The Freelancer’s Handbook: Brand vs. Reputation

You might have a brand, but do you have a reputation?

By Andrew Masterson.

In the corporate language that dominates any in-group discussion about freelance journalism these days, it has become an article of faith that a successful operator needs a ‘personal brand’.

Less often discussed, however, is what that term actually means. As a buzz-phrase it revels in being obligingly free of meaning, remaining available, thus, to be deployed in a rich variety of self-serving contexts. It can imply a particular editorial speciality, an active social media presence, or even a penchant for dressing well and posting lots of selfies.

So, if you’re going to claim a ‘personal brand’, how do you anchor it in the real world? How do you give it a meaning that might communicate something sensible to the editors and other people in a position to offer commissions?

You do so, I suggest, by recognising that the words ‘brand’ and ‘reputation’ are not synonyms. Reputation is hard-won. Reputation takes time. Reputation is how you demonstrate professionalism. Without reputation, brand is worthless.

Let’s not fool ourselves here. As freelances our value lies solely in our ability to deliver accurate, informative copy, at correct length, on time, and on budget. That’s not easy. That’s why good freelances get paid good money.

But those qualities have nothing to do with personal brand. They have everything to do with competence and conscientious work.

A good freelance, on receipt of a commission, checks out both the subject and the publication in which the piece is to appear. The resulting story should not need sub-editing, assuming the space allocated doesn’t change.

The copy delivered should feature every word correctly spelled, grammar and punctuation perfectly geared to house style, content meticulously researched, interviews diligently conducted and reported, emotional impact and factual base expertly balanced, length exact, deadline met, budget constrained. These are the elements on which reputation is built.

Get those elements right, each and every time, and you’ll get the work – even if you dress like a hobo and wouldn’t touch social media with a bargepole.


Find out more about Andrew Masterson

Andrew Masterson has been a freelance for most of his 35 year career. His current clients include The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Cosmos, Slow Living magazine, and documentary-makers Genepool Productions. A collection of his articles on science and technology is slated for publication by Random House in August 2016.