It's a Friday afternoon and Jane Flotte is getting a little tired of spa treatments. "Today I've written a lot of salon deals," the Groupon employee said. "And I'm getting kind of sick of talking about facials."
If today is bad, though, yesterday was even worse. "I had to write a cupcake deal, and it was really late [in the day] and I was so hungry," she laughed. "It was terrible." But Flotte isn't actually complaining. She, like the rest of Groupon's army of twenty-something writers, is eager to churn out prose and study the craft.
She may be in the best possible place to do it. With a team of experienced editors, a new program called Groupon Academy, and a vigorous -- but rewarding -- recruiting process, the Web-based coupon company is investing significant time into teaching and training its writers.
And it's paying off. Business Insider recently listed Groupon as one of this year's most innovative alternative storytellers alongside USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and other traditional news outlets. "Groupon isn't a news website," they explained. "But as Thrillest CEO Ben Lerer said, 'The most well-read publication now might be Groupon.'"
Forty percent of Groupon's writers have prior journalism experience, 70 percent were creative writers and 20 percent wrote marketing or business copy. As of this writing, there are 59 writers, 16 editors, 15 image designers, 24 fact-checkers, 11 copy editors and four editorial recruiters. They've hired 40 writers in the last six months.
"We have this insatiable need for writers," Managing Editor Brandon Copple said. And if you're hired as a writer at Groupon, you will be writing. All day long. Writers churn out anywhere from six to ten blurbs each day.
For many Groupon staffers, the promise of a heavy writing load was what attracted them to the company. Each attended Groupon Academy, a training seminar on the Groupon voice -- now infamous for its sarcastic wit -- as part of the preliminary recruitment and hiring process. Applicants attempt a write-up, and then get feedback on their sample. "It helps would-be writers see how seriously we take the craft," Copple said.
It also illuminates the company's focus on teaching. "I was really excited to work for the company because it seemed like they really wanted to train us," said Katherine Banich, a graduate of Columbia University's journalism school, reflecting on her experience in Groupon Academy. "They were very interested in making us into better writers."
The intensive editorial oversight continues long after a class "graduates" from the Academy. Groupon Editor Eddie Schmid, a 2009 graduate of the journalism program at Loyola University in Chicago, worked for a fantasy baseball website after graduating where his writing was "self-governed." When he started writing for Groupon in April, his superiors gave him with a copy of Strunk and White's famous writing guide, The Elements of Style, and plenty of constructive criticism. "Groupon really functions like a newspaper," said Schmid, who worked briefly at the Chicago Sun-Times. "And that's really invigorating. There are dedicated stages, and teams that are really focused on making sure things are factually accurate, transparent, and funny."
But unlike most newspapers, Groupon is expanding rapidly. This year, the site expects to bring in more than $500 million in revenue. It might be the fastest growing company in the history of the Web, sending a clear sign that there's a market for creative writers -- and the type of hybrid journalism-advertising prose Groupon has perfected.
It took Flotte a few weeks to get comfortable with the Groupon voice. Recently, she wrote about a Mexican restaurant in the Chicago suburbs. "Spicy sauces are great for deterring children from licking frozen poles, substituting lost winter coats, and swiftly ending staring contests," reads the Groupon. "Six pages of dinner options ensure that no appetite exits with its former owner, and a Mexican hot chocolate offers the perfect transition back into frosty thoroughfares and the cocoa-less monotony of everyday life."
The bottom line? It's time for creative writing and journalism majors to rejoice: Your degree may not mean a lifetime of ramen noodles and coupon-cutting. Unless, of course, they're Groupons.
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