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ASK US WEDNESDAY: “Copy rejected, content agency won’t pay me. Help!”

by Rachel Smith
05 December 2018

Hi Rachel. I have a conundrum and I’d love to know what you think. Recently, some content that I was commissioned to do for a content marketing agency was rejected, even after a rewrite (and now the content agency won’t pay me). I’ve never had an article rejected before, not in print nor online. As a magazine editor I have paid writers in full for copy that they just couldn’t quite get right, which I have had to rewrite myself, because I appreciate how much time and effort they’ve put into it. Or if it really sucked, I would at least offer a kill fee. But that’s print. Can you please advise what the protocol for content writing is for this kind of thing? B

It shouldn’t make a difference for print or digital – you’re still dealing with editors or content managers who have a budget. Of course, what muddies the waters when it comes to content marketing work is that you’re not JUST dealing with a brief and one editor (as you would in a print commission). You’re dealing with an editor / content manager AND the client who’s probably signing off on the copy.

In my opinion, that shouldn’t affect getting paid, though. The content agency that commissioned you should take the hit and move on, especially if you fulfilled the brief AND rewrote the piece after being told it wasn’t quite right.

We asked, you answered

I put this question out to our Gold group, the Rachel’s List Facebook page and Twitter to see what other Listers thought. The general consensus (not surprisingly) is that a writer should always be paid for their time – regardless of whether it’s print or digital, and especially regardless of whether the client having a hissy fit at the other end (and refusing to honour the commission). That said, a couple of writers told me they had had to fight for full payment in a similar situation. One could only negotiate a kill fee.

Overseas, it seems freelance journalists have similar issues: Linda McCormick told me via Twitter that she’s still chasing a content agency for payment for writing work – but because the agency has slightly re-written her copy, they’re now saying it’s not her original copy and refusing to pay. “Last time I checked, that was called editing,” she said. “The article is sitting bold as brass on the client’s site. I’m wondering if that’s how they get a lot of their content. Doesn’t make agencies look good!”

That said, there are lots of content agencies out there who do operate ethically. I know one freelance journalist who did some content for an agency, but the client wasn’t happy. The writer tried to fix the copy several times. Still no joy and in the end, the agency simply paid the writer and told her that client was particularly tricky and they would wear the cost. She still freelances for them, as you would expect.

If a content agency won’t pay, what can you do?

  1. Check your contract and any grey areas that indicate you won’t be paid if the client isn’t happy with the copy. (If this kind of clause IS in the contract, I would steer clear of that content agency and letting other writers know about them.)
  2. Attempt to negotiate payment or at the very least, a kill fee for the copy.
  3. Contact the MEAA (if you’re a member) and see if they can go to bat for you with the content agency.
  4. Keep an eye on the client’s site The cynic in me worries your content might turn up after all and if it does you’ll have a leg to stand on in demanding payment.

I hope you get this sorted and please come back and let us know how it all panned out.

Have you had a bad experience with a content agency refusing to pay you because the client wasn’t happy? Feel free to comment (anon if you like) below, as we’d love to hear your story.

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
Find us!

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