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3 Things to Look For when Hiring a Journalist for Content Marketing

Recently, my friend Rob Yoegel of Monetate wrote a fine post breaking down some of the lessons content marketers can learn from publishers. As he points out, “Think like a publisher” has become a common mantra in the content marketing community — but that alone isn’t enough for most organizations.

As a former journalist and reporter, this subject always tends to hit home with me. When I first heard the term “content marketing,” my initial impression was that the goal was for companies to start taking over the role of content publisher, effectively cutting out the middleman that they previously relied on to advertise with and gain new leads. It also struck me as a golden new career opportunity for folks with journalism and online writing backgrounds.

For the most part, this has turned out to be true. The focus amongst content marketers to become “a trusted source of information” has created a lot of competition for traditional sources like online magazines and newspapers. And more journalists have transitioned to marketing as economic lulls and cutbacks have made their typical career paths… well… let’s just say challenging.

Of course, that transition isn’t always easy, either.

Sure, hiring a bunch of converted journalists to generate quality content seems like a great idea for organizations that lack the skill sets to get their content strategies off the ground. But what I’ve found — and Rob alluded to as well — is that there’s a big difference between thinking like a publisher and actually being a publisher. As a result, journalists and writers seasoned in the latter are not always the best fit for a move to marketing. In the same vein, not all publishing concepts are amenable to a successful content marketing strategy.

In my opinion, there are three things that marketing organizations should consider when looking to add a former journalist or reporter to their team:

#1. Experience in online publishing

At this point, most journalists have at least some experience creating online content. That said, those who’ve specifically worked for online publications are often a much better fit for content marketing. One reason is that writing for online is a unique skill that not all writers possess. Common practices like keyword optimization and strategic link building require traits that need to be learned, and not all traditional journalists have embraced them.

It’s also important to have a strong understanding of the types of content your candidates are comfortable with. Obviously, you’ll want to review a collection of writing samples, but there’s a lot more to content marketing than articles and blog posts. Are you looking to hire someone with experience creating case studies or eBooks? What about multimedia content like webinars, podcasts, and videos? The more types of content a candidate is familiar with, the more expertise they’ll bring to your overall strategy.

#2. Editorial management experience

At many publications, most journalists and staff writers do just that — write. But there’s more to developing a sound content marketing strategy than writing. Editors that have worked in a management role are likely to possess a broader skill set that fits nicely into the content marketing model.

Not only are editorial managers excellent writers and content producers, they’re also more comfortable dealing with “big picture” stuff like editorial calendars, traffic reporting and, most importantly, working with the sales side of the business. On a personal level, this type of experience can lead to a much smoother transition to marketing when the time comes.

#3. Social media savvy

Obviously, social media marketing plays an important role these days. There’s brand awareness, customer engagement, content promotion, influencer marketing — the list goes on. While some companies have a single person designated as the social media point person (or “buzz marketer”), I believe that everyone on the marketing team — or at least the content team — should play a role here as well.

Ideally, the person you hire will be at least somewhat involved in social media. This doesn’t mean they need to have thousands of Twitter followers or belong to a host of LinkedIn groups. But they should at least have profiles that show an understanding of the platforms and the value they bring from a content perspective.

If one of the goals of your content strategy is to position your company as a thought leader in a particular space, then the person creating that content needs to be comfortable in that role. While some journalists and reporters are self-promotional machines on social channels, others avoid putting their faces out there in a way that could jeopardize their integrity. Some are seasoned traditionalists that prefer to let their content do the talking. Others are lower-level reporters that don’t have the confidence to become part of the online conversation.

Either way, the ones who “get it” are more ideal to help take your content strategy to the next level.

Journalists need to know what they’re getting into, and companies need to know who they are hiring.

As Rob points out in his article, there are a lot of publishing practices that align very well with content marketing. Editorial hierarchy, SEO, audience development, and a focus on unique, quality content are all skills that should be valued in the content marketing realm. But from a more personal standpoint, how journalists/ publishers go about their business is still very different — and it should be.

Understanding those key points can be critical when making your next content hire.

To all the other former journalists and reporters out there, what are your thoughts on moving from more traditional publishing to content marketing? Did you run into any particular challenges when making the transition? Sound off in the comments!