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From the Trenches

10 Lessons Content Marketing Writers Can Learn From Journalists

Yvonne Lyons | November 14, 2013

Today, a successful content marketing writer has to be a number of things: part marketer, part journalist, part content strategist, and part businessperson. It’s not enough to have years of marketing background or agency copywriting experience. And it probably won’t work if you only have a brain for objective news coverage, because let’s face it, content marketing isn’t really, well, objective. It’s not quite news, and it’s definitely not old marketing. It’s a brand new blend, and it takes a new kind of writer to really make it work.

As journalism jobs have declined, journalists have moved toward content marketing, and companies have embraced them, realizing that they need the skills that journalists have and many marketing writers lack. So what can the marketing writer learn from the journalist? Here are ten important points.

Know your audience — Before you create a single word, know your audience. Journalists always know who they are talking to, and this is the important part — they always keep the audience in mind. Sometimes marketers forget about the audience and talk to the CEO or to themselves or they slip into the corporate voice. Do that, and watch the audience slip away.

Write an alluring headline — Really good headlines are harder to create than it would seem, but they do make a difference. Journalists know this — newspaper headlines are not an afterthought. Upworthy co-founder Pete Koechley said in a Wired magazine article that they might see a 500 percent swing in readership with a switch in article headline. Your content might be remarkable, but no one will continue to read if the headline isn’t enticing.

Keep your topics freshBrainstorm to come up with a new angle on something you’ve written about before. Journalists understand this. There isn’t always news everywhere. Journalists have to be creative. Marketing writers have to be creative, too. Don’t write what other people in your industry are writing, and don’t write what you’ve written before. Even though it sometimes seems that the well may be dry, there are always more ideas out there.

Tell a story — This is really where you see a difference between marketing writers and journalists. Journalists can find a good story in a sea of information and distill it into something that the reader wants to stay with until the end of the piece. Your content should be every bit as riveting. A good content marketing writer with a sense for journalism will understand that every piece needs a story.

Go back to the basics — A good way to get the important details into the story is to start with the basics from journalism school: tell the reader who, what, where, when (and often, how and why). I realize this is content marketing, and you might not be able to tick off each one of those “basics” in each piece of your content, but if you think about them before you start, you’ll nail the foundation of your story every time.

Be succinct — Don’t say more than is necessary.

Tell the truth — This is a golden rule for journalists, and should be for content marketers, as well. Your credibility and your company’s reputation are at stake. Part of telling the truth for journalists involves being original. Plagiarism is a serious offense in journalism. With so much content published daily, it can be both easy and tempting to lift a piece of someone else’s copy and drop it into what you are creating. Don’t do it. Even if you don’t get yourself into legal trouble, the risk of being called out and put on display for not taking the time to create your own content is reason enough to always do your own work.

Do your research — Journalism involves research, interviews, fact checking and then rechecking. Your content creation should be no different. Do your research, get your facts right, include links to your sources (the original source, preferably) when you cite facts. Double check all your facts before you publish, including names, statistics and even Twitter handles. Accuracy is important.

Be newsy and evergreen — While a timely, late-breaking news article can be great journalism, and is also great for content marketing, the reality is that there is not always news when you need it. Create evergreen content that you can hold indefinitely — content that has a long shelf life to keep in your back pocket and use when you get into a content pinch.

Create remarkable content — This is the biggest rule of all, for journalists and content marketers alike, because if the writing is bad, people won’t read it, regardless of the message. Your content has to be remarkable. Create quality, well-constructed content like a journalist. Journalists have the luxury of having editors polish their work and ensure that it is published in top form. If you don’t have an editor, make sure you at least find a second set of eyes to proofread your content to ensure that all the details like spelling, grammar and any embarrassing errors are corrected before you hit publish.

Are there any other journalism tips for the content marketing writer that I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

Do you have what it takes to be a content marketing writer? Right Source has a part-time position available for a senior writer/content strategist in our Reston, VA office. If you think you have what it takes, get in touch.

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.