“They’ve got to feel like they’re getting something out of it so they keep coming back.”
“If you give them something on a regular basis, create something to give back to them, that’s when a community starts building.”
“You’ve got to make me feel welcome, give me a reason to come in and sit down, and then give me a reason to stick around.”
Do you sense a theme? My podcast guest C.C. Chapman is all about giving and building community. He firmly believes that when we give, we can build something great. C.C. is the co-author of the International bestseller “Content Rules” and is also the author of “Amazing Things Will Happen.” He travels the world teaching companies how to understand content marketing with the goal of creating tribes of people with a shared vision and goals. He has worked his magic with companies like Nike, HBO, American Eagle Outfitters, ONE, Verizon FiOS, and Coca-Cola.
It doesn’t matter what kind of community you’re looking to build, C.C. and I will show you how to do it through:
- Social Good: giving your employees an opportunity to make a difference
- How to pick the right cause for your agency to support
- Don’t be too humble: why you need to talk about the non-profit work that you do
- The International bestseller “Content Rules” C.C. co-authored
- Speak Human: the most violated rule from “Content Rules”
- Differentiation: what makes your agency different?
- Creating content that plays to your strengths
- Why you can’t afford not to create content for yourself (and how to get it produced if you honestly don’t have the time to do it personally)
- Building trust by giving away at least pieces of what you do
- How to make your content stand out from all the other content out there
- Connecting your offline life with your digital presence
- Doing a regular social media audit to make sure your content is presenting your agency the way you want to be presented
C.C. Chapman describes himself as a New England raised storyteller, explorer, and humanitarian. Others have described him as a thought leader in the online marketing space, a grounded futurist and one of the nicest guy on the Internet.
C.C. is an advocate who speaks about building passionate communities and the strategic values of content-based marketing. He is a Samsung Imagelogger, the original ONE Dad and a UN Foundation Social Good Fellow. As a storyteller for hire, his work has appeared on the pages of Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/cc-chapman/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
- Working with the Community as an Agency
- Best Practices for Working with Your Community
- Why “Content Rules” is Still Relevant to Creating Content Today
- The Rule of Speaking Human and Why it is Violated the Most
- How to Create Useful Content that Plays to Your Unique Strengths
- Why You Need to Create Content for Yourself, Not Just Your Clients
- How to Create Content that Stands Out
- How to Build a Community that Cares About Your Content
- Combining Your Online Content with Your Offline Presence
- Immediate Action Steps for Creating Content that Plays to Your Strengths
Drew: Hey there everybody. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Build A Better Agency, where we explore how to build a business that serves you, your employees, your clients, and your community. That’s why I know you’re going to enjoy hearing from today’s guest, my friend C.C. Chapman.
Most of you probably recognize him from being the coauthor of the book “Content Rules”, with Ann Handley. He also has written another really fabulous book that I highly recommend called “Amazing Things Will Happen”.
Really, C.C. is a very multifaceted guy. He is a speaker, he travels all over the globe speaking about content and marketing and creating an online community. He also is very hands-on with some of his clients. He’s worked with folks like American Eagle Outfitters, Coca Cola, HBO, Warner Brothers.
The other thing that C.C. does, that some of you may not know, is that C.C. and I share a great passion around being a great dad, and so he has built an amazing online community around being a father and an active dad. So you’re going to want to check that out as well.
What I love about C.C. is he speaks frankly, but in language that everybody can understand. “Content Rules” was written several years ago, but it’s still in my top five books of recommending to agency owners that they read and reread on a regular basis.
So I know that today’s podcast is going to be packed with things that will teach you how to create content that plays to your strengths. These are things that you can improve on, and that are really going to have a serious change agent focus on your agency.
So with that, C.C., welcome to the podcast.
C.C.: Thanks, I’m psyched to be here.
Drew: I am psyched to be here too. So anything in the intro that I missed? Anything else you want our listeners to know about you?
C.C.: I think you hit it all. The only thing different … the only thing that I would add is that a lot of my focus these days is in the social good space, whether it’s working with non-profits and NGOs to develop great content and strategy, or working with businesses to realize that social good is about more than just the holidays. It’s about giving back and improving the world around you. So I focus a lot there. But no, you nailed it, and thanks for the super kind words about “Content Rules”.
