When I was working as a journalist, ten years ago, I never thought I would one day end up as a content writer who spends her days writing for companies instead of about them.
Thankfully, it’s a change I don’t regret, as one career naturally feeds into the other. You can learn a lot about good brand communications from journalists. Both are in the business of telling a good story.
Want to find out how? Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Don’t bury the lead
In other words, don’t wait until paragraph three to get to your point. This old newspaper saying is crucial in an age where people skim content and have an average attention span of eight seconds. Waffle on for too long and readers switch off.
A good rule of thumb is to follow is the classic inverted pyramid used by news reporters. Put your most important information first followed by any additional information that may be helpful to the reader; save background details for the end. A snappy headline that offers something to the reader also helps. ‘Four ways to improve indoor air quality’ will gain much more traction than ‘actions that effect indoor air quality and their benefits’.
2. Same story, new angle
Constantly thinking of new content can feel tedious sometimes, especially if many of the topics in your industry have been covered ad nauseam. Think like a features writer. Instead of trying to come up with new content, find a new angle on an old story. Try looking at how an aspect of your industry has changed, showcasing an unusual benefit of your offering, or writing a ‘what not to do’ list instead of ‘how to’.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the news for fresh ideas. For example, Google ‘Marie Kondo’ and see how many different brands put their own spin on this tidying up craze. A fresh twist is all it takes to transform tired content into something engaging.
3. Edit with your format in mind
One mistake businesses often make with their content is including too much of it. Effective writing comes when there’s great material on the cutting room floor. Editing your words – interesting though they may be – is crucial. Be ruthless! Ask yourself: is this relevant for my reader or simply ‘nice to have’? Does it draw attention away from important information?
If you need to include a lot of information, try breaking the text up with subject headings, or divide your content into a series. Lists are also a great way to organise complex information in a simple way. For one of my clients, a personal finance website, a ‘pros and cons’ table and Q&A format went a long way towards making a complicated topic like superannuation easy to read.
4. Back your claims up with facts
Be wary of making vague statements about what you offer without backing it up with facts. People want proof of your service’s value. This is especially true today as people’s trust in businesses has fallen to 45%, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer (see what I did there?).
Embedding statistics and relevant research in your content is one way to do this; another is through testimonials, and case studies. One boutique clothing brand that often pops up on my social media feed shares short ‘behind the scenes’ videos of how their clothes are made. The clips are a fun way to cement the authenticity of the brand.
5. Notice the details
Need some colour in your content? The answer is simple: notice the details. I first learnt this while writing profiles for the media industry. My editor encouraged me to notice the little things when interviewing people, be it an interesting hobby, striking mannerism or even the way their office is decorated. Once, a CEO of a major agency offhandedly mentioned he came to Australia to escape violence in his home country. This one detail put his journey towards success in a whole new light.
I often apply this lesson when writing content for companies. One story I wrote featured a female pest controller whose van had a picture of a red stiletto stepping on a cockroach. It was a simple image, but a striking one that spoke volumes about the impact she was making in a traditionally male-dominated industry.