In early 2012, I turned on my corporate-provided laptop for my first day of work writing content for a large technology company.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. For more than 15 years, I’d been a dedicated freelancer — rejoicing in my independence, working in my little office from a log home in the middle of a vast forest.
Back then, starting my own business was the only way I could live the life I wanted. But thanks to increased telecommuting options and better connectivity, now I get to enjoy my lifestyle along with a regular paycheck.
Content marketers are creative people and being thrust into a hugely bureaucratic environment can be bewildering at first. When I was self-employed, I was free to focus on my own projects. Want to launch a new ebook? Sure! Go for it.
Life as a content marketer in Corporate America is different.
Adapting to the corporate world
When you work at a large company, a paraphrase of the classic Serenity Prayer is helpful:
To survive and thrive, you need to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
In a company with thousands, or in my case, hundreds of thousands of employees, the chain of command is deep.
It’s unlikely you’ll launch an ebook all by yourself.
As a corporate content marketer, projects inevitably require working and playing well with others in a gigantic sandbox.
You’ll need to accept a few realities in exchange for that lovely paycheck. Here are seven …
Reality #1: You have to follow rules
Depending on what you did before entering the corporate world, you may not have heard of a style guide.
It’s a document that dictates the writing rules for a specific company. No matter how well you write, if you don’t follow the style guide, trouble ensues.
The style guide for the company I work at is 373 pages. (I’m not kidding!) There’s also a word usage database that contain words we can’t write in content. For example, don’t even think about using the word “legacy” to describe old software because that word is banned.
Style guides are just one set of rules you’ll encounter as a content marketer.
The company I work for also has rules for using the logo. It’s worth billions of dollars, so they don’t want people messing with it. Trademarking is another big deal. Procedures exist for everything, along with countless complex forms and systems. Deal with it.
All of this may sound alarming, and at first it is. The key is to gather information about the rules. Knowledge is power and many companies have an intranet that’s a vast repository of everything you need to know.
Become a researcher and you’ll turn into the go-to person for answers, which your bosses will adore.
Reality #2: You don’t always get to create fun stuff
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as a corporate content marketer, you don’t always get to write about what you want.
Sometimes you’re assigned to write about a topic you think is boring, but you have to write about it anyway. Sometimes you know from the outset only three people in the known universe will read what you write. And yet, you have to write it anyway.
If you find you want to jab a spear in your eye the next time you have to wax poetic on the benefits of “neuro-micro-wigeted analytics in the cloud,” write about other topics on your own time.
I write novels on the side, and it helps me maintain my creative mojo.
Reality #3: You must accept review of your work
It’s odd to me, but apparently some writers have managed to get through life insulated from criticism.
As a corporate content marketer, you’ll be working with others, so comments, critiques, and sometimes even starting over are part of the deal.
You’ll have a lot of people telling you your peerless prose isn’t so perfect. You’ll also likely have to work with subject-matter experts who don’t know much about writing, but think they do.
It’s important to disengage emotionally from your corporate writing. You’re not creating War and Peace here, folks; you need to develop a thick skin.
Don’t be the prima donna who ends up with an ulcer from too many nit-picky arguments.
Reality #4: You may have to work with others you desperately want to fire, but can’t
One of the best things about being a freelancer was that I could fire clients who were unpleasant. Sadly, you usually can’t fire coworkers.
Although I’m lucky to work with a fantastic team of writers, some of the subject-matter experts I’ve worked with have been unpleasant and rude.
In a large company, you won’t get along with everyone. When necessary, find out who can help you avoid the irksome people — or at least minimize your contact with them.
Reality #5: You have to meet deadlines, even when they’re arbitrary
In my freelance life, I never missed a deadline. But now my deadlines can be everything from critical to downright arbitrary or absurd.
Sometimes they are completely fluid, which is a novelty for me. (If you have no plan to meet it, why set a deadline?)
In practice, the more people involved, the more likely deadlines won’t be met. Many writers aren’t the best at project management. (Hello, procrastination!)
If you take the initiative to project manage everything you do at work, you’ll stand out.
Reality #6: You have to attend time-sucking meetings
Many content marketers are introverts who would prefer to sit alone and write, but that’s not realistic in the corporate world.
You will inevitably be interrupted by (sometimes pointless) meetings.
The best way to avoid meetings is to head them off at the pass.
Whenever possible, ask if an email or other option would suffice. You need to jealously guard your precious writing time or you’ll never finish anything.
Reality #7: You must avoid the vortex of complacency
After you have worked at a company for a while, you may become complacent when reading jargon and corporate lingo.
If half the company uses the meaningless phrase “time-to-value,” it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to start writing like an automaton.
Keep striving to produce your best work, even if you have read “best of breed” 700 times. Unless you work for a kennel club, there’s likely a better description to use.
Your entrepreneurial spirit can live on
As I noted earlier, my return to the corporate world was a bit nerve-wracking, and I was worried my independent entrepreneurial spirit would be crushed.
It hasn’t been.
Why? Because I don’t focus my attention on the things I can’t do anything about. The company I work for has been around for a long time and expending a lot of energy railing against reality doesn’t do me or the company any good.
At the end of the day, I get paid every week to be creative. That’s a big deal.
Even when I write about topics that don’t particularly interest me, I’m still writing.
And for a content marketer, that’s what it’s all about.