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What I Learned About Telling Your Brand’s Story as a Journalist

I’ve heard the phrase “recovering journalist” used often in circles of marketing professionals who formerly worked in the editorial world — a career transition that’s not uncommon. And while you could say I’m a recovering journalist, that wouldn’t quite be true. Several months ago, I made the switch from journalism to content marketing, but I didn’t have to venture far. Trading one managing editor title for another, I (virtually) moved up one flight of stairs to start my position at D Custom after my five-year tenure at D Magazine, D Custom’s parent company.

Although content marketing is not journalism, D Custom’s managing editor model plays to the strengths of our editorial roots. As a career journalist prior to this summer (I was an editor for American Airlines’ in-flight magazine before D), storytelling is part of my DNA, and it is just as beneficial for brands as it is for a magazine about an up-and-coming entrepreneur or an accomplished chef. That’s why I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a recovering journalist. Brand storytelling is one of the most effective ways to reach your audience and expand your base, and at D Custom, that’s what I’m eager to do.

I’ve learned over the past few months that many skills transfer from editorial to content marketing that align with every stage of our editorial process — concepting, interviews and research, writing and editing, fact-checking, and proofing. We like to think of ourselves as the editors of our clients’ newsrooms, so here are five lessons I’ve brought from “the newsroom” to “your newsroom.”

1. Finding the Story

Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone, which means good brand storytelling is essential to reaching your audiences in meaningful, memorable ways. More than just relaying the message or the call-to-action, this requires finding a compelling story and writing it persuasively. 

As a journalist, I had to be able to find the story. I had to become an expert on a vast variety of subjects. More often than not, I didn’t have a lot of time to do so. This required a knack for research, interviewing, and an eagerness to learn about esoteric fields and topics. 

In content marketing, a journalist’s curiosity and research-driven mindset are essential to understanding a client’s industry, history, challenges, and the story they need to tell. This is all part of the process of brainstorming and pitching stories, which always takes place on a strategic foundation. As the editors of our clients’ newsrooms, it is our job to find your story and tell it well.  

2. Asking the Right Questions

Journalists tend to have a knack for asking questions that go beyond the surface, challenge preconceptions, and search for the truth. It’s part of crafting a well-developed story with a clear angle. When I worked in editorial and interviewed sources, I would aim to uncover the “why” behind the obvious answers. This usually led to a better, more interesting piece.

At D Custom, we interview top subject matter experts to uncover insights into our clients’ industries, businesses, goals, and whatever topic we’re writing about. Knowing how to ask the right questions means getting more out of your SMEs and their time. As in journalism, asking the deeper questions leads to deeper answers, better brand storytelling, and unique takes that your audiences won’t find anywhere else. 

3. Writing Persuasively

It’s not enough simply to gather the right information. It has to be assembled in a way that reaches audiences and holds their attention. As a journalist, I would often obsess over writing and rewriting until I was satisfied that every word was essential and that the angle was clear. At D Custom, I do the same thing, and I work with the same trusted journalists and writers who are in the top of their various fields in order to produce truly differentiated and compelling content. 

Good storytelling has scientific benefits: It has the power to cause the brain to produce oxytocin, which enhances people’s sense of empathy and charitableness. It also results in a better understanding of the facts being relayed. Engaging and memorable brand storytelling translates to authentic connections with customers. That’s why we’ve always believed that every piece of content, even though it serves a higher purpose, should be good enough to read just for the sake of reading it. 

4. Checking the Facts

Millions of pieces of content are shared around the world every day. That leaves the potential for billions of errors — which is why fact-checking is a crucial part of our editing process. As D Magazine’s managing editor, I oversaw the rigorous fact-check process, to which D Custom also adheres. 

It’s absolutely essential for the credibility of any publication or brand to ensure that everything published is accurate and true, and we take the responsibility of upholding our clients’ brands very seriously for the sake of their brand storytelling. Our fact-check process includes verifying information through third-party primary sources online as well as calling and emailing interviewed sources to ensure that everything we publish is accurate, thoughtful, and delivers the intended message.

5. Knowing Your Audience

Every publication, whether in marketing or editorial, has an intended reader. As a journalist, I learned lessons about framing the narrative, tone, and context so that it speaks to the reader and fits not only the house style, but also the right timing, perspective, and message. Those lessons have only become more relevant as a content marketer perfecting brand storytelling.

The strategic work we do upfront to create audience personas, messaging ladders, and amplification strategies guides our big-picture editing. Equally important are the little things, which is why every piece of content is proofed by someone who didn’t edit it, to ensure that brand guidelines are adhered to and that the prose is perfect

If your newsroom needs a refresh, read more about how to tell a brand story through great content.