We just, as we’re recording this, just a few days ago was five years ago that it hit shelves. It was kind of crazy to realize it’s only been five years, and the fact that it has been five years, all at the same time. It’s crazy.
Drew: Yeah. Such a great book. You guys really knocked it out of the park. Yeah.
C.C.: Thank you.
Drew: I think the social good is also a topic, so let’s just go there first, and then we’ll come back around to creating content. Refresh my memory, you have owned and worked in agencies, but you’ve also been on the client side, so you’ve sort of seen that 360, right?
C.C.: Yeah, I’ve seen it all the way around, for sure.
Working with the Community as an Agency
Drew: Yeah. Many agencies are pretty active in their community, and they want to be a good community partner, and a lot of them do a lot of charitable work. I know that when you work in an agency you’re always asked to do pro bono work. I think there’s a good way to partner with a nonprofit, and there’s a way to really leverage it both for your agency and the community.
So let’s talk a little bit about this idea of social good, because I also think the other factor in that is, agencies are struggling to find great employees and to keep great employees. The shortage is going to continue to impact small to mid-sized agencies, and I think one of the truths of today’s employee is that they want to work someplace that’s making a difference in the world. So it’s not just about doing good, but it’s also about how it serves your agency.
C.C.: Oh, exactly. It’s funny because you see these articles all the time, talking about how millennials want to work for a company, and it’s not just millennials, it’s …
Drew: No, we all do.
C.C.: Yeah, exactly. All of us, if given the choice, if everything else was equal, pay and responsibility, if we could work for a company that was making a difference, there’s nobody on this earth who would say they don’t want that, I think. And that’s true, what social good is about is there’s this concept of the triple bottom line when it comes to social good, where you’re talking about people, planet, and profit.
Because let’s face it, as a business you have to make money at the end of the day. You can’t give all your work away for free. You can’t do everything pro bono. You have to make profit. But then people, the fact that you’re taking care of your employees, you’re invigorating them, you’re giving them something more than just satisfying their clients.
Then the planet, whether it’s helping your local school, or the environment, there’s all sorts of different things. I think far too often, agencies and companies in general forget that happy employees make better employees.
You’re right, keeping the best employees is super hard, because there’s always another hot new company, especially in the agency world. The best get poached all the time, because they’re getting approached.
Drew: Absolutely. Right.
C.C.: They want something new, they need new challenges, they need to feel excited going to work every day. One of the things, too, is that, you said it, I was very happy you said it, is people hear social good and they think, “Oh, we gotta be saving kids in Africa, or refugees” or whatever.
For sure, but at the same time it can be your community helping with the schools, or faith-based organizations, or your library. Social good just means helping your fellow man around you. It can mean anywhere, and I think there’s huge opportunities for that in the agency space.
Best Practices for Working with Your Community
Drew: So let’s talk about that a little bit. If an agency came to you and said, “We want to have more impact in our community,” what are some best practices around doing that, so that it does take care of that triple bottom line of people, profit, and the planet?
C.C.: Well I think one of the first things you have to do is, just like everything else, everybody wants that cookie cutter answer, and there isn’t one. I talk to brands both big and small, and agencies, and all sorts of different companies. One of the first things we sit down and talk about, “Okay, you want to do something more, but what is it about?”
I’ll talk to the executives, and one of the first questions I ask is, “Okay, what causes do you support personally, both financially and in your heart?” Because if you start going there, you’ll hopefully start seeing some themes, and you can start there and figure it out. All of a sudden if there’s a theme of education, all right, well then let’s start looking at the schools.
Or maybe if you work with a lot of high tech or healthcare, maybe partner with a vocational school. There’s a million different ways. But I like starting there, is figuring out what are you passionate about. To figure out, okay, well maybe that’s the angle of your social good.
Drew: Because that’s sustainable, right?
Drew: Now I’m not just doing it for show. I’m doing it because I actually care. So now I’m going to deliver at a much deeper level, but I’m also going to be able to sustain it over time, so that I can enjoy the perk of that consistency.
C.C.: Yeah, it has to be part of your culture and your DNA, because if it’s not, then it is going to be just for show. You’re all going to be, “Yes, let’s do this!” And then all of a sudden it’s just going to fizzle out, because it’s not part of who you are.
