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My first year in content marketing: Lessons from a former journalist

It’s been just over one year since I ended my 15-year financial journalism career to enter the content marketing industry. Plenty of former colleagues are surprised when I say I have not once regretted making the move, but I’m willing to admit that the transition has not always been easy. So for those of you thinking of making the jump from journalism into content marketing, here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.

You know more than you think

As journalists, we spend our days gathering information — from research, interviews, events and so on — that can often be complex and technical in nature and then sifting through that information to turn it into a clear and compelling piece of writing. The result is that we often underrate how rare and valuable that set of skills is.

But since moving into content marketing, I’ve realised that the ability to interview someone, take that information and turn it into something that people want to read is a specialist skill: one that’s hard to come by and one that companies view as valuable. Add in the ability to meet deadlines, juggle multiple projects and build a rapport with people (especially with those who aren’t comfortable being interviewed), and those skills that seem normal in the newsroom become something that marks you out as an expert.

You know less than you think

Expert journalist you may be, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have lots to learn. Certainly for me, with a background in fast-paced financial trade publications, content marketing required me to adjust my writing style: less focused on getting down the facts and more focused on the narrative (hence our name!)

Plus, before this job I’d never written video scripts, put together an infographic concept, written a sales proposal or closed a deal (maybe less relevant if you take on an inhouse job or a less senior agency role), all of which required me to learn new skills.

And as with a move to any new industry, I’ve had to wade my way through a new set of jargon with all the bewilderment that entails. Pet peeves include ideation, marketing funnels, and omnichannel.

In addition, the dynamics of writing as a service provider rather than an independent journalist are very different, which brings me onto my next point…

It’s fun on the dark side

There’s no getting away from it: writing for an agency on behalf of a client can be quite different from being a journalist. I know it’s an area that many journalists struggle with when they change to the so-called ‘dark side’.

As a service provider, some of the autonomy you enjoy as a journalist is gone. That said, most clients understand that content marketing should be about sharing their insights and expertise and not about pushing a corporate message. The result is that I still get access to the top experts in their respective industries and to distil their insights into a piece of content I can be proud of. And as a consultancy, an important part of our role is advising clients on the best strategy for their content, and that inevitably means ensuring that a piece of written or visual content delivers market intelligence rather than a corporate message, ultimately helping the client reach their audience more effectively.

Have I had to write pieces of puff that are more advertising than thought leadership? Yes, for some stubborn marketers who don’t get it (and refuse to listen to the experts!) and no doubt I will have to again, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Variety really is the spice of life

Content marketing has given me the opportunity to write on a greater breadth of topics than I ever did as a journalist. Even with New Narrative’s focus on finance and professional services, in the last 12 months I have written on subjects that include blockchain, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, ESG, digital payments, family offices, healthcare technology and even K-pop.

The formats have ranged from white papers and blogs to videos, infographics and social media. And for each client you have to strike the right tone, complexity and message for their brand and their target audience. The result is that I am a sharper and more confident writer than before.

So what are my key tips for journalists wanting to make a move into content marketing?

  • Go for it! It’s a great career
  • Don’t forget the basics: journalists have all the skills and more needed for content marketing
  • Be prepared to have to rethink the way you approach writing (and to not get it right straight away)
  • By-lines and scoops will be a thing of the past. You will need to get used to seeing your work assigned to someone else
  • Finally, expect journalist friends to be amazed (and a little bit jealous) that you are enjoying yourself!
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