“Blurred Lines” isn’t just a catchy 2013 Robin Thicke tune featuring T.I. and Pharrell. The phrase aptly describes trends in today’s communications landscape. Communications disciplines continue to merge, meaning the lines dividing public relations and marketing are becoming less identifiable.
These days, in fact, marketing and communications professionals often take pages out of journalists’ skinny little notebooks to craft compelling content for a variety of audiences.
When I left newspaper reporting to take my first job in communications and marketing, I remember feeling like I was falling without a net. I was terrified that I would land flat on my face and end up retreating from the marketing and public relations world with my tail between my legs.
I was just a small-town news writer. What did I know about marketing and public relations? But the truth is — my writing and journalism background provided an excellent foundation that has served me well over the last decade I’ve spent working in communications, especially as companies and organizations continue to use storytelling to reach stakeholders and reinforce their brand.
So, marketers: get up and think like a journalist. Your clients will thank you!
Below are the top six communications skills that have kept me grounded since making the jump from journalism to marketing:
Carrying on a conversation is one of the most basic forms of communication — and it is still one of the most effective. If you’re good at talking to people, you can do just about anything — from getting a warning instead of a speeding ticket, to selling a product or service, to gaining valuable customer insight. By asking the right questions during an interview, you may even discover an interesting anecdote that you can craft into an engaging social media post, YouTube video or blog article that gives your organization a relatable voice.
Whether you’re a reporter or a marketer, your job will probably consist of gathering facts, analyzing them, and then finding interesting ways to present any significant findings or trends in the form of clear, accurate, and concise copy. Bonus points if you have experience writing for web, or if you won a medal in University Interscholastic League headline writing when you were a kid — those skills will come in handy, too.
Accuracy and consistency are just as important in marketing as they are in journalism. Although the audience is a little different, the basic rules still apply: never EVER spell anyone’s name wrong, check your facts (and then check them again), and always have someone else read your copy before clicking “publish” or delivering documents to a client. Typos are embarrassing for everyone.
Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows that reporters have a knack for turning out copy at near-lightning speed. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that deadlines in marketing mean just as much as they do in journalism. As a reporter, filing a story on deadline ensures your byline continues to show up in black and white. As a marketer, sticking to a timeline is key to successful project management and good client relations.
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Nowhere does it say marketing should come off as an obvious sales pitch. Journalists turned marketers are good at taking a (relatively) neutral stance and finding ways to let an organization’s services or products speak for themselves through strategic communications like story mining or positive social media engagement.
My favorite journalism professor once told me everyone has a story. I’ve always tried to keep that piece of advice in mind whether I was working in a newsroom, pitching an idea to the media, or writing copy for an annual report. Journalists and marketers spend a lot of time gathering data. But when it really comes down to it, no one really cares about numbers. They care about the people behind the numbers. It’s up to both journalists and marketers to look beyond statistical information to find a human or emotional element that resonates with people. Journalists do this to sell papers and inform readers; marketers turn unique and powerful stories into a website page or email newsletter to build their client’s brand and raise awareness.
Journalism and marketing are truly two peas in the communications pod. My background in journalism allowed me to successfully transition to a career in integrated communications — and the writing and story mining skills required of a reporter (not to mention the pull-up-your-shirtsleeves-attitude) contributes to my ability to provide high-quality deliverables for our clients.