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Why Great Content Marketing Requires Journalism Skills

By Kathryn Hawkins. Content Marketing
Laptop and notebook
3DDock via Depositphotos

When hiring a content marketing team to assist with your content development efforts, finding an agency with a background in journalism makes all the difference. Here’s why.

In the last decade, many writers I know—myself included—have made the shift from writing primarily for media companies to developing digital marketing content for branded newsrooms, corporate blogs, and other content marketing outlets.

The changing landscape for media publications has played a big role in that shift: In the last 10 years, newsroom employment has dropped by 25 percent, and newspaper subscriptions are at their lowest levels since 1940. As consumers gain more and more access to free content, they’ve become less inclined to consider paying for a newspaper or magazine subscription. That makes it harder for publishers to justify the high rates that freelance writers need to invest time into creating great content.

However, the news industry’s loss is the marketing industry’s gain, particularly now that focusing on keyword optimization is no longer the key to success in the online marketing world. While some old-school SEO firms are trying to ride the tide by renaming themselves as “content marketing agencies,” if they don’t have a background in editorial journalism, they won’t help your company get anywhere.

When you’re looking for a marketing team or freelance writers to assist with your company’s content marketing needs, it’s essential to look beyond the buzzwords and choose an agency team built of former journalists. Here’s why.

Compelling, link-worthy content that ranks highly in Google and other search engines isn’t just about putting words together and creating the catchiest headline—it’s about getting all the facts in order, too. Former journalists know how to analyze 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 content marketing 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 focused on brand journalism, you’ll be assured that they’re even more skeptical about surprising claims than your readers are—protecting your company from ridicule and even potential liability claims.

Credibility is key to building your brand.

Sure, there are plenty of sites out there that let you submit your preferred keywords, specify the content length, and pay $30 or $40 for an 800-word article, as opposed to the higher rates charged by more premium firms.
But there’s a key difference in the quality of the articles you’ll get: While low-paid, less experienced writers might include the keyword terms you’re targeting, the work itself is, with few exceptions, mind-numbingly dull. While the information may be there, it’s not presented in a manner that makes readers want to dig in. It’s content written for robots rather than people—and these days, the robots are smart enough to know better. These types of companies are known as “content mills” or “content farms,” and, like industrial factory farms, the product they produce leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Former journalists know how to tell a story.

In contrast, former journalists have been trained in how to set an article’s tone; present information in a clear, compelling manner; and develop comprehensive arguments and calls-to-action that will inspire your prospects to convert. Especially for companies in sophisticated industries, such as finance, technology, and engineering, it’s important to work with a content team that understands how to extract complicated information from your subject-matter experts and present it to your target audience in the form of compelling content.

We’ve written before about why it’s important to pay professional rates for your blog content: You’re not going to gain access to experienced writers for thrift shop rates. If your business is important to you, investing in high-quality content marketing should be, too.

Having spent years as a freelance writer, I’ve come up with custom pitches for dozens of media publications, learned to adapt my writing to each publication’s style, and worked with my editors through the revision process until the final product was exactly what the publication needed. As an editor, I’ve helped publications develop their voice, and worked closely with freelance writers to help them develop compelling stories that fit each publication’s tone.
Now that we focus on content creation for corporate and nonprofit clients, our team of writers and editors follows that same, highly collaborative process to develop content marketing collateral (whether social media content, blog posts, white papers, web copy, or even branded magazines) that perfectly fits the company’s voice. It’s about understanding the client’s (or publisher’s) needs, understanding the target audience you’re writing for, and using those insights to develop compulsively readable content.

Former journalists understand how to collaborate effectively to produce the results you want.

Marketing teams without a journalistic background often take a “one size fits all” approach to content strategy and content creation—which rarely fits either you or your prospects very well at all.

So when you’re considering a content marketing team to help with your content strategy and content creation efforts, look beyond the buzzwords, catchphrases, and fancy tools that an agency might use, and dig into their roots. Look for a company that doesn’t just understand metrics and marketing technology (though that’s important too), but that knows how to do the hard work of researching, creating, and revising a compelling content piece.

Find a team that knows how to tell authentic and meaningful stories to help you tell yours.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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