Erin Madsen is the vice president of content at MSPC where she guides the work of 52 content creators in both editorial and design who work with 27 clients around the United States.
Here, Erin explores why journalists make the best content marketers.
After spending my early career as a beat reporter and desk editor for daily newspapers and the subsequent decade creating digital content for big brands like Target and General Mills, I’ve come to understand how a foundation rooted in journalism is a solid one to grow a digital marketing career.
No, this isn’t a gratuitous pat on the back. But it IS a nod to the dedication and care that journalists, either former or practicing, put into the craft of content creation. The field—whose pinnacle once meant reaching the upper echelon of a masthead—has been blown wide open by the advent of branded content, and journalists have been quick to demonstrate their value in the ever-evolving mass media industry. Progressive marketers would be wise to pay attention to what we bring to the table.
While many journalists certainly embody an element of je ne sais quoi, there are also straight-up marketable skills that make them incredibly effective and essential marketers, particularly among those who create or oversee branded content programs.
Here are the nine journalistic qualities that I’ve seen time and again in those who are crushing the content marketing game:
Despite the political reality we’re living in, facts do in fact matter. By and large, journalists are fanatic when it comes to being accurate. (If you’re shopping for a content marketing agency partner, make sure to ask what their fact-checking process and team looks like.)
All it takes is one misstep or careless oversight to unravel years or decades of hard-earned credibility, both in print and online. That’s not a risk modern brands can afford to take.
Show me a journalist and I’ll show you a natural hustler. A hustler’s hustler. The lengths to which reporters go to navigate complex organizations, build sources and find unique “ways in,” and the curiosity that fuels their search, is astounding.
It’s not unusual for a journalist to work on a source for months before they agree to talk—and that may be still off the record. Storyfinding is as much of an art as storytelling is but with far less fanfare, since it’s the unseen part of the content development process.
An ability to see both sides, find common ground and pave a way forward are tremendous assets on any team—whether on staff or with vendor partners.
For those of us on the agency side, having a flexible disposition and an eager, open mind is non-negotiable.
Putting on your diplomat hat allows you to stay grounded in the shared goal; everyone is after the same thing and may be coming in with a different perspective, which is something to welcome, celebrate and put to good use.
Unless you’re a columnist, no one really cares what you think. Journalists know this, and they are careful to remove their own opinions or at least set them aside for the sake of the story, particularly as they think of themselves as trusted reader and consumer advocates.
Knowing your audience and crafting stories that will compel them to act or dig in deeper, while also balancing (and prioritizing) brand messages, is what wins this game.
5. Editorial instinct.
It’s called instinct for a reason, and it’s typically not a teachable skill—you either have it or you don’t.
Over time, cub journalists develop solid news judgment and a keen understanding of their audience, but editorial instinct—finding the stories that will drive people to care, read, click, hear you out, buy your product (!)—is really something special. If you see it, snatch it up.
Having someone on your team who raises their hand and says, “I think we should do this, and here’s why,” means your problem is on the way to being solved.
Anticipating needs is truly lightning in a bottle, and another one of those have-it-or-you-don’t qualities that journalists often embody.
Being able to help a team get unstuck is the best feeling in the world, and if you have someone who’s excited to take on that role? Bingo.
I often tell our creative team that we are in the relationship business, and relationships can’t grow without active partners on both sides of the table.
Journalists are keen communicators, which makes them relatable and good conversationalists—a must when it comes to vetting and interviewing potential subjects and talent on the fly or in a high-pressure format or platform.
Making meaningful connections across teams, projects and organizations won’t go unnoticed by the right people.
Journalists are fluent in versatility as a means of survival, and they comfortably operate on an always-learning level.
We’ve slung SLRs around our neck because photo budgets were slashed, created award-winning enterprise spreads without freelance help and dug deep into data to better understand our audience.
Oh, and we’ve thrived as our industry pinballed from print centric to digital domination and to somewhere in-between without losing our minds (for the most part).
You gotta have guts and a thick skin to make it out alive. The truth is, content marketing can be a thankless discipline, one in which you’re constantly making the case for your job, your team, your work—despite repeated wins and a bulletproof ROI.
A willingness to dig deep and keep going, lifting all boats with your tide, isn’t for the faint of heart, and it underscores a journalist’s duty to keep going until the story is told.
Read next: How to Be a Great Digital Content Marketer: 9 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice