Adam Fisher
15th January 2019 - 6 mins read
B

ut it is not just those in content marketing who face the pressure of having to write quality content on demand.

Journalists have to create attention grabbing-content every day.

So what skills can we steal from them to make our content better?

 

Keep it simple

One of the lessons I learned as a young journalist which really stuck with me was the need to keep my writing simple.

Good newspaper articles are concise, contain simple language and use basic sentence structures.

The simpler an article is to read the more people will be able to understand what it is saying. The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

And this is pertinent to content marketing.

All too often organisations inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and detracts from the message.

Let’s take something I saw from Lloyds Banks just before I settled down to write this blog. It was a quote in a document from chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio.

It said: “Our differentiated, customer focussed business model continues to deliver with our multi brand, multi-channel approach, cost leadership, low risk positioning, investment capacity and execution capabilities positioning us well for sustainable success in a digital world.”

There is so much about that sentence I don’t like. But the key issue is that no matter how often I read it, it does not make sense. And that is a real problem. If people don’t understand the content you produce they won’t stick with it.

So lose the big words, keep the sentences tight.

 

Write how you talk

This follows on quite nicely from the importance of keeping writing simple, because one of the best ways to do that is to focus on using the same language you use when you speak.

If I’m struggling to write something I think about how I would say it.

The other benefit of this approach is that it creates a chatty, informal style and natural flow – something journalists strive for in their stories.

To help achieve this, grammar rules sometimes go out of the window. For example, sentences can often start with ‘and’.

 

Research

In many cases, for journalists, the writing is actually the shortest part of the process of putting a story together.

Reporters spend lots of time gathering, looking at and assessing the validity of information in search of a story. This could be sourcing facts and figures, studying data and interviewing experts.

The more research you put into your content the more it will tell your readers things they don’t already know.

And that is a crucial way of ensuring it will stand out from all the other content which is available. 

 

Interview

Here’s a question. How many blogs do you see which include comments from a real person? How many newspaper stories do you see that don’t feature people?

One of the key differences between content and newspaper stories is that the stories always feature people.

And people are predominantly brought into stories through interviews.

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different, as well as breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas.

A journalist’s contacts book is something they rely on heavily. Look through your contacts and consider who you could interview for your content.

You can find out more about using interviews in your content in this earlier blog.

 

Human

The way we consume stories and content has changed. Newspaper sales are in decline and people increasingly rely on social media and the internet to find out what is going on in the world.

But despite this evolution there is a constant – people still want stories about other people.

Human interest stories remain as powerful as ever, which is why ‘how does this affect people?’ is still the phrase you will hear most often in a newsroom.

And it is a key in producing content which draws in readers and keeps them engaged.

 

Inverted pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a writing model used by journalists to show how stories should be structured so that they get the most attention.

Essentially it shows that the most newsworthy part should be at the beginning. So; who, what, where, when, why and how are the questions journalists will look to answer in their opening paragraphs.

The next stage of the inverted pyramid structure is the important details and supporting information, including quotes and statistics. And the pyramid base is the general and background information.

The beauty of this structure is its simplicity which ensures stories are easy to follow for readers. If people can’t follow what you are writing then they quickly lose interest.

The only change to this structure for a content marketing point of view is that the last part of the pyramid should include some form of a call to action.

 

Focus on what’s new

If you consider what makes something newsworthy, then timeliness or topicality would be one of the crucial components.

We want to know the latest news and the latest trends. We are not interested in a rehash of something we already know.

So, look to bring your readers something new. Perhaps some new insight or a new way of looking at things. Or look to use topics that people are currently talking about to show how your product or service could have made a difference.

 

Thesaurus

A thesaurus can be a valuable tool for a journalist, but it’s one that comes with a note of caution.

A good reporter will use it to avoid annoying repetition in their writing, by finding alternative words.

But it is crucial it is not used to find more complicated words to make your writing appear more intelligent.

As a content marketer you are writing to inform and generate interest. But that will not happen if the audience does not understand the words you use.

 

Edit

Always ask yourself whether you could say the same thing in your writing without using as many words.

Journalists look to make their copy as tight as possible and similarly, you should look to edit your own content without fear.

This doesn’t mean you should always produce short-form content. It is about ensuring the words you use are the most effective. For example, the word ‘very’ often isn’t needed. ‘Many’ is tighter than ‘a lot of’.

I don’t think I have ever seen a journalist read their writing aloud in the newsroom, but if you can find somewhere quiet this is a good tip. If you find yourself falling over your words and struggling for breath then you need to simplify and rework your sentences. 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is a podcast or email marketing.

Marketing

Content should be more than just marketing

Tom Idle 29th March 2018 — 8 mins read

I couldn’t bear to sit around on the sidelines any longer while some agencies just messed things up,” is how James puts it when I ask why he’s decided to venture into the world of content marketing.

In his six years as MD of Media First, James and his team have been asked more and more to help with different communications challenges – to present better, to deliver more impactful messages, to shoot and edit film, to hone communications. “We’ve been naturally moving towards helping with content marketing over the years. Now, with Thirty Seven we will get to help our amazing clients in a much more involved way.”

James is joined by Mark, an ex-Microsoft application development consultant, who has been running his own content and design agency for the last five years. Having worked together enhancing Media First’s own content marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance, the pair decided to team up.

“We’ve built a loyal following and I enjoy knowing that what we are producing is worthwhile and entertaining,” adds James. “I knew that, so long as we kept enjoying the creative process and stayed true to our journalist-led concepts of always putting the audience first, then there was a good chance that people would continue to enjoy reading, watching and listening to the content we were making.”

Enjoying the frisson of their new business launch, the pair were keen to tell me how and why they plan to do content marketing better.

