What is content marketing?

Welcome to Content Marketing for Journalists!

I’m so excited that you’re here and I’m really looking forward to achieving great things with you this month. If you haven’t already, log on to the Facebook group, where we can talk about what’s working, what’s not, and how we can take our careers to the next level. (You can join here.)

As you'll see, there are Action Steps scattered throughout the course. There are, in total, thirty of them. I highly recommend doing these action steps one by one as you get to them. I've set them up so that you can do do one a day, every weekday, for six weeks, but feel free to go at your own pace. The action steps lay out exactly what you need to do and provide the resources for you to do it.

By the end of the six weeks, if you read all the lessons and do the thirty action steps, you should have at least one new paying client (hopefully more!) and a very clear understanding of how to grow your career and take it to the next level.

Now then, let’s begin.

What is Content Marketing?

In 2008, Steve Goedeker, who runs an appliance retail company in the US, was trying to save his family’s business and so, as a first step, he took it online. Profits soared, according to the New York Times story in which Goedeker was featured.

But then something more exciting happened. Goedeker decided to replace his Google ad spend with content marketing. According to the New York Times story, they hired two full-time writers and now spend between $100,000 and $150,000 a year on content marketing efforts.

The NYT story goes on to talk about Marcus Sheridan, owner of River Pools and Spas who published a post on the company’s blog about how much it cost to install a fiberglass pool and—pay attention to this bit—made $2.5 million in sales from just that one single article. Another business owner in the same story attributes 1 to 3 percent of their business growth (an estimated $120,000 to $360,000) directly to content marketing.

The good news doesn’t just end there.

In fact, according to a recent report published by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, 92% of B2B (business to business) brands are using content marketing, 58% of them were planning to increase their content marketing spending in 2014, the year after the report was released, and 64% of these brands were likely to outsource the writing of this content. (Read the report here.)

And who is going to do all this outsourced content marketing writing?

Why, freelance writers, of course.

More specifically, if industry chatter is to be believed, freelance writers and journalists with experience covering niche topics. Because businesses expecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in return on their content marketing investment, aren’t about to hire writers off oDesk to do the work. Instead, they want writers with proven storytelling, publishing, and writing skills.

People like you and me.

But let’s back up a bit because I still haven’t answered the question.

What is content marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience—and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Basically, your average business owner or CEO realized that with so much advertising vying for consumers’ attention and a lot of it being routinely ignored, it just wasn’t enough to blast advertising messages into customers’ faces anymore. Instead, if advertising wasn’t getting potential buyers to your website, perhaps talking to them one-to-one might? With blog posts, for instance. Or video.

You know, content.

If you’re a Walmart or a Tesco, say, a free monthly magazine with tips on how to keep your home smelling nice and a few recipes with ingredients easily available at this particular supermarket might not only create returning customers who’ll buy those ingredients, but helps create a positive brand image in their minds as well.

That is content marketing. Or, as Sonia Simone of Copyblogger puts it, “… content marketing is communicating with potential customers in a way that an audience actually enjoys paying attention to, and that demonstrates to that audience that you would be a good person to do business with.”

Remember, good content marketing is never about actively selling products or serving an agenda (even though they may be mentioned). It’s about providing information, advice, resources, and trustworthy content to a business’s clients and customers.

Here’s the all-important distinction: If a business asks you to write promotional content such as brochures or sales newsletters, that’s not content marketing. That’s pure and simple marketing copy.

In fact, content marketing writing often isn’t all that different from the kind of work you’re probably already doing as a journalist or freelance writer.

For instance, consider these two articles that I wrote for Chase, the American bank:

Break Down the Roadblocks to Your Financial Goals

5 Simple Strategies to Boost Your Savings

Both these articles could easily have been published in a women’s magazine or newspaper’s money section exactly as they are with no change whatsoever.

What is Chase trying to do here? They’re trying to create a positive brand message in their customers’ minds. Instead of simply marketing to customers and saying, hey, come open up a bank account with us and put money in it, they’re educating potential customers on the benefits of saving and the importance of putting money in their bank accounts.

Content marketing isn’t just blog posts and articles, however. And as we’ll discuss as we move through the course, pretty much anything can be content marketing—video, audio, infographics, apps, even ebooks—when done with the intent of building relationships with customers and actively trying to strengthen brand image.