Like for me, if it has to do with kids, adopting pets, or military, I’m there. It doesn’t matter what it is, but those are my three things. Everybody’s got their different things, and as a company you’ve really got to figure out what your culture is. Because when you’re doing good and giving back is, it’s easy to do it, “Oh it’s the holidays, it’s giving Tuesday, let’s give money.” That’s easy. But to actually do it on an ongoing basis, and to do it more with than just dollars, it must be part of your culture. It just has to be.
Drew: Yeah. As you know, not only do I own Agency Management Institute, but I still own my own agency. As an agency owner, you get hit up, every board you’re on and all of that, you get hit up all the time for free stuff. I was getting frustrated because it felt like we were scratching the surface for all these non-profits, but not really changing the world.
So probably a decade ago, we created this program that we call Adopt a Charity. We adopt one charity for a year, we wrap our arms completely around it, we hit up all of our partners and vendors, and so they end up getting between 100 and 200 thousand dollars worth of time and stuff. That way, for a whole year, we can really impact that organization.
We have found that to really do a deep dive with one, and to really get to know their board and their staff, and to volunteer, not just do a T-shirt or a brochure. That changes the way we think about our engagement with that organization, and it changes the impact we’re able to have on them, not just for that year but forever.
C.C.: I love that you do that. And you’re right, because it takes time, right? Because you probably spend the first weeks or months in the beginning getting to know them, know what they’re about, what their goals are, what they’re trying to achieve. That’s true of any content, any marketing, anything. Far too many people just dive in and say, “Oh, you need this,” rather than actually taking the time to figure out what they actually need. And then you can start diving in.
Drew: Right. Yeah. Well, and I think it’s that good for the heart and good for the soul, but it is also good for the bottom line. I think a lot of agencies are smart enough to know that nonprofits are run by boards of directors of the most influential people in the community usually. So it’s a great way to get in front of people and demonstrate your expertise, while you’re also changing your little corner of the world.
C.C.: Right. It’s funny. One of the things I talk about all the time, trying to encourage, whether it’s brands or agencies, you’re doing this great work here, and I hope you tell people you’re doing that great work. Because far too often, especially on the brand side, when they’ve partnered with a non-profit or they give back in some way, they don’t tell the world about it. I know, yes, there’s a really fine line between tooting your own horn and saying look at me. But at the same time, if you don’t tell the world that you’re doing this good, it doesn’t help you from a business standpoint, it doesn’t help the non-profit.
If you partner with somebody, you should be talking about it. I see it all the time, where it’s like, “Yeah, but we don’t want to talk about that side of our work.” And I get it, being humble is an important thing, but at the same time, if you’re doing it, talk about it. Talk about it in a realistic, in a human way, that’s not tooting your own horn. But if nobody knows about it, yeah it feels good to you, but it’s probably not helping your business at all.
Drew: Right. Well, and I think there’s a way to invite people to participate with you, especially your clients. Hopefully, just like you’ve searched your heart to figure out what charities you want to serve, you’ve done the same thing with your client base. So I think it’s ideal when there’s an alignment between the agency, the client, and the non-profit. When you can all do it together, you have the added benefit of it strengthens your client relationships.
C.C.: Ah, yeah, exactly.
Drew: So we end up doing a lot of events for the charities that we partner with, and it’s fun to invite your clients to participate in some way in that. That really does create a community where you’re creating the community of people who have a like alignment in terms of something that they care about.
C.C.: Well said. I agree.
Why “Content Rules” is Still Relevant to Creating Content Today
Drew: Yeah. All right, let’s shift a little bit. Let’s talk about creating content. Okay, so “Content Rules” is five years old.
Drew: If you could add an addendum today, what would the addendum be?
C.C.: Oh, wow. Well it’s funny you mention that, because Ann and I, Ann Handley, my coauthor, we’ve talked about doing a whole new revision of it. And we’ve kind of had that conversation of do we add more? There’s 13 rules, do we add more to it? Do we need more? I think there’s been some technology that’s come along.
