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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?