Journalists, Content Marketing, and Tough Questions

If not yet a B2B meme, recommending the use of journalists for content marketing is at the very least a growing trend. Well-known influencers like  David Meerman Scott, Valeria Maltoni, and Joe Pulizzi have all made the case that journalistic skills like telling stories, doing research, and understanding audiences are critical to effective content creation. But one journalistic skill rarely mentioned is the ability both to ask and to answer tough questions.

Not all journalists can claim that talent, but the best can, and it’s what makes journalism shine. But are B2B brands ready for tough questions?  As I’ve worried before, maybe not. But if that’s the case, they aren’t ready for marketing in the social media world either.

By tough, I don’t mean adversarial or unfriendly. Rather, I mean any relevant question that might make someone uncomfortable, whether the person posing the question, the person answering it, or both.  Asking tough questions is the journalistic equivalent of due diligence in business. Both are critical to getting the facts right and avoiding disaster.

I’m not suggesting that content marketers undertake investigative reporting. But they can benefit from an ability to know when the easy answer is not the right answer, and when they need to probe more deeply to, in the words of Jesse Noyes, “create content that will challenge long-held assumptions.” The trick, of course, is to challenge your brand and your audience in a positive and constructive way—as good journalists have learned to do.

In the old days of mass media and mass marketing, tough questions could be avoided. But markets are now conversations among equals. As companies like Nestle and Dell have learned, educated buyers empowered by social media will ask tough questions. Educated content marketers will answer them. Better yet, they’ll ask themselves those questions before anyone else does, and share the answers. It’s a role good journalists are made for.

A word of caution to marketers, though: as I’ve suggested, not all journalists can pass the toughness test. So before you hire a journalist to ask tough questions, make sure he or she answers yours first.