A Brafton Manager Defends the Company, while an Ex-Brafton Copywriter Shares What It Was Like for Her to Work There
(Note to Subscribers of this Blog: I attempted to publish this post on Wednesday night, but had to kill it, as the source decided she did not want her name used at the last minute, partly out of fear of retribution. This is an edited version of the article with her name removed. I apologize for any confusion.)
The content production company, Brafton, has a good-looking website and a catchy tagline.
But like the wolf in grandma’s nightgown in the children’s fable, all may not be as it appears on the surface.
Oh, companies who hire Brafton will get their content. Boat loads of it. As much as they want. As often as they want it.
Why? Because there is a whole crew of writers cranking out the stuff eight to 10 hours a day at the rate of 4,000 words each, according to a writer who was employed there.
Yes. You read that right. 4,000 words. As in four and three zeros. Every. Day.
As a long-time professional writer I can tell you two things about this arrangement:
1. Your life will be hell.
2. You will burn out very very quickly.
And that is exactly what happened to a writer I spoke to who used to work there.
She worked at Brafton for four months — and the relatively short experience was so traumatizing that she wrote a review of the company on Glassdoor. Then she wrote a blog post about it that got picked up by Medium. Then she wrote to me. And I interviewed her. And now I’m sharing her insider experience here with you.
The insight she shares is valuable for every writer starting out. In fact, it’s a cautionary tale for all writers today — since we now live in a world loaded down with content mills, the majority of which do not deliver much of real value in a world hungry for high-quality content.
Content Mills Have Little to Offer Professional Writers
This is not the first time I’m writing about Brafton. I wrote this article back in February.
It prompted many writers to comment on my blog. It also prompted two very long discussions in LinkedIn Groups, including one where a few writers and the CEO at a content mill called BlogMutt, voraciously defended the low pay ($8 per blog post).
Through it all I’ve developed an attitude about content mills. I think they are a waste of companies’ money and a waste of writers’ time and talents. Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped the content mills from trying to persuade me to their worldview.
Before this ex-Brafton writer contacted me and offered to be interviewed I had actually received a comment from a Brafton employee, named Jonathan (in reply to my previous article).
I didn’t post his comment, because, frankly, my blog is not an outlet for any content mill’s self-promotion. The purpose of my blog is to help my fellow writers launch, grow, and sustain successful, well-paying, and personally rewarding freelance careers.
Not to steer them into the belly of a beast that is low-paying content mill writing.
Here is what Jonathan wrote to me:
Hi Paige (and Paige’s readers) –
I manage the department that generates leads for the Sales team at Brafton. I’ve worked here nearly 2 years.
I’d like to add my two cents to this discussion.
First off, yes, our team of journalists are mainly recent college graduates looking for their first real world job. Places like newspapers and magazines are rarely looking for new talent, and when they do look it’s not for college grads with little experience under their belt. Most companies aren’t looking for full-time writers, either. So Brafton becomes one of the few places a writer with no experience can get a full-time job with a decent salary and good benefits package – and develop real writing skills. Many of our writers have moved up in the company to learn and do new things that will help them in their careers. Others have gone on to some amazing projects. None of that happens if they don’t get that experience.
In fact, a lot of Brafton’s business model revolves around finding young talent fresh out of college. Many of our teams, including mine, hire people as their first or second job after graduating.
Why do they work here?
Well one, a lot of young professionals want to join a growing company where you can gain skills and get promoted. A lot of companies out there have no path for employees. We do.
Two, what we produce is pretty good. I’m not going to sit here and argue that it’s on par with what a professional such as yourself will produce. I do know that what we do works for a lot of companies. Our writers are immersed in their industry, so while they may not be a top 1% expert they certainly have a level of expertise most writers lack. Ultimately it comes down to this: how many companies need extremely high-end content every day? That’s your market, the companies who want the Lexus of the industry. We’re more like Honda. Good stuff that works, and the right level of quality that many companies are looking for.
Three, you shouldn’t be competing with us. What you can offer is totally different from us, and that’s why someone would want to hire you over us. It’s also why someone might pass on you for Brafton, because not everyone needs your level of expertise. I say that as someone who has worked at Marketing agencies and been a freelancer. There’s room and need for both. Was your computer custom-built for you by a local shop? Your car? Your kitchen appliances? Now the fun question – do they work well for you? The same goes for everything in life. Higher quality comes with a higher price tag, and each person has to decide what’s worth paying more for and what isn’t.
