Smart marketers know that only half of a campaign takes place in-market. The real work comes beforehand—defining your value proposition, identifying your audience, and aligning your message with your business goals.
During my time in journalism, audience engagement was always top of mind. Whether that meant tailoring a story to a magazine’s readership, prepping insightful questions for an interview subject, or being open to a story going somewhere unexpected, I was always gaining insight into how to create connections through my work.
The lessons I took away from my journalism career are fundamentally translatable to the world of marketing, where the ability to connect with the audience can make or break a campaign. The following three lessons from journalism can help you build a campaign that ensures your business development and marketing goals are headed in the same direction.
Know Your Audience
I spent several years writing for an alt weekly newspaper—the type you used to find for free at your local coffee shop or record store. It was steady work and I enjoyed getting to talk to political leaders and cutting-edge academics about the most pressing issues of the day.
Given the above, I was surprised when a friend of mine asked, point blank, why so many of our articles focused on “liberal” topics.
I went on to explain that our audience consisted of twenty-something college students who consider themselves politically aware and enjoyed spending their free time enjoying the concerts and events we promoted in our pages. Our content was geared towards our readers.
After all, there’s a reason you don’t find many vegetarian recipes in a magazine like Field and Stream.
The easiest way to make your marketing more effective is to know your audience. Whether you do this by creating personas, exploring market research, or pulling data from your CRM, knowing your audience can help you tailor your message to potential clients and their specific needs, ensuring that your campaign is headed in the right direction.
Do Your Research
As a journalist, I would never dream of going into an interview without having known something about my subject and the topic we were discussing.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, it shows my subject respect, that I’ve taken time to understand their position and value the space they’ve set aside for an interview. But more importantly, having a firm understanding of the topic laid the foundation to go deeper during the interview and ask questions that went beyond the Five Ws. This approach elicited more thoughtful answers from my subjects, whose deep expertise, once accessed, often brought a fresh angle to the topic.
As marketers, we should respect our audience enough to research and understand the competitive landscape. The more information we have in hand, the easier it is to identify client pain points, assess the competition, and formulate new approaches to conventional problems—carving out a unique market niche while putting forward a value proposition that speaks directly to the client.
Test Your Assumptions
My favourite question to ask an interview subject was always the same, “What is a common misconception people have about this issue?”
Whether we were talking about urban revitalization, vertical farming, or electric cars, this simple question would open up the floodgates and unleash a wave of, often informative, insider commentary. It could even take the article in a whole new direction.
When listening to your audience, it is common to hear the unexpected. Maybe you thought your client valued your experience in the field, when what really mattered was your prompt attention to time-sensitive issues. Maybe you priced your services at a discount to be competitive in the marketplace but, in reality, you alienated high-value clients who equated your bargain-basement pricing with bargain-basement service.
Unvarnished feedback can be jarring at first, especially if it goes against expectations. But it also provides valuable insight into how your company is perceived, what its strengths are, and where there are opportunities for improvement. All of this can help you to effectively pivot your brand, find the right frame for your message, and refine the client experience in alignment with your overarching business goals.
Taking the guesswork out of client development isn’t impossible—you can greatly improve your chances of launching a successful outreach campaign by borrowing a page from the journalist’s playbook. Whether that means tailoring your content to your audience, conducting market research, or evaluating feedback, the more information you have available, the more likely you are to create a marketing campaign that resonates with your audience, attunes you to market shifts, and ensures your efforts are headed in the right direction.
 The Five Ws are Who, What, When, Where, Why—the foundation of journalistic inquiry.