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Making every word count : A journalist’s plea after joining “the dark side"

My favourite authors are Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene. These twentieth century titans of prose were masters of economy. In their novels no word committed to page is superfluous. Every single one carries the reader through the story, and usually at lightning speed.

This economy was something that was drilled into me as a young trade journalist. Read broadsheets for content, I was told, but read tabloids to learn the art of delivery; the Sun’s headline writers were often called the best in the business.

It is something I have carried into my work now as I help businesses make sense of the fact that, as Bill Gates predicted 20 years ago, “Content is King”.

Everyone is a publisher

We live in a world where every business is expected to be a publisher of its own content, but not every business is packed with journalists ready to deliver sparkling editorial copy.

Sure, if you are a company the size of GE you can go ahead and hire a Forbes journalist to be your in-house editor of yourdedicated editorial content website.

But most businesses aren’t the size of GE.

Fortunately, today there is a huge amount of freelance journalistic talent out there able to help those businesses.

No more “dark side”

Because editorial-style content (as opposed to overt marketing, sales or PR copy) is becoming so central to how a brand communicates with its customers, the lines between journalism, PR and marketing have become irreversibly blurred – at least as far as business to business communications are concerned.

In fact, the lines have become so blurred that when I made the jump from journalism to PR and content consultancy last year, I could confidently claim that this switch no longer constituted “joining the dark side”.

This is because when all is said and done, whether you are a trade journalist, a PR agency or a company marketing director, you are all trying to do the same thing: tell a company’s story, and do it in a way that is more engaging and compelling than the competition.

Admittedly that story’s angle and the nature of the competition may differ depending on where you sit, but one thing is clearer than ever: you need to make every, word, count.

Put the reader first

Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene both knew that their readers wouldn’t care how many long words the author knew, or how many he could cram into a single paragraph.

Like all good authors, they both put the reader first. They knew that what the reader wanted above all was an experience that left them better off than they were before they started reading the book.

Likewise, with so many forms of entertainment and information available at the tap of a smartphone screen, why should customers take the time to read a business’s latest piece of content? Why would they bother reading something that is crammed with industry jargon, or floral literary language, and which fails to say anything new (like so much of the B2B content currently being written).

So before you commit that next blog or case study to the web, stop and ask: why would someone outside of the business read this?

Is this piece of content really going to entertain or inform in a way that the reader’s life is going to feel better than it did before they took the time to read the piece? Are they really going to be enriched by it?

If you can honestly answer yes to these questions – then go ahead and publish. Just remember to make every, word, count.