The Holy Bible of journalism is The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk (the AP Stylebook is a close second).
This book is the origin of every piece of journalistic writing advice I’ve ever received. It became my key into the world of journalism jargon and professionalism. Almost like a secret password, if another person referenced The Elements of Style, I could rest assured that they were a member of the club.
So, you can imagine my shock when I began my internship at a B2B lead generation company, and within the first sentence of the content manual was a reference to The Elements of Style.
Needless to say, my world was turned upside down. A tad dramatic? Maybe, but we’re talking about everything I’ve ever known here. The writing styles are completely different, how could the two possibly be connected? To find my footing, I took a step back and re-examined what I knew about journalism and marketing.
The Basics: Journalists vs. Content Marketers
· Inverted pyramid
· The 5 W’s + an H: who, what, when, where, why, and how
· No fluff
· Strong verbs and nouns
· Say as much as possible in as few words as possible (see points 3&4)
· Strong hook
· Clear, concise, compelling.
· Valuable information
· Who, what, and how
· Professional tone and style
· Strong verbs and nouns
· Say as much as possible in as few words as possible
· Strong hook
· Clear, concise, compelling
Maybe they aren’t so different after all.
As a journalism student, I avoided marketing like the plague. Now, I attend marketing meetings and write marketing content.
I’m able to do all of these things, perform these tasks, and keep up with business speak because of that reference to The Elements of Style on my very first day. It was a reminder that the basics of writing are just that. The basics. And the beautiful thing about the basics is that they apply in all forms.
Applying the Basics
Once I started to approach content marketing the same way I would approach a news story, things began to click.
Journalists used to get paid by the word, hence Mark Twain’s famous phrase “don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” Today, this quote is looked at a little differently. Strong verbs and nouns are what’s compelling, so don’t waste five-dollars of ink printing unnecessary words when you could spend fifty-cents printing strong words.
Content-based marketing is no different.
One of the first things I was told when I started at Sapper is “keep it short and concise.” One of the most frequented comments that I receive during peer editing is “could be more concise.”
In marketing, and journalism, you have all of 10 seconds to capture and keep the reader’s attention. The quickest way to lose it? Wordy and lengthy emails that take too long to get to the point.
At Sapper we use the rule of three to make sure we’re writing compelling content that guarantees a clients attention and business. Most journalists I know, do the same.
Journalism Is About Telling Stories. So Is Marketing.
Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story that was six words long. It was an ad for baby shoes and it read, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
In six words Hemingway captures heartbreak and new beginnings, and it’s all in the form of an advertisement.
Whether it’s a feature story, a short story, or a piece of content marketing. They’ll be able to report the facts and inform the public in a compelling manner.
Once, in a review session with Sapper’s Senior Director of Content, he shared an experience he had with an elderly woman in an Apple store. The woman couldn’t figure out how to work FaceTime. After he had helped her, she FaceTimed her daughter right then and there and laid eyes on her new grandchild for the first time.
For that woman, it wasn’t about how many gigabytes the phone had, it was about the ability to connect with her family that lived states away. Can you imagine an Apple ad or marketing device that could capture that and the impact it would have?
To Wrap Up
Learning to write marketing content was an adjustment. Even as I’ve begun to see connections between journalism and content marketing, there are still challenges.
But those challenges are what will make me a better writer. Internships are invaluable learning experiences and I’ve come to see that it’s not just journalism that has helped me at Sapper, but Sapper will also help me in journalism. The skills I am learning writing business content will make me more persuasive and versatile.
Because of both experiences, whatever my future career throws at me, I’ll be ready.