I spent a few years in NYC as a young buck trying to make it in the big, competitive world of consumer magazines. With fewer magazines remaining in print, open slots for inexperienced writers and editors understandably narrowed. But I found myself working for a small publishing company that printed seven niche magazines.
At the time, I had no idea I would end up in marketing, but those years taught me a lot about what I could bring to the table in my future career as a content marketer. And while print magazines may seem oh-so-2003, they offer a lot of lessons us content marketers can apply to our daily struggle of creating engaging content worth converting for. Check out five of those lessons here.
Give it an Edge
Whether readers are at a newsstand in NYC, an airport bookstore or checking out Google News, they will dig deeper into whatever content intrigues them first. Intrigue is the key word here. To be successful, you must pique consumers’ curiosity from the first word—whether that is on a magazine cover or in your blog headline.
Want proof? Next time you are reading the news, pay attention to what your eyes and mind are drawn toward. Sure, you may want to read that recap of what happened on Wall Street today, but you may instead find yourself reading “Can We Imagine the Life of a Terrorist?” or “Can a Juror Ever Fudge the Truth?” or any other clever headline from The New York Times Magazine. Let’s face it; they are just so darn intriguing.
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Be Hard on Your Words
Writing is hard. OK, writing well is hard. And there is only so much room on a magazine page. You absolutely must choose your words wisely—especially if you want your readers to see you as a thought leader.
While space is technically unlimited online, you still want to give your word choices a lot of thought. Once you feel you have a finished product, reexamine everything you put on paper (or on the screen). Is every single word holding its own weight, or is it simply contributing to something you believe is beautiful writing? Are there more succinct ways to make your point? Do you waste space using “due to the fact that” when “because” will do?
Here are a few helpful lessons from the magazine industry regarding word choice:
- Any time you see the word “that” in your writing, give it a second look to see if you really need it. Chances are you don’t.
- Replace “very” and “quite” along with the word they are describing with a single better word. If he is “very tired,” he is “exhausted.” If she is “very poor,” she is “destitute.”
- Finally, if you wouldn’t say a word in regular conversation, don’t write with it. Seriously, “moreover” is overrated.
Become an Expert
Many journalists say they got into the field because it feels like each new story is like a new job—it’s never boring. But with each new story comes the challenge of writing like an expert. As the saying goes, “write what you know.” As a content marketer, why not become the expert on your company, products, services or marketing topics?
Obviously, you can’t get out of doing some research, so take a page out of journalists’ book and start digging. Next, request interviews with company executives, product managers, thought leaders in the industry and happy customers. Whoever can provide the information you need should be your target. And don’t forget to ask, “What did I miss?” They know the topic better than you do, so take advantage.
Finally, teach someone else the information to truly let it sink in. “Pitch” your “story” to your CEO or your marketing team to work double duty with your newfound information.
Make Friends with Designers
Bigger pictures mean less room for words on those shiny yet limited magazine pages. Art directors at magazines are famous for wanting to cut perfectly crafted stories for the design. And while the web offers unlimited space, your designer may have an image in his mind before you even write a word of copy.
Without designers, our words would remain on a boring white page. It’s not beautiful. You need teamwork. To save yourself the heartache of a mangled piece, meet with your designer beforehand so everyone is on the same page. And learn to trust your designers since readers will surely see your content before they read it.
Take this eBook, for example. No one would have imagined these words could looks so good. In fact, the piece would likely not have been as successful (The email blast designed in the same manner received a 45 percent open rate and 15 percent click through rate!) without such beautiful design!
Remember, it is a give-and-take relationship when it comes to content and design. You must work together to understand and develop pieces of content that will influence the decisions of the reader.
Go with Your Gut
This will take most people years to learn, but the best content are the ones you followed your gut in order to achieve. If you listen, you probably already know the best way to write that headline, format that introduction or which paragraphs should actually be cut.
In the end, the web isn’t so different from the magazine industry. We all must fight for readers’ attention and, to do so, we must offer up the most well written, shiny pieces of content we are capable of. And if you get stuck, don’t be afraid to pick up that glossy magazine sitting next to you at the beauty salon or airport; you may just learn something.