I don’t wish Jonathan any ill will or think he’s a bad person. He was nice enough in his comment. And he’s just doing his job and defending his employer.
But his employer exploits writers. So I want to also share the perspective of a former writer there.
Brafton from One Writer Formerly Employed There
Brafton was a truly awful place to work, and my personal opinion is that content mills/farms are not sustainable solutions, at least not as Google algorithms get smarter and people/companies get more invested in sharing, providing, and reading good stuff on the internet.
As the economy improves, writers will be increasingly less likely to tolerate working at places like Brafton for very long. I took a job there because I was BEYOND desperate.
I stayed there for 4 months. After two, I was promoted to a ‘prestigious’ position. They promoted me in title, but did not give me any compensation, despite the huge amount of work I was expected to do.
We made $28,000 a year with some of the crappiest benefits I’ve ever seen. Yikes. Many of my coworkers at Brafton have since left.
I stayed just long enough to add some experience to my resume, get some work published online, and book it out of there.
After reading her email, I sent her a few questions to dig in a little deeper into her life as a Brafton writer.
Here is our Q&A, where she shares her personal experience and perspective on her short time at Brafton as a copywriter.
PT: What does it feel like to write 4,000 words a day? How quickly does burnout set in?
Ex-Brafton Writer: It depends on the person, but burnout happens pretty fast, usually within the first 2 to 3 months. We were writing quickly under pressure about things we didn’t have enough time to care about.
People respond differently — some stop writing as much as they’re supposed to, some grin and bear it, others quit, all of us get frustrated.
I began looking for new jobs pretty quickly.
PT: You mention writing spammy copy for bots, but Brafton claims to help writers “develop real writing skills.” Do you feel they did this for you and your writer peers?
EBW: Hm. Well, sort of. If anything, Brafton gives writers practice. You have to write about a lot of different topics, many that you know little about, in a short amount of time. It definitely helps you switch from an English literature background into one of quick web writing.
The problem is that there’s only one type of writing that most of the writers do — most write content news. We wrote 200 to 400 word “stories” reporting on industry news. Sometimes landing pages, too.
We did write content for bots. I don’t think anyone actually read the stuff we were writing. Sure, we may have developed writing skills, but most of our work wasn’t getting read by anything but Google.
PT: Do writers have the opportunity to “move up” in the company to better, higher-paying positions, as Jonathan states?
EBW: I was promoted to the executive writing team without seeing a pay raise. I was making $28,000. Brafton is in Boston, and we’re paying $750 to 900 in rent. It’s an extremely expensive city. $28,000 is not a decent salary in Boston. Do the math and see how much we got paid. They had us salaried, so we felt like we couldn’t just leave at 5:00 pm. Also I only had 8 vacation days? Not good.
Most of my friends at other company were starting at $35,000 (low end) at their first jobs. I was not on the benefits package and don’t know firsthand, but I’ve been told the package (health insurance, 401k, etc) was mediocre at best.
The people who have been there a long time (3 years) act as though they’ve endured something to get where they are, and that it’s worth it. They’re coming in at 8 am and leaving at 7 pm, though.
They really have endured something, but I’m not sure it’s something to be proud of.
PT: Brafton also claims writers “learn things to help them in their careers.” What did you learn at the company that will help you in the future?
EBW: I learned a few things. First, I really did learn a ton about the field of content marketing, which helped me get my current job. This is partly because I was “promoted” (no pay raise) to the executive team that writes content for the company. I was able to understand the basics of the industry, enough to propel myself forward. We learned about the basics of SEO and some about internet marketing.
We weren’t taught how it could be applied to a job after Brafton. It was sort of odd — it was kind of acknowledged that nobody would stay very long, but there was also no mention of what we might do next, or what this job was preparing us for.
I also learned that I never want to put up with an environment like that again. I learned that people are willing to undergo a lot, and that employees can feel really trapped. With my current experience, I’ll probably never have to settle for a job at a company like that again.
PT: Do you know any writers who left Brafton and secured much better writing jobs?
EBW: Yes. I know at least five writers who have left Brafton for much better writing jobs. Most go into content marketing, writing, and blog management at small companies.
I know someone else who began freelancing and working for a few different content agencies from home. Brafton’s writers are pretty talented, and once they gain a bit of experience they can easily get jobs elsewhere.
PT: Did your managers give you feedback on your content — including if it successfully helped clients get leads, or likes, or sales?