C.C.: I remember when we did the paperback edition that came out a year afterwards. The concept of social photography didn’t exist when we first wrote it. Things like Instagram, they just didn’t exist yet. So I think now, talking about the fact that virtual reality is right around the corner, truly right around the corner. Things like Snapchat, real time, not real time as like the Oreo, but real time sharing an experience, is definitely been taken to a new level with things like Snapchat and Periscope and those sort of things.
While I firmly believe that the rules that we laid out, the quote-unquote “rules”, I think apply to any technology, I would like to add some sections about that. Because it is such a different thing and so many brands haven’t really quite figured out how to use that for marketing. And there’s so much potential there, and it’s not going away anytime soon. So I think we’d add some about that.
One of the things we didn’t talk a lot about, I know you and I are going to talk about it here, is we didn’t talk a lot about the community aspect. And while it’s a whole other topic, I would like to add some about community to it, because it is such a big part of it when it’s done right.
Drew: Yeah, right. And so rarely done right.
C.C.: So rarely.
Drew: Yeah. One of the reasons why I continue to recommend and praise the book is because I do think the rules are pretty evergreen. I think they’re sort of tool agnostic. It’s really sort of a best practices book. The tools will come and go. You and I, we’ve watched all of these tools come and go. It’s funny, when you go, “Instagram didn’t even exist,” and now it’s such a common thing for all of us, it’s like, “Really, it didn’t exist?”
C.C.: I know, right?
Drew: And we’ll be saying the same thing about something else in a year or two years.
C.C.: That was our goal from day one with the book. Because social media books are out of date by the time they hit shelves, even just six months from the time you finish writing them. So we wanted a book that would stand the test of time, and tried to focus on those things.
It’s funny because we had people yell at us that were like, “Well, you didn’t talk about how to blog,” and we’re like, “Well yeah, we didn’t talk about specifics, because we didn’t want to.” I was really proud that when, a year after the hardcover came out and we went to do the paperback, we only had one technology we had to remove. And that was, there was a mention, in a sentence, the word Google Buzz appeared, and we had to pull that out. But I was glad that was the only one.
Drew: Right. But that’s why it’s still such a relevant book today, is because it really is about the philosophy of it, rather than the specific, “Grab a Phillips screwdriver and do this.” Right?
C.C.: Right. It’s why I enjoy people talk about it as a social media book. I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s not, but it is.” But yeah, I love it, I’m very happy what we did with it.
The Rule of Speaking Human and Why it is Violated the Most
Drew: Yeah, it’s a fabulous book. So of the rules, which one do you think is violated most?
C.C.: Speak human. I think “speak human” is violated every single solitary day. It’s funny because I remember our editor said that we were too harsh with that rule, that people would be offended by us saying it.
But every day I see brands and agencies out there talking in acronyms, or treating their audience like they’re idiots or something, and in today’s world, where everybody is tweeting and Snapchatting and texting back and forth, people are talking more than ever. And a brand of any size or sort who can’t talk human, who can’t speak human, who can’t sound like a friend, is dead in the water.
But every single day I see it. I guarantee if I went on to Twitter right now I could find an example in two seconds of somebody not doing it well. I think it’s just because they think the wrong way.
For too many years markets talked at people. It was a print ad, it was a radio ad, it was a television ad. Except in today’s world, everything’s a two-way street. It’s a two-way communication, and still too many agencies and too many brands are speaking at people, rather than speaking with them or talking with them.
I think that’s the rule, over and over again, that I keep coming back and I tell people all the time, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a specific industry or niche. I see non-profits doing it, I see everybody do it. And it’s just every single day somebody’s not doing it, and I wish they would fix it.
Drew: Yeah. I look at agency blogs or content, and oftentimes it’s the agencies, right? I know the owners, I know the people there, and I think, if I was sitting across the table from you, you would never communicate to me this way.
Drew: Just talk to me how you talk.
C.C.: Yeah, and it’s funny because you see it happen all the time. What kills me is then you see somebody new getting into the space, and you see them doing it wrong too because they look to big brand or big agency, and they start doing it. It’s like, “Oh, stop it.”
I teach a class. I teach a college class on online marketing, and I warn them. I’m like, “You guys are gonna go out in the work force,” because usually it’s juniors and seniors. I’m like, “You’re gonna go out, you’re gonna intern.”
