Junior copywriters and interns: Should you pay?

should I pay junior copywriters interns

The business world is full of companies requesting the free service of artists in exchange for a credit or by-line on published work.

Artists often proclaim their indignation on social media at being asked to supply their services for free, saying a by-line does not pay the bills and that those commissioning the work would never ask their plumber or electrician to work for free.

This may be true, however there are a few notable points that need to be considered, both by the business commissioning the work and by the artist.

Free work is the artist’s apprenticeship

When you are in the early stages of your electrical apprenticeship, you don’t go anywhere near live wires on a job site. You learn about and practice the important stuff in a classroom and spend your time on site sweeping sawdust.

Free work is an artist’s classroom and there is nothing wrong in working for free if it is building experience and a portfolio.

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To free or not to free

While a uni student or unemployed graduate will likely jump at the opportunity to have some work published without pay, most of the decent creative industries students have jobs lined up six months before they leave uni and are building their portfolio for real money. Chances are you will find a willing participant, however expect their work to be that of exactly what they are – a beginner.

There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, however you should return the favour with training and development so that the artist receives value in return for volunteering.

On occasion you may find a diamond in the rough and their work may be excellent, in which case you should probably start paying them before someone else does!

If you offer a byline as payment to a writer, photographer, videographer or designer with an already established portfolio, consider a “polite” no to be a great result.

On occasion, they may take on the work as part of a strategy to secure future paid work from you, however most artists know the bar will be set at “free”. Generally, if an experienced artist takes on unpaid work, they are probably not all that experienced.

Moreover, if you negotiate ruthlessly on price and squeeze margins, many artists will respond by taking the reduced pay and producing mediocre work.

An artist with a sound business mind will (and should) produce the same quality output regardless of the negotiated price, however don’t rely it.

Exposure maketh the artist

With digital media, art is inherently shareable. Plumbing is not. Some artists will make work “already produced” in their portfolio available for use on projects aligned with their positioning – with an appropriate by-line – to help build their profile. However, if you require bespoke work from an experienced professional, expect to pay.

Poor content can be damaging

In an age where audiences are becoming increasingly harder to reach with interruptive advertising, bringing audiences to your business with quality content is an essential marketing strategy. Plenty of businesses realise this. Few are doing it well.

You should decide how you want to be represented through your content. It might well be basic work that with a little editing is suitable for student or junior, but bear in mind that the not only will it be that of a beginner, they will also be poorly equipped to advise on best practices.

Moreover, if the content is poor, it will actually do more damage than good, decreasing the credibility of any future content you produce.

As a writer, the only way to improve your writing is by writing. Natural ability helps, as does reading, but neither is a substitute for practice. The same goes for photography, design, videography and pretty much everything else in life.

There is nothing wrong with offering unpaid work to juniors or students to help them build their experience, portfolio and profile, just expect the work to require some polishing and ensure you return the favour with training and development.

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