EBW: It depends how you define feedback. If your writing was awful, someone was going to tell you. Every piece of writing was edited, and we did a lot of peer editing.
I never heard how the content got leads, likes, or sales. I’m not sure the content helped prospects down the sales funnel. I’ve never really heard this stuff talked about at Brafton.
I never heard how much search traffic really went up until I joined the executive team. Even then, it all felt very far away.
PT: Were you, as a writer, “immersed in the industries you were writing about” as Jonathan claims?
EBW: Depends how you define immersed. See how they’re getting tricky with words?
We had teams of writers to separate us. I was on the technology team with a creative writing background. Because of that, I spent all day on Google finding news leads about cloud computing, big data, email archiving, and other trends. I had to write about the same stuff every day, so in that sense I was pretty immersed.
Was I attending technology conferences? No. Did I really understand what I was writing about? No. Was I able to spend a long time researching certain topics? Definitely not.
PT: One of the things my prospect seemed so impressed about with Brafton is that they told her she would have a “team of writers” working on her stuff? Do companies get their own writing teams?
EBW: Team of writers. If you mean someone who writes it, and then someone who edits it, that’s accurate.
It’s certainly not a team that’s racking their brains thinking about the company they’re writing for and doing extensive research to make the best content possible. Though there is a content marketing strategist for that. I barely had any contact with content marketing strategists while at Brafton.
Some people do client communications but I never did. I have a friend who spent a lot of time working with one of their clients to understand what they needed. She was extremely stressed out because she’d spend 3 hours on one post.
The writing teams are constantly changing and often companies get bounced around.
PT: What do you think about Jonathan comparing Brafton writers’ work to “professional writers’” work, by comparing a Honda to a Lexus?
EBW: Ha. That’s funny. It’s sort of true, but who wants a Honda when you can have a Lexus? A Lexus isn’t even nice enough, really. It’s a greater discrepancy, like a Honda to a Ferrari.
If Brafton’s business model works for companies out to reach certain goals, then good for them. It may very well provide the results that people are looking for. It may be as reliable as a Honda.
I’m more concerned about what it means to be a writer in this environment — it’s brain-killing and morale-dropping.
The good thing is that a Honda doesn’t compare to a Ferrari. As long as my standards of writing are on the Ferrari level, I’m confident I’ll have a market for my work.
PT: How would you sum up the greatest downside of working for Brafton?
EBW: I describe it as feeling trapped and underpaid.
It felt awful to have the management make me feel like I was in the wrong when I said I had too much work. They said they were there for me, but it didn’t feel like. This is not the case for everyone — some people feel a BIT better supported, and the people who work at Brafton aren’t bad people, they’re just caught in the system.
Brafton asks too much of their writers. That’s the problem. I think working at a company like Brafton IS good for college grads, but not if they’re overworked. If I wrote 2,000 words a day instead of 4,000 I think I would’ve been really thankful and grateful to have the experience at Brafton. Instead I felt pushed to my limit.
PT: Thank you for sharing this invaluable insight. Your story is an inspiration.
EBW: You’re welcome.
My Personal and Professional Advice to All Current and ex-Brafton Writers
I’d like to send a note of congratulations to Brafton’s ex-writers — who got out and moved onward and upward to better-paying and more rewarding writing jobs! You have walked through fire and scaled a mountain that many professional writers today have not had to endure. You all deserve great success.
I’d also like to thank the many ex-Brafton writers who have added their voices to the ever-expanding commentary on Glassdoor, exposing the real story about being a writer for a content mill. In May and June, several ex-writers added many new commentaries.
To writers still stuck in the 4,000-words-a-day, low-paying grind at that or any content mill: Please get out as soon as you can. Even if you have to waitress or waiter until you find a better writing job, do it.
No one should expect a writer to work like a machine for meager wages. I was a waitress until I built up my freelance career. It’s much easier work and much better paying.
If you want to take freelance writing seriously, then you have to be brave enough to charge what you are worth.
Don’t go for the lowest common denominator — reach for something higher in your career.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m so happy content mills did not exist when I started my freelance career. I do not feel they have brought anything of value to the world of professional copy writing.
(Final word: Granted, this article reflects just one former Brafton writer’s perspective, and I am fully aware that there may very well be many writers working there who have had a very different experience. This post speaks only for one ex-Brafton writer, who is my only source for this article. However, the additional reviews of former employees on Glassdoor also speak volumes. This article also includes my own personal opinions about content mills in general and my personal, albeit limited, experience with Brafton.)