From creating videos and photography, to writing and publishing articles or audio, a content creator could specialise in any number of mediums. But how do you turn that interest or hobby into something that could work for you professionally? People who create content for a living have the power to bring people together by building engaged communities, and perhaps even change worldviews by sharing new ideas and perspectives. We spoke to five professionals who create, edit, commission or otherwise publish content professionally – for brands, media companies, their own channels and more – to help us understand how to forge a path in this broad to define field.
Think about the 'why'
You may have heard that there are 5 W’s in journalism – “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where” and “Why” – which are the fundamental questions to ask before creating a new content piece. When it comes to creating meaningful and effective content, the most important thing to focus on is Why. Sam Diss, former Head of Content at Mundial, a football focused magazine and creative agency, says, “My advice is always: What is the reason why you need to tell this story? If it’s 'because I think people will click', that’s not really good enough. That kind of insincere approach to content creation led to the 'pivot to video' boom and bust. With that flop, there was a lack of heart and a lack of understanding about the 'why'. The 'why' isn’t analytics. It’s: 'What makes this content resonate with me?'”
Creating content for the sake of it will never lead to groundbreaking work. But once you’ve considered why you’re doing something, you’re well on your way to making something meaningful.
Find your niche
As with any creative field, finding a niche or area of expertise will allow you to pursue your interest while building a professional level of expertise. Laura Havlin, Head of Content at D&AD says, “My advice is to find what you are passionate about and then be open minded about opportunities related to that topic."
Havlin started her career in magazine journalism and has since found her niche in arts and culture media. She says, “I looked for any opportunity that had an arts and culture side to it, from brand work with an arts edge, galleries, agencies, media companies, as well as doing my own writing on these topics to further my experience and build my contacts. Added together, these different jobs under that theme build a rounded perspective on the industry.”
Daz Skubich, a member of Game Assist, says that a niche can be anything that makes you unique. They say, “Your personality can also be your niche – even if there's someone covering the same topic as you, or playing the same game, your content will be different because you are different. Everyone sees the world through different eyes, so use that to your advantage.”
Find inspiration in unexpected places
Coming up with original ways to tell stories is a major part of content creation. Our advice? Don’t go looking for inspiration in the same places as everyone else. Raymond Murphy, a freelance Editorial Director and one of D&AD’s New Blood Judges says, “Having a solid bank of references may seem obvious, but too often we end up relying on examples by the same brands that everyone loves. I've always admired creatives that can spot an ingenious idea in an unglamorous context. Whether that's a compelling newsletter series by an insurance company, or a local car dealership that's made smart use of Instagram reels, good inspo can (and should) come from anywhere. Once you've cast your net a bit wider, you'll soon find that your ideas begin to look a lot less like everyone else's.”
If your company or university class uses a comms platform like Slack but doesn't have a channel for sharing references, then Murphy recommends starting one. He adds, “Or join one that's hosted by someone else, for example I love 'The Wordsmiths' run by content and comms agency Sonder & Tell.”
Build your list of contacts
Finding a mentor or even just speaking to people who have already paved their way is a sure way to learn. Murphy says, “I often say this, but if you see someone whose career you envy on LinkedIn, The Dots, etc, just drop them a message and see if they'd be up for a quick chat. You'd be surprised at how receptive some senior people can be – especially now, after a year of very few IRL industry events.”
Don’t get disheartened if your first attempt doesn’t work, just keep reaching out to people and someone will make time for you eventually. Murphy adds that it’s a good idea to jump on the learning opportunity if someone does respond saying, “If you do manage to get a chat in their diary and it goes well, you could follow up and ask if they'd be interested in mentoring you. They might even say yes.”
One of the best ways to create something that will resonate with others is to just be authenticly yourself in your output. Campbell Walker AKA Struthless, who has a following of 388K on his YouTube channel, where he talks about all things creativity says, “If you’re starting out, work on authenticity in what you say and constraints in how you say it.”
Walker says that though there is an abundance of talented people in this industry, being true to yourself can help you stand out. “Talent is the cost of entry, not the differentiator. The differentiators are a powerful message and a definable aesthetic. Powerful messages develop through being true to yourself. Definable aesthetics, in my opinion, develop through constraints. If you only use blue paint, you become 'the blue artist' and people understand you. Once they understand you they’ll listen to what you have to say. Once they listen, you can start using other colours.”
Start somewhere, anywhere
This is age-old advice and one of the best ways to get ahead – just get started. Skubich says, “Everyone says it, but just start. We don't mean that you shouldn't take it seriously, but more that planning can only get you so far.”
Speaking about their YouTube channel they say, “Before our official launch in 2020, we had been planning the project for over a year. It's less than a year later and we're nearly at 500 subscribers on YouTube. So, if you really want to make content and you have the passion and drive, go for it! Use that passion to put yourself in the best position possible to launch, and then don't hold back when it's time.”
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