This is an excerpt from the 52nd edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.
On September 11th, 2001 I was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My husband was living on the edge of the jungle on the other side of the country, working on the construction of a massive petrochemical plant he helped design and engineer. I spent my weeks working on a local expat magazine and writing my first (unfinished) novel in the evenings.
I rarely watched TV but that night I switched it on to get the morning news from America. CNN was showing a picture of a burning tower of the World Trade Center with a “Live Breaking News” graphic in the bottom corner. I remember thinking it must be historical footage of the 1993 bombing and they really should remove the breaking news tag. Then the second plane hit.
In a few weeks, CNN was reporting Iran, Iraq and Malaysia condemned America’s retaliation bombings in Afghanistan. There were protests at the American embassy in Kuala Lumpur and Osama bin Laden t-shirts were selling in the markets. As an American woman living alone for most of the week, it was an anxious time. But it was also a turning point in my professional life.
It’s hard to imagine now but in 2001 there wasn’t widespread knowledge about Islam in America. Having lived in a moderate Muslim country for two years prior to the events of 9/11 provided a lot of insight into a culture the bewildered Americans were trying to understand.
Every editor I had ever worked with got in touch and asked me to write features for them. Some of it was about the personal experience of living in a Muslim country in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, but a lot of it was more academic. I wrote about halal food, the custom of prayer, mosque architecture, festivals, holidays, tea, interior design, modern art, and local hobbies and pastimes. They were mostly light articles but filled an information gap people were curious about.
My friend Paul campaigned to get me to start a column called A Broad Abroad, but I resisted.
What does any of this have to do with marketing? Quite a lot, especially for B2B marketing.
While I was dreaming of becoming a novelist, it became apparent I could add real value by sharing lived experiences. I was suddenly given an opportunity to produce a lot of writing – and be paid for it – based on a relatively narrow topic. It wasn’t all exciting and it required a lot of additional research but I had a beat. I worked with many different editors and publications and increased my time behind the keyboard. My writing muscle grew.
I’ve used this same approach many times since, mostly for B2B content. Even when it doesn’t appear to be the sexiest assignment, embracing a topic and immersing yourself into every corner of it puts you on a path to filling a void your audience might not know they have. Whether it’s tires, industrial conveying equipment, disability services, or mining software, there are fascinating stories to tell and impassioned people to interview.
Once you catch the bug, any topic can provide a wealth of creative opportunity. Many writers and marketers miss the stories right in front of them as they pursue big projects. Some of the best writing and content is coming from small B2B companies who don’t have the luxury of bigger budgets or more resources.
In the aftermath of 9/11, I discovered the power of combining personal knowledge with additional research to create insightful and/or thought-provoking content. Your business is full of subject enthusiasts who may not have writing ability. Partner with them and help tell their stories. You don’t need to flex your creative muscle on TikTok or publish a book to become a superstar marketer. Start telling the stories that are already around you and keep at it.
21 September 2021
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