Ever wonder why you’re so obsessed with a certain brand’s social feed? Or, maybe you just can’t tear away from reading their catalog? Well, little do you know, that behind every brand’s blog and social feed is a writer. Content marketing has always been known as the “dark side” of journalism, but Ed gathered his pals to prove the stigma wrong. Editors-turned-content strategists from Victoria’s Secret, Hearst, Johnson & Johnson, and other top brands gathered at WeWork to discuss what is content marketing, what it’s like writing for a brand, and how to score a job in the field. And we gotta say, it was fascinating. Find out what the panel pros had to say about this new-ish wave of storytelling.
On Content Marketing vs. Magazines:
Before diving into content marketing, these panelists worked for magazines, websites, and some even served as editor-in-chief. Now, these editors are working for brands and media agencies, but don’t see the job any different from their former roles in publication. “Content marketing boils down to putting together stories that people want to read, make them happier and smarter, and want them to come back and more,” says Russell Pearlman, editorial director of Imprint Content. Sounds familiar right? “The difference is that you’re just writing for a particular group.”
“Even if the magazine world, you’re still selling,” adds Yelena Shuster, freelance writer and senior copywriter for Victoria’s Secret. “Now, you’re just doing it more overtly. You’re still selling content, here in my case I’m selling clothing.”
Pearlman also notes that one of the biggest challenges was getting a piece successfully approved by all clients involved in the story. So if one person finds something wrong, you’re back to square one. “You’ll have some frustrations on the writing side, but on the editing side, you’ll think, ‘If it was up to me, I can do it for three days, but it’s for a corporate client, so six months,’” says Pearlman.
“There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” adds Laura Kalehoff, director of Hearst Content Studio. “The biggest switch was going from editorial to working with numbers of clients and approvals.”
On Working with Clients:
Susan Schulz, former Editorial Brand Director at Cosmopolitan and now a personal content strategy consultant found that the biggest challenge is trying to please a bigger team. “Clients know they want a good story, but they don’t know what they want. You might come up with something great and maybe they’ll say ‘great’ and then you do it, but then they say it’s actually not what they want.”
And while clients have certain guidelines of what can/can’t be done, you also have to set up some ground rules to keep the story. “Sometimes you need to create protocols and guardrails and what they can and can’t approve within a story, adds Kalehoff. “You have to explain to the client why this idea won’t work for readers, and articulate why this is the better route to go in.”
While working with clients can feel exhausting, they’ll appreciate your knowledge of storytelling. “One of the things not to underestimate is not everybody knows how to put stories on a page or figure out who the right person is for an interviewed,” says Sloan director of Johnson & Johnson Global Content Lab. “If you have a skill set, it’s easy to be good at content marketing and to be valued at a place. you have a lot to offer.”
On What Makes a Successful Branded Piece:
A good pitch, says Pearlman “A lot of companies don’t know what a good story sounds like or looks like. They just want something that’s engaging to customers. Keep that idea of being able to pitch, find a good story and convey a pitch something that will be able to take across.”
Also, Sloan mentions, that you should you able to think how to tell your story not just with text but visually and through social media. “If you are coming up with your pitch idea, think about what channel will it live on and how will it travel.”
“If you can be a master of short form and long form, that’s very valuable,” adds Shuster. “I need to know how to write a 5 word subject line that’s compelling and write a long form for a catalog.”
Another important thing to remember: All panelists agree that the best examples of content marketing don’t necessarily involve pushing a product.
On Protecting Their Journalistic Integrity:
They get it, journalism and marketing are still two different worlds. But, don’t fear, your freelancing is do-able!
“The good thing about being in the content world, is that you have the quality of life and you can freelance and maintain ties to the editorial world,” says Shuster who also freelances for the New York Times and InStyle. However, she leaves her copywriter job title out of her byline.
And speaking of the byline, it’s totally ok to separate your day job from your writing career.
“Treat it as any other freelance job. You can talk to the brand and tell them, ‘My name is a brand that stands for something else,'” advises Pearlman.
Also, keep in mind that when you’re writing for content marketing, you’re channeling the voice of the brand. “[In co-branding], it’s clearly labeled and we’re always have a logo up on our stories that we create with the brand. And yes, on the writers’ side, we offer the option that they can leave out the byline,” says Kalehoff.
So, can you stick to your journalism principles and copy write for a brand? Yes! “If there’s a way you can balance it, you can totally sleep at night,” says Schultz.
On How to Score the Job:
All panelists agree: The way into the brand is to live and breathe it.
“Always makeover your résumé for every job you’re applying for,” says Sloan. “Make yourself that brand as you can in terms of how you dress, how you interview, your clips and your experience.”
“That was the biggest challenge for me, to prove that I was a fit for this brand,” adds Shuster. “Offer to take more edit tests or show other clips. They want to make sure you can adopt this brand’s specific identity and voice.”
An easy way to embody the brand? Read everything they put out.“Do your research, read every press release, know the catalog and website in and out,” adds Shuster. And for major brownie points? Pearlman suggests to try and get the brand editorial guidelines to find out what you can and can’t say. “It allows you to adopt that and use that language in your interview and edit test that you can put together,” says Pearlman.
More tips on how to break in:
“Look in your neighborhood for brand content opportunities. They may might not be as big, but it’s still experience,” says Shuster.
“Find content agencies, link off names of the mastheads and shoot them emails, asking them for coffee,” says Pearlman.
“Make a list of top 10 content marketing brands you want to work for, see what they’re doing in the space, and search them on LinkedIn to see if you know anyone and just reach out,” suggests Sloan.
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