By Dylan Tweney on August 24, 2023

Think like a journalist to nail your content strategy

Want to craft messages that resonate with your audience? Consider journalistic writing.Think/write like a journalist

At Highwire, we understand the value of writing that compels attention, engages emotion, and inspires action. 

That's why we recommend that marketing writers occasionally put their marketing caps to one side and try on a journalist's hat. You don't need to have an old-fashioned fedora with a card that says PRESS in it to create writing that commands attention and evokes strong reactions.

If you're crafting copy aimed at elevating the profile and credibility of a brand or executive, try thinking more like a journalist. This strategy could help you become a better marketing storyteller. 

Here is how (and why) to shift out of marketing mode and take advantage of a more journalistic approach to writing. 

How journalism differs from marketing 
On the surface, it might seem simple. Journalism is all about the facts, whereas marketing material focuses on creating engaging resources to push products or services. But looking a little deeper and understanding how these two writing approaches differ could help you supercharge the effectiveness of your content.

At the core of these differences:

  • Journalists are driven by conflict. They are motivated by novelty and focus on people.
  • Marketers are driven by consensus. They are motivated by repeatability and focus on products or services.

Let's look at some of the other differences to get a better picture of how journalistic writing is different.

Journalistic writing is built on objective reporting aimed at informing readers. By contrast, content marketing, which is based on messages that can nurture leads throughout a buyer's journey (e.g., prompting an action, such as researching or purchasing the company’s product).

Good journalism relies on interviews, eyewitness accounts and data, so obtaining accurate information from trustworthy sources can be complex and time-consuming. There is usually no foregone conclusion about what the research will reveal. A journalist may have a hypothesis or a hunch, but they'll (ideally) follow the facts wherever they lead. By contrast, content marketers tend to use market research, customer data and competitive intelligence to produce content for a target audience who are seeking a solution. This can be complex and time-consuming too, but the focus is on finding research to support a known objective or planned conclusion.

In a nutshell, Journalism is built on accurate and impartial reporting, compared to content marketing, which focuses on creating positive relationships to resonate with specific buyer personas.

When crafting a news story, the goal is to provoke a strong emotion — often negative or shocking (e.g., "Wow, I didn't know that!" or "How could someone do something like that?"). An effective way to do so is to tell a story highlighting conflict and change.

In contrast, marketing content aims to provoke desire and agreement (e.g., "That's a cool product" or "I love what they're doing and want to be a part of it"). The most effective way to encourage this reaction is to demonstrate the benefits of something or explain how accessible it is. 

When journalistic writing makes for good marketing
When weighing the pros and cons of marketing and journalistic copy, one approach isn't necessarily better than the other — it depends on the use case and your business goals. 

Journalistic writing can offer an edge if you want to break free from repeatability and create more novel content that stands out. While you can certainly be creative with your marketing copy, marketing content is crafted based on what works to increase sales, and then the process is repeated over and over again. For this reason, so much marketing copy sounds the same — and as a result, it can be hard to cut through the digital noise. 

In contrast, writing like a journalist can instantly grab attention based on its ability to be newsworthy.

As generations of journalists have known, a headline that says Dog bites man is not news. It isn't striking enough because it's such a common event. However, Man bites dog is unusual and, therefore, newsworthy. 

Acme Co's widget will solve all your roadrunner problems is the kind of headline you'd expect from Acme's marketers. Coyote finally catches roadrunner in high-speed desert chase is a more journalistic headline.

Megacorp releases new AI-powered cloud service is the sort of headline we read every day, thanks to the marketing pros at Megacorps all over the world. Megacorp wants you to forget about AI and have a cup of tea with your neighbor is the kind of headline that would turn heads. 

These sample headlines showcase why journalists spend so much time chasing anomalies. Data shows that very few people read content past the headline. On average, 80% only read the headline, but only 20% read the content in its entirety. So, you need to create headlines that trigger a response, motivating the reader to continue reading.  


Journalistic writing favors the power of storytelling with a purpose
Journalistic writing is a storytelling approach that can often sell better than messaging that's overtly focused on sales. To create content readers want to consume, you must tell a good story that is accurate, honest and relevant to your audience. 

Authenticity and thought leadership builds trust. So, while content will fuel your marketing strategy, a journalistic writing approach is what will help you produce quality copy that can help shape customer perceptions. While this approach isn't a hard sell per se, building trust as an established leader will support the top and middle stages of your sales funnel.

It's all about creating content that considers more than just your own marketing aims. Focus more on the reader, and what they might be interested in, and you'll be on the right track.

Consider these tips:

  • You need to tell a story that grabs and holds your audience's attention, focusing on the big picture.
  • Make your story relevant and relatable to your audience. Humans are generally more interested in what other humans are doing than they are in the doings of corporations or products.
  • Craft a story that showcases your founder, team, clients, partners, suppliers, members or patients.
  • Develop a story highlighting important issues to demonstrate your values or proposed impact. Shining a light on humanity to trigger emotion can be one of the most powerful ways to win business. 

This is not new, by the way. The Furrow Magazine is a prime example of how tractor company Deere and Co pioneered brand journalism. In 1895 (over a century ago!) the company launched a magazine for its customers, covering all topics related to better farming. Relevant, timely stories and industry news attracted millions of readers, creating a platform the company could use to promote its messaging.

More than 125 years later, it's still working. As Steven Roller, managing editor, said recently, “Yes, we’re trying to sell a product. But what we really want to do is understand our customers and let them know we support them in their business.” Readership surveys show that 40% of Furrow readers read every word — including ads — in every issue.

Recommended reading: The secret to writing social copy that your audience will actually engage with

What use cases are best for a more journalistic approach?
Remember, a journalistic approach is not about selling — it's about educating and inspiring. 

Journalistic writing mainly focuses on humans, not products. This approach is ideal when you want to be perceived as a leader in a particular space. The goal is to influence a strong reaction, relying less on the motivation to increase sales. Downplaying self-promotion while focusing on select themes is what will spark strong reactions. However, this concept requires a change in your mindset and approach.

Whenever you want to make a reader feel a strong emotion, you must center your story around humans — not products and branding. Getting this right is crucial to your success. If you take the journalistic writing approach, yet your content sounds like an advertisement, it will stand out, but not in a good way. In contrast, the more your content sounds like an expert op-ed in an old-school newspaper, the more it will stand out — in a positive way. 

Write like a journalist with Highwire
Content creation is essential for businesses to grow and sustain success, but if no one reads your material — or, more importantly, believes and feels your stories — it could be all for nothing. 

Although there isn't a magical formula to craft the perfect journalistic-inspired content, consider the following as you move toward this approach:

  • Who do you want to reach?
  • What difference are you making, and what sets you apart?
  • When should you publish a story?
  • Where do you find your next compelling story?
  • Why are you considering this approach?

By implementing the principles of journalism, you can create better stories, establish yourself as a leader and remain a trusted source of content your audience wants to read and connect with. 

Not sure where to begin? Highwire can help you move in the right direction. Our years of experience in journalism and PR will help you develop more compelling stories. Contact us to learn more about Highwire’s team of journalists and our editorial services!

Published by Dylan Tweney August 24, 2023