From Journalist to Content Writer: What to Know about Creating Content with Brands
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Strategy

From Journalist to Content Writer: What to Know about Creating Content with Brands

by Dawn PapandreaNovember 5, 2018

NewsCred Content Strategists often scout experienced journalists to support clients’ marketing programs, particularly in niche or highly technical topic areas. Supporting journalism is baked into NewsCred’s DNA — the company’s first iteration actually helped crowdsource quality, credible news. 

“Brands have found that well-trained, experienced, professional journalists know how to tell a story well, write clean copy, understand the importance of accuracy, and make their deadlines,” says Kathy Sena, a journalist who writes for brands like Ford, Visit California, Unilever, USAA, and Marriott.

But while newsroom experience is a major plus, it’s not the only consideration when building strong content marketing teams. Journalists who write for brands must understand that there is a slightly different set of “rules” that govern these types of projects. We asked four successful content creators to share their top tips for delighting brand clients. Here’s what they had to say:

You have to learn to speak the lingo. Marketers don’t sound like editors. They’ll discuss things like buyer persona, engagement KPIs, conversions, CTAs, SEO keywords, and more when assigning you projects. If you’re totally lost right now, you have some learning to do. “It’s a different challenge, kind of like a puzzle, piecing together the various marketing demands and restrictions with facts to create a story that will resonate,” says Ellen Sheng, who creates content for financial services firms and fintech companies. She credits working closely with her NewsCred editors for helping her get up to speed and understand each project goal. 

Your projects will have business goals. Brand writers may find themselves explaining “No, I can’t just change the quote.” At the end of the day, however, both journalists and marketers are on the same page with a shared goal of creating accurate, informative, interesting, and easy-to-understand content. Kelly Kearsley, a former newspaper reporter who now creates content for finance and tech companies via NewsCred, notes that “it’s about finding the nexus between the marketing message and the usefulness of the piece to the reader.”

You will need to understand the brand’s voice and audience. Brand clients often have a distinct tone and style, so be prepared to do your homework  and maybe a couple of rewrites. “Getting into the ‘voice’ of a new brand can often take some trial and error, particularly if you’re working on multiple brands at once,” says Cat Byers, a writer, photographer, and food stylist. So not only are you gathering facts and putting together a cohesive narrative, but you must also adapt your writing so it “sounds” less like you and more like the brand. However, she adds, working with a platform like NewsCred can make it easier to get over that learning curve. “The editors are happy to answer questions and help guide you into the voice of a new client,” she says. Many brands also have clear style guides and message architectures to adhere to, which can be hugely helpful when getting started. 

The news-gathering process may be slightly different. If you’ve never written for a brand, you might not be used to your assignment editor hand picking which sources you’ll talk to. Sometimes, you won’t be looking for sources as much as you’ll be talking to SMEs (subject matter experts). “Most of the time I’m working with an editor who guides the process, but often there are also phone meetings with the marketing department to talk about goals for the piece, the people I’ll be interviewing, etc.,” says Sena.

It’s not about the byline. Some branded content is about the paycheck and building your business, not necessarily the glory of seeing your name in print. But even if a piece doesn’t have your name on it, you can find fulfillment in knowing that you’re providing a great service to readers, says Sena. “Branded content, at its best, isn’t selling,” she says. “It’s about providing helpful information that consumers truly seek out and appreciate. That’s rewarding for me as a writer.” Plus, by doing a great job, word will travel and more referrals will come your way.

There might be a lot of waiting. And red tape. And last-minute changes. When you’re working with a corporate team, your content might hit a few snags. “There are so many more layers with various departments that sometimes have different, competing agendas,” says Sheng. “That’s probably been the biggest change from journalism.” And, adds Sena, even once you get your editor’s blessing, another round of changes might be on the horizon. “The marketing department and the legal department will often be among those signing off on the finished piece,” she notes.

If you do decide to embark on some content marketing projects, once you get used to the process, you’ll realize that your journalism know-how is still your greatest asset. Sena points out, “I’m much more comfortable as a content writer today because of my journalism training and my years spent doing traditional journalism.”

And ultimately, journalism and brand content have great storytelling in common. “Everyone has a story to tell,” says Cheng, “and journalists are trained to elicit that story, shape it, and tell it to the world.”

Looking for freelance opportunities or experienced content creators? Learn more about NewsCred’s Content Studio and network of freelance talent.