If you’re a content marketer, did you enter the field to sell products or to help people tell their stories?
If you’re using content marketing services, is it more important to you to boost your quarterly results or build better, more trusting long-term relationships?
Both questions are deliberately polarized, far more so than the day-to-day reality of marketing and communications. But the difference in traditions between journalism and marketing runs through the emerging practice of content marketing. And the approach for your next campaign should be a conscious choice, based on whom you’re trying to reach and what you need to achieve.
Opposite Sides of the Coin
The original spark for this post came from my colleague, the amazing and insightful Jenise Fryatt. A few months ago, she spotted the large number of former journalists who were reinventing themselves as content marketers, after seeing their original news outlets fold or go through massive budget cuts.
As ex-newshounds ourselves, we found the trend fascinating, not least because we both remembered the journalist’s creed: Job One is to serve the public interest, independently and without fear or favour, and writing PR means irrevocably going “over the wall”.
As we thought through the inevitable differences, collisions, and potential synergies between the two sides of the content marketing world, we realized it was no surprise—and no accident—that companies were snapping up journalists to deliver the smart, responsive content they needed.
Not that there was no place for marketers in the subspecialty that bears their name. It just meant both disciplines could learn from each other—by imitation, and by arguing out the rules of engagement:
- Marketers traditionally do a great job of focusing on their clients’ objectives, messaging, schedules, and bottom lines. But they sometimes fall into the trap of treating their audiences as a target to be attained, not a community with its own mind, voice, and interests.
- Journalists who understand their craft pride themselves on delivering an accurate, unfailingly honest story that serves the public good. They aren’t usually too concerned about sales, and nor should they be. Their independent mindset depends on being able to separate themselves from revenue generation, until advertising tanks and they find themselves reinvented as…content marketers.
The Strength in the Synthesis
Enter content marketing, with its focus on fostering inbound rather than outbound communication. It’s a far cry from independent journalism the way Woodward and Bernstein practiced it. But compared to the traditional hard sell that we’ve all learned to resent and resist, it’s much more about bringing people together around the knowledge and content interests they hold in common.
First, the content creates conversations.
Over time, enough of the time to make content marketing a valid strategy, those conversations lead to sales and durable business relationships.
And sometimes, smart content is a catalyst for a deeper dialogue that leads to new ideas, products, or services. Or the kind of persistent, courageous, community-based action that creates lasting change.
This ability to create conversation and real understanding is what makes content marketing so exciting—as a fresh approach to communication, and a smart starting point for social media campaigning. I’m not sure it would work so well without bringing together the best that journalism and marketing have to offer.
The incisive storytelling we all want to see on our blogs and websites depends on the nose for news and ear for a timely quote that you learn best in a professional newsroom. (Just learn it fast, before the newsroom shuts down.)
The connection to a client’s messaging and deadlines is something you’re more likely to find in a marketing plan.
The balance between the two traditions is still sorting out. But when it works, the result is far greater than the sum of the parts.
How is this connection between journalism and marketing playing out in your own work?
And how is your organization reacting to the transition from outbound to inbound marketing strategies?