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What Journalists and Content Marketers Have in Common

Not since 1978 has the journalism industry been made up of so few. The reductions in newsroom staff last year brought the industry down another 30 percent — to only 40,000 full-time journalists.

No fools, journalists are seeking out new opportunities. They’re finding them as brand journalists and content marketers. Brands need content and strategies to regularly feed their audiences and ex-journalists are primed and ready to get creative in countless industries that are arguably healthier and happier.

In stark contract to print journalism, content marketing is booming. B2B marketers, for example, spent an average of 33 percent of total marketing budgets on content marketing in 2012 — a jump from 26 percent in 2011. It’s likely that number will continue to grow (and be equally significant in consumer businesses), since over half of those surveyed expect their content marketing budgets to further increase in 2013.

If you’re a journalist, you have the skills required to excel at branded content creation. The disciplines of content marketing and journalism share many key values. Strong journalists and content marketers generate well-targeted content; they’re excellent writers, editors and researchers, they use sound judgment, they’re ethical and they both strive to produce unique content with a distinct point of view in a timely manner.

Let’s take a look at some key characters of both types of content creators — and what modern content marketers can learn from the practices of traditional journalism.

1. Focus on your core audience

Like a journalist, it’s the responsibility of any content marketer to share accurate and factual information with users. Knowing whom you’re writing for is an integral component of effective content creation.

Good journalists produce stories that provide insight, address an issue or ignite a discussion that resonates with target readers. Without knowledge of the intended audience the chances of a story succeeding or appealing to a mass audience is quite slim. In the same vein, content marketers must create user profiles for their core audiences, or, in other words, be familiar with their audience’s behaviors, interests and habits. With this knowledge, its possible to be successful at producing quality content that users want to read, share and savor.

2. Produce and edit with diligence

Content, regardless of medium, topic or scope, should always be digestible and easy-to-consume. Content marketing though is unique from journalism in that it is often actionable so think about what your content is truly helping your audience get done. In many cases the information you deliver will be used to help someone do their job better, more efficiently, cheaper, etc.

Engaging content can be highbrow or intellectual in nature, but it should always be enjoyable and painless to consume. Flow is also important. All stories should have a clear structure, a beginning, middle and an end, a core narrative, reliable sources and a goal or message.

When editing, it’s important to make sure your facts are correct, your sources are fully vetted, your data and documents are up to par and the brands and companies featured are correct and properly credited.

3. Use sound judgment and abide by ethical standards

In any reputable news organization, the content produced by journalists serves as an external representation of the company’s values and opinions. If any information is misleading or invalid, the credibility of the organization is put at risk. For example, clearly mark all sponsor-generated content for what it is, be forthcoming with your audience when there’s a conflict of interest and be honest when it comes to revealing your clients and sources and expressing your brand values.

And remember; never plagiarize. Repurposing content you’ve previously created is one thing, but lifting content directly from another source and using it as your own is not only poor form, its bad for business.

4. Employ a distinct point of view

There’s one additional trait that journalists and content marketers share. Both set out to create content that expresses a unique point of view. The vast scope of the social web has led to mass competition and plenty of “noise”. Content is everywhere, and in order to get noticed, your brand needs to develop it’s own voice, or tone, remain consistent and speak often. Gawker, for instance, is recognized for its opinionated, satirical voice that tells it like it is and is recognizably Gawker. To Gawker’s benefit, the brand has managed to stand out from similar online publishers by developing a reliably distinct tone that engages, entertains and offers up a brassy opinion.

5. Abide by clear deadlines

Good journalists are well versed on what it takes to deliver top-notch work within a short period of time. It’s essential that journalists and content marketers learn to abide by set deadlines and work to respond in real-time to social readers. In other words, as a marketer, you have to strike while the iron is hot; this is similar to a journalist jumping on the hottest news story of the day. If a journalist waited days before covering breaking news, the story would be old news before they hit publish. The same goes for marketing. Sluggishness is not an option when it comes to interacting with potential consumers, and its imperative that content marketers adhere to a goal-oriented editorial calendar, reply to social users and maintain constant communication to maintain engagement.

Journalists may scoff at the thought of being compared to the big bad marketing thinkers of today. But, as brands continue to produce and distribute content internally, essentially acting as independent publishers themselves, the divide between journalists and content marketers will continue to blur. And, given the journalism industry’s historic dedication to creating compelling content imbued with fresh thinking, human interest, mass appeal and ethical standards, it’s clear that content marketers have much to learn from their peers in this legacy profession.


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