Writing Isn’t Just Writing: Why We Shouldn’t Let Journalists Squeeze Out the Marketing Writers
“We should hire a journalist.”
I heard this phrase in each in-house marketing department I was part of, starting in about 2009 when the advent of “content marketing” began to change the way people thought about marketing writing.
The idea was that because content marketing required unbiased, engaging storytelling, and there happened to be a large number of journalists jumping from their sinking newspapers and magazines – bada bing, bada boom – it was a match made in heaven. Journalists were often seen as more exciting and more qualified, in fact, than marketing writers, who everyone knew were helplessly biased and better at short copy and generally fluffier as human beings.
Ok, I’m starting to editorialize. (Typical marketing writer.) Truth is, I didn’t actually have sour grapes about it. It was hard to argue with the logic. So I started hiring journalists and former journalists as freelancers, junior copywriters, you name it.
“Let’s do this,” I said, using perfect AP Style out of solidarity.
And my journalists did a good job. They were good at incorporating facts and figures, and their storytelling was logical, if a little bit terse at times. Their grammar was, of course, impeccable, and as people, they tended to be delightful, intelligent additions to the team.
But there was also a huge impediment – a brick wall that I couldn’t quite identify, except to say that I found myself somehow having to do more work than usual. It was a wall I had never hit with my best marketing writer.
One day after I’d become a freelancer, I was having a conversation with a client who usually hired freelance writers with a journalistic background – I was the first marketing writer he’d worked with in quite some time. We were trying to figure out the correct topic for a content piece, based on his larger strategy, and he said, “I’m sorry. I know this is sooner than a writer would normally be brought into the process.”
A marketing writing background doesn’t just shape someone into a writer. It shapes them into a marketer – a sophisticated, strategic consultant.
That’s when I realized what that brick wall was. A marketing writing background doesn’t just shape someone into a writer. It shapes them into a marketer – a sophisticated, strategic consultant who understands every part of the marketing puzzle.
It isn’t just about editing for spelling and grammar, which a good marketing writer can do. It’s not even just about producing engaging, unbiased storytelling, which a good marketing writer can also do, by the way. It’s about using a logical, writer’s brain, combined with a wealth of marketing and sales understanding, to serve as a consultant. Not just a writing consultant, a marketing consultant.
Now I’m not saying these are things my journalist counterparts can’t learn. But if they’re fresh off the sinking ship or they’ve never worked in a marketing department, there are certain skills they just won’t have.
3 Things You Can Expect from a Good Marketing Writer
1. Good marketing writers are knowledgeable about the sales funnel. They’ve spent time learning sales theory and larger marketing concepts, because this affects what they write.
– They don’t just write and optimize web content, they can lead website content development. They’ll help determine the site map and make functional layout suggestions to improve usability.
– They also understand the value of data and analytics and know how to apply it to their work.
If you’re only expecting your writers to write, it means you’re taking on more than you should.
3. Good marketing writers can both set and execute content strategy. They know how to create a strategic content calendar, then come up with creative content ideas, then execute them personally or lead a team in their execution.
A good marketing writer is assertive and consultative. He or she will guide you through the content creation process, rather than vice versa.
If you’re only expecting your writers to write, it means you’re taking on more than you should. Expect more, and you might be surprised to learn how strategic your “creatives” can be.