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!
Molly St. Louis is a seasoned writer, editor, and communications director with over fifteen years of media experience that spans across television, stage, web, and radio, including Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Yahoo!, National Geographic, The Today Show, Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, and Adweek.
She is currently the Senior Director Of Marketing (Media / Communications) at Yapstone and the producer of Platform Players, a podcast that glorifies the turbulent and exhilarating experiences of marketplace pioneers, tapping into the unique essences of their personal stories and finding the core of their strategies, tactics, and remarkable mindsets.
Molly is also a writer at AdWeek, covering emerging technologies and trends.
Her career has been an impressive one that spans public relations, content, and journalism.
Here, we’ll chat with her about her background, but we’ll also come away with tips for marketers pitching journalists and more.
How did you get into public relations/writing/content marketing? What’s your origin story?
My first job as a writer was writing script coverage for several film producers in the early 2000s. My bosses thought I had talent and encouraged me to go into screenwriting, but at the time, I needed a job that would pay the bills more quickly. So I eventually left production and became a marketing director (it’s amazing how similar production and marketing are to one another).
Years down the line, I was working as the head of marketing for a surgery center and the doctors I represented would often see their colleagues on TV shows like “The Doctors” or “Dr. Oz.” They asked me how their classmates kept getting “selected” for these opportunities and they didn’t. I didn’t have a good answer.
Given my production background, I had to assume that those doctors on TV had an agent. So, I found out who in Hollywood might represent celebrity doctors and I had a meeting with him. Well, we hit it off and he kindly agreed to rep some of my doctors, but informed me that opportunities like Dr. Oz were obtained through a publicist – not an agent. I had no idea!
So, I went about finding out which PR firm represented doctors and eventually hired them. Through the process, I became friends with the people at the company and eventually left my surgery center went to work for the PR firm. Getting doctors on Dr. Oz, The Doctors, The Today Show, etc. was something we did every day and it soon lost its mysteriousness. My friends, the publicists, showed me how to write a pitch and build a media list.
My very first pitch got the attention of Glamour Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and Good Morning America. So, I kept going.
I spent countless hours reading my favorite news sites and emulating the writing style. Then, I sent out new pitches – only this time, a couple of the editors reached out to me and asked if I’d like to be a writer with them. That’s when I pivoted and started writing full articles and pitching bylines for myself – mostly writing about issues I cared about. One of my first pieces was picked up by The Huffington Post and went viral. I later was offered a marketing column on Inc. and several other top tier publications.
Eventually, I met and married my husband, who is an actor. We have to travel quite a lot to his performances and shoots, so I started my own virtual consultant businesses for PR / content marketing, which I do from whatever city we’re in.
What’s your typical research process like for an article? How do you learn about new topics, especially emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency?
I read a lot and talk to a ton of different industry professionals almost daily.
If I start to see / hear common themes, I research them and often hypothesize what the impact of the news would be. Then, I interview experts in the space and try to ask questions that are not typically answered on the internet. If there’s something new / interesting there, I write about it.
Also, sometimes I’ll be given an assignment from an editor – it which case, they’re telling me what I need to learn / write about. So, in the case of AI and crypto, I originally set out to learn about them because my editors told me to – but then I just continued to follow the news.
Having seen both sides of the coin (reporting and public relations), what’s your best advice for pitching topics to journalists and bloggers?
I have several:
Really take the time to understand the people you are pitching to and what they write about.
Half of the pitches I receive are not relevant to my column. To be more clear, so many writers have to stick to a very specific “swim lane.”
For example, your PR database might say that a specific journalist writes about “marketing” – but if you look at his column, you might find that he actually writes about “marketing for brick and mortar stores.”
So, if you were to send him an eCommerce marketing pitch, it would be totally irrelevant – and he might tune you out for all future pitches.
Don’t be lazy with your story angles.
If you can find a nearly identical story on the internet, don’t pitch it. Find an interesting angle that is both relevant to your client, as well as the journalist. never stop poking and prodding a story until you have squeezed out every possible angle. You might find that the focus inspires greater creativity.
