Why former journalists can make terrific content marketers
This article originally appeared on PR Daily in April of 2017.
When organizations’ leaders want to enhance their brand and take advantage of
their prospective clients’ hunger for information, they often turn to
content marketers to create engaging content that develops leads and
advances them through the all-important funnel.
However, they rarely look beyond the content. After all, it’s the content that
develops leads, not the creator. Anyone can write, right?
There’s a difference between copy and copy with depth, clarity and context. You want the latter, not the former.
Better find a former journalist. Here’s why:
[RELATED: Weave storytelling into every corporate communication, and craft copy that captures your brand voice.]
• We’re curious. We always want to know how something works. We always ask why. We always
question our world. We feel bored when we’re not chasing down the scoop.
That obviously bodes well for readers who depend on curious reporters, but
it’s also effective for organizations that want an edge in educating
customers about why their offer makes sense. “You’re telling me this
product, process or brand addresses customers’ needs? Prove it. Tell me
• We know a lot.
Whether via formal education, life experience, years on the job or a
combination of all three, journalists know a little bit about a lot of
things. You could argue that reporters earn paychecks by learning.
• But we don’t know it all. Good reporters find out quickly that the more they know, the more they
We freely and constantly admit it. Far from turning us off, admitting what
we don’t know is like pouring gas on a fire. If we don’t know, odds are
good our readers don’t, either. It’s on us to tell them.
Good research drives good marketing content. Reporters are right for the
job because our success depends on locating the information we need to tell
There will always be a learning curve, especially with complex topics in
niche industries. But that curve will always be shorter when a reporter is
on the job.
• We’re good translators. Reporters are experts at translating jargon into layman’s terms. That’s
partly an innate skill and partly because our duty to readers demands it.
Asking sources to put on the brakes and explain something like we were born
yesterday is second nature.
Experts wary of getting too deep in the weeds of their brands or products
can take comfort in working with journalists to develop content. Tell us
what you know. Tell us why it matters. We’ll work through the weedy parts
together. Complexity doesn’t alarm us.
• We’re obsessed with facts. Gumshoe reporters take facts seriously. You don’t know real despair until
you’ve put your name on something that turns out to be wrong. That’s why we
work so hard to get the story right.
For example, journalists and metallurgical engineers likely don’t have much
in common, but they share a devotion to precision. A few degrees Fahrenheit
separates metallurgy from playing with fire; an exact dollar amount on a
city budget line item separates public interest reporting from town gossip.
Did you get the dog’s name? Was the corpse wearing shoes? If your mother
says she loves you, get a second source. Trust us. We’ll get it right.
• We’re skeptical. We don’t believe you. It’s nothing personal. In fact, it’s a good thing.
Journalists are trained not to take anyone at their word. If there’s a way
to independently verify information, we do it.
This skepticism in the service of the public can be channeled into serving
organizations and brands in a number of ways. For one thing, skepticism
ensures that the information we relay comes from reputable sources. For
another, skeptical reporters are well versed in playing devil’s advocate,
trying to poke holes in sources’ statements to see what holds up to
Reporters turned marketers aren’t out to trash your brand or organization,
but you’d be surprised at the depth that can emerge when a reporter starts
pushing. There’s always more to the story.
• It’s not about us. No one showers reporters in praise or riches. We get as many angry phone
calls from know-it-all readers as we get bylines. We don’t do it to get
famous and very few of us make any real money.
Someone would have to be either insane or insanely dedicated to keep
reporting, dim prospects of living the good life be damned. That dedication
never leaves us even after we leave the newsroom.
Whether we’re reporting the news to readers, writing marketing content for
clients or sending a text to Mom, you can bet it will be well written, well
researched, clear, concise and truthful. That’s just how we are. There’s a code we learned that we
never forget no matter what we write or for whom.
Toby Wall is a writer at Gorilla 76, an industrial content marketing
firm in St. Louis. He was a former journalist covering breaking news,
politics and business in the St. Louis area. A version of this article originally appeared on the firm’s blog.