By Chandra Turner
When I was in my last editorial role at Parents and I knew the axe was about to fall, I took an intro to content marketing course. I got out my notepad, eager to write down all the secrets to this mysterious “other side” of content creation. But I ended up not writing anything down. I remember clearly one lesson was all about writing snappy subject lines. Their example for mastering copy like that? Look at Cosmo’s coverlines. That’s when I relaxed. After all, I was an editor at both Cosmopolitan and CosmoGirl! where I wrote lots and lots of coverlines. I can do this!
When I did end up getting a job at a branded content studio a few months later, there was plenty more for me to learn, of course. And in all truth, I didn’t particularly love being at the beck and call of clients or enjoy going with the less-edgy visual or the not-so-fresh or original idea. But I did love the energy of the creative team, being surrounded by super talented people and their ideas, and having real resources to build beautiful content.
As a recruiter and a career coach at Talent Fairy, a big part of my job is talking to editors about what it’s like to make that transition from so-called traditional editorial to branded content or content marketing. I tell the story above, but I wanted more examples. So I reached out to my After Magazines group to seek their advice and insight. I love what they had to say:
“You know more about how to do this than you’ll give yourself credit for. Every editor-turned-content-marketer feels imposter syndrome, because the job is inherently more business-centric than editorial. But knowing how to connect the dots, weave a narrative, find a theme, spot patterns…is your superpower. So relax. You’ll figure it out. Also, in content marketing, it’s less about chasing lots of eyeballs than capturing the RIGHT eyeballs. That can be a relief.” — Betty Wong Ortiz, director of marketing content strategy, Dropbox and former editor-in-chief of Runner’s World and Fitness.
“I wish I’d had a glossary of key marketing and business terms. Editors are fully capable of learning marketing strategy quickly, but it’s tough when it’s a completely different language.” — Ellen Miller, senior director, content marketing at LTK and former editor at Allure and Better Homes & Gardens
“Learn about the 3 C’s: Competition, Company and Customer. There’s always a way to find the intersection between what’s authentic for the client (company), helpful to the target audience (customer) and differentiated from the competition. That’s where the magic is that ‘moves the needle.’” — Elena Rover, CEO, Windrose Agency, and former editor at SELF and Reader’s Digest
“It’s less about coming up with a brilliant concept, and more about how you’re going to integrate the client into the idea and work in their messaging without it sounding clunky or forced. Also, when it comes to proposals, write short—it’s a PowerPoint, not an editor query letter. Oh, and what’s CPV vs cppv? It’s how success is measured. CPV, cost per view, is for video and CPPV (cost per page view) is for digital articles. At least I THINK that’s right!” — Michele Shapiro, project manager at The Foundry at Meredith and former editor at Glamour and SELF.
“Wish I’d known that it was not only ok, but preferable to turn in copy with lots of word repetition (SEO); and to worry less about sounding clever and objective. — Hillary Quinn, branded content writer and former editor at Mademoiselle
“Give yourself a little time to grieve. And then get ready for a fun ride, because with your editor background, you WILL shine. There’s something special in the way that journalists and magazine editors came up that makes us especially able to cut through hazy business concepts and get to the heart of things. You’ll (hopefully) be rewarded for that on your new team.” — Sunny Sea Gold, senior editor, Toptal and a former editor at Glamour, Redbook, and Seventeen
“It’s not necessarily selling out or joining the dark side. Most good content marketers know that content needs to be authentic and stories matter. So stick with what you do best and pitch good stories. This will take you far.” — Stacy Tornio, head of content and engagement at Underdog Games and former editor at Birds & Blooms at Reader’s Digest
“A lot of places want editorial expertise. Editorial is the new buzz word at brands. Use it to your advantage.”— Kelly Marages, creative consultant for Uncommon Goods and former editor at Us Weekly and Marie Claire
“You may hate content marketing! You may think it’s dumb, a time suck, a waste of resources and not even one-twentieth as smart as what you “could” be doing with your time. That’s okay! Sometimes, a job’s just a job. BUT you will learn so much — about business strategy, about marketing, about jobs you didn’t know existed that pay a lot of $$$. Soak it up and use it all because you may just find yourself shining DESPITE all of your reservations. So roll your eyes if you must. But then, find the “thing” that excites you during the day. Maybe it is wowing clients at presentations. Maybe it is no longer being intimidated by a Google sheet or knowing how to break down a budget like a boss. But the more you learn, the more versatile you become and the more flexible you can be for the future.” — Anna Davies, freelance content marketing specialist and former editor at Refinery 29 and Glamour
“1. Your journalism background leaves you fully equipped to make the pivot. You may feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re a fish out of water, but you more than have the skills for the job because you can write and you’re naturally curious 2. Coming from a different industry gives you the perfect opportunity to play dumb when you’re confused by agencyspeak. My first six months at my job, I asked all the time about the acronyms. “Sorry, what does CRC stand for?” A lot of the time they didn’t even know what the acronym itself stands for; they just knew what it was 3. You will just have a more stable job. Depending on where you are, there may be no freebies, but there’s more money and more upward mobility. 4. It may not be your dream job, and you may be coming from your dream job, but there are very good reasons you’re doing it. Let yourself have the six months that it takes to feel like you really know what you’re doing. It’s worth it.” — Marla Garfield, editorial supervisor, Patients & Purpose and former editor at Us Weekly, HGTV Magazine, and Real Simple
“Keep your journalistic values. I’m editing some paid/sponsored blog posts for my company by ‘brand ambassadors’ and they are so obviously just plugging our products with no personal connection. I’m sending them back to get a more first-person view of the products and why they recommend them. I take the same editorial approach to everything I write and produce for the brand. Try to tell a story and always have a point of view that educates and enlightens your audience. It’s honestly not that different from editorial work—think of all the advertisers we had to placate and mention (depending on magazine, of course). But let’s face it, editorial content at a lot of magazines had become advertorials by the time we all left.” — Allegra Holch, copy manager, SkipHop and former freelance editor at People and Instyle
“I’m back in editorial, but I think it’s helpful going in to know you can do work you’re proud of and that’s useful to your reader. I loved the career pieces I wrote for corporations, for instance, and it’s fun to talk to people about their jobs. Clients can also have deep pockets to scaffold projects with more multimedia you can be involved in.” — Gail O’Connor, senior editor, The Week Junior and former branded content editor at Scholastic and Time Inc. and editor at Parents and Shape.
“Trust your instincts and continue to think primarily as an editor, not as a marketer. There are plenty of smart marketing/data folks in the room who can provide you with insights, demographics, and brand objectives. But there are very few engaging storytellers. That’s where you and your finely tuned editorial chops come in. As someone who’s been in content marketing for 20 years, I can tell you that clients ALWAYS love hearing most from the editors. And rightly so — we’re amazing content unicorns.” — Jonathan Whitbourne, editorial director, The Foundry 360 at Meredith and former editor at Healthy Kids