I had just arrived in Marrakech for vacation when a customs agent glared at me and asked what media organization I was with. I stammered and looked puzzled until he held up my customs form. Even though I had worked in content marketing full time for several years, I had absentmindedly listed my occupation as a journalist. The Moroccan government wanted to know if I planned on causing any trouble.
Once a journalist, always a journalist. I spent the first 15 years of my career as a journalist. My work has appeared in CNBC.com, Forbes, Kiplinger's Personal Finance and many other publications. I love journalists and journalism. The industry gets a bad rap, but the world would fall apart without intrepid writers dedicated to telling the truth and great stories. At my core, I defined myself as a journalist then.
I made the transition from journalism to marketing because I wanted to make more money, learn new skills and face more interesting challenges. Some journalists turn to marketing because the outlook for journalism jobs is bleak. Pew Research Center finds that newsroom employment in the United States has dropped by 26% since 2008.
Whatever the reason to try your hand at marketing, journalists have valuable experience that can enhance any organization. The trick is to understand how to navigate the boardroom as well as you would the newsroom. These four tactics will make the career switch easier.
Newsroom Culture Is Helpful, But Also Hurtful
Great newsrooms crackle with energy, especially when big stories hit. That energy makes the work exciting. The thrill of breaking news, beating the competition or telling a gripping story is hard to top professionally.
Journalists who bring that newsroom energy to their marketing teams will be rewarded. A deadline sense of urgency can boost marketing initiatives. The ability to sum up complex situations clearly for customers and stakeholders is always an asset in demand. A reporter's sense of what is newsworthy and what's not can cut through the corporate bullshit. These tools of the trade translate well into marketing.
However, not everything from many of the newsrooms I was part of should carry over into your new career in marketing. A few tough, profane editors taught me the ropes of journalism. I viewed their prickliness as an education and emulated their harsh style in my work life, thinking it gave me an edge when dealing with my marketing colleagues. The opposite is true. In my worst moments, I've made coworkers cry and alienated would-be allies.
While I love a good newsroom scuffle, that behavior will have you talking to HR in most other workplaces. Instead, take a gentler approach. I recommend the book "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg if you need guidance on how to provide better feedback to colleagues.
Learn Skills That Will Set You Apart
Reporting, writing and editing well will aid you on most marketing teams, but that's not enough. You need to develop skills beyond shoe-leather reporting and general grit to be a valuable marketer.
I used to think my ability to generate plenty of story ideas was a skill that could help organizations improve their marketing. It does help. However, other talents help even more. Plentiful ideas are valuable, but not as profitable as developing a coherent content strategy from them.
As a journalist, your job is to tell a compelling story. As a content marketer or brand journalist, your role is more complex. You have to tell a great story that sells, that fits the brand and can demonstrate value beyond its editorial merits to many stakeholders who may have less than literary taste. You have to bring more to the table than journalism.
Journalists should step back and look at the bigger picture of content marketing, not just their potential role in production. Sure, you should excel at writing white papers, editing blog posts or creating videos and podcasts. But what organizations really need (and generally lack) are people with the vision to bring it all together. I recommend delving deeper into strategy. Find resources that fit your areas of interest. I recommend New York University professor Scott Galloway's book on tech giants – "The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google" – as an excellent primer on strategic thinking in content marketing.
It’s easy to find fantastic free resources to learn more about content marketing. Start with our own conference – Managing Editor Live – which will connect you to a fast-growing community of content marketers who are happy to share their insights on strategy and more.
Know Your New Value
Generally, journalists are an underpaid lot. According to ZipRecruiter data, the average journalist's salary in August 2021 was $42,390.
Don't anchor your marketing compensation off your pay as a journalist. It’s great journalists regard the job as a “calling,” except that too easily can lead to media employers keeping salaries low. (If you love the work so much, why worry about wages?) As a result, many journalists leave money on the table when negotiating their pay. I know from experience. In my first full-time content marketing job, the recruiter actually offered me more than I had requested.
Avoid bringing that mentality to content marketing, especially if you're working for a company instead of a nonprofit or government organization. Use salary benchmarks to make the case that your compensation should be higher than what you earned as a journalist.
The Managing Editor 2021 Career Survey Report data can help you set appropriate compensation based on your experience and position. For example, among the hundreds of content marketers we surveyed last year, content directors typically had an annual salary between $100,000 and $150,000. We expect that number to rise as many people have switched jobs after the pandemic, and companies are willing to pay more for skilled marketers.
Grow Along With Your New Gig
Just like journalism, content marketing is a volatile industry. It requires a growth mindset and a willingness to try new things.
As a content marketer, I'm not doing the same things I was doing a year ago. If I was, that would be a problem. As a journalist, you have the skills and training to succeed in this business, but to remain relevant in an emerging field requires continuous improvement. New tools, new tactics and new ways of doing things pop up frequently and change what is state of the art.
Transitioning from journalism to content marketing isn't the end of your career development, only the first step into an exciting world of possibility where you can continue to develop skills honed in journalism while being better compensated for your labors.
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