Creative Meets Corporate: Tales from the Content-Making Trenches

by Emma Tattenbaum-Fine | July 06, 2015

  • My Vault

Now there are a billion platforms (websites, channels, blogs) that must be filled with content.  I can’t help but think how utterly incomprehensible this task would sound to a peasant or medieval serf.  I imagine such a person, leaning on her shovel or spinning wheel and asking, “So, the air is empty and you have to fill it with stories to sell things?”  Yes, I would nod, that’s basically what the Internet is right now. 

I would be the delegate appointed to speak to such a time-travelling peasant because I am the one who is asked to fill this bottomless void.  I am called a “content-maker.” 

“Put down your useful shovel, your effective spinning wheel,” I’d say to my peasant protégé.  “In this time, we don’t do real things anymore.  Come help me to write some clickbait for free in the hopes of exposure.”

Content marketing can be defined simply--it is the creation and distribution of relevant content, typically through websites, to a defined audience with the goal of having the customer take action.  A medieval serf wouldn’t get that, but hopefully you found it useful.

When I was 23, “content” meant working for a corporation on a client of theirs who, for legal reasons, I’ll call SHMIGHTY DOG.  Shmighty Dog had made some cans of wet dog food focused on small dogs.  The product was packed with protein because tiny dogs can only eat so much before their tummies touch the ground, so you want to get them that protein in as few calories as possible.  Shmighty Dog boasted a high protein, dense, low calorie product, to keep tiny dogs from needing lap band surgery. 

I was charged with the earnestly joyful task of taking a bunch of dog videos, featuring tiny dogs from the Internet, and writing character voices for them.  I was paid $500 and probably put in some estimated 1,000,000 hours because this, to me, was high art.  My mother used to make my pets talk when I was a kid, and I felt that I was born for this job, or rather, this freelance project.  I was born for this freelance project.

While working on this opus, the corporate folks said things to me like, “Make a viral video.”  This was the first sign that we were coming from different cultures.  I am a comedian and I wish to explain that making a viral video is similar to winning the lottery.  Sure, you’re going to use your lucky numbers and hold the rabbit’s foot in your hand while you fill out your card, but to expect to win because you have done those things: that’s not reasonable.

But I was REALLY EXCITED to write a script filled with dog characters, so I nodded and said, “Yup, totally viral, you bet.”

The day came when my script was perfect.  I had gotten a lot of notes along the way: notes like, “We want viral and hilarious, but not remotely edgy in any way, so cut everything that was funny and replace it with things that aren’t funny, but will magically go viral.  You know, ‘content.’”  I’m paraphrasing, but that’s sort of exactly how the conversations went.

What I now had were seven different scenes of hilarious (but NOT edgy) dogs who had been anthropomorphized in all different ways. 

I gave Shmighty Dog disgruntled married dogs having chats about taxes, excited dogs going out clubbing, dogs gossiping about other more wayward dogs, you know, dog comedy.  I cast my funniest friends who were paid to come in and match their voices to the antics and size of each dog.  We took a million pictures in the recording studio.  It was the perfect blend of young creatives and a giant corporation.  Everybody was happy and exploited.

The dubbed videos and final product came out fabulously on a private link that only I saw.  Well, I shared it with my cousin, and then I went back for the link and it was gone.  That was it….  They not only didn’t use the video, but I don’t have it to share in my own portfolio.  I assume the corporation for which I worked was not chosen by the client, Shmighty Dog.

Someone else did better dog voices? 

Seems impossible, but then, I’m not the only content-maker out there.  We are as numerous as the serfs who toiled away in their fiefdoms.  I guess. 

What’s the takeaway?  When you’re making content, you have only a tiny window into the bigger picture.  You’re the bug crawling up the glass of the bell jar wondering, “Weird, this looks like air, so why can’t I fly here?”

Today when I “make content,” I let go and let God, understanding that, while I can ask a few questions, I don’t really know the big picture beyond “Make it viral.”

I wonder if, with greater communication, companies could get a little more from their content-makers and content-makers could give more of what the company is seeking. 

Thoughts or anecdotes on the collaborative dance between the two?  Comment below.

This piece is the first in a series by Emma about day jobs held while pursuing an acting/writing career.

Filed Under: Job Search | Workplace Issues

Tags: content marketing | freelance | writing

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