Get to the point — and 2 more journalism tips for content creation
Mar 28, 2016
The first business trip of my professional career was back in the spring of 2001. I was one year on the job for an advertising agency in Stamford, Conn., just 40 miles northeast of New York City. The agency’s signature account was Slim Jim, the beef jerky meat stick that successfully symbolized rebellion for the teen audience it targeted.
At that time, Slim Jim launched its “Rebelliache Tour,” a music and entertainment festival that descended on seven U.S. cities. (The tour was best described as a cross between a freakish carnival and alternative rock concert.)
Several of the agency’s reps traveled to Atlanta for the tour’s kickoff. The night before the first show, we joined the client team for dinner. There, at the restaurant, is where I drank a beer with the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
This is where you say: “Wait! What?!”
In the name of making a point, I committed a cardinal sin of journalism, a rule today’s content marketers are well served to remember: Do not bury the lede.
In journalism, as Grammarist explains, “the lede is the first sentence or short portion of an article that gives the gist of the story and contains the most important points readers need to know.”
This definition doesn’t just apply to print articles and blog posts. Web copy? Get to the point. Podcast? Get to the point. If you have a message to deliver, get to the point.
Get the point?
Now, back to my lede-burying story. I’m certain you don’t care about:
1. My first business trip
2. Where I worked
3. A short-lived music tour
Nor should you care, quite frankly.
However, my time rubbing shoulders with Slim Jim’s then-spokesman — one of pro wrestling’s all-time superstars — is a story. What was the late, great Macho Man like in person? Did he really speak in that signature, gravelly tone?
Did I actually down the remainder of my beer when he:
1. Eyed my half-empty glass
2. Looked straight at me
3. Said “You better finish that.” (You bet I did.)
And yet, it took me 132 words and nearly three full paragraphs before I even mentioned the person who made that work trip epic.
Identifying the real story you want to tell, and telling it, is one way of applying a journalistic approach to content creation. Don’t waste time on an exhaustive build-up; you can always “back fill” with supporting details.
Hooking your audience at the outset is everything.
How about two more content creation tips from an ex-journo?
Use the news
More than ever, journalists need to know what’s happening right now. So, a giant part of their job is studying the fluid state of their beat.
Similarly, knowing what’s making news in your industry, and why, is a valuable approach for elevating your content — and by extension, your brand.
Bestselling author David Meerman Scott calls it “Newsjacking.” He explains the practice on his website, saying it is “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”
Scott continues: “It creates a level playing field — literally anyone can newsjack — but, that new level favors players who are observant, quick to react, and skilled at communicating.”
This post from the Content Marketing Institute examines a handful of high-profile brands whose newsjacking efforts were smart, timely and, as a result, successful.
Of course, newsjacking is an art. Knowing when not to inject your ideas is just as important. (Brands that used Hurricane Sandy as a springboard to boost sales several years ago come to mind.)
Enlist an editor
If there’s one thing 10 years in journalism taught me, it’s that being first does not necessarily equate to being correct. Accuracy is (or was, at least) instrumental in becoming an authority.
So do yourself a favor. Ask someone you trust to be your “editor,” review your work, and provide feedback before seeking the boss’ approval.
Does your content speak to the right audience? Does it sound authentic? In the digitally driven race to be first, this step can seem like a roadblock on the path to infusing your ideas into the marketplace.
But how valuable is your work if it falls flat?
Call me old-fashioned, but I still consider “editorial reviews” a crucial piece of the content creation process. Reviews don’t need to take a lot of time, but they’re typically time well spent.
Speaking of spending, here’s one more writing tip to bring this post full circle: To avoid burying the lede, pretend $1 will be deducted from your paycheck for every word you use.
That should snap you into focus faster than the Macho Man ever snapped into a Slim Jim.
Marc Thaler is a former journalist and broadcaster-turned-associate creative director. For 10+ years, he covered sports around New England—everything from Little League to the big leagues. Several years back, he joined a software company specializing in cloud-based IT security and management solutions, spent a few years creating content in its marketing department, and then made the switch to Centerline. Over the years, his writing has appeared on a range of recognizable dot-coms, including ESPN, SC Magazine and Marketing Profs.