I said, “Please take what I teach you and fight the good fight, because you’re gonna have people who are gonna be doing it completely wrong. If you ever feel that urge like, this doesn’t feel right, or this doesn’t feel human,” I said, “please speak up.” And I hope they do. I don’t know if they do, I’ve only taught one semester of it so far, but I’m like, “Please fight the good fight.”
Drew: So you’re spreading the seed, and you’re getting them to infiltrate the companies to do it better.
C.C.: I’m trying to.
How to Create Useful Content that Plays to Your Unique Strengths
Drew: I like it. So if you were sitting across the table from an agency, which you’re doing now, just a bunch of them while they’re walking on the treadmill and driving, and you were going to say to them, “Hey, forget what you’ve been doing content-wise now, let’s clean the slate. Here’s the one-two punch of the kind of content that I think agencies could create that would create differentiation and community around their shop.”
What would you tell them?
C.C.: Off the top of my head, I would tell them to really figure out what makes you different. Every agency out there rolls out the carpet of “Look at all these pretty logos of people we’ve worked with,” or “Look at our pretty awards.” No offense, but everybody’s got awards and clients, that doesn’t differentiate.
What makes you different? Are you a playful group? Maybe you’re an outdoorsy group. Maybe you like music. Find something that’s different about you and wear it like a badge of honor to show potential clients, “Look, we’re not just some big shop that you’re gonna come throw a bunch of money at and we’re gonna waste your money.” Because I think there’s not enough character.
Throw five marketing agencies beside each other, everybody can do some of the same things. I can show you great case studies, I can show you great work I’ve done, but what else are you going to do?
Show that human side. Show that authenticity. What makes people come work for you, you know? I don’t think there’s enough of that. I would start there as something to make yourself stand out. I don’t mean necessarily like a goofy viral, quote-unquote “viral” video.
How you implement it, that’s up to you, but show what makes you different as people and as an organization, because hopefully something makes you different. I hope so.
Drew: Well, I think one of the things we know is that, at the end of the day, if you’re in an agency pitch and you’re down to three or four agencies, or if they’re shopping you online before they’re ever going to talk to you, because we know about 80% of the clients buying decision is done before they reach out to any agencies.
Either way, part of what they’re looking for is chemistry, and it’s hard to figure out chemistry if it’s a sterilized web presence or Facebook page, and all it is is about the work.
C.C.: I guarantee it right now, there’s somebody out there listening to this podcast who went, “Oh yeah C.C., that’s all fine and dandy, but what if it scares off some clients?” Whatever it is you do. And I would argue that’s a good thing. You can’t have every client in the world. And if there’s something that makes you unique, whether you’re some young hip shop, or whatever it is that’s unique about you, if it scares away a client, you didn’t want that client.
It probably wasn’t going to work, because the best client-agency relationships are really a really trusting one. Like you said, chemistry, you have to click. So if they get turned off by whatever content it is you’re creating that shows your true self, it’s better them then not ever walk in the door, than to go down that road, we’ve all had those clients, where like, “God, we don’t see eye to eye.” That’s worse.
So to those people doubting, because I know there’s some out there, that would be my argument. You do not have to be friends with everybody. You can’t, so don’t try to be.
Drew: Well, and in fact, what kills me about agency owners is many of them are brand experts, and so that’s the exact speech they give their clients about why it’s important to develop a strong brand. Because a great brand both attracts and repels, and you want it to do both of those things.
And yet agency owners are petrified of doing the exact same thing for their own shop, because there’s money on the table and it’s hard to walk away from that money, even though it’s something I call tainted money. It’s money that you’re going to have to bastardize who you are and what you’re about to earn the money, and after a while that feels yucky.
C.C.: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but there’s a great book called “The Power of Unpopular”, by Erika Napoletano. Read it. Great, great, great book. She’s going to hate me if she hears this, because I couldn’t even get her name out. She’s French.
Drew: She won’t care, because you pimped her book.
C.C.: Yeah, exactly.
Drew: She writes a great blog as well.
C.C.: Yeah, she does.
Drew: She’s a very true to her own brand. An irreverent, brilliant professional. I greatly admire her work as well. So yeah, it’s a great book, I agree.
