperate people are to learn English.

    It’s unfortunate that there is this race to the bottom, and we as freelance writers feel that we are against the English language teachers who are helping others learn English. But it’s wrong to claim that PR writing, or any other kind of writing, is too clever to be outsourcable.

    • Oliver,

      There are companies in every content that need help with public relations writing, and it does require some sophistication and knowledge about how to do it right.

      Also, Check out Carol’s clarification above.
      M. Sharon Baker recently posted…Learn How I Get Big $$ Gigs in PRMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s not that it’s too clever, Oliver — it’s that companies don’t seem willing to trust it to contractors in another country.

      I have literally NEVER seen, in the thousands of press releases I’ve been sent by US companies, a contact name outside the US. They do not hire agencies that are abroad. They mostly hire PR people in their own town, and at least in their own country.

      That is why it’s not outsourceable over great distance — the companies believe local people will understand how to connect with local media. Maybe that’s a false assumption, but that is the reality of the marketplace right now. Which means great opportunity for PR writers to tap local companies! Less competition than the whole world, as we see with many writing niches.

  8. Umm, I wonder why “overseas” automatically brings to mind half-starved 3rd world “freelancers” who are in the “business” of writing questionable (if not outright despicable) content for $2 per 500+ words…

    (A European Subscriber)
    Helene Poulakou recently posted…Studying Grammar on a Greek IslandMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I knew that would come up. Guess I could have said “to the Third World” but it was making the headline too long. 😉

      I think readers know what I mean by it. Apologies to any other readers I might have offended…but the point is, PR writing is an opportunity in any developed nation you live in. Businesses need to get in the news, everywhere…and companies seem to strongly prefer to work with local PR teams, or at least ones in their same country who understand the media and the culture there.

      I get a TON of press releases and have yet to get a single one where the PR contact phone number is outside the US, for instance.

      • Thanks for the reply, Carol. 🙂

        I wasn’t *really* offended, because I understood what you meant — it’s just that such generic mentions to “overseas” writers are, of course, more convenient for bloggers, but they end up creating the wrong image in readers’ minds, and this misconception ultimately hurts non-US writers (or, at least, makes it harder for them to convince potential clients).
        Helene Poulakou recently posted…Ideas Are Like BirdsMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          I think the Phillipines and many of the countries you’d think of for rock-bottom pricing are overseas from you as well, right Helene? 😉

          • Well, things are relative, of course, LoL
            Australia is overseas too…

            The thing is, many of us European, multilingual people are addressing the US market too — and I’m afraid this term has acquired very, very negative connotations.

            As to PR writing, I must agree that a non-US writer must have a deep and thorough knowledge of the business and marketing culture of the areas concerned, so “local” is a very logical approach.

            • Helene,

              Don’t make the mistake of thinking all the action is here in the U.S. One only has to look at Velocity Partners in the UK to see that cutting edge marketing is all over the world.

              Companies all over the world want to be seen as experts, need to reach customers in their countries and want to publicize their efforts. And they all need writing help.
              M. Sharon Baker recently posted…Do You Have Questions About Contributed Articles?My Profile

  9. I totally agree! One of my most lucrative clients is a local PR firm who hires me to do case studies and contributed articles for a large technology firm. I have learned a lot and done very well. At least 60 percent of my income in 2013 came from PR and content marketing writing. I expect it to be higher in 2014 based on the new PR/content marketing agencies that I am currently lining up.

    I was a presenter on a panel at the ASJA Content Connections conference in Chicago two weeks ago and was asked a lot of questions about the ethical issues of writing both journalism and content marketing (which contributed articles falls under). I recently wrote about it on the blog I write for journalists transitioning to content marketing and address the ethical issues a lot of the same ways you do. The other thing that I do is try to write about different topics for my journalism projects and my content marketing PR projects. I have found that having separate niches when possible eliminates a lot of the problems. There are times that I cross over, but I do it very carefully and with full disclosure.
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…Straddling the Line: Ethical Issues of Writing both Journalism and Content MarketingMy Profile

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