By Clare McDermott published June 8, 2010

6 Ideas B2B Content Marketers Can Take from Professional Journalists

Like it or not, the ranks of traditional print journalists are shrinking at an astounding rate. The Pew-funded State of the News Media report for 2010 reveals that “roughly a third of the newsroom jobs in American newspapers in 2001 are now gone.” That’s a staggering figure.

For business journalists, however, the future does not look so bleak. B2B marketers have finally realized that journalists offer incredible research and storytelling expertise. As David Meerman Scott famously wrote, journalists are in high demand on the dark side. “While some of you would rather wait tables than work for ‘the man,’ others of you will find the opportunity refreshing.”

One of the most high-profile moves from traditional media to corporate journalism came in December 2009, when Steve Hamm, a 30-year veteran journalist and Senior Writer at BusinessWeek moved over to join IBM as a strategist and content creator.

What do intelligence-based companies such as IBM, Cisco and Accenture see in career journalists like Steve Hamm? What best practices can we borrow from journalism and apply to content marketing strategy and execution?

Remember that you are reporting a story, not marketing a product

This seems nearly too basic to say here, but some marketers still must be reminded to silence the pitch when developing content. Focus on the issues and trends that matter most to your customers and prospects, spend time on research and analysis to uncover new angles on an existing subject, then make sure you have a first-class writer to transform the subject into a compelling story.

Organize your network of subject matter experts

Chances are good that your content developer/writer does not have the depth of subject matter expertise needed to illuminate key issues for publication. Make sure you know which in-house experts have both the knowledge and passion to fuel your content portfolio, and then set up a systematic approach to tap this expert network for new developments.

Schedule consistent pitch meetings

For companies that rely on content marketing as a core relationship engine (think management consultants or investment firms), pitch meetings are crucial to:

  • Source new ideas
  • Develop editorial calendars
  • Tie together the objectives of different departments within the organization.

Use these meetings to “predict” future breaking news and plan for editorial commentary on the issues. For example, Greenberg Traurig published this four-page alert for their hospital client base about how healthcare reform will affect their business. The alert was issued within 24 hours of the healthcare bill being signed into law. I imagine that the click-through rates on this piece were dramatically higher given the immediate relevance.

Balance breaking news with longer-term investigations and feature articles

Take inventory of the different types of content within your library. Too often, content marketers focus solely on longer time-horizon projects such as white papers and case studies; however, mini-packages of content, such as a blog-based analysis of trending topics or one-paragraph news alerts offer excellent search engine fodder and a new way to engage your customer base.

Institute strong editorial guidelines

Particularly if you have multiple content contributors, editorial guidelines are a must. What constitutes a valid research source? How are sources attributed? What types of content are unacceptable?

Act as both a content creator and curator

The term “curating” in marketing seems to have gained traction over the last 12 months. Curating—as it relates to content marketing—refers to companies that not only publish their own portfolios of content, but also choose to become selective aggregators of 3rd party content. Local newspapers have long-relied on global news services to supplement their daily content. I believe that smart curation can be an excellent way to add value, particularly for smaller-size B2B firms that simply do not have the resources to publish original material on a regular basis.

For example, a small-size firm may send out a weekly opt-in e-newsletter that features one article written in-house, but also links to the most insightful, interesting news sources for that week within that company’s niche. By doing this, you are leveraging the work of others to boost readership and positioning your company as “in the know.”

Have you worked as a professional journalist, and do you have any tips to share? Or, as a marketer, do you have any other suggestions on how content marketing can improved with a journalism mindset?

Author: Clare McDermott

Clare McDermott is the editor of Chief Content Officer magazine and owner of SoloPortfolio, a Boston-based content marketing provider for professional service firms.You can follow her @soloportfolio.

Other posts by Clare McDermott

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  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Clare,

    Thanks for the very insightful article about opportunities for writers. I've never been a journalist but spent the early part of my writing career writing stories for feature magazines. It turned out to be wonderful experience for my content marketing business. More than anything, businesses want to tell a story. Why? Because people want to read a story more than they want to read advertising copy or business reports.

  • http://www.storyworldwide.com Simon Kelly

    I agree with most of the article and think you can go further – one essential element is to define your brand's 'Authority to Publish'. By that I mean define the type of content that your brand has the credibility to publish and define it's Story Platform. Clearly Elle magazine's platform is very different to Business Week's, so where does your brand fit in and what can it own? You can go further and use metaphor and archetypes to really hone the brand's story.
    I would take issue with the sentence: 'Remember that you are reporting a story, not marketing a product'. Good Content Marketing does both, otherwise, why bother?

  • ClareMcD

    Hi Simon & Sarah, thanks for the comments.

    Simon, great point. yes, the “authority to publish” is an interesting comment. Thought leaders are not born because they will it to be so, but because they really have the expertise, credibility, influence to add value in a certain discipline or market niche.

