A little while back I wrote an article reassuring journalists — more and more of whom are being made redundant from shrinking newsrooms — that there really was life after journalism. In it I recommended a career in content marketing, explaining that our skills as journalists are very much in demand.
I got a lot of positive feedback from reporters around the world who’d found themselves in precisely that situation. But I also got a little pushback from journalists still working in newsrooms. A common theme amongst the negative responses was the concern that working in content marketing meant “selling your soul” — somehow stepping away from unbiased, independent journalism and towards the “dark arts” of writing what is effectively advertising.
So I thought I’d address why content marketing is a perfectly acceptable, ethical option for old journos looking for a post-newsroom career.
Forget about the marketing bit. Focus on the content.
First thing’s first, don’t get hung up on the name “content marketing”. I know the “marketing” bit can be off-putting if you’re a vocational reporter, but it’s the “content” bit that’s important.
And here’s why. This is the Content Marketing Institute’s definition of what content marketing is:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action”.
Let’s look at the three most attractive and active words in that definition: “valuable, relevant and consistent”. They should be familiar to you. It’s what journos do every day. We write about the things that matter to people and we publish on a regular basis. Our job is to inform. Content marketing works just the same.
It’s not about the plug. Forget about the damned plug.
Not all content marketing projects are the same. Some of them might indeed be a bit “salesy”, involving lots of plugs or only talking about company products and services — and that will probably make you feel uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing: don’t work on those projects. Find a company, brand or agency to work with that really understands how to do content marketing properly — because the best content marketing doesn’t involve plugging the product all the time. The idea is to write content which the consumer:
- Can find readily when they’re searching the internet (for example, via a Google search)
- Finds valuable and relevant (as mentioned above), and
- Values enough to keep coming back for more.
Content marketing builds the consumer’s loyalty to the brand producing the editorial. They become a trusted source of information. That’s how it works. The most effective content marketing projects don’t, therefore, tend to incorporate the kind of “plugs” that make journos squeamish. Blatant plugs risk breaking that trust.
Don’t be too puritanical. We’ve all plugged the company line.
Here’s the thing about plugs though: most of us have done them. At some point in your career, if not several times a day, every day, for years, you’ll have plugged something. There are exceptions of course — rounds like politics, court and police reporting, for example, rarely require plugs — but in most areas of journalism we actually “plug” all the time.
We plug the book. We plug the concert. We plug the Christmas pageant, the fundraiser, the seniors’ dancing group, the crisis hotline, and — and don’t tell me you’ve never done this — we’ve plugged something the bosses have asked us to plug. Maybe your newspaper hosted the local business leadership awards and you had to write an article about the winners; maybe your TV station sponsored the local fair and you had to cover it; maybe your radio station made you tell the time on the “Harvey’s Quality Meats Clock” at the top of each news break.
It’s just like reporting. You just have a new paymaster.
Journalism might be a vital pillar of democracy but it also needs to be funded. Commerce is a fact of life. My point, really, is that there’s little to be gained as an unemployed reporter standing on principles you’ve probably had to bend (or break) a thousand times before, just because your potential employer is a brand rather than a news organisation.
As a reporter you have fantastic skills and they’re actually in high demand (which no one tells you when you’re working a 60-hour week for peanuts covering the local government beat for the Allentown Argus). Brands and marketing agencies are willing to pay you to write. They’re crying out for your skills. You will be a valued team member.
I can assure you, you will get to work on some fascinating projects, meet some passionate people, learn about things you never thought you would, and write copy (or create videos or podcasts or whatever else is required) — many of the things you loved about traditional journalism. I, for one, have no regrets about making the move. I can’t recommend it highly enough. And have I had to be unethical at any point? Or break with my principles?
(And with that said, here’s our plug…)