How I went from journalist to content marketing strategist

Technology has totally transformed the way we communicate — not only with each other, but also with companies and brands — leaving consumers with more power than ever. We can now choose what we want to see and what we want to avoid, and as a result, traditional marketing and advertising strategies are becoming less and less effective — which means in order to break through the clutter and gain consumers’ trust, brands need to tell compelling stories that are worth listening to.

Content truly is king now — and as effective strategies continue to evolve, so does the role of an effective marketer.

Now more than ever, content and storytelling play a crucial role in building a successful brand and business growth strategy — increasing the need for team members with skillsets that go beyond those once recommended for a traditional marketing role. In short, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all path to a successful career in marketing.

While my journey looks very different from the conventional career path of a marketing professional, the skills and expertise I have developed and refined over the years in a career in editorial have seamlessly translated into the expanding and evolving world of content marketing.

My Background

I landed a career in journalism a bit by chance. I had planned to go to law school and was advised in college that a major in journalism was a good way to make the jump into law. So I applied to the smallest journalism major my school had — knowing I would get better access to professors and other resources that could help me get where I wanted to go (which at the time I thought would be some prestigious law school).

Considering my passions and strengths, it wasn’t surprising that from the get-go, I absolutely loved journalism. I had found a way to combine storytelling with a life-long desire to help, and connect with, people to create change in the world. But toward the end of college, I realized my options were somewhat limited when it came to pursuing a career in journalism. And frankly, the thought of taking a job at a struggling newspaper or moving to a small town to work my way up the on-air reporter chain gave me more anxiety than the idea of being unemployed. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied — I just needed to figure out what it was that was missing.

I decided to go to graduate school for business and broadcast journalism in order to continue refining my skills and learn as much as I could — and to also figure out what I was going to do with my life. My undergrad professors told me I was wasting my time (and money), but 10 years into my career, I can say without a doubt in my mind that it was the best decision I ever made.

The transition into a career in content marketing

I went from writing B2B healthcare content for Bloomberg News, to social media manager for a national TV network, to managing editor and head of digital audience for a national brand, and eventually, to a social, digital and content marketing strategist (with a few steps in between).

Looking back at each step and new role I took, there is one underlying theme that connects all of them — storytelling. I never had an exact plan, because I knew that would limit the options and opportunities available to me. Instead, I chose to focus on gaining the experience — and developing the skills and expertise — that would translate to a role that allowed me to do what I love and capitalize on my strengths.

In fact throughout my career, any time I have faced the where do you want to be in five years question, I’ve always had the same answer:

In a role that allows me to use my skills, expertise and passion in the creative process of storytelling to educate, impact, empower, engage and connect with people in new and effective ways — while putting to use my strengths as a leader, collaborator and researcher.

Whenever I’m asked how I got to where I am today, I explain some of the lessons that I learned in editorial that I now apply to my work in content and social marketing — essentially breaking down my creative process that results in successful content campaigns.

3 valuable lessons from an editorial career that I now apply to content marketing

Define — and empathize with — the target audience

It’s not enough to just know who your audience is — you must be able to empathize with them in order to communicate effectively.

Whether I’m writing an in-depth piece on how new tax policies will impact everyday Americans or creating a content plan for a car subscription service/company, defining who the target audience is — as well as their needs, wants and more — is absolutely crucial to delivering a compelling message.

When I was managing editor and head of digital audience for, I oversaw the brand’s content strategy — as well as voice and POV — across all digital platforms. That meant it was crucial for me to define, understand, and empathize with our target audiences. While financial experts could have certainly learned from our content (and did so), our primary mission was to serve everyday Americans — people looking for information and resources that could help them save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. We stayed away from financial jargon, and when it was necessary, we broke it down in ways that were easy to understand. Being able to define, and empathize with, our target audience allowed me ensure that we delivered useful and compelling information in a friendly and trustworthy way.

The same idea applied when I was doing content and social media marketing consulting for a car subscription service. While we were going after everyday Americans who either needed a car or wanted the flexibility that a subscription service offers, our primary target was car dealerships that could profit from implementing our technology platform into their business strategy. We increased brand awareness and consumer interest by creating content that demonstrated how the service could fill a need or want of specific consumer audiences. Meanwhile, we created content tailored to dealership owners that demonstrated how our technology platform (that the service runs on) could create a new revenue stream for their business. The same content wouldn’t work for both — so we tailored specific content strategies to each specific group.

The takeaway

While wide variety of people may find your content interesting and/or useful, defining the target audience(s) allows you to focus your efforts on the people/groups who are most likely going to offer a return on your investment.

You can’t be all things to all people, so don’t try! When you speak directly to the audience(s) you’re really going after, you’ll be more successful in delivering content marketing strategies that are not only aligned with business goals, but also built to actually meet them. The way you speak to your audience — through all digital touch points — must demonstrate that you understand them on a deeper level. The more you can tailor your message, the more likely that it will be effective.

