Think like a Publisher; Act like a Journalist

You know the first rule of content marketing is to think like a publisher, right? Our job as content marketers is to figure out what information or education our target market wants and then develop content to fill the void. It’s an important shift away from broadcasting the products and services we offer. If you ask me, the second rule should be to act like a journalist.

A blog post at PR 20/20 caught my eye this week. The (Self) Education of a Content Marketer speaks to the necessity of immersing yourself in every part of a topic you may be covering. It’s no longer sufficient to understand your message and how you want to position it. You also need to be able to tell a story worthy of captivating an audience. You want to ensure everything you publish is credible and that requires research, often quite a lot of it.

Acting like a journalist
In working alongside copywriters and other content producers on several different projects, the most creative pieces always come from journalists. When I asked print journalist Dan Hatch, Marketing and Media Editor at The West Australian, how he came up with so many good sources and content ideas, he told me it was his newspaper training. Reporters must 1) fill a certain number of columns with new content every day and 2) write a story. That’s two significant differences from traditional marketing copy. But if we really want to think like a publisher, then we have to be developing content like a journalist.

Good sources for information
So where do journalists find what they need to create a great story? It’s often in the most mundane places. Be prepared to troll through pages and pages to find the inspiration and sources to develop your content. Fortunately, we can do most everything on the web but you have to break away from Google search results if you want to stand out from everyone else. Move away from popular sites like Mashable and the Huffington Post because that’s where everyone else is snooping around.

Off the beaten path
Here are some of my favourite places to dig:

  • Local and community newspapers
  • Industry associations
  • Industry newsletters
  • Industry reports and surveys
  • Government websites
  • Press releases from government officials
  • Online media release distribution sites
  • University websites
  • LinkedIn discussion groups

Does it sound like a grind? If so, you might be in the wrong job. Journalists, by and large, are incredibly curious people. They’re full of questions and willing to follow many threads on any topic to get the story they want. In the process, they make valuable contacts they can tap in the future when they need a comment, quote or expert opinion. It all goes into writing a richer, more entertaining story. As marketers, we absolutely have to be taking this approach if we want our own content to stick.

Do you think marketers should act like a journalist or is it overkill?

If you would like to find out more about content marketing, plan to attend Content Marketing World Sydney, from 4-6 March. Early bird registration closes on 31 January. If you’re not in Sydney, the Content Marketing Institute has arranged a special group rate at the Sheraton on the Park for people – like me – that will be traveling to the event. I hope to see you there.

Image courtesy of graur codrin/

  • Nick Fielden

    I am taking part in AWAI’s Accelerated Copywriting Programme, and was pleased to see confirmed by your blog what the course writers have emphasised so much to us ‘newbies’. I’m talking about how a prospect dislikes to be ‘sold’ a product or service, that an appeal to the emotions will elicit a more favourable response. At the same time, however, a rational justification for ‘succumbing’ to the push should be offered to the prospect – the reports, research papers, statistics, etc that back up the benefits that the copywriter has promised. It is these hard facts, obtained by hard work that give credibility to the copy. I have been scratching my head where I might go off the beaten track to pick up these ‘golden nuggets’, and am really pleased to see your list of alternative venues. I like your marketing ethos, honesty and down to earth writing. I am 100% with you on your post howling against jargon in copy and the need for plain English. Long may you do so.

  • Very true, Allan.

  • Now matter how good the digging or how
    great the story, this all means little
    if let down by poor editing.

  • Hi Andie,

    Oh boy, that’s a hard one. Traditional outbound marketers and advertisers have a tough time giving up the megaphone.

    One thing you can do is a little internal market research. Next time you get a puff piece, write it the way you want it and circulate both of them around your office. Ask people what they would rather read and what would be more likely to influence them to buy. Take that information back to your managers. (Include them in the exercise, too.)

    It’s not secret that consumers don’t like to be ‘sold’ to. They want information and education. They can see through a ‘pitch’ a mile away. It’s an ineffective approach and turns readers off immediately.

    Content that focuses on the needs of the reader, however is much more effective. As Mike Stelzner says in his Writing White Papers book, “By focusing on the pain points experienced by the reader and talking about the problems caused by those pains, you are establishing credibility with the reader and simultaneously filtering out unqualified customers.” And who would you buy from, someone that slammed you over the head with company information or someone that’s obviously credible about how to solve your problem?

    Let me know how you get on.

  • Andie

    I’m in a content role and am constantly talking about the importance of RELEVANT content and stories (and creating them, and sourcing them) without the blatant marketing pitch to my senior team and bosses. They nod and smile but they still don’t get it. My boss promised a potential member a feature in one of our publications the other day; of which I am editor. I was a bit saddened to be forced to write a puff piece (even though granted, it’s a good story). How do you manage your managers when this situation comes up? Great post by the way!

  • Hi Heather,

    I agree. I think the one piece that’s often missing in business is the role of the editor. That’s the person responsible for putting the brakes on blatant marketing pitches and making sure the journalists have a good call to action. Of course, they need to be performing all the traditional editing roles, as well.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • Hi Sarah,
    I was just thinking of this idea recently when talking with some friends in the traditional publishing business. Online publishing platforms have reduced the number of people involved in production of a blog or Website, but the principles are still the same. Publishers think of the business while journalists think of the reader. It’s important to have both perspectives, even if you wear both hats yourself.