What to do when your writer quits
By Chris Gillespie, founder of Find A Way Media
Writing off into the sunset
So your writer just quit. They were the voice of the company - the sultan of stories, the emperor of emails, the "songbird" of Twitter. What so you do?
Definitely, do not panic. Though at first frightening, this actually a huge opportunity to improve your brand.
Here’s what you do.
First, conduct an exit interview before they’re gone.
Painful though it may be, learn everything that you can about why they’re leaving, where they’re headed, and what they’d recommend for the next writer. Put all this down, and then don’t give it too much thought until later.
Next, stop and consider your brand voice
If you're worried that you just lost the voice of the company and it can't be replaced, this is a great wakeup call that you need a brand style guide. Big media companies like The Economist have these, but so do good marketers at any size firm. A good brand style guide cements that voice you like so much and it’s how The New York Times manages to sound consistent across thousands of writers.
A brand style guide outlines the do's and don'ts of your company's voice, including:
- Examples of on-brand work
- The little details, like whether you use an Oxford comma. (It's okay if you don’t - we can still be friends.)
This need not become a large undertaking - many are as short as a page - and it should exist as a sort of living document that you can update as you go. Take the time now to comb through your last writer’s best work and make notes of what you like and don’t like. This will maintain consistency and will help you identify the great writer to follow.
Don’t make any sudden moves
As part of updating your brand, do not try to erase all evidence of your prior writer, especially if their name appears on their work. Some marketers will worry that the fact that they're gone is a poor reflection upon themselves but your audience is very unlikely to even notice. If they do, it’s broadly understood that everyone moves on at some point, and they certainly won’t hold it against you. Big publications don’t do purges when they lose big-name editors, and neither should you.
Simply change their title to “former writer” and move on.
Next, find a stop-gap writer. Your agency perhaps?
While you probably have some blogposts in the hopper, you’ll need to keep the content wheels turning while you search. The journey for a long term fit can be a long one, and you should let it be, as selecting a writer too hastily can set you back months. Turn to an outsourced writer in the mean-time who already knows your industry, even if it comes at a cost.
For many, this is their marketing agency. Just make sure that this writer is actually a writer by trade and not a borrowed coordinator.
Explore why your writer left
With the pressure relieved, it’s time for a little introspection. Why did your writer leave? Draw details from their exit interview to see if there’s anything you can change about your workload or process to make the position more desirable. Many great writers are business writers by necessity and derive much of their joy from side projects. (Their novel, perhaps?) Is there any way that you can allow the next one to practice those personal passions in the workplace with interview pieces, beat-reporting, or allegorical fiction?
Work this into the new job posting, which deserves every bit as much care as a piece of marketing content.
Find the right writer
Now your search can begin in earnest. First thing’s first: what are your criteria? For us at Find A Way Media, voice and style have always been paramount. While we can teach someone our industry, we can’t bequeath them a personality. Here are our criteria:
- Clear voice
- Shows a personality
- Fun to read
- Provides novel insights
- Relevant background
- Demonstrated ability to master new topics
Next, conduct a search for that person. Set aside time each week and buckle in for a long ride.
One beauty of hiring writers is that their work is already public and before spending time on interviews, you can read what they’ve written. Only settle for that writing which surprises you with how much you like it. If you don’t immediately fall in love, it’s unlikely that your readers will.
To find writer leads, here are 7 places that you can look:
- Word of mouth - In-network, in our experience, always produces the best results. Start here.
- Freelancing sites - There’s a lot of muck to wade through, but we’ve found gems.
- Writers’ associations - Many are poorly updated, but you’ll find mostly professionals.
- Craigslist - Doesn’t hurt and it’s only about $45 to publish a listing. Just remember to renew it every week.
- AngelList - Great for smaller companies with an exciting story.
- Blog contributors - What blogs do you love? Scan them for contributors.
- Find a writing agency - Agencies take all the searching out of it and have great writers with excellent experience on staff, you just have to find the “write” one. (Sorry, we couldn’t help it.)
When you find someone you like, interview them, get second opinions, and pay them for a test piece with a guarantee of at least two revisions. If you aren’t thrilled with the results, keep looking.
At the end of this journey, your writer refresh will have forced you to examine what good writing really is for your company and to seek it out. It's far more than just words on a page - it's opinion, style, and seduction that draw readers in and supercharge the rest of your marketing.
And when you do find that writer, hold onto them this time for gosh sakes.