By Cowgirl Candace | Image by Trarell Torrence | Illustrations by Kurt Guard
Up-and-coming creatives: Let me drop some stress-relieving knowledge on you. Contrary to what you might think, you’re not as far removed from the brands, celebs and experts you dream of collaborating with. If you put in the necessary work, produce content with those who strive for nothing less than greatness and deliberately position yourself in front of potential partners, sponsors and influencers, your editorial work is bound to gain recognition and exposure.
Cowgirl Candace knows. I’ve built my entire editorial career from a little place outside of Milledgeville, Georgia, called Edward Hill Farm. No joke: Isolating myself on the family farm most weekends is how my storytelling creativity started to cultivate and prepare me for national and international projects with notable brands. Incorporating these five tactics into your daily grind will lead you down the right roads to becoming published (with major companies at that) in today’s competitive, digital frontier:
APPRENTICING WITH THE BEST. I will never forget the day my editor — who was an Associated Press award-winning writer — told me to put my pen down and watch her write. It took almost five years before she let me write again. Lol. Instead she taught me how to report and interview sources, searching for key information that most journalists fail to get and building relationships with people in influential places that most people rarely get to talk to. The more I watched her take the information I collected and turn it into impactful soft and hard news stories, I finally received my ah-ha moment to crafting solid, trending articles. When she finally told me I was ready to write again, I earned first place in feature writing from the Georgia Press Association and future awards with international organization Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Click here for that awesomeness.
That community newspaper experience set me up for more professional development experiences with two other dynamic mentors and academic researchers: Dr. Rosalie Richards and Dr. Veronica Womack at Georgia College & State University. Working with Richards opened editorial doors to international events and marketing projects in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — known as STEAM fields. Womack helped strengthen my data-collecting skills to support storytelling efforts. Today, Womack and I now contribute to a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to bring awareness about the needs of black farmers of the nation’s Black Belt Region.
READING CONTENT PRODUCED BY THE BEST. Research your favorite writers, brands and publications — like an obsessed girlfriend or boyfriend candidate — and study the headlines, story structures and campaign strategies used to reach readers. Now, writing for print is completely different than writing for the Web. Learning both styles is essential to your editorial survival in the business. I spent at least an hour a day reading feature stories published in Essence, O Magazine, Elle, The New Yorker and National Geographic to understand how these top magazines produced content that constantly attract millions on and off line. Because I’m also a natural hair fanatic, I read a lot of beauty and hair magazines like Hype Hair in New York and Black Beauty & Hair in London.
True story: I was such a diehard online reader of Black Beauty that I finally mustered enough courage to submit an original post about loc care. I knew the publication featured a limited amount of dreadlock-related articles and that locs are now a trending topic, especially with celebrities like Ava DuVernay and Lisa Bonet voguing them on red carpet events. Taking that leap of faith got me an audience with the editor, and now I contribute to the United Kingdom publication as its first special correspondent from the United States.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE NEXT BEST. You’re not always positioned to connect with the ones you want to learn and grow from within the industry. I’m based in rural America. Most of the cream of the crop creatives I’ve always wanted to work for and with were in the North or out West; therefore, I had to go with the next best professionals to help me sharpen my editorial skills. And when opportunities presented themselves to make editorial magic with veteran creatives in high places, you already know I welcomed the chance to learn from them.
Take internationally published, award-winning photog Bryan Schutmaat for example. Back in 2014, he was working on an art photography campaign with French ad agency M&C Saatchi and wanted to highlight the lifestyles of black cowboys of the South. He found my blogazine and emailed me to style and handle the logistics of tracking down young, black cowboys who live and work on the land. That rare, weekend project ended up publishing in a French exhibition and companion booklet — all the way from Small Town USA. Not only did I connect with a prominent photographer who loves the American West as much as I do but formed new relationships with cowhands in my area and beyond to tell their powerful stories.
TAKING CHANCES TO ATTRACT THE BEST. It’s hard for me to turn off my brain sometimes. I’m constantly brainstorming story ideas that link my cowgirl lifestyle and love for writing to brands I grew up on and still use today. Once I’ve figured out how my work can actually benefit these brands and their target audiences (which also includes myself), I get fired up. This psyched moment is immediately followed by a rush of nervousness and questioning: Will they like my idea? Will they even respond back? Did I write a strong enough argument via email to convince them the advantages of working with me? Did I send the right samples of my work to reflect the brand’s mission? Wait a minute! Did I even send this information to the right person?
After I go through this back and forth, I hit submit. When iconic footwear brands like Durango, national newspapers like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and celebrity rap legends like Khia contact you back to do business, my answers to the above questions are a definite, “heck yeah!” For more detailed steps to how I effectively connect and collaborate with big-name companies, click here.
DEVELOPING PARTNER-WORTHY CONTENT THAT WOWS THE BEST. The above editorial road map wouldn’t have been possible without the creation of my digital portfolio/blogazine, Southern Styles & Steeds. The very platform you’re reading and scanning through right now is where conversations to do creative business go down. With the help of fellow award-winning Web designers, illustrators, videographers and photographers, I’m able to bring my personal and professional stories to digital life using cutting-edge content. My site sets the tone for my originality to storytelling — a story so beautifully bizarre that it has garnered global recognition.
From St. Lucia to London and New York to Texas, my ability to share my culture and creativity in Web writing and marketing has catapulted my journalism career. I’ve worked with companies, organizations and people I would have never imagined when I started this online journey. My most recent creative content adventure has been partnering with Visit Fort Worth’s marketing team. By traveling to this area to experience cowhand culture firsthand, I’m able to help educate tourists of all walks of life about this significant Lone Star State location to the American West’s celebrated history.