Content Crafters is an interview series where we de-construct the tools, tips, and tactics that top bloggers use to get so much work done. you’ll walk away in mere minutes with actionable takeaways you can try out right away. Let’s dive in!

Jessica Swesey is a Partner and Chief Marketer at 1000watt, a creative agency focused on the real estate industry.

There, she leads client projects ranging from revamping major real estate brands to developing and executing marketing campaigns and strategies for major real estate technology companies.

Previously, she held managing editor positions at SutherlandGold Group and Lifetuner as well as VP Content roles at First 30 Services and Inman News.

You can find her on Twitter at @jswesey or on LinkedIn here.

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How did you get into content marketing? What’s your origin story?

Content marketing is one part of what I do in my current role at the agency I’m part of. We create brand strategies, brand stories, brand visuals and marketing campaigns for companies in the residential real estate vertical.

I got here by way of journalism, where I used to head up a national real estate news service. It was at that job that I first started to grok the importance of a tight story in conveying your product or service to the marketplace and started to study content marketing.

Is there anything particular to your background, personality or skill set that you believe makes you a great content marketer?

I think the years I spent as a reporter helped tremendously.

I honed a skill for curiosity and asking good questions, how to interview people, how to do good research, and how to write in a way that pulls people into your story and down the page. Then, when I came to the agency – it really had been built on content. The founders created this thing from scratch with just an email newsletter.

We have clients today who have been reading our blog and emails since the beginning (11 years ago), which to me, is such a testament to the power of original, consistent content marketing.

When you’re in such a heavy relationship business and do the kind of hands-on work we do as an agency, the content we’ve been producing for years has helped so many people in our vertical get a sense for who we are, how we think and how we approach creativity and problem-solving.

What’s a unique challenge to working on content at an agency with a variety of clients and industries?

Well, we actually benefit from only working in one industry and that’s given us an edge not only in content creation but in everything we do for our clients.

Honestly, one challenge we often have with clients is that because we have such a unique and well known voice within our industry because of our own content, we often have clients who just want us to write like that for them… and the reality is that our voice is our voice and their voice is theirs. So we need to educate a bit and help them develop their own voice first before we jump in and write good stuff for them.

The benefit of working within one vertical is that we can help determine a strong point of view for our clients that makes sense for their brand and isn’t just another list or how-to post like everyone else is creating.

Another challenge is that, working in a vertical, many of our clients have similar businesses. So we put even more emphasis on their unique point of view when thinking about developing their overarching messaging and the content they produce.

What are your productivity secrets to working with clients and carving out time to deliver top tier work/creative/deliverables? Have you built any systems or hacks to get more done?

Wow. This really IS the biggest challenge and the biggest thing. I make sure I have longer blocks of time during the week to devote to writing. If I don’t protect my calendar for these slots, it will get filled up with meetings and research.

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And I also try to do the planning for copy and content in a separate time slot from the actual writing of it.

What skills do you believe are the most underrated for content marketers? Are there any ways you know to learn or improve those skills?

I think content marketers need to have many of the same basic skills as journalists.

They need to be good researchers, interviewers, planners, writers and editors. But they also need to be able to tell stories succinctly and in unique and interesting ways, and use judgement for when to infuse a strong point of view and when to remain more objective.

Quality vs. quantity in content marketing? What’s your take?

My approach has always been quality. I think that’s because I’ve mostly focused on thought leadership content, which has to be strong, unique and thorough to gain any sort of traction. I think that readers appreciate pauses with this style of content, too, rather than a constant barrage.

Are there any tactics in content marketing you believe are overplayed or getting stale?

Social posting without a real engagement plan. I think the platforms are really effective for advertising and distribution, but not that effective for engaging people, unless you’re investing a lot of time into developing a community.

Conversely, what new tactics or plays are underutilized or surprisingly effective?

Not new, but I do think a simple, well written email sent out weekly can be surprisingly effective.

If you weren’t doing content marketing, what would you be doing?

Writing poetry and teaching creative writing to kids.

What inspires you? Who do you follow? How do you come up with new ideas for blog posts, campaigns, tactics, etc.?

I subscribe to a ton of email lists.

Some of my favorites are Laura Belgray, Brooke Castillo, Ramit Sethi, Ann Handley, Chris Orzechowski.

I’m always inspired by plain old good writing — whether its sales oriented, personal development, copy or marketing focused. With clients, we start with the rants… their opinion of what’s wrong with the world and how they’re trying to fix it.

For myself, personally, reading will almost always spark ideas for me. I try to always have a piece of fiction on my nightstand, as well as non-fiction. I actually just read one of my daughter’s graphic novels last night that I found really inspiring for storytelling technique — Raina Telgemeier’s new book, “Guts.”

Yes, it’s aimed at 10-year-olds, but her technique of drawing on personal experience to talk about serious things in light and funny ways is so good.

Gimme three tips to improve my writing? Or rather, three tips anyone can use to write better.

  1. Clear over clever. Clever language is amazing when it’s done well, but if we don’t understand what it’s saying then it didn’t do its job. The most brilliant writing is rarely clever, but it’s always really simple and really clear.
  2. Kill your adverbs. They’re useless and get in the way of that clarity I mentioned above. Plus it’s always better to show than modify.
  3. Write how you talk. I try to read stuff out loud as much as possible. If I can’t say a sentence in one breath, it’s too long. If it doesn’t sound like something I’d say to my best friend then it’s probably overly complicated.

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