3 Ways to Prepare Before You Switch Careers From Journalism to Marketing
You may have read that journalism has been in its death throes for the last decade. That’s bad news for many, but it struck me as particularly horrific when I entered the workforce six years ago hoping to be a professional writer.
I’ve worked as a staff writer and editor for both digital and print publications since then, all while the industry felt like it was coming apart at the seams. There were plenty of positives along the way—nothing feels better than interviewing artists you love or landing a magazine feature. But at every stop I’ve made, journalists tend to describe themselves as huddling in a foxhole.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the writer-friendly career that stands to see the most growth in the next decade isn’t journalism—it’s content marketing. If you read me that sentence two months ago, that phrase may have gone straight into one ear and out the other. Wasn’t I already creating content? What does that have to do with marketing?
Then I joined Contently as the associate editor. I’ve been here for about a month, and as heretical as it might sound to some reporters, a content marketing career can be more intellectually engaging than churning out blog posts and breaking news. However, the craft requires you to use your writing tools in slightly different ways.
Here are some of the actionable items I recommend to journalists making the switch. Granted, I didn’t do every single of these before coming to Contently, but if I could go back, I would.
1. Zoom out on your media analysis
Journalists tend to focus on granular information. Most have specific beats to “walk”, post quotas to meet, and traffic goals to hit, so the time they can allot to high-level analysis doesn’t always exist.
When I worked as a culture writer specializing in horror and superheroes, I read the highlights from Variety, Deadline, and The Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision blog before I even got out of bed each morning. By noon, I caught up on smaller blogs and subreddits, in addition to writing breaking news posts. For all of that mandatory content intake, the conversations I read about could seem small and fleeting.
In the world of content marketing, the news cycle is slower and more deliberate. It’s also a bit trickier. Content marketing is such a positive place because most companies will never aggressively investigate their own products or industries if those pursuits lead to negative coverage. That means it’s important to find reputable content sources for a more objective picture of what’s going on.
Ad Age, Adweek, and Digiday are useful for a macro look at advertising and branded content. Ad Age and Adweek still offer the latest news and campaigns, but there’s more of an emphasis on trends, reports, and wider analysis.
Once you’re comfortable with the big picture, you’ll want to engage with more marketing-focused blogs like Chief Martec for deeper dives. A word of caution, though: These inside-baseball publications can prove arduous reads for those who don’t know the lingo yet. (More on that later, and by the way, “martec” or “martech” means marketing + technology.)
WNYC’s On the Media podcast is a nice palette cleanser for writers switching from journalism to marketing because Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield analyze journalism, advertising, marketing copy, television, and film as one behemoth of cultural influence. Lastly, Ben Thompson’s Stratechery newsletter gives a comprehensive look at the way types of content intersect; his coverage of Facebook in the modern age is particularly helpful.
Overall, put in the effort to read more analysis on the state of media and branding. The more thoughtful commentary you can find, the quicker you’ll be able to use your skills instead of second-guessing yourself. .
2. Familiarize yourself with some jargon, but not all
“Hey, former journalist, want to map content to the funnel so the team can sync on this campaign’s OKRs and prospective ROI?”
Lost? Yeah, understandable.
After a career switch, there will be some superficial changes to your vocabulary. For instance, I don’t necessarily need to call a Powerpoint presentation a “deck,” as my new colleagues do. To me, a “dek” has always been the subtitle under the main headline.
But in many cases, strange terms can point to important concepts. In journalism, search engine optimization just refers to the fields your publication’s CMS designer fills out. But in content marketing, there’s a need to know SEO from the inside out. I’ve been in WordPress filling out the fields myself, so there was value in figuring out meta descriptions and alt text on images. In this way, moving from journalism to content marketing has felt like wading so far into the ocean that the sandy floor beneath me dropped out.
Luckily, some terms still carry over. As a journalist, you probably understand A/B testing—I hope your social team has clued you in while testing social heds and packaging. B2B and B2C are a little trickier, though. As a journalist, I wrote for consumers. But I never thought of it as a business-to-consumer relationship. Now, I’m in the B2B space writing to help other companies.
3. Adjust the way you identify
Most journalists identify almost militantly as reporters, especially because the very idea of journalism is under attack by the highest authority in the country. But what values do journalists cling to? Candor, accuracy, tenacity, and clarity of voice, right? One could argue that a great content marketer must preserve those values too. Whether your audience is a movie fanatic or a corporate client, nobody wants you to lie.
If branded content still feels icky, consider this: My writing career thus far has focused on superheroes and horror movies. Essentially, I was paid by several different publications to engage thoughtfully with someone else’s intellectual property. In order to get press access to TV screeners or film premieres, I had to foster positive relationships with a separate corporation’s public relations team. In some cases, networks blocked me from access to future projects after I criticized their work. I was always cognizant of the politics of “access journalism,” which meant the jump to content marketing wasn’t a leap over a giant ethical chasm.
The good news is, the creative skills of your old job will still apply to your new job. You’ve been using the primary tools for content marketing all along—now it’s time to pull those tools apart and see what makes them work.Image by Pexels / CC Zero