A Freelance Writer Sent Me This Content Idea

I asked freelance writers to send me their content ideas to critique on the blog, and Judi asked me to tackle this idea for a magazine pitch.


My idea is about the Mother’s Day Grinch. Many folks are familiar with the book, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. This article would look at people who hate Mother’s Day, why they hate it and the different things they do to make the day go away or worse.


Judi’s not aiming this at just moms. She adds, "It's for orphans, the abandoned, the abused, the neglected, those who mourn, and for those who spent their lives in constant battle with their mothers. It's an article for those who cringe at the overbearing hearts and flowers showered over them on Mother's Day without asking them how they feel about it."

The first market Judi mentioned pitching this to is parenting magazines, and she also listed newsstand women’s magazines, faith-based publications, and even trade pubs for the hair salon industry.


Since an idea encompasses its audience (along with other elements), I need to pick one to start with—so I’ll use the parenting magazines for this critique.


I’ll run this idea through the Brainstorm Buddy tool, give explanations of why I answered each question the way I did, and offer a full critique.


You’ll learn:

  • How to analyze an idea.

  • Common issues that pop up with content ideas.

  • What goes into a salable/publishable idea.

  • How a content idea can take a fun turn at the end!

But first, two things:

  1. Keep in mind that Brainstorm Buddy is not simply a matter of "answer all As or else you lose." The answers are weighed against not only the six criteria, but also against one another to come up with the score and the customized tips.

  2. You’ll see me do a bit of research here and there to help answer the questions in Brainstorm Buddy. I do the research just to prove my points; after two decades of full-time writing and writer coaching, I can do most of this without needing to research at all. Here are more details on how to research an idea quickly, and on the three stages to becoming an idea machine.


Let’s get started.


BRAINSTORM BUDDY QUESTION 1: How relevant is this idea to the target audience?

I chose Parents magazine as the example market. According to their media kit, 56% of the magazine’s readers (online and off) are Millennials—meaning between 25 and 40 years old. (They didn’t mention the demographics of the other 44%.)


So the question here really is: What are some of the reasons someone may hate Mother’s Day, and what percentage of this readership do these reasons apply to?


I’m sure there are a ton of reasons someone might dislike this holiday, but these are what I’d consider the top few:


They want children but have been unable to have them.

Millennials are waiting longer to have children—and after a woman turns 35, 1 in 3 couples are infertile. But only 12% of women nationwide have used an infertility service.


They have lost a child.

Working quickly, the best data I found said that around 10% of people over 50 have lost a child; keep in mind this includes elderly people who outlived a child. I’d assume the number for parents aged 25-50 is much lower.


They have lost their mother.

A quick look at Census.gov shows that under 10% of people aged 25 - 40 have lost their mother.


They don’t have a good relationship with their mother.

A study of estrangement showed that over 40% of participants "experienced parental estrangement at some point or another." The study is old (2015), but let’s assume that number hasn’t changed significantly. (And it has, my quick research shows that it’s likely that the numbers have gone up, not down.)


FINAL ANSWER: B. This idea is relevant to 20 - 75% of my target audience.


Why did I choose this answer? Even though some of the percentages above seem low, Judi could potentially fit all of them into her idea—which would increase the relevance rate.


BRAINSTORM BUDDY QUESTION 2: When is this idea relevant?

In other words, how newsworthy is this idea?


All of the reasons listed above for not wanting to celebrate Mother’s Day—infertility, estrangement, etc.—have been happening forever. However, doing a few Google Trend searches shows that the world seems to have realized only in the last several years that not everyone is all rah-rah about this holiday. So while Judi’s idea isn’t super current, I wouldn’t consider it old, either.


FINAL ANSWER: B. This idea could have run at any time in the last 5 years.


BRAINSTORM BUDDY QUESTION 3: How unique is this idea?

Here, we want to find out if many of the parenting outlets have run something similar. A quick search shows that this idea has been done on many parenting websites and blogs, as well as publications as diverse as Psychology Today and the LA Times.


I’m assuming Judi plans to pitch this as a regular article, and most of the similar pieces out there are also articles or essays as opposed to, say, infographics, quizzes, or audio content.


My take: though if this idea doesn’t seem to have run in the iconic newsstand parenting magazines, it’s ubiquitous enough in adjacent markets that these publications would probably consider the market saturated.


FINAL ANSWER: C. This topic has been covered in the same way by many/almost all competitors.


BRAINSTORM BUDDY QUESTION 4: How focused is your idea?

You need to be able to fit your proposed topic into the space typically allotted for such topics. For example, you may want to pitch your idea to a magazine department that runs at 800 words. Or you may be aiming it at a mom blog that runs 2,000-word posts.


Judi could easily slice and dice this idea to fit into almost any space. Pitching it as a 300-word short? Offer the top three reasons plus three quick-hit tips of 100 words, each from a different person. Have 3,000 words to play with? Pitch it as a reported essay with expert interviews, “people on the street" interviews, and lots of research-driven advice.


