How do you turn typical marketese-speak like this:
Be inspired to travel on a journey with APT to a destination that will excite, thrill and leave you longing for more. India, so spectacularly diverse …
Into story like this:
For George Harrison it was spiritual. For E.M. Forster it was mystical. For Steve Waugh it was emotional. So spectacular, mesmerising, fascinating — what could India do for you?
And how do you turn typical bureaucrat-speak like this:
The Western Integrated Family Violence Committee (WIFVC) is a representative, whole-of-sector reference group comprising provider stakeholders involved in the family violence service system reform process in Melbourne’s west. The role of the WIFVC – like its counterparts across the state of Victoria – is to ‘operationalise’ the state-wide family violence reform agenda (underway since 2006) in locally meaningful ways.
Into story like this:
WHY WE ARE TRUSTED AND RESPECTED: As we all know, these two reputations don’t happen overnight. Neither does change, especially for women who have experienced violence. It’s a long and unpredictable road, and often, uphill most of the way. But along the way, there have been some victories that have earned us that all-important influence with key decision makers in government.
To the question of how to turn copy into story, the answer I always give my CWiA writers is, ‘Think like a journalist’. All great copywriters share three essential attributes of a journalist — (1) investigative DNA for story (2) empathy with their readers and (3) ability to write pictures.
Then I read Lauren Quaintance’s article, Fire Your Copywriter (and Hire a Journalist Instead), originally published in the B&T (2014)¹. I exited her story with the thought, ‘she nailed it beautifully, and every copywriter should re-read this until they memorise it’. Ever since then, my how-to-turn-copy-into-story answer is promptly followed by an insistence to ‘read Lauren Quaintance’s article’, a key reference on the CWiA School’s reading list.
Lauren is co-founder and Head of Content for Sydney agency, Storyation², where the “sales pitch” is replaced by substance. And today, CWiA’s Guest Speaker series is delighted to welcome Lauren to talk about how copywriters and journalists have a lot in common; and why only journalists know how to write stories that audiences want to hear. So it is with great pleasure to introduce you to Lauren Quaintance, and I can guarantee that her words will make a valuable difference to the quality of your writing from now on.
One of the things I am sometimes told by marketing managers is that they have a copywriter who writes the company’s content. In the past that person might just have been putting out press releases or doing direct mail, but now they also write blog posts or stories for their website as well. Fair enough. But here’s the thing about copywriters: they’re great at writing copy but they’re not great at writing stories.
Journalists and copywriters have a lot in common (I should know – I am a journalist married to a creative who is technically a copywriter) but they are actually an entirely different species.
Journalists ask annoying questions
When I was a journalist and editor one of the most effective insults you could deliver was to suggest that a colleague had “interviewed their typewriter”. Which is to say that they hadn’t interviewed anyone at all. Journalists use reporting to inform their writing – it’s what gives their stories the telling details that make them authentic – while copywriters rarely need to leave their desk.
Journalists are subject matter experts
One of the most important jobs a magazine or newspaper editor does is assigning the right writer to the right story. For my own agency Storyation I rarely use writers who don’t have a specialization. If you’re a writer, it’s not enough to say that you specialize in “travel”. I want to know if your deep and abiding passion is family travel, luxury travel, wine travel, solo travel or something else besides. Because if I need to commission a story on the best dumpling houses in Shanghai I need to find the person who has been to every back alley joint in search of the most perfect dumpling.
Journalists know how to sniff out a story
A magazine editor of my acquaintance used to say “There are no new ideas in the world”. Think about just about any topic and it’s been done by someone; somewhere. But journalists and editors know how to mine a topic for a new story or angle. An example: career women in their late 30s face a “ticking biological clock”. There’s a topic that’s been covered a lot. Yawn. But get a man in his late 30s to write about how he is clucky and struggling to persuade his partner to have children and you have an original angle on well-traversed topic.
Journalists are born skeptics
This might seem like the last thing you want when you have a product to sell, but putting the needs of your audience first is an inviolate principle of content marketing. If you want to reach an audience that is skipping TV ads, ignoring banner ads and binning direct mail then you need to create content that audiences will find compelling and credible and journalists have an innate sense of what that is (and won’t be afraid to tell you). A healthy dose of skepticism coupled with an ability to see story ideas through an audience lens can be invaluable. Copywriters, on the other hand, are hired guns schooled in the art of selling and their copy is more like shiny, polished marketing-speak.
Which is not to say that every marketing manager should rush out and hire a journalist. Left to their own devices journalists will not necessarily write content that is in keeping with brand values or business objectives. But guided by a good content strategist, a journalist is much more likely to find stories that audiences actually want to hear.