Our next guest is Jon Mackenzie. Jon is currently the Head of Content at Analytics FC and has taken on multiple freelance work throughout his career. We are thrilled and thankful to Jon who has provided great insight into his professional career.
Tell us about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?
I suppose it’s always tempting in these sorts of scenarios to begin by explaining what it is you do for work but, as I hope will become clear in the course of this interview, I like to at least attempt some sort of work-life distinction so I’ll leave that until the end. The various points around which my life currently orbits — keeping in mind the strangeness of the present moment — are family (I have a big one with plenty of nephews and nieces to go around), football (which helps with the work, to be honest), golf, chess and reading (mainly novels but I’m not fussy). I also solve and set cryptic crosswords (setting them for The Bizzard at present but having been published in The Independent for a good few years).
Vocationally, I started out with the plan of going into academia, but as I was doing graduate work, I began doing more freelance writing work than actual studying and so that put paid to that idea! Since then, I’ve worked as the football editor for an online outlet, I’ve tried my hand as a freelancer in both written and audio, I’ve founded a Leeds United media outlet and I’ve recorded a lot of podcast episodes.
My current job is with Analytics FC, a football data company, where I have the inauspicious title of Head of Content.
As Head of Content at Analytics FC, what does a normal week look like for you?
No doubt everyone gives this answer but: is there such a thing as a normal week? As Head of Content, my job is to oversee all of the written, audio and visual content that goes out on our website and out social media channels. For the most part, my work focuses on Analytics FC’s public-facing output: that would be editing articles showcasing our various services, writing press releases announcing partnerships with various clubs or corporations, the day-to-day running of the website and social media channel, and also casting my eye over any presentation work that our various employees might be putting together. Beyond that, literally anything can crop up. I’ll go from writing a scouting report for a media outlet to showcase TransferLab, our scouting platform, to interviewing an industry specialist for our podcast, to looking over a bespoke study commissioned by a professional footballer to make sure it reads well. As someone who is terrified of falling into a tediously repetitive job, this suits me down.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
I’ll give you a two-pronged answer here: Firstly, my number one focus is myself. I love this job because it gives me flexibility to work in a way that suits me. Given that I simultaneously run a Leeds United media outlet, the ability to be flexible is a godsend. But on top of this, it also helps me to remember that I work so that I can enjoy the things I do when I am not working. Sometimes, I can let that slip. But having worked a lot of jobs in the industry where you don’t get a moment to step back, it’s great working for a place that gives you this flexibility and space to make your job work for you.
Secondly, this might be trite but my second focus is the content itself. I don’t mean that in a pretentious way. One of the most freeing aspects for me working in the football industry is that the work is largely unimportant. Yes, we help people to enjoy football, which is a privilege. But when it goes wrong, there aren’t any great ramifications. But that realisation pushes me to do the best I can within the parameters I work within. I am paid to produce various pieces of content within the timeframe allotted to me and so I seek to do that to the best of my ability and produce the best content I can under those conditions. As content creators — much as I hate the phrase — there isn’t more we can hope to do than that.
What is the most enjoyable part of your role?
I get to watch football as part of my job. It’s hard to cap that.
What is the most difficult part of your role?
Working for a company which produces a specific set of products which, however indirectly, we are tasked with selling in some way, presents a challenge. You find yourself having to balance the corporate interest off against the desire to produce new and interesting stuff. Fortunately for me, my boss, Jeremy Steele, recognises this and is constantly encouraging me to find writers who can produce interesting work within the football analysis industry. This mean that, along with the regular articles which show off TransferLab, I’m usually working on longer projects which require a bit more research but which also have a wider scope than the usual pieces we put out.
When did you know you wanted to work in football?
I’m not sure I have reached that point even now! I’m very privileged to have found work in an industry where finding work can be a struggle. As someone who values the flexibility that freelance life offers but who recognises the grind that constantly looking for work can have on you, I find myself constantly moving backwards and forwards between freelance work and full-time employment. In an ideal world, I would love to find a job within a club’s recruitment department and experience that side of things too. But equally, in another ideal world, I would live in a cottage on an island without a care in the world and finally attempt to write my great novel. For now, I’m appreciative of the work I do have.
What are your thoughts on the freelance market for football writers/journalists?
There’s no other way to say it: the freelance market is brutal. No doubt this stems from the fact that the market has been hollowed out by the creeping expectation that content should be free. That realisation goes a long way to explaining why I now work in the data analysis industry.
The constant pressure to produce work in a sphere where quantity has to trump quality is a hard one to bear. Fortunately, there are glimmering signs that things are turning around but the work is still difficult and I have a huge amount of respect to the people who still have to work the grind. My advice in this regard is this: the best way I found to make this work was to mix up the sorts of work that I was doing and do a little bit of everything.
I have various edited for gaming websites, worked for podcast companies, written freelance pieces, worked for scouting companies, picking up work wherever I can find it. Yes, you may want to have the licence to just sit down and write to earn money. But that is a luxury reserved to a very select group of people. If you want to make the freelance life work for you, you have to think in terms of what I like to call a “portfolio career”. It may take you off in interesting directions — I never expected to be doing what I’m doing now — but it will allow you to make a living on your own terms largely.
In your opinion, what makes a good pitch? Any key advice you can share with freelancers at the start of their journey looking to pitch their stories/ideas to editors?
I could talk all day about pitching. I’d say a huge chunk of pitches I receive make me question whether or not the person pitching actually wants to be writing in the first place. Do try to sound interested in the work you’re proposing would be my general rule.
Here’s the thing: a pitch is a very specific thing. It’s a summary of what it is you’re proposing to write. In a pitch, I want to hear: your idea/overall argument, how you will structure it, any additional things you might need (in my case, this would be data/data viz), how many words you’re going to need to do this. It’s that simple.
As an editor, I’m not here to shoot down pitches. I’m here to find interesting ideas that suit my publication or outlet and help you produce that piece within the parameters of what our audience expect. If I turn down your pitch, it’s likely because the ideas or arguments aren’t there. So if you’re pitching, spend your time really nailing down your argument and the structure. After that, everything else is easy.
Any tools or software that you can share which you have found helpful when freelancing?
I’ll be honest, the most important software I would recommend would be some sort of accountancy software. It’ll really help you when it comes to filling out your tax returns!
And finally Jon, where can people find you on social media?
You can find me on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie and on LinkedIn although I can’t use it.
Sign up to the Freelance Football Opportunities newsletter to receive freelance football work directly in to your inbox every week: www.freelancefootballopps.com