Branded content writing ‘undermined’ by meagre Guardian/ANZ offer to Tracey Spicer



The industry has rounded on The Guardian and ANZ for offering journalist Tracey Spicer a meagre 14c per word for a branded content piece, with the boss of Daily Mail Australia Peter Holder insisting it “undermines the power of content creators”.

Spicer, an experienced and respected writer, took to Facebook to express her disdain at being offered $140 for a 1000 word story, ironically on women’s financial empowerment, describing the rate as exploitative.

Both The Guardian and the bank swiftly back-tracked with the newspaper saying the “wrong rates were applied” while ANZ apologised and admitted it was embarrassed at the offer.

Holder, Daily Mail Australia’s managing director said of the initial offer to Spicer: “I find is surprising and hard to believe. It is undermining the power of content creators and I don’t think writers should be working for that amount of money.”

Separately Spicer took to her Facebook page yesterday afternoon to say she had had a follow up email from The Guardian telling her she should have been offered 60c per word, after ANZ had emailed her to say it thought writers should be offered at least 80c-90c per word for such work – in line with union rates.

“So, a left-leaning media outlet wants to pay its writers less than a big four bank, despite the latter’s considerable advertising commitment,” she added.

Rates driven down 

Holder argued that journalists who do accept such rates of pay could be driving down the general rate for all freelancers, a view expressed by Mumbrella readers in the comment thread on yesterday’s story.

Holder declined to reveal how much the Daily Mail pays but said its rates are “closer” to the MEAA’s national freelance award rate of $925 for 1000 words or less. He added that its branded content, and the amount it pays for contributions “falls under the stewardship” of its UK operation which has a team dedicated to such content.

The Australian office however currently hires its own staff writers to produce branded content which must be written outside of the journalists’ normal working hours. In a hangout with Mumbrella the Daily Mail’s commercial editor Anne Shooter revealed it charges advertisers $50,000 for three sponsored stories in Australia, with each “guaranteed” to attract 30,000 views.

“We pay a flat rate rather than per word and it works out as significantly more than 14c a word,” Holder said. “They can write the content in the office but not during their paid work hours.”

News Corp and Fairfax both declined to comment.

Creativity undermined: Comms Council CEO 

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Tony Hale: Creativity “being treated as a commodity”

Tony Hale, chief executive of the Communications Council, said the rate of 14c per word appears “insulting” and declared it another example of where the broader creative industry – journalists, PR or creative agencies – is being undermined.

“Tracey Spicer has not only rejected it but chosen to do something about it and good on her for that,” he said. “It’s another example where creativity and originality is being treated as a commodity.”

Too often creative work is being reduced by advertisers to the lowest common denominator and is simply not being valued, Hale added, with pressure constantly applied to rates.

He called on more marketers and advertisers to pay for pitches, a personal crusade which Hale flagged in a hangout with Mumbrella in January.

“Creativity is being reduced to a transaction or a commodity,” he said. “Agencies and journalists should be paid for their ideas and their creativity. It puts value on their time and effort.”

Content agency view

The managing partner of content marketing agency Edge, Richard Parker, declined to comment on the 14c rate but said Edge pays contributors “significantly more than that”.

“We pay solid market rates,” he said, adding that “big name” writers will traditionally receive higher rates of pay.

“It will vary depending on the journalist but everyone needs to make a living,” he said. “If the journalist is a big name or a piece is incredibly technical or requires real specialist knowledge then they will be paid more but that is a matter of supply and demand.”

Travel stories, meanwhile, will probably earn the writer less because there are many freelance travel journalists and it does not require so much specialist knowledge, Parker added.

No reason to devalue branded content

Rakhal Ebeli

Rakhal Ebeli

Rakhal Ebeli, chief executive of content creation firm Newsmodo, said it works with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to ensure its rates are fair.

“Newsmodo has always, and continues to work in close consultation with the MEAA to ensure freelance journalists are remunerated in-line with the latest industry expectations,” he said.

“In my view, there should be no reason to devalue the contributions of journalists in the branded content and native advertising space. In fact, we have seen a steady rise in rates as we continue to deliver more content for brands and native advertising clients.”

Asked if the growing number of freelance journalists chasing work was potentially driving down rates, Ebeli said: “I don’t think that budgets for brand journalism and native advertising should be directly affected by the growing number of freelance journalists but there may be others in the industry who don’t share the same view.”

The union view

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said media firms have rejected union attempts to discuss its rates of pay.

MEAA“MEAA has repeatedly tried to get major media organisations to the table to discuss fair rates for freelancers but they have refused,” he told Mumbrella. “Legally we don’t have the right to bargain collectively for freelancers because they are not employees and so are out of reach of the Fair Work Act.

“Nevertheless, we publish recommended rates as a guide to what we believe should be paid to enable freelancers to get fair remuneration, and we offer contract advice and support individually to our freelance members.”

He described freelancers as “an increasingly important part of our industry” and stressed rates of pay should reflect the value they provide.

“MEAA will continue to campaign for improved rates and fair contracts,” he said, adding that it was a “very challenging market”.

Steve Jones


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