8 newsroom lessons to apply to content marketing

December 10, 2020 6:38 pm

When you’ve spent years in media newsrooms – as most of us here have – some ways of working stay with you.

Working for online publications, newspapers and magazines has taught us a number of approaches that help us in agency life, creating content for our clients. Here are lessons that anyone can apply to their content marketing too.

1. Be reactive – but also plan: You know certain things are coming up, so have a proper plan for them – an announcement from your company, new research, an industry event or dozens of other cues. But also be prepared to tear up plans. React to news, whether new developments from your company or what’s happening more generally in the market. Who else tore up content calendars in March 2020 when it became clear the year would be dominated by COVID-19?

2. Time your publishing: Ever see someone set live 10 posts on social media at the same time? It’s not good. Timing is key but don’t listen to those articles that tell you the optimum times to publish on different platforms. It’s all about your intended audience. When are they active online? In which time zone? And over which channels – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, your website…?

3. Cut to the chase: Every journalist knows the model of the inverted pyramid. Get to the point and front-load your most important information. This then leads to contextual information and recaps. People talk about storytelling. You’re doing that, but this isn’t usually the A–Z of a fairy tale.

4. Have a stable of writers: Good publications use a mix of staff writers, freelancers and guest experts, the latter not professional content creators but people with unique things to say, with your help. Follow a mixed approach, also drawing on employees, your agencies and customers. Your in-house team might feature professional writers and editors, as will your agencies (cough), but others have valuable and valid things to say. Don’t just look to the C-suite for content.

5. Legal – with a single sign-off: Follow the lead of every great publication and consider legal issues up front, knowing what you’re willing to say or not. Don’t be the person at the end who tells the content team, “This is signed off – I’ll just run it by Legal.” Have a single person who knows at the beginning of the content creation process that they will be responsible for sign-offs. At a newspaper, this is part of the editor-in-chief’s role. Have your own EIC.

6. Team work: They say it makes the dream work. Pah. More likely it makes your content workflow work. Make sure everyone knows what your process is: from ideation and planning, through creation, quality control (that’ll be editing), design, publishing (including to third-party platforms), audience feedback and metrics informing future content. Know everyone’s role across each item of content, including the different roles your people from (4) play, especially for those you don’t communicate with every day.

7. Soup of ideas: We’ve mentioned the content soup before: you never start with a blank slate because you’re always nurturing a ‘soup’ of ideas and first drafts, bubbling away for the right time, to be knocked into shape for what you need. Tip: some parts of the soup never get eaten – and that’s fine.

8. Move on: Keep in mind an end to the content process. Most journalists will work to daily or even shorter-term deadlines (we envy those with monthly or longer-term deadlines). When you’re done, you move on. Ninety-five per cent is good enough. Equally, you might have heard one of our team talk about the “tale of the 12-month white paper”, when a particularly large company – not one of our clients – painstakingly edited a report for a year, eventually signed it off, and then scrapped it because the subject matter was out of date. Life is too short. Make your content good, then move on. Be prolific and consistent rather than perfect.

Bonus observation: While some of this sounds far away from how companies have usually worked, and even some marketing departments, the last decade has meant there has never been more content talent to tap, for every vertical and every imaginable niche. Professionalise your content creation and see the difference it makes.

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