Can journalists write great marketing content?


David Meerman Scott clearly thinks so. In his latest post, he says:

“At every speech I give, I suggest one of the best ways to create great Web content is for companies to hire a journalist, either full or part time, to create it. Journalists (print or broadcast) are great at understanding an audience and developing information that buyers want to consume.” (My emphasis).

On a similar subject, Roy Greenslade at The Guardian points to former Sunday Telegraph editor Sarah Sands in her Independent on Sunday column:

“Once I stopped being a newspaper editor, I began to notice a discrepancy between the sorts of things journalists were interested in and what their readers liked. Journalists like crime and politics and sex. Readers care about gardening and, as it turns out, singing. The BBC series The Choir … has been one of the best things on television. There has been little fuss about it in the press, but at the school gates and in the garden centre it is very big news.”

Last year I was discussing an editorial promotion with one of the big financial trade mags – the ad sales guy was giving me the full sales pitch about reader demographics – I asked the editor for the rationale behind the editorial feature our client was being asked to support ie what rational basis did he have for choosing the subject matter. He cheerfully admitted it was “a gut feel” and he didn’t really know much about his readers at all. You could hear the ad guy audibly wince as we decided that perhaps this wasn’t something that we’d recommend our client spending thousands on – given the lack of hard evidence.

In summary, I don’t think journalists are automatically great at understanding audiences (and neither are PR and marketing people for that matter). I’ve often found that when journalists write PR or marketing copy they often produce something they think the customer wants ie full of the jargon and buzzwords they get subjected to themselves. Or when magazines try to do their own PR, it often falls into the traditional cliche they normally deride PRs for.

Truly understanding an audience is a lot harder than most people think – whether you are a journalist or a marketeer. However, proper investment in this area – backing it up with hard analysis and genuine listening – can reap rewards for hacks and flacks alike.

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Comments

  1. That’s actually one thing that I’ve learned jumping the tracks and working in contract publishing, rather than newsstand/consumer: how little journalists tend to understand their audience in a coherent, planned way. When we pitched the idea of the Business Insight site (insight.bt.com) at BT, we had a huge amount of supporting material about the market, what they wanted, and what they were interested in – of a three hour pitch, a good hour and a half was about the market.

    But having said all that, it’s worth remembering that they have something that marketing copy writers don’t have: an audience who actually pay good money for what they write. That means that, while they might not have an explicit idea of who the audience is, if they don’t understand it at some level they won’t sell the work.

    In the marketing world, quite often “research” is used as a synonym for “understanding” – and the two aren’t always the same thing.

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  2. Great analysis. You’re right of course and I’m guilty of being simplistic in my latest blog post. But I truly believe that marketing & PR people are so obsessed with touting their products that they find it difficult to create compelling content in the form of video, audio, content-rich Web sites and the like.

    Maybe what’s needed is some kind of strange hybrid.

    Cheers,

    David

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  3. “Maybe what’s needed is some kind of strange hybrid.”

    David, that’s what contract publishing is 🙂

    Drop me a line to ianbetteridge at gmail.com and I’ll send you a copy of the magazine we do for BT – I think you’ll see what I mean from that…

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  4. Andrew Bruce Smith says:

    @Ian – “how little journalists tend to understand their audience in a coherent, planned way” – but I do think that good journalists DO have an unquantifiable instinct for what their readers want – and that’s why good journalism gets paid for. Having said that, hard data should provide some validation for this gut instinct – or suggest new areas that journalists may not have considered. ie the “strange hybird” David suggests.

    @David – I agree with you on your assessment of what goes by the name of much PR and marketing – somewhere along the line, the customer seems to get forgotten. I’m with you 100pc on the concept of buyer personas – get these right and your PR plan writes itself. If you understand your customer or prospect properly then you will know how, where, what and why they will be interested in your product or service – easy really 😉

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  5. Andrew

    We read the same blogs, obviously, I was thinking about posting on this but you’ve saved me the bother.

    As a freelance hack, an increasing part of my work involves commercial writing of one sort or another, and you’d be surprised (well, some people would) by how often I’m engaged to rewrite something that a PR/marketing person has written.

    While the PR clearly understands the messaging, I think sometimes they find it difficult to step away from the “approved” terminology, messaging and products – whereas a good journalist is used to applying the “so what?” filter and translating marketing-ese into something readers will find interesting.

    The challenge is ensuring that what you think is an interesting story also ties in with the client’s messaging, but that’s just a matter of practice, i suspect.

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  6. Andrew Bruce Smith says:

    Sally – great minds, etc 😉

    BTW – nice work with Getting Ink Requests!

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  7. Thanks, feel free to pop over – there’s a request for people to test control pants on there if you’re free Saturday!!

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  8. Thanks for the post. There is definitely an opportunity here for journalists. Content marketing is a true art form. Most businesses are set up to sell products and services, not to generating consistent and relevant editorial content for their customers.

    And let’s face it, most marketing people don’t want to get involved in this. It’s too hard and involves great skill when it’s done right (to affect behavior change). Big opportunity.

    Thanks
    Joe

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  9. Andrew Bruce Smith says:

    Joe – thanks for commenting – I think content marketing is a mix of art and science – that’s part of the challenge – getting the balance right between them the two is er, a mix of art and science (cue infinite regress). But I agree there is a big opportunity for those who take the time and effort to understand how analytics and content can be combined in a powerful and authentic manner.

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  10. Don’t trash the messenger. Sometimes, especially in a small business, it’s the boss/owner who’s telling the poor PR person what they need to say. So the marketing dept. sends out trash on a regular basis that is ignored by the media. You still gotta pay your bills, so you just do it.

    And yes, viewers/readers love tragedy, blood and guts, etc. What do you think causes the slow down of traffic going the OPPOSITE way of a traffic jam on a highway? Why do total strangers leave flowers at spots where a murder has occurred? How do you explain the popularity – and profits — of war and shoot-em-up movies?

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  11. Andrew Bruce Smith says:

    @intuitivelyobvious – don’t get me wrong – I’ve been around long enough to know that the “why do PRs send out so much irrelevant rubbish” debate has been going on for decades. Given that most PR/marketing folk are fully aware of what is and isn’t relevant info, there clearly have to be other reasons for why it continues – and certainly one of the reasons is due to the respect (or otherwise) afforded to the PR/marketing dept in a business – big or small – while few people would tell a CEO or sales director how to do their job, at times everyone seems to be a PR and marketing expert. And yes, life is too short on many occasions, so the PR/marketing person just gives in and sends stuff out as instructed. Still – we no harm in trying to keep the level of rubbish down as low as possible.

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  1. […] (or the Law of Unexpected Consequence) 27 02 2008 The reaction to my post yesterday about Can Journalists Write Great Marketing Content has been […]

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