I recently heard Jamal Greene on a recent Two Writers Slinging Yang podcast interview, talking about his time writing at Sports Illustrated.
He talked about writing at Sports Illustrated where the writing became an issue of what the reader wanted. He called it a form of customer service, or “serve to order.”
If the customer wants it, or the editors thought they wanted a certain product, and your job as the writer was to produce that product. And over the time I was at Sports Illustrated, it became more and more oriented towards customer service and that didn’t touch me.
If you’re in it because you like to write in a certain way, and then you’ve got to write in a way that’s going to get eyeballs, you’re not really writing with the kind of integrity that you want. And I felt that and I didn’t think I was ever going to get to the point, for good reason, where I had the kind of autonomy to write in the way I wanted to write
The phrase writing with integrity stopped me in my tracks. I had to pause the podcast and ruminate on that for several minutes.
As content marketers, we don’t get the chance to write with integrity very often. Sure, we like to be ethical and truthful. Despite the stereotype people have of marketers, we do try to operate with honesty and truth. But when do we get to actually write with integrity?
When do we get the chance to be open and transparent — the buzzword among many bloggers in the early-2010s — and share what’s really going on? When do we get the chance to tell a good story because it’s a good story and not just one more entry on our content marketing calendar?
“Today, we need an article about how developers can download our API and use our testing environment.”
Not something that allows for a lot of “writing with integrity.”
The problem is, the same that Greene experienced at Sports Illustrated, is that the integrity articles — the long-form, in-depth articles — are not the most popular ones. They’re the best ones, to be sure. But they don’t get the eyeballs. And that’s what journalism is about these days: getting eyeballs and clicks and visits to move advertising revenue. The long, well-done articles don’t get the traffic, and so they don’t get the attention. They’re the ones that get submitted for awards and for inclusion in anthologies. But they don’t get the same kind of traffic as “10 Reasons Why Your Favorite Team Sucks and 10 Why They’ll Win Their Division.”
It’s this way with business blogs. There are certain articles that get all kinds of traffic, but they’re not always the enjoyable, long-form articles that exercise your writing muscles. Instead, you have to write the kinds of articles where you say, “I got a creative writing degree for this? A damn monkey could write this!”
It’s even harder if you write for a corporation, or if you’re in the B2B world, where being dowdy and rigid is practically the price of admission. Very rarely do I see B2B blog articles that are fun, funny, or interesting. (And the ones I did see were more than likely ones that I wrote.)
Content Marketing With Integrity
But that doesn’t mean you can never do it. There are times that companies should be a little vulnerable and tell some stories that show people your history. Let them learn from your mistakes. Write a piece that talks about how your company nearly folded, and it was only thanks to some last-minute maneuvering that saved everyone. (Trust me, that story will be out there anyway, so you might as well be the one to tell it.)
Tell the story about how your solution didn’t work for a customer right away, and it took some additional work, consulting, and even training to get things to work properly. Don’t skip over that part in your case study, embrace it and showcase it.
Just like sportswriters have to write the daily news stories and game recaps (also called “gamers”) in order to be able to write the long-form features that make sportswriting so interesting, marketers need to carry water on a daily basis, writing the serve-to-order stories before they can write their other, better stories.
Of course, you may be in an industry or work for a business where you don’t get to write with integrity at all. Financial services, lawyers, pharmaceutical companies, and other highly-regulated businesses tend not to be able to write something that risky.
But for the rest of you, stop worrying about stories that will only bring in the eyeballs. Take a risk once in a while on a story that’s not a listicle, or something that promises “X Secrets to Improve Your Productivity.” While I like those articles and think they’re great traffic generators, they’re not very interesting or deep.
If you’re into the content marketing funnel philosophy, keep writing your “top of funnel” articles to bring people in. But try writing with integrity and transparency, and write the article you’ve been itching to write, and use it at the bottom of the funnel where people are about ready to sign.
Take a risk, try something new, and write the story you’ve been feeling, not the story on your content calendar.
Photo credit: Devanath (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)