Foolproof journalism techniques to improve your content marketing

Vanessa Green
July 19, 2021

When I graduated from journalism school 15 years ago, I never imagined I'd end up with a career in marketing.

But after working as a writer and editor for six years, I wanted to learn to do use my skills to create something besides ‘the stuff between the ads’. I liked the idea of using language to educate and persuade, and to see how content worked as part of a larger process.

Having been in marketing for almost a decade now, I'm constantly surprised at how much my experience as a journalist has informed my role as a content marketer.


1) It’s all about storytelling

Journalists always want to find the human angle to a story — it’s what people connect to and what makes world events more relatable. Your organization's content marketing approach should work the same way. All too often businesses hide behind a brand or an idea - but people are much more likely to relate to what you have to offer if you can put a human face or name to your communications.

Here are some easy wins:

  • Use people to tell your stories - get staff to write blogs, newsletters, emails, even guides and ask a pro to copy-edit to produce a polished final draft
  • Ask clients to be part of a case study and give testimonials and endorsements — use these in all your communications to reinforce your value and provide social proof
  • When it comes to email marketing, send emails from individuals - not from your organization
  • Have a ‘Meet the Team’ section on your website that highlights each staff member, their strengths, skills, background and interests

2) Conduct persona interviews like a journalist

Interviewing is an art form — when it’s done well, you'll be taken a journey that is seamlessly directed by the interviewer and effortlessly followed by the interviewee.

But if you aren't a pro, a good interview isn’t always so easily executed. When you're on the phone with a customer asking them questions, it can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. Here are my tips for conducting a persona call like a journo:

  • Ease your subject in slowly, start off with soft demographics questions like name, age, marital status, interests outside of work, etc. — this helps build a rapport and prep them for more involved questioning.
  • If they're resistant to a question, think of a different way to frame it while moving onto another set of questions. Come back to it later when enough time has passed and you have a new approach.
  • Try to avoid asking simple yes or no questions and leading questions. It’s hard to gain significant insight about a person based on one-word answers.
  • Remember to spend time tailoring your questions for each interview beforehand by doing a bit of research. Questions that are more specific and personalized will garner much more valuable responses than generic ones
  • The most powerful question you can ever ask is, ‘Why?’ Ask it when you don’t feel they've answered a question completely — and ask it again until you feel satisfied with their response.
  • Always ask for clarification — if you don’t understand a point they've made, it won't help you with your profile creation and you'll have wasted your time
  • Always thank an interviewee before and after a call— they're often doing a favour by taking time out of their busy day and that should be acknowledged

3) Your homepage is your front page

Many moons ago, I had a conversation with a client about their new homepage that went something like this.

“Let's just create a scrolling homepage banner with all our services.”

“Why?” I asked, ever the journalist.

“Because that's where we want users to go.”

This is a common request — put all the content we want people to read on the homepage. But by linking to a generic section - like service pages - we're directing users where we think they should go, rather than thinking about what's going to interest them.

Never forgot to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask the key question: ‘What's in it for me?’ (WIIFM). The homepage of a website is like the front page of a newspaper - you should put your best content forward to capture people's interest and get them to stay on the site.

Think about how a newspaper works — the front-page story would never say “Look at our Sports section”. It would say, ‘San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals to nab their third World Series title in five years’.  

The content should be specific, should tell a story and should urge readers to find out more (e.g. how much did they win by?). Generic content doesn’t pull people in and that means they're less likely to engage.

How do you create a compelling front page? Get stakeholders to ‘pitch’ for coverage - make them convince the business that what they want to put up on the company’s most valuable piece of digital real estate is worth it. Ask them if it would pass the ‘WIIFM?’ test. This is how I had to content featured as a journalist - and it's how your homepage should work too.

The bottom line

There are a lot more ways to think like a journalist when it comes to content marketing — but these have been the biggest eye-openers for me - and they've made the biggest impact on my organization’s content marketing strategy.

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