 

It seems that your decision to establish Thirty Seven was based on a belief that most content marketing is poor. What’s wrong with it? 

Mark Mars (MM): So much content is produced without any strategy behind it and the quality just isn’t there.

When it comes to SEO, there has been such a focus on creating pages that rank for certain keywords. What you often end up with is lots and lots of content which might create a decent search ranking, but the quality is so poor that visitors don’t stick around for long. Google has caught up with that and now has more quality measures in place.

James White (JW): SEO and content are still considered by some agencies to be separate pieces of work. But they need to be considered together. You don’t produce good SEO with poorly developed content; it just doesn’t work.

Also, the content marketing industry seems to be in a race to produce the most amount of stuff. Quality is coming second to quantity.

 

But clearly your customers are increasingly aware of the need to improve content quality. How have you evolved to cope with changing client needs?

MM: A hell of a lot has changed in the last five years. Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million, so brands really understand that this is the best way to reach their audiences.

There is also more appetite from consumers to digest content in many different forms, which opens up plenty of opportunity for publishers and content creators.

But that is not to say that it is being done particularly well. About 80% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. But 70% of them lack a consistent or integrated content strategy—and that’s a big problem. There has been too much focus on quantity over quality.

JW: ‘Quality’ is such a generic term because it’s all subjective. You need to develop the right content, for the right audience, in the right format, at the right time and in the right place.

Brands need to think more like publishers to really get the value out of content.

 

You use journalists to deliver content for your customers. The benefits of doing that might be obvious, but what is it you’re getting from journalists that you might not get from other content creators?

JW: Well, content should be more than just marketing. It’s not just good enough these days to tell good stories. You have to educate, entertain and excite audiences. You have to give people a reason to care.

Journalists inherently get this. They know how to sniff out unique stories that make people stop, sit up and listen. My wife is a journalist and she has a great ability to be brutally honest. I could spend all day coming up with, what I think is, a great idea. I’ll go home and tell her about it and she’ll challenge me by saying something like, “Who cares? Why will your audience give a damn?”

And that’s what’s great about journalists. They can easily put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and work out how people tick. That’s why I’ve loved working with our team of journalists at Media First these past six years.

 

Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million...

 

All of your customers will have very different needs. How do you approach each piece of work to deliver the best results?

MM: Well, you need to get into the mind of the client to find out what they want to achieve, rather than just blindly creating content. You need to help build a cohesive and coherent plan that includes not just what content you will create, but also how you are going to publish it and promote it.

JW: It’s all about meeting objectives. Is this content to raise awareness? Or is it to convert lurkers on a website into buyers?

It’s also about looking at data to find out what types of content a client’s audience wants and how it wants that delivered.

When we get into content creation mode, we work like an editorial newsroom to script, write, edit and sub-edit. That then goes through a cycle of refinements until we are happy for it to leave our office and reach the client for sign-off.

 

There’s a continuous debate about the virtues of long- versus short-form content. Which do you think is best?

MM: It’s not really about what’s better. It’s about what’s most appropriate.

We do live in a fast-paced world, but to say that nobody wants to read more than 500 words just isn’t true. Long-form content has always received more shares and links than shorter pieces. People do appreciate the time that goes in to creating quality long-form content. And Google does too, with their algorithm generally favouring longer content.

 

So, are there rules for creating great content that you stick to?

JW: We like to use the simple TRUTH test – that the content is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble (solves, raises awareness of or discusses) and importantly, contains Human interest.

But it has to be delivered in the right format as well. Many people were surprised to hear that Media First and Thirty Seven have joined forces to create this magazine. Yes, it might seem a bit retro but not all audiences are the same; not everyone wants to read a blog or get their information from social media. I have a Kindle and iPad at home but still buy books, newspapers and magazines.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation is coming, giving individuals more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. What will it mean for the content marketing industry?

JW: It’s certainly something our clients need to be aware of, not least because the new regulation is so far-reaching. It will affect not just marketing but internal comms and even supplier contracts.

You can either hide under your desk and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can see it as an opportunity to be proactive.

I personally think it’s a great thing. I will have more control over my data and who markets to me. And as a content producer, I will know that we are providing our audiences with information they want.

 

So, what does the future look like for content marketing?

MM: We are drowning in content and it is getting harder to get results. The average number of shares of any content has been steadily falling over the last few years. So the whole practice does need to evolve.

That means content marketers need to be a lot more strategic about the type of content they create, backed by better research. And instead of asking inexperienced or new writers to churn out low-quality pages of blogs for long-tail keyword targeting, content teams will be comprised of creative designers, developers, AI experts, videographers, as well as plenty of experienced writers and journalists too.

JW: We also know that it’s going to be important to work closely with our customers’ teams. I hate the concept of a full-service marketing agency, where everything is outsourced. I hate to see comms teams dwindling in size. We want to support our customers to retain in-house teams because we’ve seen just how important they are during the last 35 years working with Media First.

 

What’s with the name, Thirty Seven? How did you come up with that?

MM: Well, if you ask somebody to pick a random number between zero and 100, a disproportionate number of people will choose the number 37. The more you delve into the number – the fact that it appears more regularly than any other number in films, for example – you realise just how special it is. It’s attractive and we’re in the attraction game, so it made sense.

 

What’s it like working with each other? Do you always get on or are there things you disagree on?

MM: We’re very similar. We’re both ambitious and want to succeed.

But our work lives have been very different so we have different ideas about how things should be achieved.

JW: Sure, sometimes Mark and I approach things from a different angle. Occasionally this leads to disagreements. But we complement each other. If we were both the same, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a team.

Ultimately, we both want to deliver projects that excite and motivate us. That’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning; not to just earn money to pay the mortgage. It’s about more than that.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Adam Fisher
9th April 2018 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.