Think quality over quantity here. For example, posting a shocking story that essentially scares people into clicking, but offers no real takeaway — that may bring in a ton of page views, but most of those people will likely never come back. Even if you do that several times, you aren’t bringing in quality visitors, which means they probably aren’t actually interested in your site’s content and won’t click on any other pages. As a result, you have a lot of low-quality page views, making your site less appealing to high-quality advertisers. Companies want to advertise where audiences are likely to click on their ad. So if you bring in a bunch of people who have zero interest in the bulk of your content, you’ll have a very hard time building a sustainable, long-term growth strategy that attracts new revenue streams.

Tell a compelling and trustworthy story

Before I was managing editor, I was the social media manager for a national TV network. After falling into the trap of posting content just because I knew it would get a lot of clicks or shares (which, let’s be honest, is a trap we all fall into at one point), I had to rethink our content strategy — and stop posting content simply because someone at the network asked me to.

Long-term growth isn’t built on random spurts of clicks or shares — it comes from building relationships with the right target audience(s). And the way you do that is by delivering good, relevant content that resonates with the target audience — or in the case of content marketing, with the right potential customers.

The work I do in content marketing is very similar to what I did in editorial — because content marketing is rooted in storytelling.

Consumers are no longer interested in promotions and advertisements that simply throw something in their face — in fact, they do whatever they can to avoid it. In order to cut through the clutter and engage the right people, brands must tell a story that offers consumers more than just a product or service.

Successful content campaigns, regardless of the industry, are built with several key factors mind. Here are a few rules for creating great content:

  • Tell an authentic and compelling story. Don’t just sell, promote or try to fool people into buying your product or service — consumers are too smart for that. Instead, tell them a story that’s educational, informational and provides a value. Consumers want to know who you are and what you stand for — on top of the want or need your brand fills in their life — which means you must create content that delivers a genuine message and communicates why consumers should choose you. You’re building relationships here.

  • Make the consumer the hero of your story: Every good story has a hero — and by making the consumer your main character, you can tell a story that not only resonates, but that could also actually be theirs. The experience becomes personal — there’s a deeper connection that makes consumers feel understood and allows them to clearly see the impact your brand can have on their life.

  • Be relevant and entertaining. Your content should clearly communicate why consumers may want or need what you have to offer — and it’s got to entertain them at the same time. You can no longer throw an ad in front of people and assume they’ll pay attention. There’s too much stuff out there for someone to spend their time on your boring promotion. If you’re real and entertaining, people are much more likely to stick around and listen.

  • Be human. Humans want to talk to other humans. Whether you’re creating a Facebook ad or responding to comments online, make it clear that there’s a human behind it. By understanding and empathizing with your audience, you can talk to them in ways that will not only resonate, but also compel them to take action (buy/share/click etc.).

  • Provide a value. If you’re selling a healthy alternative to kids’ juice drinks, use your content to educate parents on why they should consider it — think data, comparisons, health benefits. Bottom line, you want to provide information that’s useful and valuable to the people you’re targeting. Don’t just show people what you’re selling, tell them why they should buy it — and why they should buy it from you!

Create data-diven strategies

Whether it’s editorial content or content used to market a product or service, tracking the data is the only way to know what's actually working and which types of content are most valuable.

At Clark, this meant tracking which types of content were bringing in visitors from which sources. This allowed us to build upon our successes and evolve our strategies to eliminate efforts that weren’t working. From where were we pulling in the most traffic — with quality visitors — and which platforms needed a new approach? This same practice can be applied to any content marketing strategy. By tracking the progress toward your goals, you can better align your strategies with what’s already working.

When you’re building a content strategy from scratch, it’s going to take a good bit of trial and error. But once you have content out there — content that delivers a variety of information in a variety of formats — you can begin to identify themes among your most successful assets. This means when setting your goals for your content strategy, it’s important to be specific in how you will measure your progress toward them.

Measuring the ROI to back up your strategies

For each campaign, it’s important to set specific goals and then choose the metrics that will be most relevant in demonstrating success. And keep in mind, the data may not necessarily offer a monetary value. For a campaign aimed at brand awareness on social, this may mean tracking the number of shares or new followers. And more fans means more potential website visitors. So it’s important to track success based on the specific goal you set out to accomplish with that content — and how that success (or not) impacts progress toward your bigger brand goals.

Let’s say you create a video with a goal of getting new app downloads. After one week, you find that 100 people clicked the link posted with the video and 50 people downloaded the app — with each download representing $100 in potential revenue for the business. As long as the video cost you less than $5,000 to create, then it was worth the investment. And of course, the cheaper the video cost, the greater the return.

Tracking the metrics that demonstrate whether a piece of content was worth the investment is crucial — not only to get the bigger budget you requested, but to also better align your strategies with proven results.

Final word

Content marketing is no longer just an extra option for business growth strategy. In fact, it’s necessary in order to build brand loyalty and trust in today’s consumer-driven society. Bottom line: you’re competitors are already doing it. What are you waiting for?

Alex Thomas