Why content marketing and journalism are more united than divided

Woman typing on notebook

Stefan Huber

Stefan Huber is Chief Operating Officer. He is in charge of the Content, Service & Delivery Unit, assists customers with advisory services and content know-how, and gains new creative input while climbing indoors and outdoors.

Our content marketing campaigns are published in a wide variety of media – and thus find their place next to editorial contributions, as is typical for native advertising. This enables our customers to pursue their own marketing goals and be present in the media environment. It is important to clearly distinguish between the two. But it is equally important to know that we share many common principles.

Content marketing vs. journalism

While our content marketing and journalistic articles appear the same in terms of layout and textual quality, the two disciplines differ in two main respects and can therefore be clearly separated:

Journalism strives, as far as a human being can, for objectivity and – unlike content marketing – does not pursue (monetary) goals. After all, marketing is ultimately about selling something, creating awareness for one’s own company, or reaching the target group with one’s own products and information.

So we’re already saying: Content marketing is not simply subjective journalism. And yet we benefit from journalistic methods. Because content marketing and native advertising should also be subject to strict quality criteria and controls, and criteria such as transparency and topicality are also indispensable in our campaigns.

Journalistic criteria that are also important for us

Objectivity, timeliness, reduction of complexity, transparency and originality: these are the criteria for journalistic quality according to Stephan Russ-Mohl. We have already touched on the fact that objectivity plays a subordinate role in content marketing because a subjective goal is pursued and thematic balance is not given.

But a look at the four other journalistic criteria is all the more worthwhile:

  • Timeliness: Timing often plays an important role in our campaigns. In autumn, for example, skiing vacations, support for the immune system or presents for the Christmas season become important topics. And from cleaning solutions to online stores to streaming services, the Corona pandemic has also shown that you can reach the target group well via timely topics.
  • Reducing complexity: Whether it’s a rather complicated investment model, a new technology, or a health remedy whose effects are not so easy to understand – if you can’t simplify content, it won’t be understood. So content marketing is also about making complex topics easy to understand. Only that way can the target group see how they benefit from the advertised product or service.
  • Transparency: Content marketing is all about letting the content speak and work for you. But who is doing the talking anyway? For people who are reading online media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify the sender of campaigns. Especially in a journalistic environment, this can become inscrutable – after all, people are quick to take information for granted when it appears in a trusted medium. While we always pay attention to the accuracy of our campaigns, transparency is also particularly important to us: All content is marked as advertising – and the company behind it is also clearly visible. This way, the reader always knows from whom the content originates. After all, if you have nothing to hide, you don’t have to hide.
  • Originality: In journalism, this is primarily about doing one’s own research and not only adopting press releases or reports from news agencies without reflection. In fact, this point also plays a role for us in content marketing. We always try to enrich our customers’ briefings with additional information. This leads us to the journalistic methods that are also part of the daily work in our “editorial office”.

Journalistic methods that are standard for us

A content marketing campaign created by our content team must accomplish three tasks: It must fit seamlessly into the publisher environment as a native advertising campaign; it must be conducive to our client’s goals and meet their expectations; and – most importantly – it must engage the target audience and inform or inspire them. We achieve all of this also by using journalistic methods. Not because we want to appear journalistic, but because we appreciate the craft, partly come from the industry ourselves, and thus bring even more quality to our content.

1. Thorough research as an important basis

Every successful content marketing campaign starts with a good briefing. From the goal of the campaign to the most important USP of the product to a definition of the target group that is as precise as possible, for example in the form of a buyer persona, the briefing helps creating the right content for the campaign goal. But the briefing is by no means everything. Content marketing – and native advertising in particular – depends on the content being interesting for the right readers, namely the target group of the campaign. And the best way to reach them is to address their problems, wishes and needs.

This is where going beyond the customer briefing helps us: By consulting several sources in the course of extensive research, informing ourselves about the target group and its problems, and taking an in-depth look at the topic in question, we can enrich our campaigns with additional content. For example, we draw on specially researched statistics to show how relevant a topic is. Or we read up on complex topics ourselves, such as human papillomaviruses or decarbonization, to make them easier for the target group to understand. This creates exciting content with added value for readers.

2. 6-eye principle as quality control

Once the content is ready, it undergoes an approval process based on the six-eyes principle. The first step involves proofreading and editing for grammatical, typographical and spelling errors, as well as for wordings where the editor sees room for improvement. After all, with all this careful research, it can happen that you are so immersed in a topic, that you can no longer see the forest for the trees. In the editorial office, meticulous care is taken to ensure that all content is comprehensible even for readers who know less about the subject.

In the second step, the proofread and optimized content goes through internal approval. Specially trained eyes then check once again whether the content – as it is now – meets our quality criteria. Among other things, we also check whether the content meets the objective of the campaign as stated in the briefing. But here, too, attention is paid to final errors and wording – because six eyes see more than four. After final, minor changes, the content can finally go to the customer for approval.

3. Critique for continuous improvement

Once the campaign has been sent out, it is revised and perfected in line with customer feedback and finally published in the Content Garden publisher network. KPIs such as the teaser click rate or content feedback, consisting of dwell time and bounce rate, show how well the content is received by readers. But we also like to feedback our content internally. That’s why we recently introduced a new format that also comes from journalism: the critique.

While in newspapers an editor or someone from outside usually reviews and sometimes criticizes the entire issue of the paper in front of the assembled team, we take the opposite approach: A content manager’s campaign is selected and then scrutinized by the entire team and another person from our company. In a small group, we then discuss – appreciatively and constructively, of course – what we found particularly good about the campaign and where we would still see potential for improvement. This not only brings us closer as a team, but also creates a new perspective on our content and our work: we learn from each other and can thus all become even better.

So, unlike journalism, content marketing always pursues a goal – and thus cannot even attempt to be objective. But other quality criteria such as timeliness and transparency are all the more important for it. That’s why we consciously punt on journalistic methods and criteria in order to get a little closer to our customers’ goals: entirely without the claim of actually being journalistic – but with the awareness that many methods overlap strongly and that we are not so different in the end.