In terms of the content though, do you think it matters what the content is? Do you think it matters, ebook, white paper, podcast, fill in the blank?
C.C.: In that case? Not necessarily, because one of the other content rules is to play to your strengths. If you’ve got the video talent and the chops to make a great video, go in that case. If it’s an ebook, go that way. Maybe it’s a blog. Maybe it’s a series of Instagram posts. I don’t think it necessarily matters. On any given week it seems like one platform’s more popular than the other, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to create it. Not everybody’s great at creating everything, so stick with what feels right. What feels right for your audience, what feels right for the types of clients you’re going after, because it definitely depends, I think, a lot on that too.
Drew: Well, and I think it’s also about what can you sustain over time. A lot of agencies start and stop, fill in the blanks, blogs, podcasts, white papers, case studies, whatever it is. But they never get enough momentum to get up over the hill so it’s a habit, and I think that sends a terrible message to prospective clients.
C.C.: Oh I agree fully. Yup.
Why You Need to Create Content for Yourself, Not Just Your Clients
Drew: Yeah. One of the things that agency owners are always talking about is, they get it, they know they should do it, but at the end of the day it’s the stupid cobbler’s children have no shoes excuse, of they’re so busy taking care of clients they have a hard time creating content for themselves.
Any thoughts or recommendations about how they make sure that they get it done for themselves?
C.C.: Yeah, they stop complaining and get to work. I’m not a big fan of excuses. You’re right though. I get it. Even my website has that problem, where I’m like, “Ah, I’m doing all this work, I haven’t taken care of myself.”
I think at the end of the day you’ve got to just sit down and get it done, or on the flip side, if you honestly can’t do it, hire somebody to do it. Hire somebody to come in. Hire a pro. There are professionals out there. Bring them in and have them do it for you, whether it’s bringing in a branded storyteller, an ex-journalist, they make great jobs, or consultants.
There’s things out there. Hire somebody. Bring them in and have them help you, because at the end of the day, you can keep complaining and use that excuse over and over, and eventually it’s going to catch up to you, and then you’re in trouble.
Drew: Yeah. At a lot of the AMI meetings we bring in speakers, and several agency search consultants, and all of that, and they talk about how big and small clients are shopping for agencies. And the reality is today if you don’t have a pretty robust web presence, and that can’t just be a brochure site anymore.
You really do have to have a digital footprint that I can track you down and follow you around and kind of stalk you for a little while, to get a sense of who you are and what you’re about. Or else you’re never going to be on the consideration list. So in my mind, it’s not really an optional activity anymore.
C.C.: I agree. I remember, a few years ago, getting on stages, and when people would say, “Oh, I don’t have …” This was when content marketing as the buzzword was becoming popular, and I’d get up on stage and say, “Listen, you can have all the excuses you want, but if you don’t do it, you might as well just close up shop and go home. Because your customers, no matter what business you’re in …” I still say this. Whatever business you’re in, your customers are online. They’re looking you up on their phones. They’re checking you out on Instagram, and every other social network. If you’re not there, they’re going to go away, and for any agency that thinks it’s any different …
Yes, that big brand that’s looking at you as an agency, they’re doing the same thing. They’re sitting at home, flipping through their iPad, looking at your sites and figure it out. It’s not only happening in a sterile office. Those days are long gone.
Yes people look at your office, but let’s face it, the first thing we do when we’re trying to figure out anything is we go out to Google. If I’m searching for hot agencies in Boston, or wherever it is, and I don’t find you, you’re invisible. It doesn’t matter … I don’t have any reason to go searching for you anywhere else, when your 10 competitors popped up in front of me and I checked them out.
Drew: Right. Yeah, you don’t have to work that hard to find people to put into the consideration set. So if you’re not there when I’m looking for people to put in the consideration set, I’m not going to break a sweat to try and find an agency I’ve never heard of before anyway. Because, as you said, there’s 10 here. Okay, great. Surely in the 10 I can find one.
C.C.: That’s something too. That’s one of the piece of advice I’d give anybody out there running an agency. If they’re hearing this and going, “Well I don’t know where to start,” the first action item I would give any agency is go look at your competitors. You know who your competitors are. You know who’s getting called into the RFP all the time against you. Go look at what they’re doing. Do your own research. That’s the very first thing you should do.
