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8 Steps to Uncover Content Ideas Like a Journalist

Aubrey Beck

Coming up with new content ideas month after month for inbound marketing is challenging. Here we lay out eight ways to brainstorm like a journalist.

*This post first appeared on ClickZ

When you're working at an agency, populating the editorial calendars for a diverse client roster is never an easy job. Keeping the creative juices flowing day in and day out is a challenge, and so is staying on top of the news and trends across a wide spread of client industries.


But as content marketers we're required to ideate and produce a large volume of topic ideas for our clients every month, regardless of how difficult it might be to drum up new ideas on demand.

So how do you continue creating original content that captivates a very specific segment of the population when you're 14 months into an inbound marketing contract and feel like you've already exhausted every possible topic for a client?

You pick up the phone.

One of the quickest shortcuts I've found to uncover new content ideas when you're face to face with a blank Word doc and a deadline for a new month of blog post topics is to reach out and ask your client for a quick introduction to a few of their customers and advisory (or board) members. Then, you schedule a time to conduct a quick phone interview.

Here are the eight steps I take when fishing for new topics to fill a client's editorial calendar:

1. Ask for the Intro

When it's time to plan out content ideas for the next month, put a call in to your client and ask if they'd be open to making introductions on your behalf to their customers and/or advisory team (or board) members. Let them know you're looking to have a quick chat with people who are entrenched in the industry so that you can be sure to cover the most on-point and engaging topics their customers and potential customers will be interested in reading.

2. Schedule the Call

consultOnce in touch with an interviewee, let them know that the call won't take more than 10 or 15 minutes and that you're simply looking to understand the industry in more depth so that you can be sure to produce content that will resonate with people in their industry. This is also the time to ask if they mind if you record the call. Let them know you'll send along a list of questions and topics shortly and thank them for their time.

3. Zero in on Industry Specifics

Put together a list of foundational questions that will elicit information about upcoming trends and industry specific issues. Here are a few questions you can start with:

  1. What are your organization's main differentiators in the space? (This helps you get an understanding of what topics may be most interesting to people in the industry; the factors they consider to be most important in the space.)
  2. What key events or changes in your industry have yielded the most significant impact on business over the past five years? In your opinion, has the impact been positive or negative?
  3. What current trends do you believe will help shape what the industry looks like over the next three years? In your opinion, will this have a positive or negative impact?
  4. What do you believe will serve to distinguish organizations that grow versus organizations that stay stagnant or decrease in size over the next three years? In other words, what are the key characteristics of growth-focused organizations in the current landscape?
  5. Do you foresee any key markets or segments emerging over the next three years?
  6. What are the most significant challenges facing growth-focused organizations in your industry in the near-term future? How do you expect to overcome these challenges? What impact do you believe these challenges will have on the industry as a whole?

4. Prep the Interviewee

When you send the phone interview confirmation email, be sure to include a list of the questions and topics you plan on covering in the call. It gives the person you'll be talking with a chance to think through the questions in bit more depth so that the call can be really productive. Sometimes people freeze up when they're talking and you definitely don't want them to blank on a topic simply because they're put on the spot or feeling a bit sidetracked that day. Sending the questions over early is the best way to get thoughtful answers and valuable details.

5. Take Notes

If the interviewee has given you permission to record the call - do it. It makes it much easier to be really present and listen when they're speaking so that you're able to ask follow-up questions and capitalize on areas where they provide interesting side details. These are the times when you can uncover the most useful and interesting tidbits about the industry that you may have never discovered on your own. Also, take notes during call and jot down unique industry lingo or jargon. Don't be afraid to follow up one of their answers by saying something like, "I've never thought of it in that way before. Could you expand a little on what you meant when you said..."


6. Ask After Anecdotes

Do your own research on recent news stories, legal judgements, industry history, and fascinating statistics before you speak with the interviewee. Ask them their opinions on these things and after the call seek out information that complements the topics you covered in the call. These anecdotes add a well-roundedness to your writing and with particularly challenging topics may even provide a much-needed angle or anchor for the piece.

7. Get Quotes

Include quotes from your "source" to add credibility and color to your content.webinars-icon-sm
People's colloquialisms and certain manner of speaking will add a human touch to certain manner of speaking will add a human touch to your writing and turn an ordinary blog post into something with a more journalistic feel.

Quoting your interviewee is also a way to give a nice thank you to the person who took the time out of their day to talk with you and answer your questions.

8. Sift for Gold

After the call, listen to the call recording and review your notes. Mine the tidbits for content gold - testimonials, feature/benefit selling points, blog post topics, ebook / whitepaper sections, trend pieces and graphic or visual topics.

Making that first call can be a bit nerve-wracking if you've never officially interviewed anyone, but after the first call or two you'll realize it's easy - and actually fun. For me, these calls end up being less "interview" and more "conversation."

I see them as an opportunity to talk with someone about their work, hear a unique perspective on topics I'm not usually exposed to, and learn a bit more about an industry I'm being paid to understand well.

Your clients are hoping you'll become an expert in what they do so that you'll be an expert in how best to market their company to their potential customers. And the best way to do this is to take the time to sit and talk with people who work in the industry. It's also the best way to uncover a bounty of topic ideas for next month's editorial calendar.

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