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Two Minute Tips

Make sure the trend or event is really new

April 17, 2019

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Credit: Pixabay user geralt

Trends are a great topic for any sort of journalism and are of particular interest in business. Knowing where companies and industries are heading, what the best performers do for a competitive advantage, or how consumers can know where to invest or the types of services and products they might appreciate can all be gold for coverage.

However, you need to keep wary. Things recycle in business. If you haven’t been on the beat long enough, you may think that something is new, even when it’s a variation of an old theme. Knowing some background can give your research and writing insight.

Contrast and compare examples

Plenty of publications have written about how companies use “content marketing” as though it had never been thought of before. A little knowledge of the history of marketing and advertising would let you trace the concept through “advertorials” and back to at least 1921, when perhaps the most brilliant and effective direct marketing ad, by Max Sackheim, with the headline “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?” first ran as a full page in a newspaper. It would keep doing so for decades because of the basics of providing compelling content.

Comparing and contrasting that ad to more modern forms of content marketing might lead you to consider differences in audience sophistication, types of media available, and assumptions of what people will read and whether those current assumptions might be incorrect. Look at the success of lengthy infomercials.

Add historical context

You’ve likely seen many articles about Facebook, Google, and other high tech companies and their use of personal data. You could be excused for thinking that the trend was new, but it isn’t.

For decades, companies have accumulated data on individuals and then packaged and sold it. There are big names in the business, such as Acxiom (founded in 1969), Infogroup (founded in 1972), Epsilon (founded in 1969), and Merkle (founded in 1971). The more you know about what has been done, the better you can understand what is currently happening and how the entire matrix of services works.

Avoid spreading hype

My email inbox is often filled with companies claiming to be the leading player in some field or to have invented a business practice, service, or product. If you take their word on it, you’ll potentially mislead your audience or look foolish to peers and editors—which is not good for your career.

As Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament said, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Do some research and find out how long something has been puttering about before taking anyone’s claim seriously. Aside from the usual types of online and physical-world research you might do, try cultivating some sources who have been in a field or studied it longer than you. They might be able to point you in the right direction.


  • Erik Sherman

    Erik is an independent journalist and author who primarily covers business, economics, finance, technology, politics, and legal/regulatory, while elegantly expressing the complex and often incorporating data analysis.

    View all posts

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