Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Graduate Jobs with Adfero Manchester

A while back I went for interview at the Manchester branch of Adfero - based in the Portland Tower in the centre of town. Their service is to write tailored news feeds for a variety of company websites, to boost SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) rankings and increase web traffic to their sites.

I thought I'd share with you what I learnt about them, just in case any of you were going for interview and didn't know what to expect. They've got offices in London, Manchester and now Leeds, so chances are if you're a graduate who likes to write, you'll hear of them. Salaries start at around the £16k mark. I've had a couple of mates work for them, and they said that Adfero were slave-driving bastards; but in a graduate journalism job, what do you expect?

Now that Google basically runs the world - when was the last time you searched for something on the net without using it? - companies are having to be more inventive to stop their marketing voices being lost in the crowd. Google's rankings are organised by "page impressions", i.e. the more times people view your webpages, the more ranking points you get, and the further up Google's list you will go. As research (and common sense) tends to show that the general public click on the first five links of a Google search page, competition for those places is very high.

All sorts of companies employ Adfero to move higher up the search engine food chain. I was told at interview that each DirectNews Correspondent, as you will be called if you are successful, has several sites or companies that he/she works for, and your job is to find out or create five or six "news" pieces for the sites under your charge.

So for example, if you are given a Liverpool business site, a staircase manufacturer site and a heating oil information site, each morning you would scour the net looking for news relating to business practices, takeovers and mergers in the North West, how to stop wood from creaking, and the price of oil per barrel in the world markets. You will then re-write these "news stories" in the Adfero format.

Each news story is written to a fairly strict code; Adfero promote this uniformity as a way to avoid potentially damaging third-party references and to keep a consistency of tone to their news stories. The structure (as explained to me by a mate who's now working in Liverpool as a journalist) is as follows:

Each news story should be around 170-200 words in length, you're writing for the intelligent layperson, so you won't have to explain simple financial or trade facts (what the Dow Jones is, for example.)

You will most likely be writing your stories from various sources or 2 or more press releases on other sites, so choose one angle and stick to it. This angle should be the most interesting/shocking/amazing thing about this particular piece of news. There may be a temptation to include too much information in your story; this will unbalance your story and you will run out of time .

Very important: DON'T speculate or insinuate anything in your new stories. Sentences of opinion or conjecture like "Labour have struggled", or "people have found it hard" do not go down well with Adfero. They want objective fact and hard news (facts, figures) as far as possible.
Opinions can be given, but only by people quoted in your story. This avoids anyone getting sued for libel/slander/all those other expensive things.

This 200-word story should play out like this:

1st sentence - The most exciting thing about this piece of news.

2nd - Expand on the above.

3rd - Give some facts and figures relevant to the story, or lead into your quote.

4th & 5th - Two paragraphs of block quotes: can be a respected industry figure backing up your angle, and giving opinion on the way this particular thing is likely to go in future. You can even lay down two block quotes representing both sides of view if you're feeling particularly even-handed. E.g -

Mr Matthews, CEO of Oil Direct said: "Oil prices have been rising year on year due to fluctuations in the world market and the instability spreading through the most productive regions."

Scrumpy, who lead protests on oil prices at this year's May Day riots in London, responded, "What the oil industry says is just shite. Oil has never been more expensive due to board salary increases and overspending on boats, cars and chandeliers."

The 6th & 7th sentences should give your story context; setting it in the wider world. You can do this with figures, relevant facts, or descriptive overview of the industry.

By the way, you'll never get your name on a story as a Direct News Correpondent, all work is copyrighted property of Adfero.

The tests we were given in the interview were a) a sub-editing, i.e. checking spelling, grammar of a 300 word document, b) the above writing test, including 2 press releases and c) your standard psychometric bollocks: 'If a cat relates to a dog as A relates to B, what does C relate to A if C is a horse?'. There's no real way you can prepare for psychometric testing, but you can get a decent idea of what questions will look like by Googling (see?) psychometrics.

One important thing. If you don't know the answer to a psychometric test, DON'T guess. They will take marks away from you if you get it wrong, but not if you leave it blank.

That's a little introduction to Adfero; if I can think of anything else, I'll post it. Anything to help Manchester/Leeds/London writers who can't get a job elsewhere!