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

The 7 critical factors in quality content

Adam Fisher 9th April 2018 — 5 mins read
B

ut there are some themes which run through content that makes people stop scrolling, think differently and take action.

In fact, we believe there are seven critical factors that all written content should strive to include. A piece of writing doesn’t necessarily have to contain all of these elements but consideration to each should be given before you put pen to paper.

 

Emotional storytelling

Humans have been communicating through stories for more than 200,000 years. 

And today, while ‘storytelling’ has become something of a content marketing buzzword, good stories still stand the test of time.  

Compelling content features personal stories which readers can relate to, that stirs emotions and takes them on a journey.

People want to hear stories about other people – humans bring stories to life.

If you think about the stories we consume every day through newspapers and broadcast media, they are all about people. And the first question journalists ask themselves when working on a story is ‘so what does this mean to people?’.

Strong content harnesses this human interest in the same way.

At Thirty Seven, we use journalists to tell captivating stories in the digital world

The ‘so what’ factor

Strong content often excites, shocks and causes people to think differently.

Often, great content is original. Even the best writers will struggle to make the same tired arguments interesting for an audience that has heard it all before. 

It is the same principle that makes a story newsworthy. Journalists are always looking for something unusual or new to write about, whether it is an opinion, some original insight or a new product. Stories that include these factors will get more airtime and newspaper coverage.

To stick with that journalism theme, and to use an old adage, dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog certainly ticks the unusual box.

Just ensure that any new, unusual or bold claims in your content can be backed up. Oh – and just because something is ‘new’ does not make it interesting. Consider this carefully - why should people care about your content?

 

Make it personal

Often the real strength of content lies in how much of themselves the author is prepared to share.

Personal anecdotes add real credibility to content and can bring the message you hope to get across to life.

Referencing problems, issues and frustrations that you have overcome, and how you solved them, shows that you are ideally placed to be producing this content.

In the blogs I have written for our sister company Media First, it is the ones where I have drawn on my experiences in journalism and communications which get the biggest response and the most interaction.  

You can also make content personal by writing the way you speak. I’m a great believer in trying to write the way I would tell the story if I was talking to friends in the pub – just without the bad language.

When producing quality content, draw in on your own experiences. People want to relate to what they're reading. - Via @37agency

 

Originality

Let’s face it, there is a lot of content out there, so to stand out and grab attention in a really crowded marketplace you need to offer something different.

Essentially, your content needs to add something new, whether it is a different perspective or opinion on a topic. This means you need to know your subject inside out, through extensive research and interviews and also know what other people have previously written about it.

Including personal experiences and examples can certainly help boost the feeling of originality and authenticity.  

 

Educational

Valuable content often provides answers to the questions your customers are asking.

This means that in order to produce meaningful content you need have a really good grasp of who your audience is and what the issues are that matter to them.

For some brands, the concern with this approach is that they are giving away their knowledge and expertise with no guarantee of a return.

But those who can see past this and can help customers address their challenges become trusted, are viewed as being credible and tend to build long lasting business relationships.

 

Strong headlines

A strong, interest-sparking headline, can be the difference between someone reading your carefully prepared work or it heading into the content abyss.

But what makes a compelling headline?

Numbers are an important tool – take another look at the headline of this blog. But, we are far from being alone in our use of numbers. If you look around on the internet you will find lots of content headlined ’9 reasons why…’ or ‘7 steps you must take…’.

Relatively low numbers can suggest your content is succinct and incisive, while it is widely considered that odd numbers work better in headlines. They also suggest authenticity because, rather than rounding up advice into a neat ten, for example, you are just giving them the information they need to know.

And as much as it pains me, as a former journalist who was taught to always spell out the numbers one to nine, using the actual digits appears to be more powerful in web content headlines.

 

Bold statements are another good way of ensuring headlines stand out and can add intrigue while asking questions in the title can leave readers wanting more. If you look at the Daily Mail website – the most popular English-language site in the world – you’ll notice it regularly uses questions in headlines to draw readers in.

 

Simplicity

An often overlooked factor in strong content is simplicity.

Readers want content which is easy to understand and consume. They will quickly lose interest and switch-off if they can’t understand what you are trying to say.

This means it is crucial that your content uses the same language your readers would use in everyday conversation.

Short paragraphs and sentences are important factors here, while jargon and unnecessarily complex or decorative words should be avoided – remember, you are not producing content to impress colleagues with your vocabulary.

You can read more about the importance of simplicity in content marketing in this recent blog.  

 

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
6th 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.