Why former journalists can make terrific content marketers

Reporting experience translates well to all sorts of marketing functions. Former newshounds still have the training and instincts to tell your organization’s story.

When organizations’ leaders want to enhance their brand and take advantage of their prospective clients’ hunger for information, they often turn to content marketers to create engaging content that develops leads and advances them through the all-important funnel.

However, they rarely look beyond the content. After all, it’s the content that develops leads, not the creator. Anyone can write, right?

There’s a difference between copy and copy with depth, clarity and context. You want the latter, not the former.

Better find a former journalist. Here’s why:

We’re curious. We always want to know how something works. We always ask why. We always question our world. We feel bored when we’re not chasing down the scoop.

That obviously bodes well for readers who depend on curious reporters, but it’s also effective for organizations that want an edge in educating customers about why their offer makes sense. “You’re telling me this product, process or brand addresses customers’ needs? Prove it. Tell me more.”

We know a lot. Whether via formal education, life experience, years on the job or a combination of all three, journalists know a little bit about a lot of things. You could argue that reporters earn paychecks by learning.

But we don’t know it all. Good reporters find out quickly that the more they know, the more they don’t know.

We freely and constantly admit it. Far from turning us off, admitting what we don’t know is like pouring gas on a fire. If we don’t know, odds are good our readers don’t, either. It’s on us to tell them.

Good research drives good marketing content. Reporters are right for the job because our success depends on locating the information we need to tell well-rounded stories.

There will always be a learning curve, especially with complex topics in niche industries. But that curve will always be shorter when a reporter is on the job.

We’re good translators. Reporters are experts at translating jargon into layman’s terms. That’s partly an innate skill and partly because our duty to readers demands it. Asking sources to put on the brakes and explain something like we were born yesterday is second nature.

Experts wary of getting too deep in the weeds of their brands or products can take comfort in working with journalists to develop content. Tell us what you know. Tell us why it matters. We’ll work through the weedy parts together. Complexity doesn’t alarm us.

We’re obsessed with facts. Gumshoe reporters take facts seriously. You don’t know real despair until you’ve put your name on something that turns out to be wrong. That’s why we work so hard to get the story right.

For example, journalists and metallurgical engineers likely don’t have much in common, but they share a devotion to precision. A few degrees Fahrenheit separates metallurgy from playing with fire; an exact dollar amount on a city budget line item separates public interest reporting from town gossip.

Did you get the dog’s name? Was the corpse wearing shoes? If your mother says she loves you, get a second source. Trust us. We’ll get it right.

We’re skeptical. We don’t believe you. It’s nothing personal. In fact, it’s a good thing. Journalists are trained not to take anyone at their word. If there’s a way to independently verify information, we do it.

This skepticism in the service of the public can be channeled into serving organizations and brands in a number of ways. For one thing, skepticism ensures that the information we relay comes from reputable sources. For another, skeptical reporters are well versed in playing devil’s advocate, trying to poke holes in sources’ statements to see what holds up to scrutiny.

Reporters turned marketers aren’t out to trash your brand or organization, but you’d be surprised at the depth that can emerge when a reporter starts pushing. There’s always more to the story.

It’s not about us. No one showers reporters in praise or riches. We get as many angry phone calls from know-it-all readers as we get bylines. We don’t do it to get famous and very few of us make any real money.

Someone would have to be either insane or insanely dedicated to keep reporting, dim prospects of living the good life be damned. That dedication never leaves us even after we leave the newsroom.

Whether we’re reporting the news to readers, writing marketing content for clients or sending a text to Mom, you can bet it will be well written, well researched, clear, concise and truthful. That’s just how we are. There’s a code we learned that we never forget no matter what we write or for whom.

Toby Wall is a writer at Gorilla 76, an industrial content marketing firm in St. Louis. He used to cover breaking news, politics and business in the St. Louis area. A version of this article originally appeared on the firm’s blog.

This post first ran on PR Daily in April 2017.

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One Response to “Why former journalists can make terrific content marketers”

    Valerie Andrews says:

    I agree with you on the skills a former journalist brings to what is essentially a PR position (because “content marketing” is just another way to say PR). But there’s one shortcoming: strategy. As a PR professional and former journalist, I can tell you that strategy is the divide between the two areas. Great journalists are terrific storytellers, but you can’t just tell any story. And there has to be that all-important evaluation step in the communication process that journalists haven’t had to worry about, but PR folks deal with daily.

    There is no doubt that a journalist can be taught to be a strategist. And having that skill makes a journalist even more employable.

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