OPINION: I’ve recently joined the fast-growing ranks of content marketers: media practitioners producing, curating, editing and disseminating content on behalf of a business.
In making the transition from journalism into content marketing, I walk an increasingly well-trodden path. A consensus seems to have emerged that the journalist’s skillset is well-suited to the requirements of the marketing department of 2015 — and that’s great news for my generation of young journalists, who are already jaded by grim prophecies from our elders about our slender chances of ever actually making a living as writers.
On the face of it, journalism and content marketing might look completely distinct. Isn’t the one about hard information and facts, the other storytelling and creativity?
Today, this represents a plethora of formats, from white papers to blogs, and video content to podcasts. While some thought the rise of content marketing would signal the death knell of the journo, there are actually good augments – very good augments – to see journalism and content marketing as more closely connected than at first might appear.
Love at first sight
The relationship between journalism and content marketing isn’t anything new: most of the founding precepts of this relatively new marketing ethos are taken from the gospel of news. The idea of content providing ‘value’, whether informational or entertainment, to the consumer; the adoption of a longer view that still demands ROI (building a brand and generating leads) but significantly doesn’t necessarily demand immediate commercial results (ie. it doesn’t necessarily make the till ring right away) — these are major philosophical shifts for marketing as an industry.
The most obvious and overarching parallel between the two, and the one which directly informs ‘brand journalism’ as a concept, is that both marketing and journalism are fundamentally about communications. The skillsets are almost identical: gather, synthesise and communicate information. The intellectual yardsticks are similar: to present that information in a useful, informative way. Even the (short-view) metrics of success are common: are people finding, consuming and engaging with this content?
But the ultimate objectives are different — and that’s where this all starts to get complicated.
Certainly, some journalists aren’t thrilled with the direction of the industry. Older reporters, especially, view their craft as a noble endeavour that’s been corrupted by print media’s misguided efforts to compete with non-journalistic media. While that may be true, today’s economic realities give newspapers little recourse. Without the metro monopolies and monster profit margins of the past—and with an entire Internet’s worth of competition—they’re fighting for their lives.
Still, it’s not all bad news for journalists who are willing to be flexible in how they view their profession. Because people haven’t stopped reading—they have just stopped reading newsprint. People are consuming an insane amount of digital content daily on their desktop and mobile devices. And with this evolutionary shift, the old lines between news, entertainment, and advertising have blurred. People are increasingly equal-opportunity content consumers. All they care about is whether it’s any good or not.
Marriage: I got gaps, you got gaps, we fill each other’s gaps
Content strategy is about storytelling and narrative. The ability to tell a story that chimes with the everyday. And that’s a skill, most journalists should have. They don’t just produce objective, unemotional content that appears to have no relevance to the real world. Journalism, just like content marketing, is about telling a story, and telling it well (with words that sing).
Furthermore, compelling, link-worthy content that ranks highly in Google and other search engines isn’t just about putting words together – it’s about getting all the facts in order, too. Journos know how to analyse and source data from studies, how to tell whether or not a source of information is credible, and how to conduct interviews and other in-depth research to answer their audience’s questions.
While a firm focused on SEO or viral marketing may produce an entertaining infographic or blog post, it can do serious damage to your brand if the information within the pieces turns out to be inaccurate. But when you choose a team with roots in journalism, you’ll be assured that they’re even more sceptical about surprising claims than your readers are – protecting your company from ridicule and even potential liability claims.
Then comes baby: A copy journalist is born
Tomorrow’s ad agencies will look more like newsrooms than like old-school ad agencies. And the most successful among them will have lots of great writers on their teams. And those writers will, most likely, not be copywriters or journalists, but a hybrid of the two.
The copywriter of the future is going to have to be able to research and report long-form stories. He’s going to have to be a skilled interviewer and note-taker. And, of course, he’ll have to think conceptually and write persuasively. He is going to have to be a Copy-Journalist
… And they lived happily ever after
Moving forward, every successful marketing company will be looking for versatile writers who are conversant in the languages of both marketing and journalism.