An Intern’s Perspective: Five Differences Between Journalism and Marketing Copywriting

Adjectives and commas and tone, oh my!

Fresh off of my first year at college at Michigan State University, I knew I was going to be in for a challenge jumping head-first into the marketing world with Revel as their content intern. As a current student getting a degree in journalism, I was coming from a world of formal essays and very specific rules in an academic setting. In real-world marketing, it isn’t quite so black and white. My beloved Oxford Comma is allowed and, wow–adjectives should be used and are encouraged.

There are countless similarities in my journalistic writing and my marketing copywriting; however, there are five distinct differences that set them apart from each other and make each day a new adventure at Revel.

1. Purpose and Goals

When you first start diving into a new piece of writing, it’s important to know why you are writing. If you don’t have the ‘Why,’ then your words will fall flat and miss the mark. My own ‘Why’ changes depending on the piece I’m writing, whether that’s journalistic or copywriting. Behind any piece, no matter the content, a bigger ‘Why” sits: I write because it’s the biggest passion I know.

As a journalism student, I write to inform and educate the public. I’m learning to report breaking news and information in an unbiased way for the public. Journalists give their audiences objective coverage in a balanced way. In marketing copywriting, we want to persuade. Writing in the marketing world has a primary purpose: to sell. We want an audience to engage with an idea, product, or brand and want whatever we’re presenting.

2. Tone and Style

Hand-in-hand with purpose and goals, tone and style play a huge role in your writing. You have to know how to say what you want in order to get results. Journalists and copywriters are professionals at using tone and style to amp up their writing in the most effective way possible. Journalists do this by using tone and style to present information clearly and easily. Copywriters utilize tone and style to create an experience for their audience. 

Journalistic writing stays extremely neutral: using objective words only, citing only confirmed sources, and remaining impartial in any judgement. Work is factual and impersonal, avoiding any language that could be construed as opinionated. It’s a professional goal to be balanced and clear, only reporting the facts. Adjectives? Journalists wouldn’t dare. In copywriting, style is much more subjective. Marketing focuses on making connections with audiences and highlighting what is incredible or unique about a product or brand. Marketing language exudes emotion and focuses on storytelling. Both of the styles are challenging and exciting, and yet so incredibly different from each other.

3. Audience and Intention

Writing with intention is key to any piece of writing. With such differing purposes and goals, in addition to the tone and style, knowing who you are writing for can seal the deal.

Journalistic writing focuses on a general audience. Writing should be educational, informative, and able to be read by pretty much everyone who stumbles upon your articles. Journalists must write with pure intentions and complete transparency to build their credibility. On the flipside, copywriting tugs on the heartstrings of a specific audience. They focus on getting a niche group of readers to do something—make a purchase, subscribe to a website, sign up for a newsletter. With the intention of boosting engagement for a target audience, copywriters need to focus on the desires and motivations of the people they are writing for.

4. Structure and Format

When you flip open a newspaper or open an article online, the format is distinct. You have your headline, your lead, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. More often than not, you use an “Inverted Pyramid” structure: starting with the most crucial piece of information, you work through the details of the article in descending order of importance. In most papers, quotes are formatted the same way and the list of rules to follow are endless (my AP Stylebook weighed ten pounds, and I promise I’m not exaggerating). Grammatically, there are so many specifics that are put into place to ensure consistency and professionalism. 

For copywriting, however, structure and format are much more flexible. Sometimes, they change depending on what platform you’re using. For example, writing for social media differs significantly from writing a blog. There is much more leeway in marketing than journalism in terms of format. If you’re an avid comma girl like myself, have at it. Bulleted or numbered lists? Knock yourself out. 

5. Verbiage

In the world of words, picking the correct way to phrase something is of the utmost importance. One of the reasons I decided to go into a field that involved so much writing was the feeling of finally finding the word I have been searching for. 

In journalism, word choices matter. If you write with too much jargon, readers can’t understand what they’re reading. If I wrote an article about “cold neuralgia,” everyone who read that article would be confused and have difficulty understanding; however, that big fancy medical word simply means you have brain freeze, and that’s understandable by almost everyone. By picking the exact word, journalists can create a piece that is factual, engaging, and credible.

Marketing has much less stringent rules. Word choice is given much more pizazz in marketing than in journalism. Copywriting can use persuasive and engaging language that is colorful and full of life. With a primary goal often being sales, copywriting’s language is significantly more positive and upbeat. Storytelling plays a major role in marketing as well. Consumers are more likely to engage if they have something that sticks with them and keeps a product or brand top of mind. As a content intern, helping to pick the right words is my job. 

Writing in two distinct voices can be a challenge. In a day, I jump from writing a matter-of-fact journalism piece in concise language to writing social posts full of boisterous, vibrant phrases. Embracing the challenge of writing in these two distinct roles has not only allowed me to discover new pieces of myself as a writer but also, with the unwavering support of both MSU and Revel, fueled me to push myself further on this journey. In this internship, Revel has given me a fantastic opportunity to play by another set of writing rules and try something completely new. With a new set of skills under my belt, stay tuned to see what this content intern comes up with next.

Samantha is a student at Michigan State University studying Journalism. She brings her passion of storytelling into her work here at Revel as a Content Intern. In her time here, Samantha plans to bring her dynamic diction into the workforce and continue to improve upon her writing, editing, and people skills. Whether she’s choosing the right words for herself or for a client, Samantha’s passion for words and writing is at the forefront of every piece.

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