What’s Your Content’s Best Story? Why Should Anyone Care and Read It?

Ragini Bhalla on Storytelling and Content Marketing.According to Joe Pulizzi of The Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is about delivering the content your audience is seeking in all the places they are searching for it. It is the effective combination of created, curated and syndicated content.” This definition is spot on for those of us who are seasoned practitioners of strategic communications and content marketing. Think about what Pulizzi is saying and then think about all of the many ways B2B marketers aren’t able to make content work better for them.

For me, one of the things I always do before I even begin to create a piece of content (let alone, market it) is first ask myself a series of questions. What is this piece of content’s story really? Does the content’s story cut through the marketing fluff and answer the type of probing questions CNN’s Christiane Amanpour would ask? Does the story unfold in a visual way with a beginning, middle and end? Who are the best people across the business and our clients/partners to validate my content’s story? How will this story be useful to my target audience – existing clients, prospects, media and industry analysts? Is this content capable of driving meaningful coverage in the type of media outlets that matter to my industry? What is the most effective means of distributing my content? Is the publication of my content in the right media outlets that my target audience are reading regularly and respect/trust the opinions of those journalists? Is the publication of my content telling the best story about our business and inherently demonstrating the value and benefits we deliver to clients, or is it simply reprinting a pre-drafted press release?

If it feels like that’s a lot of questions to ask before even beginning to plan the editorial strategy, development and distribution for content, it is. But it’s very necessary if you want your content to impact your business. This is where people who approach communications and content as tactics struggle and flail so often. When I hear someone who is supposed to be overseeing marketing and communications for a company issue a press release announcing that an existing client has merely expanded its work to another region or country, I quite simply want to vomit. If I put this type of supposed ‘content’ to the test of my content criteria questions, it would fail miserably. If we want to do better for our businesses, we have to hold ourselves to higher content standards than that. While I’m usually the first one to say ‘no’ to issuing a press release, press releases are still a vital form of content for communications and PR professionals. Here are 3 tips to tell the best story in the most compelling way and make your audience feel engaged and interested in multiple facets of the story.

Don’t bury the lead.

We all know the headline of the press release is the first thing anyone sees. And we also know that journalists have limited patience and tolerance for overtly boastful, obnoxious statements of ‘fluff.’ I am the biggest advocate of steering away from using flashy headlines in the hopes of making a dig at the competition. But I’m also not in favor of headlines that are blah, feel generic and don’t make the reader say “oh wow, that’s surprising.”

That being said, I can’t tell you how many times I read press releases with filler subheadings that don’t say anything of real value or substance. If you have stats you can leverage, use them. If you have brand names you can leverage, use them. Bottom line, don’t hold your best stories until 4 paragraphs in. By that time, the reader – aka the journalist you want to write about your business – will have hit ‘delete.’

Don’t include a quote just for the sake of it.

For those of us who work in the Public Relations and Communications field, it’s just a matter of fact that it’s nearly impossible to get brands to agree to be mentioned and quoted in press announcements. And when you do achieve that, don’t just write up a standard quote that literally restates what your press release already states. That’s a waste of your clients’ time and your time. If quotes and press comments don’t dig deep and tell journalists something new, something of substance, something that peeks their curiosity to dig deeper, don’t include them in your press release. I repeat, do not include a quote just for the sake of it. It won’t do anyone justice – not your business and certainly not your clients.

Take for example, plans to issue a press announcement about a partnership between a marketing technology company and a data analytics agency. How can you make a quote (or press comments that can be used in press pitching) work better and smarter for you? For me, one of the ways I always approach a new press announcement is pre-drafting a series of Q&A questions for all parties involved-be it a client, be it a corporate partner, be it anyone else. These questions will never be the same for each press announcement. They will depend on each story. If it’s a partnership announcement that includes the co-development of an e-book focused on mobile marketing, here are a few examples of questions I would create for use not just in the press release, but in wider press pitching that will ultimately result in quality press coverage.

  • Question: You’re a data analytics agency, so we’d be remiss not to ask you about the types of digital metrics that really matter to your clients. What role does technology play in delivering actionable insights from all of the different data points you collect for your clients?
  • Question: We’ve all heard the phrase: “There’s an app for that.” Do you think marketers are sabotaging themselves by spending exorbitant amounts of money to launch apps with all the bells and whistles? What, in your opinion, should brand marketers do to create the types of mobile experiences that don’t just drive increased engagement and revenue on mobile devices, but also translate into omnichannel sales?

 Write from the mindset of a journalist, not a marketer.

Not every marketer has a journalism background. But you don’t need a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism to know that humility, authenticity and just being real translate much better than fluff. For me, every single thing I do, write, and even hear (at industry conferences) must tell the best story. In my opinion, marketers need to think of their content a lot like Hollywood thinks of television and film projects. If the story doesn’t pull in the audience, intrigue them, challenge them and keep them interested in your content (to read and click through to the very end), then something isn’t working. Always play devil’s advocate and be prepared for the types of curves and challenges reporters will throw at you. Always have a “wow” factor ready to share. Most importantly, don’t talk at your audience. Talk with them – ask them probing questions, show interest in what they want and give them what they really want how they want it in your content.

Ragini is a contributor to The Makegood and Director of Content and Communications for Maxymiser, the leading expert in online testing, personalization and cross-channel optimization for some of the world’s largest brands.