    Re: the “marketing a product,” you're correct to correct me on that one (that's correct squared). The way I think about it is this: I take my clients' points of differentiation, and then find ways to reinforce those through content. For example, I worked with a private equity firm that was very small compared to their peers… we sought out and analyzed 3rd party research that could show that in their particular niche, small = nimble. From there, we published an article about the agility and efficiency of smaller, boutique PE firms. That is pure and simple marketing, even if under the guise of content marketing. No way around it.

    Sarah, interesting that you used to write for feature magazines. Sometimes I think I can sniff out writers who spent time as journalists/feature writers. Much better at hooking readers early in an article and answering the “So what?” question.

  • http://www.pizzaNH.com Deidre

    This is great! I am a journalist looking to make the move to marketing. As someone who has worked in my newspaper's features department for 6+ years, I have definitely become an ideas person, working on different types of stories every day and coming up with new angles for tired events/issues that happen on a regular basis. Journalists know how to hit deadlines, plan ahead and work on a number of projects at once. I hope more marketers take advantage of our skills in the future!

  • http://www.pizzaNH.com Deidre

    This is great! I am a journalist looking to make the move to marketing. As someone who has worked in my newspaper's features department for 6+ years, I have definitely become an ideas person, working on different types of stories every day and coming up with new angles for tired events/issues that happen on a regular basis. Journalists know how to hit deadlines, plan ahead and work on a number of projects at once. I hope more marketers take advantage of our skills in the future!

  • http://www.reportcontentwriter.com/ Rachel Agheyisi

    I agree with Simon Kelly's comment. There are those (I might even say lots of) professional journalists whose platform will not work for a writer who develops content for B2B tech marketing.
    I, too, don't quite agree with the sentence on “reporting a story …”. By definition content marketing is just that — marketing. Successful content marketers do it right by targeting the interests of a well defined audience with current, helpful, educational info in the format that passes the “best fit” test. For example, a well written case study markets a product/solution by telling a success story persuasively. No hype or fiction.
    However, there's tremendous advantage in being skilled at efficient scheduling and meeting deadlines — which journalists tend to do well. Every writer can use that!

  • http://www.thearticleauthority.com Mark Henricks

    I've written many articles for leading news journals as well as custom publications and I think that content marketing can be done without undue violence to journalistic ethics, principles and standards of craftsmanship. In the best instances, the only significant distinguishing characteristic is a slight — not excessive, by any means — lean away from overt negativism and toward positive solutions. You can still be funny, heartwarming, serious and even sound a call to arms. You just can't paint a hopeless scenario. Custom content comes with obvious restrictions — loving up the competition, for instance, detailing trade secrets, and mentioning, say, airplane crashes in an in-flight — but news publications have their own, less-obvious restrictions, including mentioning the competition, discussing their own rate card discounts and other matters idiosyncratic to individual publications. I'm glad about all this because the custom content business is about the only one still buying freelance articles these days, as far as I can tell.

  • http://www.thearticleauthority.com Mark Henricks

    I've written many articles for leading news journals as well as custom publications and I think that content marketing can be done without undue violence to journalistic ethics, principles and standards of craftsmanship. In the best instances, the only significant distinguishing characteristic is a slight — not excessive, by any means — lean away from overt negativism and toward positive solutions. You can still be funny, heartwarming, serious and even sound a call to arms. You just can't paint a hopeless scenario. Custom content comes with obvious restrictions — loving up the competition, for instance, detailing trade secrets, and mentioning, say, airplane crashes in an in-flight — but news publications have their own, less-obvious restrictions, including mentioning the competition, discussing their own rate card discounts and other matters idiosyncratic to individual publications. I'm glad about all this because the custom content business is about the only one still buying freelance articles these days, as far as I can tell.

  • http://www.thearticleauthority.com Mark Henricks

    I've written many articles for leading news journals as well as custom publications and I think that content marketing can be done without undue violence to journalistic ethics, principles and standards of craftsmanship. In the best instances, the only significant distinguishing characteristic is a slight — not excessive, by any means — lean away from overt negativism and toward positive solutions. You can still be funny, heartwarming, serious and even sound a call to arms. You just can't paint a hopeless scenario. Custom content comes with obvious restrictions — loving up the competition, for instance, detailing trade secrets, and mentioning, say, airplane crashes in an in-flight — but news publications have their own, less-obvious restrictions, including mentioning the competition, discussing their own rate card discounts and other matters idiosyncratic to individual publications. I'm glad about all this because the custom content business is about the only one still buying freelance articles these days, as far as I can tell.

  • http://www.writespark.com Janice King

    One thing that copywriters don't always learn in their training but can adopt from journalists is the practice of fact checking. Read more and see my recommended resource in this blog post: http://writinghightech.typepad.com/blog/2007/01

  • http://www.mvarmazis.com Maria Varmazis

    Fabulous post — as a former business journalist who made the move to content marketing, I couldn't agree more with all of these posts. When I was laid off from my journalism post, it seemed like a disaster, but it's been one of the best opportunities of my life.

  • Rachel

    Hi Maria, glad to hear you made a successful transition. I'm am also wanting to make the transition, but not sure how, any tips?