Copywriter, PR Writer or Brand Journalist? You Decide

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Matthew Stibbe of bad language fame recently blogged about the difficulty of defining what he does at dinner parties. Should he say he’s a writer (and risk disappointing the dinner table when admitting he’s not the creative kind), a marketing copywriter (when people hear ‘copyright’ and yawn) or a modern day ‘Mad Man’? Well, if you’re a business writer defining what you do is getting complicated, and it’s all thanks to the internet.

A copywriter can be defined as ‘a person employed to write advertising or publicity copy’. However, now that people are using the web as a fountain of knowledge for solving questions and looking up product and service information, copywriters need to add a journalist’s hat to their wardrobe.

Prior to the web, businesses were reliant on the traditional media to get their messages heard.

Whether it was paying for magazine inches or mail bombing journalists with press releases, businesses had to constantly push their marketing onto consumers at every opportunity. The thinking being that the more times people read or heard your name the more likely they’d choose your brand when browsing supermarket shelves or flicking through the yellow pages.

Well, times have changed.

Google’s impact on marketing

When you’re looking for answers it’s becoming common to tap a few keywords into Google and then click on the most relevant result. So being on the first page when people tap in your product or service name can be like tapping into an oil well, with seemingly limitless reserves.

So how can you get setup and drilling on the first page? Well, you could spend your budget on pay-per-click ads (a short-term solution which receives less clicks in the UK compared to the natural results), pay an SEO agency a monthly fee or you could invest in valuable content.

Valuable content keeps your website updated with useful, relevant information and can attract links from other sites, the two keys to unlocking a page one ranking.

Useful content which answers questions and solves problems can also help convert browsers into buyers because sticky content keeps visitors glued to your website longer, giving you more time to build a relationship with them.

This is the ‘new marketing’ you might have heard so much about: using the web to engage the shared passions and interests of your customers. Marketing isn’t one way anymore, but an ongoing ‘conversation’ between a business and its customers in which the language is that of transparency, relevancy and value rather than sales spiel and corporate speak.

Customers want to engage with businesses which help to solve their problems and present answers to their questions, exactly what great content can achieve.

The only drawback for businesses is that they now need to find someone to write all this great content for them, which is where you come in.

Are you a copywriter, PR writer or brand journalist?

Great content sells through education. It responds to the information needs of customers, allows them to sleep better at night and soothes their pain. It’s not about praising the business, but focusing on the customer.

Whilst thinking about the customer instead of the product might seem a waste of words to some old school marketers, the fact is that useful content is what people want to read. They want storytelling, editorial and honest answers which will help their buying decisions, not a sales pitch.

So whether you call yourself a copywriter, PR writer or brand journalist, being able to engage customers with valuable content, which relies on the soft approach rather than the hard sell, is a skill that’s going to be in demand.

Brand journalism might have first been coined by McDonalds’ global marketing officer, but it has got nothing to do with peddling cheap junk which leaves people hungry soon afterwards. Brand journalism is about offering high quality information in exchange for attention, and is how businesses need to think about marketing online.

Procter and Gamble continue to be the poster child for engagement marketing, but the UK’s TopSkips and Englishcut are two smaller scale examples just waiting to be imitated.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here are a couple of recent podcasts in which two of the internet’s smartest marketing brains discuss the importance of great content now and in the future:

David Meerman Scott author of ‘The New Rules of Marketing & PR’

Joe Pulizzi from Junta42 author of ‘Get Content get Customers’

Next week I’ll offer some tips of my own for launching and running a content marketing campaign. But I’ll leave picking a new job title up to you.

13 thoughts on “Copywriter, PR Writer or Brand Journalist? You Decide

  1. Content is king! And it’s the best way to engage people. But don’t forget that you are there to help beyond the article as well. So, make sure the content you create has value…is worthwhile and very informative…but don’t forget to let the reader know this information is just the tip of the iceberg. That the best solution to the reader’s problem is to hire a professional.

  2. Matt…this is great stuff. I especially like the graphic. Selling through educational content and “useful information” is slowly becoming the only way to sell. It’s just a matter of time.

    Buyers have always needed information…they are now getting it in new and interesting ways. Content marketing is the philosophy and practice of doing that today.

    Joe Pulizzi

  3. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. I’m glad you liked the post. I certainly think we’re onto something.


  4. Matt,

    Great article on how marketers’ view of content is changing. As a content marketing writer, I can say this is what I’ve been doing for years. The medium may be morphing from paper to pixels, but the writing product is basically the same. It comes down to telling compelling stories, regardless of how the content is viewed.

    I hope that companies will come to value writing for the online environment as much as they do the print environment. Just because there’s no paper involved doesn’t mean writing for the Web should have lower standards.

    Most SEO-bait writing isn’t worth the $3-$4 an article the monkeys were paid to type it, regardless of the SEO scores.

    Real brand relationships are built on real content developed by real professional writers.

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree: the way to justify higher fees is with increased value.

    SEO copy hammered/copied out in 20 mins for $4 isn’t going to enhance a business’ credibility or attract people to want a relationship with it.

    However, well researched content, which helps solve a customer’s problem and engages their interest, can develop the sales process, generate more sales and attract Google’s spiders.

    I think the argument for content marketing is water tight, it’s just making businesses aware of the new marketing style which is taking time.


  6. Matt,

    Thanks for the piece – I’d like to add 3 refinements:
    1. Engaging content is not just about education, its also about entertainment. Ideally a blend of both.
    2. Brand journalism, branded content, storytelling and all other forms of post-advertising are most effective when they are a marriage of the consumers’ information needs with the brand’s marketing needs. If the former is missing then consumers will ignore the message – if the latter is missing, consumers will be engaged but have no recollection of the brand.
    3. None of this is new, Custom Publishers have known this for decades. The more enlightened among them, ahem, are using digital channels and social media to bring this editorial approach to a channel agnostic delivery.
    4. I lied. Here’s a bonus point. This approach only works if content is planned in the way that magazines plan to increase readership – map out the story/editorial platform, create an editorial calendar, make a promise to the readership and then deliver to those readers’ expectations. This is the polar opposite of the ay most agencies plan the launch of a site, or any other content play – they launch with a bang and then witness ever diminishing returns as consumers realize there’s nothing new day to day, week to week. Doh!

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