Adam Fisher
15th January 2019 - 6 mins read
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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

Why journalistic principles are key to producing case studies that resonate

Charles Abel 25th February 2020 — 6 mins read
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ou’ll notice I’ve left the caps lock on when I’ve written the TRUTH. That is because it is an acronym used to describe what the term ‘newsworthy’ means.

And it also applies to case studies. You can read more about what it stands for in this recent blog, but for now I want to focus on just two elements of it which are crucial for writing convincing, authentic, memorable and believable case studies.

 

Trouble

When we think about the testimonials and case studies we read when we are looking to buy something, they are often little more than a description of the product and a few lines on why they liked it.

And this is all a bit bland. The quality of many case studies is dubious at best.

To make something attention-grabbing you need to have that trouble element. By that, I mean that your product or service will have solved a particular problem. And solutions sell, so it is crucial you find this type of content.

The fun bit here is that that the trouble element may not be your customer’s problem. It could be a concern they had about your product or service before they chose to buy. Perhaps they didn’t think that it could do the job properly until they saw it in action.

I recently bought a laminator and I wasn’t convinced that this particular one I was interested in could treat the thickness of material I wanted to use. I was worried about the thickness going through the laminator and then I saw this one testimonial that said it is absolutely fine with 250 microns and it solved my worry about the product.

 

Human interest

Your case study also has got to have the H-word – human interest.

As a journalist, I have made money writing stories that are full of human interest – they are about people, not products and services.

And it is the people that bought your product or service that matter. How did they feel? What motivated them? What was their emotional response? You have got to get to this to bring the story to life otherwise it is just a corporate brochure. And that is boring.

So, how do we get to this content?

The key is in the questions that we ask. You need to ask questions that steer and guide the person you are talking to away from saying bland things like ‘it is brilliant’.

A question that works really well is something along the lines of ‘what were you concerned about before you bought this product?’.

They might respond by saying something like “I didn’t think it would be cost-effective”; “I thought it would be too expensive”; “I didn’t think the service would be good enough”.

And from there you can find out what changed their mind and convinced them to buy.

Another question I love to ask, is “what did you enjoy most about the product/service?”.

We get too bogged down with the logical, rational reasons for doing things. They might be worthy, but they are also dull. A more emotional response can be much more impactful. For a car, something along the lines of “what I really enjoy is that you can get to the national speed limit from the traffic lights far quicker than anyone else” might really resonate with some audiences.

I wrote a testimonial on an Israeli plastics manufacturer which produces these huge rolls of netting wrap. The man I was speaking to was talking about the benefits but was also saying how heavy they were and said that when they added a handle it made it so easy to put in the machine. At that point, the case study came alive.

The other great benefit of this type of question is it encourages people to talk in a natural way. There is a great risk with case studies that people will talk to you corporate to corporate, business to business and that is bland, boring and turns people off. 

You want them to talk to you as if you are their friend and use that language and talking about enjoyment can achieve that.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” This may sound like an innocuous question. Perhaps, more of an afterthought. But you would be amazed how many good stories I’ve got from asking this simple question as a journalist.

And it works for case studies as well. You tend to find that because the interview feels like it has come to an end, they are more relaxed and speak more freely. You can find some real gems of information through this question.

What else can you learn from journalists that might help with your case studies?

Well, a crucial one is avoiding offering copy approval. 

If you send them the text, you can be sure they will worry about it and they will pass it around colleagues who have had nothing to do with it, and it will come back with all the good stuff stripped out. Instead of copy approval, I ask them at the end of the interview if they are happy with everything that has been said and give them a summary of what I have taken from it. That’s the end of my approval process.

Another useful tip is to think in advance about what you want them to say and then tee them up to say it. Phrasing a question by starting with ‘would it be fair to say that…’ can be a good way of achieving this.

When newspapers quote ‘sources’ in their articles it is often seen as half-truths and spin and there is a growing backlash against it in the age of fake news. And it is the same with anonymous case studies. If you saw a case study from ‘service user, Peterborough’, would you believe it?

This is a person who isn’t prepared to put his name to the comment. So where is the integrity? Did he really believe what he said? If you are reading that you are thinking “this is rubbish”. Prove the person is authentic by including their name, job title and a little bit of information about their business.

My final point here is that you need to be careful with your editing. If you try to polish too much you are going to end up with something that resembles an advert. Journalists don’t change their quotes and neither should you. Rephrasing is a terrible thing to do which takes away authenticity and the customer will invariably see through it.

But where are you going to get these testimonials from?

Just like a journalist, you need to cast your net far and wide and have different strategies to gather the content you need.

It is key that you engage your sales team and ensure they understand the benefits of what you are trying to achieve so that they don’t see it as a marketing whim. They will have the relationship with customers and will be able to identify the success stories where one of their clients may be willing to speak.

It is important here that they are able to tell the client what they will get out of the process – raising their profile.

Another good avenue for spotting case study opportunities is social media. Make sure you know what people are saying about you.

And make it easy for people to leave case studies and testimonials on your website through a simple form.

The final point from me is that everyone seems to be looking to create a case study that will go viral and get thousands of clicks. But will anyone buy anything else as a result? This process isn’t just about generating clicks – it is about creating something helpful that encourages people to find out more and ultimately buy.

 

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.

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.