Use compelling data whenever possible.
Be bold and don’t apologize for reaching out.
Writers WANT to hear your best stories, so think about it as a collaborative process.
What’s the biggest mistake you constantly see marketers make when pitching stories?
I would say that the biggest mistake is not taking the time to form a clear angle or opinion. For example, marketers will often email me vague pitches that say things like, “Do you want to interview the CEO of X about how her company is growing?”
Quite often, I’ve never heard of the company or the CEO and the numbers are very elusive. So, I have to assume that there’s no story there and I’ll move onto something more substantial.
Marketers have a heap of competition. Writers are getting dozens, if not hundreds of pitches a week, so the story has to be good and it has to be specific.
When it comes to career development, what mistakes would you say young marketers (as well as writers) make when trying to carve out their path?
I think the biggest mistake when it comes to career development is not taking all of the opportunities available, in order to find the best path. How do you know what you actually like (or don’t like) until you try it?
Also, the most successful young writers and marketers I’ve worked with are constantly seeking to be better. They learn from absolutely every experience and build solid relationships.
Do you have any strong beliefs about content strategy that run counter to the typical industry narrative? In other words, what’s a strong opinion you have about content that not many others share?
I don’t think this runs too contrary, but I do have a strong belief that there is an audience for everyone.
Writers should never water down what they really want to say, for fear of not pleasing everyone. You won’t. Write what you really mean and don’t be afraid to go deeper.
That’s how you find your real audience.
What skills do you believe are the most underrated for content marketers and writers? Are there any ways you know to learn or improve those skills?
I often see young writers or new writers write in an elevated way in order to sound more credible. There’s no need for that. Just speak the truth, give the facts, and be compelling!
If you are writing for a certain company or publication with specific guidelines on tone, yes, you’ll need to follow those – but let’s hope that company or publication has developed a truthful tone that resonates.
If you’re writing as yourself, be unapologetically you and don’t water anything down. Your audience can spot bullshit from a mile away and they won’t truly connect with you.
One trick I use to make sure I’m keeping it real it reading an article aloud. If I stumble over phrases or feel weird saying something – I change it to something that would actually come out of my mouth.
What part of your background, personality, experience, or skill set do you believe makes you a particularly effective content marketing professional?
I have an acting background, which helped me tremendously as a marketer because it taught me how to listen deeply.
When you’re acting in a play, it’s important to listen to the other character as if it’s the first time you’re ever hear them say what they’re saying – even though you (the actor) has actually heard the lines a hundred times. This exercise really sunk in for me, I guess, and I attribute my early success in marketing to listening to the customer.
Sometimes, in listening, I’d realize that we weren’t selling them anything they wanted or needed. So, I really took in what they were saying and tailored the product and message accordingly. The same can be said for writing. What does your audience want to talk about with you?
If you didn’t work in digital marketing, what would you be doing?
I think I would likely be producing “edutainment” television. I love shows like Brain Games that are about learning / improving.
What inspires you? Who do you follow? How do you come up with new ideas for blog posts, campaigns, tactics, etc.?
Entrepreneurial stories really inspire me. I love innovation and the people that push it forward, so I often follow the people who are in the trenches and detailing their stories.
Gimme three tips to improve my writing? Or rather, three tips anyone can use to write better.
1. Assuming you are not writing in a diary that only you will see, understand who you are writing for and develop a love for that audience.
Understand their quirks, passions, fears, and inspiration, as you would a friend. Having a relationship with the audience will cause your work to be more specific (and resonate more deeply).
2. Never skimp on the set up.
In order for your pieces to work, you need to set them up for success. That’s why your first two paragraphs are crucial. Take the time to paint the picture, so that your points have the most impact.
3. Play with rhythms.
Having all short sentences or long drawn out paragraphs can get a bit predictable. Keep the readers on their toes by treating your words with the dynamics of music.