By Robert McGuire published March 31, 2015

How Hiring a Journalist Can Improve Your Content Marketing

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The world is full of snappy writers who can garner traffic, clicks, and “likes” that give a short-term lift to your promotion. But it’s getting noisy out there. Successful content marketing has to make a lasting impression and provide something authentic to your customers to create a real return on your marketing investment.

Aaron Agius recently shared journalistic practices content marketers should adapt, but I want to make a case for going straight to the source – making experienced reporters a part of your content marketing team – and discuss how to find them.

I don’t mean any knock on my colleagues whose experience has been entirely in marketing. In fact, someone whose only experience is in journalism has some catching up to do in marketing. But I find that in addition to having the baseline writing skills, reporters are adept at several other skills helpful in a B2B content marketing effort. Reporters know how to:

  • Find the unexplored angle on a familiar subject
  • Develop good questions
  • Gather information from high-quality sources
  • Synthesize the information into a highly valuable, reader-focused piece

High-value content like thought leadership blogs, white papers, and reports often require original research and interviews with experts from outside the company. That’s where hiring a journalist will give you an advantage.

Find something new to say

Keyword research can reveal important information about what your target market is searching, but an article fattened with your target keywords doesn’t necessarily say anything helpful for your reader. To do that, you have to find something new and surprising, and that usually comes after a process of tough inquiry.

Experienced reporters have learned to go beyond their first instinct and push for an angle that has never been done or to do it in a unique way. Today’s content mills are filled with bloggers’ first instincts. And, unfortunately, a lot of thought leadership pieces also exist on that level. They belabor the obvious instead of offering new insight to gain customers’ trust.

Ask the helpfully obnoxious question

You work hard on your brand messaging and are naturally eager to communicate it. Journalists are trained to dig deeper, often to a point you might find annoying. They ask obnoxious questions like:

  • What does that really mean?
  • Can you give an example of when you’ve actually done that?
  • If your service makes so much sense, why don’t you already have more customers?
  • Could you give me another example?

The interrogations can feel a little adversarial. But once you start to answer seriously, probably with the phrase, “It’s complicated,” you are on the route to something more specific, interesting, surprising, helpful, and authentic. Your customers will value content that understands and acknowledges their objections, reservations, and pain points.

Think of your reporters as the advocates for your readers’ needs. Mixing that approach with traditional marketers who advocate your company’s needs can create a productive tension.

Seek authoritative sources

While it’s sometimes appropriate for writers to sound off on the basis of their own expertise, content marketing pieces often are more valuable when you get insight from outside experts. Reports and studies, in particular, lose their effectiveness when they appear to be sales pitches.

Reporters are trained to refrain from sounding self-authoritative. Instead, they go out and find people who are actual authorities – both internally and externally. Then they use their research and interviewing skills to get to the heart of the topic. Original reporting tactics like these elevate a piece of click bait into something that will actually benefit your readers.

Know how to bring it all together

Most journalists know how to bring together what they learned from multiple sources into a piece of content that is truly useful. Finding and interviewing great sources is one thing, but communicating the wealth of information in an insightful way is a different trick. They can synthesize a discussion with facts into content that offers a deeper understanding.

Check the ego at the door

Writing is romanticized as a solitary effort, but a newsroom operates more like an assembly line with each person responsible for his part. Reporters expect what they thought was an excellent article to be reviewed and edited by several other people before it is published.

They expect to be asked questions if an editor can’t understand a point they made. They expect the reviewers to edit – usually by making it more concise – without seeking their permission. While the system can be a shock for a new writer, it has it virtues – speed, accuracy, clarity, and reliability most of all.

Of course, this expectation can go too far. Writers who turn in weak or incomplete copy and cede responsibility for their work to the editorial process aren’t any good for you.

Find and hire

Your talent-search pipeline probably doesn’t have to change that much to find candidates with journalism experience. Consider these tweaks:

  • Revise your job postings to incorporate “journalism experience” as a preferred quality.
  • Post your openings to journalism-focused job boards like JournalismJobs.com.
  • Scan submitted resumes for reporting experience.
  • Ask for writing samples to identify whether candidates quote others (i.e., they know how to interview or use additional sources).

My own hiring process involves ads on Craigslist. I use this screening to test the applicants’ news sense – look at an existing article and propose follow-up articles on the subject. If they suggest an argument or opinion piece rather than a line of inquiry, they may not be thinking like a reporter. I prefer people who want to find something new to communicate rather than to share an existing opinion.

Once I’m interviewing promising candidates, I have a handful of test assignments ready. I describe a concept and ask the candidate how she would approach the subject. I’m listening for a practical plan that goes beyond generic research to incorporate expert-level insight.

I gut-check my impression by asking about the reporting process. If the writer acknowledges that the deliverable’s timing depends on the availability of sources for interviews, it’s a good sign that the writer has reporting know-how.

If the interview goes well, I pay the candidate for a freelance assignment (expecting a small percentage will be unusable). In my experience, unpaid test assignments are a big waste of time because they never arrive or are done with little effort.

Conclusion

Hiring a journalist is one way to make your content stand out in a sea of shallow “first-thought, best-thought” pieces. A journalist’s knack for identifying and interviewing the authorities, asking the tough questions, and crafting relevant, reader-focused pieces means your content will provide a longer-lasting benefit to your readers. That’s what will cultivate the trusting relationship that will generate leads, which give you a real return on your marketing investment.

Hiring content creators with journalism experience is an important step. Now, follow CMI’s simple, step-by-step plan to integrate unique, impactful, and strategic content marketing into your organization. Get our new workbook today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Robert McGuire

Robert McGuire provides white label content marketing planning and implementation services, specializing in B2B and thought leadership marketing. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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