Storytelling: What Journalists Know and Marketers Don’t

newspapers on a rack
Jun 2, 2015
Content Copywriting

Journalists have been creating amazing content for centuries. It is a craft that has grown and evolved over time and, along the way, the men and women who practice it have learned a thing or two about storytelling.

When you’re looking to create great content for your brand, it makes sense to look at how the experts do it. Here are some of the things journalists keep in mind when they go about telling a story:

Know who the real master is (it’s the audience)

Good journalists (actually, probably even the terrible ones) understand their audience. They know whom they’re writing for, what they’re interested in, and what matters to them most. They write their story accordingly.

It’s obvious, really. Say, for example, a high street retailer is buying out its competitor. What’s the story there? Well, it depends on your audience. If your audience is business people, they’ll want to know all the ins and outs of the deal. But if your audience is the fashion-conscious consumer, they’re more likely to be interested in what it means for their hip pockets, the range of clothes they can buy, and their in-store experience.

You’re the reader’s friend; you’re on their side

When you’re a journalist, you’re a kind of advocate for the reader. Your audience puts a level of trust in you. They expect you to investigate your topic thoroughly, to be skeptical of the information you’ve received and to test the voracity of it. They also trust that if you’re telling the story then there’s something about it that makes it worth telling. After all, space in traditional media is finite and very expensive, so every story has to earn its way into the newspaper or the bulletin.

This idea might seem to be in conflict with your goals as a marketer, you’re here to promote your client and their wares. But if content marketing is part of your strategy and you want readers or viewers to keep coming back to your content, then you need to build that trust. You also need to make sure your content is worth your reader’s time and effort. Make sure it goes beyond a “plug” to build both credibility and audiences.

The hook, the angle and the inverted pyramid

How you structure a story is key. You don’t have long to grab the audience’s attention and you have to work hard to keep it. That’s not easy to achieve — a few years ago the Poynter Institute for Journalism did a study showing many tablet users “bail out” of an article after 78.3 seconds of reading. It shows what you’re up against.

Journalists know this. That’s why headlines exist. They’re there to grab your attention and drag you into the detail of the story. The lead paragraph is also meant to whet your appetite for more of the story. The rest of the article (unless it’s long-form journalism) will be written on a model known as “the inverted pyramid” — with each sentence containing facts that are slightly less important than the facts in the sentence above it. That way the storyteller is giving the reader maximum bang for their buck — even if they bail out after a few paragraphs, they will have the core information they need.

Readers really care about punctuation and grammar

It’s amazing how easily your credibility can fly out the window. A grocer’s apostrophe, an accidental “there” in place of “their”, or an incorrectly used preposition and you will turn off many readers. This is all about quality control. It’s why newsrooms employ people called sub-editors or copyeditors to check over every story before it is published. As a simple courtesy to your reader — to show them you care about your work and that you respect them — get a third party to proof your content. Don’t rush to publish without doing so.

Attribution adds authority

Publish others’ opinions and advice rather than your own. Journalists talk to witnesses and experts to make their stories more authoritative.

Perhaps you or your client is the expert in a particular field. That’s great — your words will have weight. But they’ll have more weight if whatever you’re writing about is backed up by some third-party research. It’s easy enough to weave this into your copy.

A picture paints a thousand words, a video paints a million

An image will always capture a reader’s attention in a way headlines can’t. They also tell us a story in an instant. Journalists know this (when was the last time you saw a newspaper without a picture on the front page?) And they know how to choose eye-catching images to illustrate their stories and draw in readers.

A recent study by NewsCred showed articles with images get 94 per cent more views than those without.

While a picture is good, in the online world a video is even better. According to social media education company Social Fresh, having a video on your website landing page, for instance, can increase conversions by 86 per cent.

While marketers are experts with a great and valuable skill set, when it comes to creating content that will work for your audience, it can’t hurt to grab a few pointers from the storytelling professionals.

Give us a ring if you’d like help with telling better stories for your brand.