How Business Management Daily Finds Great Sources of Free Content

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At a session last week at SIPA Annual 2019 titled Content Is a Fixed Cost: How One Publisher Saved $65k and Made Their Staff Happier, Cal Butera, editor, blogger, cartoonist, for Business Management Daily, wanted to make a point about using books for sources of free content.

"Authors want exposure," said Butera. "Once you start running excerpts of these in your newsletters, they will start working with you more. What do they want in return? Publicity. So I'll run an excerpt with their photo and byline, and might write, say, 'excerpted from Joan Jett,' with her picture there."

That random name choice triggered a question: "Does anyone remember that song, I Love Rock 'n' Roll? What amount of coin does it say to put in the jukebox? I'll give one of our books, The Manager's Back Pocket, for the correct answer. Rob [Lentz, BMD editor] and I wrote a lot of it, and I illustrated it." After a SIPA member CEO shouted the answer—a dime—Lentz added that "the book that Cal just gave away essentially provided two years worth of tips for us. 'Let's break this up and get it out there in a freeview.'"

In BMD's rock-'n'-roll-out-the-tips spirit, here are some takeaways for finding free content:

1. Make transcripts from your webinars. "First make an agreement or contract with a speaker that you can use the webinar content for copy and books," said Butera. "Webinars are profitable but also very rich in content." He suggested one place for this: "They charge maybe a dollar for every audio minute and offer a 12-hour turnaround time. Cut that up into articles. We've turned a webinar transcript into a book before."

2. Call it an executive summary. "The word 'transcript' from a marketing perspective is what Adam would call a loser," said Lentz. "Nobody wants to read a transcript so what we do, sometimes we'll call it an executive summary of a webinar. A transcript on its own is [not always digestible in print]. It takes time to turn it into something readable."

3. Insert questions. "The other challenge [with transcripts] is you immediately lose that sense of interactivity from the speaker, you lose that live sensation," said Lentz. "We do like to play around with different formats. We took an employee discipline webinar and we actually went into the transcript and inserted our own questions to break it up as if the reader were someone bouncing questions off the speaker. We just wanted to give it some sort of back-and-forth feel and then added a sexy title."

4. Find volunteer writers. There are two ways to find volunteer writers—either they come to you or you go to them," said Butera. He offered a good way to determine if something is well-written. "If you can't think of a headline for [an article], then it should be rewritten." As for finding writers, he was "looking at [his] Twitter feed and spotted a piece by a woman. So I went to her website. She could write. I emailed and asked her if I could use it. She ended up doing a couple webinars for us and we now have a professional relationship." For another newsletter, Office Manager Today, Butera wanted to run an article on copiers. "I went to a commercial website, a company that sells copiers and found an article—reasons to buy and reasons to lease. I asked them if I could use it in a non-promotional way. Commercial sites may not always be promotional."

5. Talk up people at conferences. "Conferences are also a good place to find writers," said Pat DiDomenico, editorial director for BMD, who was kind of emceeing the session. "It might allow you to find a guest writer or columnist that gives a different voice."

6. Look for service websites. Butera suggested HARO (Help a Reporter Online), an online service for journalists to get feedback from people and beef up articles. He might ask, "What are the ramifications of this new legislation on this industry?" "We posted one question for free two years ago," said Lentz, "and have been deluged by PR people ever since." But this has been a good thing because "these PR people are the connections with the actual professionals. So all from one question, we've gotten a wellspring of content ever since. It's just a matter of parsing it."

7. Look for books. As mentioned above, BMD will look for books from authors in need of some publicity and use takeouts. Or you can ask them for takeouts. "You go to the authors or PR people and say, 'This is great but can you give me 5 or 7 teaching points that we can run?'" said DiDomenico. "That might save us some work. We don't run a book cover because people might think it's a book review or something like that."

8. Run "listicles." "We've become the expert in splitting articles and books into tips," said Lentz. "This way people can quickly pick up our [content] and get something from it. Every listicle can become a tip if they're rewritten. We can use the tips as a freeview to a book. We also find that our readers spread those around."

I'll have more from this session in the coming weeks. As one might expect, BMD can fit a lot of tips into a 55-minute session. You can also view this session here.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…