Service journalism for the 1% sounds like a highly desirable niche, but it takes much more than an appreciation for affluent lifestyles. Advising senior executives and high-net-worth individuals on financial strategy is not a frivolous or simple matter. It requires granular understanding of complex topics, a master storyteller’s approach to disseminating information, and a nimble yet grounded approach to volatile landscapes. The content consultants who specialize in it are in the top earnings percentile of writers. And for those who work on both sides of the owned/earned media divide, there’s a technique to switching back and forth between being an impartial authority for a publication and an informed brand voice.
In this installment of the Niche Freelancer, we chat with ClearVoice featured freelancer and longtime wealth management columnist Dahna Chandler, who lends her voice to some of the top financial institutions and consumer publications in the world.
Did you make a switch from journalism to branded content, or do you sit somewhat at the intersection? Explain how you found the right mix of journalism, branded content, and more traditional “corporate communications.”
I haven’t entirely made the switch away from journalism. I always will do some journalism work, but primarily in advocacy journalism or writing for trades, to show my expertise in the areas where I offer content writing services.
The mix I chose correlates with my business goals and passions. Because I want to generate high revenue, I moved away from journalism as a key service offering and began offering that skill set to major brands, to create what I call strategic editorial content. I write communications content (which focuses more on building engagement and brand recognition than generating leads, but helps develop relationships with target audiences that lead to conversions) strategically, so it integrates seamlessly into my clients’ 360-degree marketing strategy. It helps them reach business goals, which usually are tied to revenue and shareholder value.
I focus on digital corporate communications. Like most corporate communicators, I have a global perspective on communications functions, which means I have business acumen, marketing fluency and can offer advisory services to clients for a wide range of communications activities, from digital marketing to media relations.
You’re in more of a consulting role presently. Does that mean you primarily help companies come up with their branded content strategy, or are there other responsibilities?
Yes, I’m a digital corporate communications consultant, and communications marketing is one of the services I offer, which includes content strategy. I can conduct communications audits and write complete strategic communications plans (which include content strategies), or help clients augment the ones they have. I am moving toward doing that rather than simply production (or writing only). I’m pursuing a Masters in Corporate Communications at Georgetown University to gain more mastery in this area.
Again, while I have marketing fluency and understand the value of content marketing, my passion is messaging, not sales. My focus is internal communications, including digital transformation strategy, corporate change management communications, post-crisis reputation rebuilding, branding communications, diversity, inclusion and fairness messaging.
What training or qualifications are behind your expertise in wealth management and commercial finance?
I was blessed to watch others, including my own parents, grow wealth as a child and young adult. I began selling insurance as a wealth-building tool in my early 20s (and won awards for sales and leadership in the industry). I’ve always followed the stock market and have predicted every major economic downturn since 1987 (when I was in my early 20s). As an undergraduate at Wellesley, my minor was economics and my focus was on banking. When I wrote for Black Enterprise, I wrote about wealth building and commercial finance. I started reading Financial Times and WSJ at age seven (no, that’s not a typo!)! I have a fascination for wealth management and institutional finance, and my work at Georgetown focuses on being a corporate communicator in the wealth industry.
Do you have a procedure for digging into very specialized and detail-oriented topics that are new to you?
Yes, and it’s fairly simple. I research it from every angle to gain as granular an understanding of the topic as possible, talk to experts and find ways to get paid to write about it because I learn best by writing. Right now, I’m developing expertise in everything from behavioral finance and economics to human dynamics. The goal is to gain insight into complex issues such as corporate cultural transformation (especially around diversity, inclusion and fairness); and investor behavior during market volatility.
Is your audience changing in the way they like to receive information? Do they prefer written articles still, or is there an increased interest in podcasts, video interviews, short-form mobile-first content?
My primary audience is senior executives and professionals. They like content they can print out, scan visually, mark up, review again quickly and easily, share snippets of, and maintain in files, even if it’s an electronic system. Videos, podcasts or short-form mobile content don’t serve that purpose. They’re more Harvard Business Review, Knowledge@Wharton, Deloitte Insights, Fast Company and similar content readers.
However, when I advise them about reaching their audiences, that’s when we talk about podcasts, videos, short-form mobile content, infographics, visuals, use of specific platforms for specific purposes, and the like.
Is there a particular size of client that you prefer working with, and why?
Yes. I much prefer to work with midsize and larger, established clients in the wealth management and financial services industry, as well as major media outlets. They tend to have a solid understanding of what’s necessary to succeed with digital corporate communications programs, the resources to devote to that success, and teams of experienced professionals to ensure success in the programs. They’re also more likely to treat me with the professional respect I’ve earned over many years of experience and through educational attainment, which includes integrating me into their team, compensating appropriately and on time, and executing mutually beneficial consulting contracts with me. I’m passionate about helping them achieve the messaging excellence that generates the outcomes they need.
What do you like best about working with legacy brands and institutions?
Legacy brands usually are smarter about the way they conduct business, though not always. I’m focused on only working with those who’ve incorporated ESG or highly ethical “environmental, social and (corporate) governance” values into their daily operations. The brands I choose to work with also tend to have the in-house brain trust necessary to create exceptional content messaging experiences for their usually clearly defined audiences, and have an organized process for developing the right communications content. Those that need assistance with refining their strategies have no issue with hiring me to help.
In your experience, has the attitude of editorial publishers changed, in the way that they view native content, brand content publications, owned content and the people who straddle both sides of the fence?
Yes, some have. Many still are editorial purists who won’t allow journalists who’ve determined they can generate better financial outcomes from brand content work than journalism to write for them. I’ve eliminated those outlets from consideration as places to contribute my talent and expertise.
But, quite a few editorial publishers have started their own in-house brand content agencies or studios to leverage their storytelling, audience development, marketing strategy, resources, brand equity and technical expertise by offering their services to brands who need them. I don’t see working in both arenas as “straddling both sides of the fence,” though. I’m a business owner operating to generate revenue and profitability. Few other professionals are expected to stay purists and, therefore stay struggling financially. I have little respect for any organization that demands that from independent communicators.
What new business outreach tactics would you recommend to traditional journalists who are struggling to find their way in the changing content landscape?
First, they (you) have to get past the “betraying my professional ethics” mindset and stop thinking as “freelancers” who have to take whatever you can get from whomever offers you something that looks like work. Start thinking as business owners who offer a variety of services to various clients in specific niches. You should see yourself as a top professional, who has a high-demand skill set that you are exchanging for revenue, and no one is doing you any favors by hiring you. You should set up and operate as real businesses, from marketing to taxes to contracts.
Then, read the content of other journalists who’ve made the shift successfully (meaning they’re six-figure annual revenue writers) like Mridu Khullar Relph, Jennifer Goforth Gregory, Ed Gandia and Ana Gotter. Also, network, network, network with other writers — and be generous with your insights, leads and information. It comes back in spades, believe that. Let go of the “imposter syndrome” and always be constantly improving both as communicators and business owners. Take good care of your physical health and mental wellbeing. Finally, try to do work you’re excited about.