Journalism Skills vs. Writing for Brands – What You Need to Know

By Jess Shanahan June 21st, 2023

In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, the line between journalism and content marketing is becoming blurred. At first glance, they might seem worlds apart, but if you dig a little deeper, there are surprising similarities. How do traditional journalism skills play into the modern landscape of writing for brands organically? Get ready for a journey that will not only alter your perception of these disciplines but might just redefine your approach to communication in the digital age.

For writers going from journalism to content marketing, the good news is that a lot of your skills will be in demand from the brands you work with.

Brooke Gocklin explores the differences in approach, research, and focus between the two disciplines in an article for The Content Strategist. “One of the critical differences between journalism and content marketing is the narrative framework,” writes Gocklin. “In journalism, the narrative framework is typically inverted, with the most important information appearing at the beginning of the article. In content marketing, on the other hand, the narrative framework is often more flexible and can be used to create a more engaging story.”

If you’re stepping into the world of content marketing or are having a tough time gaining traction, here are the things to know about writing for brands and how to make the most of your journalism skills.

The content marketing mindset

Content marketing is all about brand storytelling. This means, unlike journalism, there’s no need to be impartial. In some stories, you might be directly selling the benefit of a product, while in others, it will be less obvious. Either way, you’re writing on behalf of the brand.

“Content marketing is storytelling with the goal of inspiring someone to take action,” says Anne Miller, senior managing editor at Visor. “Perhaps that action is just learning about the company, or perhaps the goal is to book a demo or make a sale.”

Stepping away from impartiality and writing purposefully to promote a brand or product can sometimes be difficult. Here are some quick tips:

The purpose of content marketing is to attract, engage, and retain an audience through relevant content. This approach builds trust, helps the brand reach more people, and ensures it becomes top of mind when someone is ready to buy.

Because each piece of content is designed to hook a reader and make them take action as quickly as possible, it’s not the place for a more literary style. “I hadn’t thought a great deal about my writing style as a journalist until I started doing content marketing,” says freelance business journalist Nell Walker. “It quickly became apparent that my style was, in fact, far too flowery and formal for content marketing. Adapting to a punchier, more succinct way of writing was a real learning curve.”

The (often lengthy) revision process

One area where a lot of journalists get caught up is the revision process. Many content marketing clients will assume revisions are included with your fee, so it’s always good to be clear on the actual number—two rounds of revisions is pretty standard.

When writing for a newspaper or magazine, it’s likely only your editor will make changes to the story or ask for revisions. In content marketing, there are a lot more people involved. You still have an editor, but the piece could also run through the product team, the marketing manager, the legal team, and the social media team.

Going through so many touchpoints means it could take a while before you see a revision request, and when you do, there might be a lot of comments from different people. This is when you have to hold your copy loosely, especially if it won’t carry your byline—you might disagree with their changes. Still, it’s best to accommodate those requests as much as possible and have a customer service mindset as you address them.

Some content marketing clients might treat you as an extension of their full-time team and expect an immediate turnaround. For this reason, it’s good to set timeline expectations at the beginning of the project. Contently writers typically get two business days to address revision requests.

Journalism skills that apply to content marketing

When working in content marketing, you might need to leave some journalism skills at the door or tweak your approach. Research and interviewing skills will be appreciated but in different contexts.

“It was tricky at first to get used to content marketing work that was desk research only, no interviews,” says Rachel Smith, a freelance journalist. “Coming from a magazine background where everything was interview-led, that was a learning curve.”

If you’re writing a thought leadership piece, exceptional interviewing skills help pull information from sometimes reluctant subject matter experts who will likely byline the content. In this case, the interview also gives you insight into the expert’s voice and speaking style that can be applied to the story.

Interviews can also bring a story to life to help it resonate with the audience. Whether you do this as part of a case study or to add extra flavor to a data-heavy ebook, this can help your content marketing work stand out. Content strategists often overlook the power of a third-party quote in a piece of content, often because they’re not thinking like journalists, so consider pitching ideas that take advantage of your skill set.

Journalists also excel at setting the scene and making a reader care about the story in the wider context. Freelance writer Kimmy Gustafson explains: “Journalism pieces for me involve the who, what, when, where, why, how, and so what. I write longer form magazine journalism pieces and spend word count on setting the scene and describing things.”

This is something content marketers can do to bring a reader into the piece. Often, readers can be put off by something that feels too salesy, so setting the scene in a more journalistic way can help hook them.

Brands are looking for skilled communicators

While content marketing and journalism might be two very different beasts, they both present opportunities to drive growth in your freelance business. Brands are always in search of writers who can apply their skills in the context of content marketing while also keeping a customer focus. Showcasing those skills in your portfolio can help you grow your client roster and diversify the types of assignments you receive.

Register with Contently to create a profile and start your content marketing writing journey.

Image by Photo Credits: SeventyFour (inline photo), JakeOlimb (orange/apple graphic)
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