You’ll get ideas, you’ll probably shake your head at some things, going, “Well that doesn’t work for us. But that thing does.” By knowing what your competitors are doing, that’s warfare 101, right? Look at your enemies.
If nothing else, take an hour, take two hours, and go check out what your competitors are doing. That’s not just a onetime thing. It’s a onetime thing when you’re first starting out, or if you’re trying to get ideas, but you should be paying attention.
If you’re not following them on their social channels, that’s just silly, because you want to be ahead of them. You never know what something is going to spark of “Oh, we could do something similar to that,” or “Why didn’t we think of that?” But if you’re not watching your competitors, come on. In today’s world it’s so easy to follow along and see what they’re doing.
Drew: I think also getting over the idea that a lot of agencies don’t want to put stuff out online because their competitors will see it. You know what? It’s time to get over that.
I can remember we launched our agency blog back in like ’06 or ’07, and I can remember looking through the subscriber list, and every other agency owner in my region was on that list. I was like, okay. I can’t unsubscribe them, so you just have to be confident enough in your own abilities to just put it out there.
But it doesn’t make sense in today’s world to hide what you do and how smart you are because you’re afraid the competition is going to see it. Because the problem is, if you hide it, the next client who would’ve hired you also doesn’t get to see it.
C.C.: Exactly. It’s funny because we have those conversations all the time with people, right? When it’s like, “Well we can’t put that out there.” I’m like, “Yes, you can.” If it’s a trade secret or something, of course you don’t, but that ebook you’re publishing is not super-secret.
Why do it if you’re going to create content and not make it public, why in the world, unless you’re doing some very niche building community internal type of stuff, then that’s one thing. But yeah, you’ve got to put it out there.
Drew: Yeah. I think the whole idea of trade secrets is crazy. Agencies kill me. All agencies have a process, and they call it their proprietary process. And the proprietary process is basically, now everyone has their own names for it. But it’s basically, we’re going to learn about you, we’re going to put together a plan, we’re going to implement the plan, and then we’re going to measure, monitor, and tweak the plan.
C.C.: But our process is different!
Drew: Right. I think it’s important to have a process. I think clients want to know that you’ve done this before and you are process-driven. And I think it’s great to have things that you think of as proprietary or secret or whatever, but you can at least give away bits and pieces of that to give somebody a sense of who and what you are. Because you won’t get another chance.
C.C.: Exactly. Yeah. You’re not going to … Let’s face it, even … One of my arguments for this too … I love to cook. I don’t bake, because baking is chemistry and you have to follow the recipe. But I think, especially in the agency world, even if I laid out my exact process, verbatim, it’s still just a recipe.
The way I cook it and the way somebody else cooks it is going to taste totally different, because there is some magic in there that you can’t document. There’s no way to explain that magic that happens when you’re coming up with a great idea, or the execution. There’s always some magic in there. That’s why I always love it when people like, “C.C. how do you do this or do that?”
And I’m like … There’s always that little magic box in the middle where something happens. But it’s always different because it’s what’s going on in your employees’ heads, it’s what the discussions … It’s never just the stuff you put out there in the public.
Drew: Well, and that sort of suggests that it’s this sterile thing that you make in a vacuum, as opposed to … Staying with your analogy, if I came to your house while you were cooking, and my experience of hanging out with you in the kitchen, and what we talked about, and how I got to suggest some things to throw into the soup or whatever you were making. All of that changes what we actually end up eating, right?
So that’s what agencies also have to offer, is it’s not that you just walk into a sterile kitchen, it’s here’s what it’s like to hang out in our kitchen and to work with us, and our chefs, and our sous-chefs, and that’s what makes us different.
C.C.: Exactly. Yup.
How to Create Content that Stands Out
Drew: Yeah. So in terms of content, you know one of the things that everybody’s talking about now as the whole idea of content marketing gets a little more mature, is all of the noise and the buzz.
So give me a couple rules for agencies of how to make their content stand out from the fray. How do they make it so it doesn’t sound like everybody else and all the other buzz and noise that’s out there?
