This morning on Instagram, I saw a post about finding the perfect kebab in northern Miami Beach. I saw a story about Japanese pancakes. I saw a post about Friendship Day from a candy company.
Someone got paid to create all those posts. How enviable does that job sound?
While food writing for publications is often idealized as a dream gig, the reality is most publications pay between $50-$250 for an article these days. Those that pay more — from $500 for a 1500-word researched piece, on up to $2,000 for a coveted print feature — are highly competitive and often require many rounds of development before writing, and then endless rounds of copy changes after. Dividing the per-piece rate by the number of hours it took, many people find they’d be better compensated by actually working at a restaurant.
The more lucrative and sustainable realm within food writing is content marketing — which is definitely a category that some editorial writers avoid, feeling it’s insincere, too corporate or not prestigious enough. But there is a small circle of food content marketers who also get to tell the stories of interesting unknown businesses, bring new trends to the marketplace, and go behind the scenes of their favorite restaurants. People who get to be the voice of celebrity chefs. People who are not ‘covering’ stories: They’re creating them. It’s an exciting, demanding and fulfilling career, and I’m pleased to bring you this chat with one of the most respected content creators in the space.
Carla Siegel, founder of Agentsie, has provided design services for The Dinex Group, Jeffrey Beers, CityHarvest and many other New York-area restaurants and CPG food brands. As a branding specialist, her most recent project was with Chef Jonathan Benno’s new namesake restaurant at the Evelyn Hotel. Lauded for her creativity, communications skills and solutions-oriented approach, Ms. Siegel has earned her own brand identity of true industry veteran. Although her showiest skill set is visual design, clients also rely on her to find the right words for their story, and this is the work category we’re exploring today.
On branding for small food businesses in general:
You work on branding and positioning for a lot of brand new “artisan” or independently owned food businesses. What does that entail?
In some way all clients know who they are. Whether or not they can communicate it effectively is the real challenge! I find so much of my work is helping to extract the right look, feel and tone for my client’s vision from conversation and exploration. It’s a true pleasure to work with people who have something new and exciting to offer. But often, even those that are well spoken or well informed about their business may not speak the exact language that entices consumers.
When branding a company from scratch, what components is a writer involved in?
Writing is a key factor in establishing brand identity. From finding just the right words for brand-aligning attributes, to crafting mission statements, and eventually internal and external communications. The tone matters in all communication.
Is PR a part of branding? And further to the question, are people in your role often called upon to create a media kit, press releases, etcetera?
Echoing the previous question — all communications should be informed by the overarching brand voice. The level of formality of the language, the grammatical style, etc., should be cohesive both in speaking with employees, vendors, members of the media and consumers.
How should a food service startup look for an agency to work with on branding, positioning, launch?
I firmly believe first-hand experience in the industry being serviced greatly informs the perspective and strengthens the work of all creatives. Knowing intimately what your client is up against aids in telling their story. I would recommend new businesses find someone with targeted/niche services specific to their industry. Effective communication is specific and targeted. A partner with a proven track record of working with similar companies for some time can be a true asset.
Current pain points for food writers:
A lot of outlets expect writers to also be photographers, and lately, videographers as well. This extra labor is minimally compensated by editorial outlets. As a visual content expert, what would you say about this?
Nothing replaces budgeting for the right people for the task. While technology these days affords easy output, someone with the right eye or technical skill will always be worth the added cost.
Have you taken videography, animation or video editing courses to stay competitive in the marketplace? Or do you hire specialists for that work?
I always defer to someone extremely well-versed in the media I am looking to incorporate into my work for clients. In my experience, someone who tries to do everything doesn’t do anything really well.
Can you give writers who have never done anything outside of editorial and recipe development an essential tip for confidently pivoting into the realm of content marketing?
Creating social media content about the focus you’d like to pursue affords a nice way for people to expand their portfolios. I have found many great partners through social media, where I can get a sense of their style and tone, and see who they are connected to and working with. Having a website too where you might share work and writing — even if theoretical — is an excellent resource for potential clients.
Is there opportunity for writers to work directly with food brands in different types of social media content? (Instagram, Pinterest, blog.)
The greatest opportunities for writers to provide content for food clients at the moment lie in scheduled newsletters and creative blog entries. There is certainly a need for better writing across social media. However, people eat with their eyes, and businesses in this realm have high expectations about the visuals on their feeds. If a photographer is involved, or if the client has an extensive library of approved photos, that may be a case for crafting content to pair.
Marketing your business:
Please share some tips for creating a professional website.
Your website should be professional, but also give visitors a sense of your personality. Include more than your resume. Make it you in terms of design, tone and images. Even a simple template site can be customized. Add work samples and a list of services to get clients thinking about ways in which they might work with you. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of Google search algorithms! Be specific in your language: Incorporate specific wording that might help your ideal clients find you.
What’s the most important selling tool on a food business website?
Having great photography. I always tell my clients to invest in great photos. They will serve well across more than just web and can easily draw in consumers who might not take the time to learn everything you are about in writing.
How should a freelance content creator look for potential clients — and should they try to get work from agencies?
I’m a big proponent of good old-fashioned networking. Get out there, be seen, tell people what you are doing and/or want to be doing. I would also recommend being highly visible online, both on Google/web and social media. I haven’t heard any love stories about working with agencies, but I wouldn’t count it out if you have a reliable “in.”
Do you do anything in particular to promote your business online — i.e., do you run ads?
As mentioned above, I am a firm believer in Google algorithms. I go to great efforts to effectively manage the exact wording of the copy on my website, and I edit and update the searchable terms to be found online. I am also diligent about adding links to client sites and associated businesses, to both extend visibility on Google and to communicate my work history to potential clients.