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10 Marketing Lessons from the Publishing Industry

I spent the formative years of my career in a “dying” industry — print media. Between journalism and publishing, I was every parent’s worst nightmare of the liberal arts English major with zero job stability.

It’s not really true, and journalism isn’t a dying industry, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

Despite spending 4 years on the staff of my high school paper, covering local elections for our online news organization, and bopping between a variety of editorial internships, I always knew my journalistic ambitions fell apart somewhere around the “speaking to strangers” bit.

Actually, I tried very hard not to become the “zero career plan” English major. I was determined to break into the publishing field from one way or another, and if it wasn’t through the editorial side, well, that’s what my minor in advertising was there for.

I always saw marketing as a “back door.” A way to make myself more marketable and employable. I never realized just how many lessons I was learning along the way, marketing degree or not.

Now, as a full-time, self-employed Pinterest marketing strategist, I find myself leaning on those early career lessons more and more, and I think they’re well worth sharing.

What Working in Journalism Taught Me About Marketing

It would be an easy cop out to say that journalism taught me the importance of a good story. Yes, it’s true, but there’s also so much more to say about how to actually tell that story in a way that converts to the most valuable metric of all — attention.

Whether your end goal is email subscribers, audience growth, product sales, or dream client inquiries, you have to capture your audience’s attention first. Luckily, the journalism industry has a lot to teach us about grabbing attention ethically.

Don’t Bury the Lede

The lede — sometimes spelled lead — is arguably the most important part of any news story. It’s the first sentence or paragraph and should communicate the most important aspects of the story.

“Burying the lede” has become a commonly used phrase to refer to when someone doesn’t start off a conversation or story with the most exciting or important part. And while it can be a fun conversational tactic, it’s not the best marketing practice.

When you’re creating content, don’t hide the most important information beneath a mountain of fluff. Get straight to the good stuff and give people a reason to keep reading.

There’s definitely wiggle room with this one, but especially when we’re talking about Pinterest marketing, I want that lede to be front-and-center, and crystal clear!

Always Cite Your Sources

Journalism isn’t fiction writing. And it’s not an opinion piece either. All the info you’re sharing should have an attributable quote or source.

In your marketing, don’t copy or plagiarize. This should go without saying, but copycats are rampant online, and it’s easier than ever to steal someone else’s content. Just don’t, okay?

If you are sharing info, especially any kind of data, cite your source!

No one’s going to think that I counted every single user on Pinterest to tell you that they have over 518 million monthly users. Linking your source gives your audience extra reassurance that you’ve done your research and know what you’re talking about.

Scoops are Fun if They’re Factual

On that note, here’s your reminder not to share unverified info just because you want to be the first one mentioning it.

Breaking that juicy news story is a moment every journalist dreams of, but it’s not worth sacrificing their journalistic integrity or disseminating incorrect information just to get the story published first.

Whenever a new feature comes out or Meta makes an announcement, there tends to be a flurry of activity from everyone and their mother telling you what it means and why their course/service/product will help save you from this marketing apocalypse.

Most recently, it was the announcement about the different Meta paid tiers. The concept that Meta was making users pay for more reach spread like wildfire on Threads, with a majority of people sharing their first impressions without doing more investigation.

(If you’re curious for the real info, I loved Sugar Punch Marketing’s breakdown!)

So while yes, there is a benefit to being one of the first people to share something, make sure you’re not jumping the gun and sharing half-truths if you don’t know for certain.

Find Your Angle

The first story I ever pitched to our local news outlet was about the opening of a new butcher store in downtown. Ordinarily, new business openings weren’t inherently “newsworthy.” We might include a round-up once a month, but why did this particular business deserve a dedicated feature?

I had to find an angle that was more than just a new store opening. Luckily, I already had one. This particular store was one of the very few all-female owned butcher shops and it was opening in our very own tiny town!

Suddenly, that new angle opened up the door to a more all-encompassing feature highlighting small business women in our community, the challenges they face, and their driving forces.

Unfortunately, the article didn’t get written, but it wasn’t for lack of having a compelling angle.

In your content marketing, the angle of your content is how you frame the story or the education in a way that will make your readers care. It’s essential that you find ways to make your content more specific and appealing to your target audience.

This might be as simple as tacking on “for [Target Audience]” to the end of your blog post title to make it extra clear who the content is for. Or you could take a story about your failed journalism career and turn it into actionable tips your audience will appreciate.

One piece of content might have multiple different angles you can work with. That’s fine! In fact, that makes it incredibly easy to create a lot of unique fresh pins from that content.

Marketing Lessons from Journalism in Action

For example, take a look at these three pins from Between the Lines Copywriting:

They link to the exact same blog post, but the first one is much more general. The second specifically calls out “aspiring freelance copywriters” as the intended target audience, and the third focuses on the benefit of subscribing to these newsletters — improved copywriting skills.

For the more recent two pins, we chose to find an angle that would attract more copywriters or aspiring copywriters to her content with the intent to market her copywriting mentorship program. That’s just one example of the frame we found for that particular blog post.

Storytelling with a Purpose

Journalism isn’t just writing words for the sake of words or sharing information without context. When you’re creating content, remember to share significant information while making it interesting and relevant to your audience.

This is a similar piece of advice to “finding your angle,” but I especially want to emphasize it while we’re in this golden era of “storytelling marketing.” Every other email you open starts with a story and pivots into a tip or sell.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! But, it should be intentional and have a purpose, not just telling a story because you want to.

Sara at BTL Copy talks about this a lot, particularly when she’s educating on About pages. Even though your about page is about you, it’s really about your audience. You should make sure the things you’re saying are things your audience needs to hear to make a purchasing decision, not just things you want to say because you want to.

