3 Journalism Techniques to Help Improve Your Content Marketing

October 30, 2014 Vanessa Green

187524813When I graduated from journalism school seven years ago, I never imagined I’d end up with a career in marketing.

But after working as an editor for four years, I was motivated to start writing content that wasn’t just ‘the stuff between the ads’.  I liked the idea of using language to educate and convince, and to see how it worked inside of a bigger sales process.

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

So if you’re looking for some editorial insights for improving your content development process, check out my tips below.

1) It’s All About Story Telling

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
  • 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 (but at the same time, avoid asking 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 – LinkedIn, Twitter, website etc. 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

I had a recent conversation with a colleague about our new homepage that went something like this.

“Let’s just link to all our service pages from the homepage banner.’


‘Because that’s where we want users to go.’

I think this is probably a common request – put all the content we want people to read on the homepage. But by linking to a generic section, we’re directing users where we think they should go, rather than thinking about what’s going to really interest them. Never forgot to 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 the front page of a newspaper works – 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 to my organization’s content marketing strategy.

Do you have any more tips for improving your content strategy? Share them in the comments section below.

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