The Opportunity

I introduced content marketing into my freelance writing business last year. And when I did my yearly review in December, I found—much to my amazement—that my income had doubled from the year before.

The extra income was all from the content marketing work I’d taken on. Even better? I’d spent only about 20 percent of my time on that work.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers made me sit up and take notice. The work was the same; I was still writing news, profiles, and trend pieces, so why was content marketing paying more while my journalism income remained stagnant?

The answers were simple: I earned $1-2 a word for the content marketing stories, the revisions were almost non-existent, the agencies I worked with paid as soon as I submitted my work, and I was working on more assignments from clients instead of having to repeatedly come up with my own ideas. For much of my content marketing work last year, I made between $300 and $400 an hour.

Jennifer Goforth Gregory, a content marketing writer and founder of the must-read Content Marketing Writer blog had a pretty similar experience. A few years ago, she applied for a job ad and found herself on several content marketing projects. She didn’t know anything about content marketing back then, but in 2012, she added up her income for the year and realized—just as I had—that over half of what she had earned during the year had come from content marketing writing.

In the next lesson, we’ll talk more in detail about the opportunity for earning the big money and how content marketing can take your freelance career to a much higher financial level.

But before we get there, let’s talk about when content marketing writing may not be right for you.

Presumably, you’re here and you’re ready to learn, so you’ve already figured out enough about content marketing writing to know that you like it and are committed to getting more of that work, but in case there are still any lingering doubts, here are some of the cons of doing content marketing writing, especially if you’re a journalist.

1. You can’t be an investigative journalist if you’re also doing content marketing writing. You can’t take money from large banks to write their content and then publish articles in the New York Times about the banking crisis or offshore accounts facilitated by large banks. So yes, you will be shutting yourself off to certain kinds of work. Be aware of this before moving forward.

2. Some editors—and they’re increasingly rare—may not want to hire you as a journalist if you’ve done content marketing writing. Consider, however, that both The New York Times and TIME have content marketing arms. This is usually also going to fall in the realm of investigative and perhaps, business journalism, but it’s worth being aware of all the same.

3. You’re likely going to want to have two or more areas of specialty if you want to keep your content marketing and your journalism lives separate. We’ll talk more about this further on in the course, but start thinking about what really motivates you as a journalist and try and keep those topics off-limits when it comes to content marketing writing work.

Are You Already a Content Marketing Writer?

Ever written a guest post for a blog that sells products (ebooks, for instance)? An article for a non-profit organization that they sent out to their donors? Posted social media updates for a local restaurant chain? Written health stories for the online newsletter of a medical association?

You’re a content marketing writer.

In fact, content marketing writing is so prevalent that it’s very likely that you’ve done it as a freelancer without even realizing it. It often comes packaged as straightforward article writing, after all, so you’d have no reason to suspect otherwise. But if it’s for a business, and the business has customers, it’s content marketing.

What actively learning about content marketing will help you do are two things:

  • It will help you proactively find work that you enjoy in the space and make more money doing so, and
  • It will help you know when you’re engaging in it so that you don’t unintentionally or unknowingly cross any ethical lines that will hinder your journalism work or credibility.

This course is going to focus on how to begin and expand your career as a content marketing writer, how to land the work as well as increase your income as you do so. But keep learning about the business of content marketing, too, because it’s going to help you deliver ideas and results and stay up-to-date on the ever-changing industry.

Learn More About Content Marketing

Start by spending some time reading about content marketing from a business perspective so that you have a clearer idea of what content marketing is and how businesses are using content marketing strategy to increase their profits.

Once you understand content marketing not only from your own writerly perspective, but also from a business point of view, you will find it much easier to first offer, and then deliver, content to your clients that will make them hire you repeatedly.

Start here:


The New York Times: Retailers Try Offering Expertise Online Along With Products

McMurry/TMG: What is Content Strategy, Really?

The Eucalypt Media Blog: 6 Tips for Freelance Writers on Working with Content Marketing Agencies


Content Marketing Institute: 100 Content Marketing Examples (Psst, could any of these be potential clients?)


Content Marketing Institute