If you want to learn more about these sorts of copywriting basics and hear Sara explain this concept much more eloquently, I’d highly recommend her Site Series® copywriting course. At the time of writing this, it’s open for enrollment and you can use the code “BURK” for 10% off!

If you’re catching this post-launch, def still join the waitlist. It’s one of the two courses I recommend to every business owner!

What Working in Publishing Taught Me About Marketing

Journalism is the one that gets all the spotlight typically, but it was the publishing industry that was my primary aspiration. Getting paid to read and correct people’s grammar? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite my everyday reality. Despite this, I’ve still learned lots of valuable marketing lessons from my time in publishing, and now I’m sharing them with you!

Details Matter

You might be thinking, “Yeah, obviously,” but seriously! One of our authors almost published a book falsely attributing a quote to Ronald Reagan instead of Jimmy Carter! (Or something like that, I don’t remember exactly, but it would not have been a good look.)

Fact-checking is a laborious but worthy process that saves everyone from looking bad, but it’s not just the big info or potential mistakes that matter. Minor spelling and grammatical errors need to be corrected, but there also needs to be consistency.

Working for an international press, we had authors in the UK, Canada, and the US, all of which came with their own varied grammar conventions. As an editor, it wouldn’t do to correct my British authors’ “colour” and “favourite” just because I, an American, would spell it “color” and “favorite”.

Now, is your average reader going to notice or care? Maybe not. But it still matters.

You Need to Understand Your Target Market

One of my main jobs working for different publishing presses included sending out review copies of books to different publications and independent reviewers. In some cases, these were specifically requested, but there were a lot of times we were sending our books with a hope and a prayer.

As part of this process, I needed to curate a list of relevant recipients for each publication. It wouldn’t make much sense to send a biography of Justin Trudeau to the American Poetry Review and expect them to publish a review of the book.

Knowing who your intended audience is and how to find them is marketing 101. That includes knowing where they hang out online, and where they don’t.

This is something I consider for all of my Pinterest clients. Are the people they’re hoping to reach actually using Pinterest? 9 times out of 10, the answer is yes. But if the answer is no, then they’re better off spending time and resources on another platform.

Use Your Customer’s Voice

I spent one summer interning for a trade magazine about outdoor furniture and living. I now have a niche vocabulary of performance fabrics and luxury grills that I never expected to know. But for the audience of that magazine, that jargon was effective and essential.

It was a shared language that could be understood by everyone, and it proved to the readers that we knew what we were talking about.

Using your clients’ or customers’ own language in your copywriting and marketing content is the most powerful thing you can do.

Several lines of copy on my own website come directly from testimonials or responses I’ve received, and it’s some of my favorite parts of my site! When you use your audience’s own words, you know that you’ll resonate with them.

If you haven’t already, I recommend starting a document or spreadsheet to start collecting “Voice of Customer” references! Obviously you can pull from client feedback, but also scan through inquiry forms, emails, DMs, and comments to see how your audience is really talking about your work!

Patience is Everything

Truthfully, I couldn’t hack the marathon-long timelines of traditional book publishing. From the first manuscript submission to the release date, it could be months or even years — not to mention multiple rereads and re-edits.

But if you’re patient, you get to witness the magical moment of everything coming together into a beautiful book.

The same is true of most organic marketing strategies. Pinterest, in particular, is a long-term marketing strategy that takes patience to see the full effects. When people ask how long it takes to grow on Pinterest or why they’re not seeing results yet, my frequent answer is “be patient.”

I know it’s easier said than done, but Pinterest is worth the time.

Different Departments Have Different Responsibilities 

Unless you’re working at an itty-bitty publishing house, there are going to be a dozen different departments, each responsible for a different part of the publishing and marketing process.

Acquisition is going to be responsible for finding new manuscripts and cultivating relationships with authors. Editorial is going to edit the work, from the copyedit and proofreading level to the developmental edits. Then you have design, translation, marketing, sales… each department has a specific purpose.

Crucially, the editor of a book isn’t responsible for the marketing or sales of the book.

Yes, it’s their job to make sure it’s a book worthy of being printed and that it will be of interest to a particular audience, but that’s about where it ends.

As a Pinterest manager or social media manager or copywriter or web designer, your responsibility is just one piece of the puzzle. When I manage my clients’ Pinterest accounts, I’m not also designing their website or making sure their email funnels are set up or refining their brand, pricing, and offer strategy.

It doesn’t mean I won’t make suggestions, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for the work that happens on Pinterest, not off.

Essential Marketing Lessons to Remember

At the end of the day, marketing can be quite simple, and you likely know more than you think you do. Many of these marketing lessons aren’t something I was explicitly taught or studied for years. It’s ingrained knowledge of persuasive, effective communication. It’s knowing your people. It’s meeting a bare minimum of ethical marketing behavior.

Here’s your short list of transferrable marketing lessons:

  • Don’t bury the lede
  • Always cite your sources
  • Scoops are fun if they’re factual
  • Find your angle
  • Storytelling with a purpose
  • Details matter
  • You need to understand your target audience
  • Use your customer’s voice
  • Patience is everything
  • Different departments have different responsibilities

Whether or not you also once fancied yourself the star of an Oscar-nominated docudrama about investigative journalism, I hope these lessons provide a helpful reminder to apply to your own marketing, content creation, and copywriting!

If you like your marketing education served with a side of storytelling and analogies, just like this, you’ll love The Thursday Press! Subscribe to get sustainable marketing & biz growth tips delivered to your digital doorstop (ahem, inbox) every week!

And if you’re looking for a Pinterest marketing partner who’s down to investigate whatever’s going on in your business, that’d be me! Check out my Pinterest marketing services here!