We are in the midst of a content boom. Increasingly, marketers are shifting their advertising dollars into branded content marketing. Companies produce their own content at rates rivaling those of media organizations. In fact, brands like Purina run their own media companies, with many social media accounts reaching audiences of millions.

Content marketing has more in common with journalism than you may realize. It resembles traditional journalism in so many ways that some companies now have their own corporate newsrooms, modeled off newspapers’ traditional newsrooms.

Here are some of the ways content marketing and journalism overlap — and lessons content marketers can learn from journalists to make better content.

What is Content Marketing?

Before the internet, corporate marketing efforts relied on traditional media, either through:

  • earned media: publicity received through promotional efforts, such as television news coverage of a corporate event prompted by a press release sent to a journalist.
  • paid media: advertising, such as newspaper or TV ads.

Now, any company can put up a website and launch a Facebook page to get their message straight to their audience. This change has turned many companies into content marketing organizations.

Content marketing is a broad term that doesn’t have a precise definition. It is generally considered to include any form of content — such as a blog post, white paper, film, tweet, or photo essay — created by or on behalf of a company to attract an audience.

In some cases, content marketing and journalism live side-by-side on a website or in a magazine. Advertorials are not new – the word was first used in 1946. The ease with which advertorial content and native advertising can fit in alongside true journalism again demonstrates how similar content marketing and journalism can be.

It’s All About Telling a Great Story

Journalists have always told other people’s stories, and storytelling has become a big part of content marketing, too.

The human brain is wired to love a good story. That’s why both journalists and content marketers need to consider how to tell a story that will appeal to their audience.

Journalists focus on the five Ws – who, what, when, where and why – to frame their stories and convey important information to the reader. Good content marketers do the same with their branded content, making sure they know who their audience is, what they will get out of reading the content, and where and when the reader should do something about what they have read (commonly known as the call-to-action).

Just like journalists, content marketers should consider how they can put a personal face on their stories. This can take the form of profiling real customers in corporate content or having employees from the company tell their stories about the brand.

You Need an Editorial Voice

Newspapers and magazines have their own style guides and cultivate their own unique editorial voice. An article in the New Yorker sounds very different from an article in USA Today. Likewise, corporate content marketers need to develop and cultivate an editorial voice for their brand. As Anna Pickard, the editorial director of the Slack app puts it, “The tone of editorial copy that surrounds and is woven through Slack is, for us, a vital part of supporting the product and the mission of the team behind it.”

This goes beyond the copy. Just as the art director of a magazine carefully shapes the aesthetic and look of the magazine to fit its editorial voice and brand, so too do content marketers need to select images and even fonts that match their company’s editorial voice.

Shareability is Important

Newspapers want people to read their articles for two reasons: they believe the stories are important, and to increase ad revenues. Content marketers want people to consume their content to get their brand’s message out. In each case, it is important to develop content people will share with others. Social news and entertainment company Buzzfeed taught Purina to put “shareability” at the heart of every post they created. By creating highly shareable content, content marketers can reach wider audiences.

As a content marketer, take a look at your content through a shareability lens. Write headlines, find images, and present your content in ways that will encourage your audience to read and share your what you produce.

Ethics Matter

Journalists take ethics seriously. There are professional bodies that outline journalistic ethics and encourage high standards of ethical behavior. This integrity is important if the public is to maintain its confidence in public journalism.

Integrity is just as important for content marketers. You do not want your brand tarnished by unethical marketing practices, which will make your audience lose trust in your company.

Some good principles to abide by include:

  • Do not deceive the reader. Honesty, fairness, accountability, and transparency are as important in content marketing as they are in journalism. In fact, transparency can be a good content strategy.
  • Minimize harm to sources or subjects of stories. Consider how it may impact a client or a customer to appear on your blog or website. Take particular care around sensitive topics or when featuring minors rather than adults.
  • Credit sources of content and ideas. It goes without saying that plagiarism is bad, but it also pays to be generous in crediting the ideas of others.

Contently has a Code of Ethics for Journalism and Content Marketing which is a good place to start when developing a code of ethics for your company’s content marketing.

It Takes Expertise

Nothing replaces a skilled and talented journalist. Similarly, a good content marketer is worth their weight in gold. While anyone can put a few words together to form a sentence, few have the skill to tell a compelling story the way a journalist or a content marketer does.

Journalists and content marketers need to be good writers and excellent researchers, curious about the world around them and interested in telling their stories well. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that anyone can do your content marketing — hire only the best to put together and execute your content marketing strategy. It will make all the difference.



Author Bio: Ilana Plumer is Senior Director of Marketing Executives at Main Path Marketing. Ilana has had a passion for marketing since the beginning, getting both her B.S. and M.B.A with an emphasis in marketing. With over 10 years of marketing experience, Ilana loves to build holistic digital marketing campaigns for her clients. When she’s not at work, you can find her chasing after (or being chased by) her two little girls and enjoying all San Diego has to offer.


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