A journalist’s secrets: how to make content sing

The answer is, if the content is good quality content, doctors will always pay attention. It should always be developed with the reader (and not brand) in mind, educate or entertain, and should be valuable to the reader.

We know this because the numbers don’t lie: content marketing published by Australian Doctor Group between January and October 2017 generated 130,000 page views by doctors and 965 hours of video consumed. These are metrics from content with a commercial agenda.

As content marketing takes hold globally, marketers are turning to journalists to understand what makes content sing – how to boost engagement and importantly, deliver ROI.

The power of using journalistic principles when developing content is also borne out by the numbers: our data shows it outperforms branded content by 140%.

So here are 7 journalistic rules that we apply to all of our content campaigns:

  1. Put the reader first

This is critical – whether the content is a marketing brochure, press release, social media post, video or long-form investigative piece of journalism.

This is why a story published by the Australian Financial Review will be written with a different viewpoint and use different language to the same story in The Daily Telegraph.

“It’s always about the audience – create content for your audience, not your brand. Who this is for and why will they share it?” says Kate Cox, commercial content director, Fairfax Media.

To establish the angle, consider these basic questions:

  • Does my reader care about the topic? How can I make them care?
  • What are the readers’ pain points?
  • What problem do they have that my content can solve?
  • What will make this a must read piece of content?
  • What’s the latest development? How has the story moved on?

Identifying audience knowledge gaps and determining where to pitch the conversation will always deliver high engagement.

“There are still far too many amateur executions, too many sales brochures, and too many articles and videos that only talk to the boss or the marketing manager,” says Peter Gearin, editor of Brand Tales, an Australian branded content website.

Example: This video was the centrepiece of a how-to-swaddle social media campaign that speaks to dads in their own language.

      1. The power of good story telling

This is becoming a catch phrase, but it’s true and the power of good story telling can’t be overstated.

Here’s an example:

While big brands have budgets and creative license to develop great story telling (think Red Bull, Patagonia and the John Lewis Christmas videos), pharma marketers who think outside the square can do this effectively as well.

An example is a cancer story we published about a doctor’s experience with cancer treatment; it was the highest rating piece of content on the masthead for a week and outperformed the news.

The success of the content was in understanding the reader (doctors love reading about each other and their personal stories) and recognising that a powerful story is often best told in a first-person account.

Another example is an erectile dysfunction campaign which brought to life a patient’s personal journey and the devastating impact of ED. Rather than an article describing the impact of ED, the documentary approach using a personal story emotionally brought this to life.

      • It’s not just about words

We all know a good story can be told in many ways – infographics, videos, quizzes, photos, and so on.

ADG’s research shows doctors are people too and consume content in the same variety of ways that typical audiences consume content – from social media to quizzes and animations.

From Hubspot: “Just because you love the Harvard Business Review doesn’t mean you can’t love BuzzFeed as well.”

Content developed for doctors about therapeutic areas and treatments is no different. Here are two campaigns to exemplify this:

      • Meningitis B animation using themes from Reservoir Dogs and the Godfather


      • Hepatitis A and B animation about the importance of vaccination.

      1. Get to know the pyramid

This is journalism 101. Good content gets straight to the point – the who,

what, why, when, where and how should be at the top.

Marketers too often create content that sets the scene; doctors have a nanosecond to consume your content; they need the key messages.

Journalists always go straight to the conclusion of research: the conclusion is always the lead, and the details of the research fill in the body of the content.

What’s the elevator pitch? That’s often the crux of any good piece of content.

      1. Why headlines matter

Headlines are arguably the most important element of any digital marketing campaign. They deserve attention.

The truth is, regardless of your audience, marketers and journalists alike have a nanosecond to grab attention and content must cut through the noise.

If content marketing rubs shoulders with editorial or new, your content has competition and it needs to stand out even more.

Plus with the shift from print to digital, language has become more colourful, playful and even pithy.

Some basic principles:


      • Highlight what’s different about your story
      • Always use short, sharp, punchy words (think mobile)
      • Capitalise on arresting words, stats or quotes
      • Use questions to prompt engagement
      • Make it personal: “How does your pay compare?”
      • Tease readers where you can.


– Don’t give away the whole story

– Don’t over-do wordplay; be direct

– Avoid acronyms

– Deliver on what you are promising

– Avoid click bait

      1. Keep it simple

This is also Journalism 101: keep language as simple, punchy and direct as possible. Always avoid industry jargon and acronyms where possible and demystify complicated topics using simple language.

Use as few words as possible; if you can say a sentence in fewer words, use few words.

      1. Be authentic

This is crucial. Readers don’t want to be fooled and their trust is sacrosanct, which is why transparency is so important.

Readers need to know up front if content has a commercial agenda. If it’s good content, they will consume it, but not telling them it’s sponsored or promoted risks permanently alienating them.

So some key issues to consider to promote authenticity:

      • Spotlight the right topics/issues
      • Address the tough questions in a campaign; don’t ignore a piece of news because it doesn’t work in your favour. Readers won’t take your content (or your brand) seriously. So never ignore the elephant in the room: you will lose credibility.
      • Add to the conversation.
      • Tell your readers something new.

We know it works – because we have the metrics.

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