(Not sure what a reported essay is? Here’s a good explanatory article.)


FINAL ANSWER: A. This topic will definitely fit into the space I have.


BRAINSTORM BUDDY QUESTION 5: How useful is this idea to your target audience?

This question is meant to discover where your idea falls on the line from 100% concerned with the brand to 100% concerned with the reader. (Don’t be fooled! In some cases, promotional pieces are fine—and Brainstorm Buddy can catch these instances.)


As Judi wrote, "This article would look at people who hate Mother’s Day, why they hate it and the different things they do to make the day go away or worse." This means she will be offering helpful insights and advice from the people who hate this holiday.


FINAL ANSWER: A. Very! The entire piece offers take-home advice and information.


BRAINSTORM BUDDY QUESTION 6: How surprising is your idea?

Here we want to know whether the content of your idea would surprise your audience. For example, will you be interviewing a hard-to-get local celebrity or industry luminary? Will you offer tips that no one has ever heard before? Are you presenting a contrarian (but true) take on a well-worn topic?


Most of the pieces I saw on this topic were presented from the viewpoint of the author. Getting different takes from a handful of "real people" makes this a bit more of a surprise—and I would advise Judi to look hard for sources who are saying something different from what’s already been said.


FINAL ANSWER: B. It’s somewhat surprising.


And the Final Brainstorm Buddy Score is….72

This idea just makes it into passing territory. It’s pretty relevant, somewhat timely, and full of actionable advice.


What ​​Brainstorm Buddy Had to Say

Judi could pitch this idea as-is, but if she would like to increase her chances at making a sale, she can follow the tips Brainstorm Buddy offers on how to make the idea even better. (The tips change depending on your exact score, so you don’t see too many repeats.)


You have a solid idea here! If you'd like to make it even better (because, why not?) work on the relevance of your idea—which means reworking the idea so that a larger percentage of your audience is affected by or interested in the topic. Tweaking the relevance of your idea will pull up your score the most.


How to Make Your Idea More Relevant


TIP 1: Tweak the idea to a similar topic that affects more of your audience. Maybe you want to write about arthritis, but the readers of a sports fitness magazine for the over-50 crowd aren’t affected much by it. They might, however, care about new ways to soothe the aches and pains that happen after a workout.


As we saw earlier, the majority of Parents magazine’s readers are Millennials. Judi could massage her idea pitch to include only those reasons for hating Mother’s Day that are most relevant to that audience…for example, leaving out losing a child and being an orphan, and perhaps focusing more on estrangement and infertility.


She could also include the viewpoints of a trans person who is a mom; the bit of research I did shows that Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for these mothers. While this has also been covered quite a bit, it may help improve the relevance of Judi’s core idea.


TIP 2: Include the idea as just one part of a larger topic. For instance, a topic that's of interest to only three percent of your customer base can be wrapped into a story about 10 related things. Example: Instead of creating a video all about this one software tool for customer service reps, round up 10 of them to ensure you match the interests of more of your viewers.


So instead of writing a post for and about people who hate Mother’s Day, Judi might expand that into a post for people who hate any one of a handful of different holidays—such as Mother’s Day, New Year’s, Christmas, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving. To increase both the relevance and the uniqueness of the idea, Judi could also go beyond these obvious holidays.


Next: Use Brainstorm Buddy to Analyze This Idea for All Potential Markets

If this were my own idea, I would work to make it more relevant for the parenting magazines; a 72 is good but, again, the idea could be more of a slam-dunk with a few tweaks. I would also continue using Brainstorm Buddy to see how the same idea might do for the other markets Judi considered.


One intriguing market Judi mentioned was trade magazines for hairdressers.


My gut reaction was, "Hairdresser trades? Really??"


But a Google search shows that not only are there a ton of salon industry magazines—some have departments where this idea might be a fit!


For example, American Salon has a "Business" department that includes articles like "Tips for Protecting Your Energy at the Chair" with the dek "Mental, emotional and physical health can be challenging to maintain in the high-demand and fast-paced world of the salon, spa and barbershop."


Judi would need to do more research into this pub, but her idea could potentially be a good match for them. She might present her topic as a customer-satisfaction piece on how to broach holidays with clients in a way that won’t offend or trigger them.


Or whether stylists should bring up holidays at all.


Or the top new ways to break the ice with a new client.


You get the idea…so many ideas could spin off of just this one topic!


How to Develop the Best Content Ideas

Judi has a solid idea here that can go in a variety of cool directions with just a few changes.


Do you wish you could have your ideas validated before sending them out? Do you want to get an edge over the competition by being able to generate lots of great content ideas? Check out Brainstorm Buddy—the only tool that not only analyzes your ideas, but offers customized tips on how to improve them.

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