Writing Something of Value

I happened upon a gratuitous slam about the shallowness, i.e., valueless-ness of marketing in an article in the New York Times recently. Gratuitous slams on marketing are ubiquitous these days. It’s almost taken as a given that marketing is shallow and has no inherent value. Obviously the New York Times editors didn’t think a slam on marketing required two sources to substantiate.

While I was a journalist, which covers most of my career, I never questioned gratuitous slams on marketing. Most journalists assume that marketing is basically crap. That marketers typically get paid more than most journalists, only adds a touch of resentment to that unexamined opinion. Now that I’ve crossed over to the dark side and am writing marketing material, it seemed appropriate to examine the value of marketing.

Having seen marketing from both sides now, I would have to conclude that an awful lot of marketing is crap; but then so is an awful lot of what gets passed off as journalism. My mini-epiphany was the realization that the source of all this shallow prose within both disciplines is the same: Writers who don’t understand what they are writing about, but have to write something anyway.

At its most basic level, the point of writing anything is to communicate something of value. That is equally true in journalism and marketing.

But here’s what happens to both journalists and marketers. They have to write something. They have a deadline, and they have done very little or no research. So they just start writing what they think their editor or client wants to hear.

I’ve done it. I admit it. I’ve also heard managing editors on deadline tell writers, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” But that kind of writing is neither very good, nor very satisfying. That’s when the over-writing starts: hyperbole and clichés and the kind of gosh-oh-golly prose that wraps shallowness in fake enthusiasm. Lots of exclamation points and capitalized words that are not proper nouns are red flags that the writer doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

A lot of that kind of writing gets passed off, both as marketing and journalism. Good marketers, however, like good journalists research their subjects until they find something of value to communicate in their writing. If there is no value to communicate, there should be nothing written–certainly not published. Editors should enforce that principle–more than they often do. Likewise, a good marketer needs to have the discipline to not write content that may sound good but says nothing of value. It cheapens you, and it cheapens your field. And it doesn’t actually do your client any good, either. It goes without saying that if your client has nothing of value to write about, you should drop that client.

The good news–for any writer–is that holding the line on the value of what you write increases your value over time whether you are a journalist or a marketer.