At SixEstate I review the work of a lot writers who want to become brand journalists. Many have one thing in common: They’re selling themselves as writers, not as brand journalists. The problem is, that’s just half of it.
Brand journalists are writers, to be sure. They must possess the craftsmanship necessary to get a paragraph to purr and know how and when to give a punctuation punch. Yet, when hired to represent a brand there is a little more at play. It starts by realizing that the work is different than, say, work for an editorial magazine or newspaper. Your work as a brand journalist is, first, to investigate the brand’s universe. (Notice I didn’t say “represent” the brand’s universe. Exploration is what makes your work newsworthy, not straight-up advertising.)
If you want to pitch yourself as a brand journalist, here are some suggestions to stand out in the crowd and win the assignment. I offer some additional tips for your personal satisfaction, too:
Choose the Right Brand for You
Don’t be a generalist. Covering the news in a particular industry means you’ll be neck-deep in it every day, learning more about the subject every day, and discovering new approaches to the material every day. So, it makes sense to choose a brand that aligns with something that truly captivates you and represents your values. You will literally be with it every single day.
Pro tip: You are more valuable on the marketplace if you can align your education, experience, and portfolio into a cohesive narrative. Focus.
Even if you don’t know the specific brand until you are hired, you should have an idea of the industry. Market yourself to that industry.
Show That You Take Blogging Seriously
Oh, blogs. Whatever. Here’s a sample of a whitepaper/marketing report/ad copy/thesis paper instead. Words are words, right?
Wrong. Business blogging is evolving into its own form because blogging remains one of the strongest content market strategies around. My favorite description of blogging as a writing form comes from Max Read, a blogger at Gawker:
Not essayists (though you should be able to turn a beautiful phrase). Not reporters (though you should know how, and when, to get up from your desk or pick up the phone and ask questions). Not columnists (though you should have a sheaf of ideas for regular features and rubrics). Bloggers.
We’re looking for fast writers who can turn around original, engaging stories on a variety of topics; follow and advance breaking news; identify and cover emerging trends; and otherwise initiate, develop, and generally own ideas, stories, and conversations on the internet. You know, bloggers.
Right now just 9% of marketing companies employee full-time bloggers. Blogs vary in editorial style and tone but one thing is consistent: Demonstrated bloggers get the best gigs.
Sell It Softly
Brand journalism should stand on its own merit. The content produced should provide value to your audience without any kind of hard sell. Yet its purpose, ultimately, is to build and solidify a brand. Understanding the role of your work means to understand that it is different than traditional journalism. Brand journalism is still evolving. Samples should demonstrate that you understand this role. They should also demonstrate an understanding of contemporary issues relating to your role such as copyright, privacy, and net neutrality.
At SixEstate we provide custom content to a diverse mix of clients. Each of them deploy brand journalism as a way to retain their existing customers and clients. They also utilize brand journalism to expand and build their reach. Writers who understand their contribution in both of these pursuits are the ones who are hired as brand journalists.
Katie McCaskey is SixEstate’s content director. She tests real-world application of content marketing techniques using the cafe she co-owns as a laboratory. She was Tech Editor of Chief Content Officer, 2010-2011, and contributes to the Content Marketing Institute. Connect with her on Google+ or @KatieMcCaskey.