Selling to singletons in February

What happens in February? "Valentine's Day!" Yes, OK - what else? "Er..."

February 14th is a nightmare for 88% of single people and about 18% of couples (and that's not including the stress of finding the right card or present, for couples who choose to celebrate the occasion).

And while it's a key event in the annual 'buy cycle' for certain categories of retailer, it's also a major risk factor if you blanket your non-loved-up customers with mail shots full of hearts and roses.

So what else can you promote in February? Well, consider pushing Valentine's Day as part of a month-long calendar of events:

Adfero, Axonn Media, and Adam Afriyie

If you've arrived here after seeing my name in The Guardian today, welcome. Let's make sure things are in context.

Robert Booth's profile of Adam Afriyie quotes me fairly extensively, given the size of the article, so I'd like to make sure my comments are set in a wider context - it's easy to misinterpret things when you're only given a sentence or two.

The Farming and the Scraping

First of all, I don't think I have ever referred to Adfero/Axonn Media as a 'word farm', 'content farm' or any variation of those kinds of terms. Their service - at least while I worked there, 2006-2011, does indeed involve producing short news articles, often from press releases, but it's more sophisticated than just 'content spinning'.

Articles are written from primary source material and original interviews wherever possible. Have I ever used the word 'churn' to describe the Adfero process? Possibly in casual conversation. Certainly not anywhere that I'd want to be quoted, as far as I know. I wouldn't say press releases are 'harvested systematically', and while the targets set may be 'eye-watering', they were always set out with total transparency during interviews and recruitment days.

[UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I do use the word 'churned' to describe my role at Adfero, in its entry in my employment history on Facebook. In full, I say: "Churned out massive amounts of online news every day for five years. Rose through the ranks to 'Desk Head' position, in charge of about 10 correspondents. Loved the job, loathed the company." I think I wrote that soon after leaving, and it paints a very caricature picture of my time there. I'm not going to change it immediately, as I don't want to try and hide behind edits, but it's likely that I'll amend that statement in a few weeks or so, as I really don't hate the company as much as that particular comment makes it sound like I do.]

In fact, I think everything I told Robert Booth - the working hours, the article numbers, and the pricing structure - is a matter of public record; you could find that information by attending an interview, or by contacting Adfero's sales team.

To give Adfero/Axonn Media their dues, the content they produce works. I have seen it work, from the inside and from the outside - their articles often appear in my search results when I'm researching a subject now, and in some cases the only way you'd recognise that it was written by them is if you've worked there and know what to look for.

I have said before, I do not consider myself to be a direct rival to Adfero, and I told Robert Booth that. They typically serve clients with sizeable monthly budgets, who are looking for 50-60 website updates per month. My client base tends to be small businesses who need to maximise their return on every penny invested, and that can mean just a handful of updates per month. We operate in different markets, and I would never - at least, not for now - position myself as a direct competitor to Adfero.

Personal Experience

The bulk of my quotation in the Guardian article is lifted directly from a page on this blog (and, I note, is not cited as such - Adfero/Axonn Media would never fail to adequately cite a source). It's this page here. Please take a moment to read it in full, if you're interested enough.

Yes, there was one time when I wrote 101 articles to meet end-of-month targets, with about two hours' total sleep over the course of almost a day and a half. Was it 'expected' of me that I would do that? Well, perhaps, but I suspect plenty of people in managerial positions have had to work long shifts to hit deadlines. It's part of the responsibility that comes with climbing the career ladder. I'm sure Adfero probably weren't too pleased that so much of my team's content was sent out at the very last minute that month - it's swings and roundabouts.

When the targets (in my view) became unachievable within the remit of the job, I left. I would say that I left on reasonably amicable terms, although today's events may well change Adfero/Axonn Media's opinion of that.

In short, this blog is effectively an online CV for my freelance services. Of course I want to demonstrate that I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and to hit deadlines - 101 articles without stopping? No problem! I've worked through the night to get bulk orders completed quickly as a freelancer, too, and I have nobody to blame for that but myself. Sometimes it has to be done, especially to help the client out of an emergency.

Adam Afriyie

Briefly, a note on Adam Afriyie. I don't recall ever meeting him, or speaking with him, during my Adfero career. I have no reason to dislike him. I have no desire to slander his name, or to put any kind of blemish on his reputation. I know nothing about his politics, and he may well be the right person to lead the Conservative party at some point in the future. I have literally zero opinion on that matter, and even if I did, it wouldn't count for anything.

I would say this though - say what you want about Adfero, they tend to spell people's names correctly, even in an article that took 10 minutes to write and is primarily published for SEO purposes. They definitely would be unlikely to switch from 'Afriyie' to 'Afriye' in the space of the same article.

Too Long, Didn't Read

If all of the above is a bit too in-depth for your liking, then here's the summary:

  • I genuinely believe the Adfero/Axonn Media service is better than as described in The Guardian today;
  • I have no reason to want Adfero/Axonn Media and/or Adam Afriyie to fail;
  • I would not want my comments, as quoted in Rob Booth's article, to be taken out of context.

As always, I would say, if you have the correct budget range and want to appear high in Google's search results, Axonn Media will almost certainly get you there for your target key words and phrases.

If you are a recent graduate and need an employer willing to take you on without experience, Axonn Media will give you a chance, and you will learn a lot in a short space of time.

And if you arrived here expecting a tirade against my former employer, let me say once again: we parted on amicable terms, I have no reason to want to see them fail, their service works (and is better than as described in The Guardian today) and I would advise you to seriously consider using them, if they suit your budget and your aims.

Comments are open as always, so feel free to continue the debate below, and I will attempt to answer any queries promptly.