By Kath Walters

Before you engage a content marketing agency, ask them this important question: how much will you pay my writers?

There’s big bucks in content, but the people at the base of the pyramid – writers – are missing out.

Unfortunately, most content marketing agencies don’t pay their writers nearly enough. Expectations are high; pay is pathetic.

I have worked with some of them. One agency asked me to use my 16 years as a business journalist to gain access to the CEOs in the ASX 200 companies, and produce stories for $300 each. I refused.

My journalist friends confirm my experience. In many cases, 50 cents a word is considered a good rate. Twenty cents a word is common. That’s $60 for the average 300-word blog post that might involve a couple of interviews, plus writing time, plus corrections and more corrections. Plus paperwork. Plus waiting for months to be paid. Plus covering your own super, worker’s compensation, utilities and office space.

So what? Why throw money away on writers?

Writers have always been suckers. Most of us have accepted being underpaid to get our byline in print, at least to start with.

There is a good reason. Every year, marketers publicly state that their biggest problem is creating engaging content, and finding ideas (see the latest survey by the Content Marketing Institute and digital marketing peak body, AMDA).

Even if you underpay, a writer will work hard to deliver a good result.

But quality writing takes time, experience and contacts. It takes research and insight, and contextual understanding. These are built over time, but no one could survive for long on the current rates of pay.

What you pay is what you get

If you want to get quality content, pay for quality writing.

There is an award rate for freelance journalists: here’s the rate sheet published by the The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) [click through to ‘freelance rates’].

As a base rate, the MEAA says freelance journalists should get 93 cents (ex GST) a word for up to 1000 words. Given that most content marketing stories are under 1000 words, start with a minimum flat rate of $700 for stories up to 700 words (ex GST), and then add a minimum word rate of at least 93 cents a word thereafter.

There’s an epidemic of poor writing dressed up as content marketing.

It’s no wonder. The rates paid by the agencies for quality content are so low that most experienced journalists cannot afford to work for them. They won’t work for agencies.

Young aspiring writers who sign on to agencies or are commissioned directly are struggling to survive in the field.

Last month, Craig Hodges, who five years ago founded a content marketing agency called King Content, sold it for $48 million to the media monitoring company, Isentia. That’s a lot of dough. There’s money in content marketing – enough to spread around to the writers who are creating it.