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4 Ways Marketers Can Learn From a Journalist’s Approach to Content Planning

Posted on Jan 22nd, 2015
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    “Be the media” isn’t just a buzz phrase. It’s a live process and philosophy that brings in leads and moves products and services. It’s the concept of content as sales staff. It’s “write it and they will come.” OK, so I got ahead of myself with that last one. It’s not quite that simple.

    As marketers have moved to content to help tell their stories that draw in customers, they have brought journalists in to help with the storytelling.  Now that many marketers and journalists are working side by side, they have developed similar processes and have begun to merge cultures. They are finding common ground, overlapping and crossing career paths.

    Here are a few areas in which I think that content marketers can learn from journalists:

    Plan ahead, but be ready to adapt

    In journalism there is a balance between the editorial calendars and the calendars used on the advertising side. Advertising managers are the ones planning farther ahead. In newspapers especially, the amount of ads sold paves the way for the amount of news told.

    Content marketers could benefit from thinking more like the editorial side than the advertising side. For example, what if the opportunity to attend an event came up and you were able send members of your team to live blog 10 posts over four days. It would be a shame to turn down that opportunity simply because you already have your editorial calendar planned for the month. Don’t get me wrong, editorial calendars are the backbone of entire marketing campaigns and programs and are essential for success. They just have to be flexible – and sometimes shorter.

    Allow time for your audience’s appetite for content to shape your editorial planning. Be ready to produce, publish, measure, plan and optimize as you go.

    Ask “why do I care?”

    When worked as a managing editor at a newspaper, one of the first things I did was make every reporter answer this question before writing a story: “Why do I care?” I added those four words to the slug line of every story on the editorial calendar. If a reporter couldn’t answer that question to my satisfaction then the story wasn’t approved.

    As marketers, we need to ask ourselves the same question. Why do your readers (buyers) care? If you’re producing content because you’re missing a hole in your calendar, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Marketers, like reporters, need to produce content that is relevant, that answers questions, and that moves a conversation or an issue (or a buying decision) forward.

    Keep a post in your pocket

    An editor once shared with me some newsroom advice: Always have a story in your pocket. Chances are, as a reporter, something was bound to happen that would interfere with a story I was writing on deadline. Maybe a source didn’t get back to me, a photo option didn’t come through, or a story just didn’t turn out to be as interesting as I had thought. In that case, it saved everyone a lot of trouble if I had a second story already in the works.

    This advice has saved me in content marketing as well. I  recommend always having a post in your pocket, a blog post that is evergreen, yet relevant and nearly ready to go. When a post from a contributor falls through, then you have one ready. When your own scheduled post just doesn’t come together in time, then you have another one on hand.

    Check the weather

    The reason why TV news runs the weather forecast toward the end of the broadcast is because they know it will keep people watching. In the marketing sense, you need to also be looking at the weather, measuring the industry atmosphere and current conditions. Know what it is that people want to read about and what they’ll be talking about tomorrow.

    For example, Mark Schaefer published this blog post on Tuesday, the day that President Obama presented the State of the Union address. It’s no secret that by tying the phrase “State of the Union” to the phrase “State of the Nation” in the blog post Mark helped pique interest in the post (which in the interest of full disclosure, is for Dell, a TopRank Marketing client.) Tying what is going on in your content with current events can help make your content timely, attractive and more sharable.

    As far as literally checking the weather, well … that doesn’t hurt either. For example, here’s a story about a business that used the weather as a reason to create a relevant marketing message: I happened to learn that my kids’ schools were opening late because of a snowstorm a few weeks ago from the Twitter account of a car wash in town. Seriously. Not from the schools, the news alerts or my kids (I heard from all those sources eventually) but from the car wash. It doesn’t get much more useful than that. I don’t know who runs their account, but they’re worth a follow as far as car/pet wash accounts go.

    Plan around themes

    You do this already by marrying your editorial calendar to your buyer’s purchase cycle, but make sure you’re getting the most of your themes. Jason Miller of LinkedIn (another TopRank Marketing client) likes to talk about Big Rock Content — content that is both a larger project and a heavier topic of focus.

    Journalists do this all the time. When a big event comes to town, news teams get the most readership out of it as they can, because they know it’s a current, hot topic. If you’ve ever been to Minnesota during State Fair season, you’ll know what I mean. The State Fair leads news broadcasts for weeks leading up to, then during, then after the event. If something in your community of readers is a big deal, then make the most of it.

    Thinking like a journalist is an imperative marketing mindset. Having an adaptable plan, being aware of current events and planning around themes and topics that your audience cares about will enable you to create content that is relevant and meaningful to buyers who are looking for solutions.


    Image: Shutterstock