C.C.: A couple things. First, that’s where the whole recipe idea comes into play too. Write an ebook that answers your top 10 questions that your sales force gets. There’s a recipe for a really good piece of content, but it’s been done a million times.
How do you make it different? How do you make it stand out? Maybe you find a fun angle. Maybe you spend the money to have a really cool designer, or partner with an illustrator who’s got a following, or something. There’s lots of different ways to do it.
You have to find, even if you’re doing something tried and true, you’ve got to find your own unique angle, to do something unexpected that will pop out and make someone go, “Huh, haven’t seen that before.” That’s one way.
The other way is by community building. You can make the most beautiful piece of content, the most engaging, perfectly created piece of content, but if you don’t have a community of dedicated fans, or customers, or donors that you can easily reach out to and put that in their hands, you’re in trouble. You’ve got to build that community, always.
That’s the first line, right? Be able to have that email database, where you can email and say, “Hey, we just created this piece of content, we hope you’ll check it out, we’ll hope you share it with your community.” Because reaching that first line is easy, and the key is you want them to share it beyond themselves. But every day I see people not building their email database, or not building their customer database.
Chris Penn always talks about you live and die by your database, and it’s true. I have to have those people. And don’t think that your Facebook fans and your Twitter followers are enough, because they’re not. Your Twitter followers are reading all kinds of stuff, and it’s really easy for something to go flying by.
The other tactic that I think is forgotten often about, is when you’re creating a piece of content, and you know … We’re going to create this video. We’re going to publish it on Monday.
Okay, so you’re publishing it on Monday, but what are you going to do the week or two weeks ahead of it to tease it and tee it up? Then also, once it’s live, how are you going to promote it? And then after the fact, how are you going to promote it more, for everybody who missed it? People seem to put all their effort in that day, launch day.
Drew: The launch, yeah, right.
C.C.: Which of course is important, but there’s so many opportunities to tee it up and tease it ahead of time, and then even days, weeks, months later, to still be driving traffic back to it. Because people miss it, and to assume that just because you published it, everybody sees it, is dangerous. But I see that mistake all the time. I try to do that before, during, and after. It’s amazing how many people don’t figure that out. They focus on the launch, and that’s very shortsighted.
How to Build a Community that Cares About Your Content
Drew: Well, let’s shift a little bit and talk about community. Because a lot of agencies create content, they put it out on their own blog, website, Facebook page, whatever, and then they sit and wait, hoping that people will find it, right? I don’t think with content, especially the volume of content that’s out there and the volume of webpages … It is not a build it and they will come sort of a thing. You really do have to create that community.
So talk to us a little bit about how an agency might create a community in advance, so that when they do start creating great content, it does have the opportunity to get out in front of more eyeballs.
C.C.: Well, I’m going to be really blunt and honest here, and start by saying most people could care less about following a marketing agency or a PR agency, because there’s no reason for them to. I start by that because what my answer to the question is going to be is, building that community means you have to give something to that community. It can’t just be nothing but your client pitches and products and stuff.
I think of Edelman. Huge agency for sure, but I pay attention to them because they put out things like their yearly trust report they’ve come up with, and other reports, and other ebooks that they put out there that me, as a professional in this space, I want to read that, I want to be part of it. So I opt in.
Drew: It helps make you better. Right.
C.C.: Yeah, exactly. It gives me something. Then of course, that opens me up to getting their product pitches too, and their client stuff, which is fine, because it balances. It gives me a reason to opt into their email list, or to follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
I think of SHIFT Communications, they’re a PR firm here in Boston. They send out a really good weekly newsletter, and I know every, I forget what day they send it out and I’m blanking. I know it’s going to come in my inbox. What’s great is, their approach is they gather the biggest news from around the industry every week, they put that in, and then of course their clients are in there too. But I’m getting something out of it. If you want to build a community, a community has to … And this doesn’t matter what kind of community you’re building.
Everybody’s got to get something out of it, they’ve got to feel like they’re getting something out of it so that they keep coming back. If all you’re doing is shouting, “Look at our clients, look at our clients!”, why would …
Drew: Or, “Look at us, look at us.”
C.C.: Yeah. Why would I care about that? The average person doesn’t. But if you give them something on a regular basis, create something to give them back to it, that’s when community starts building. We talk about the metaphor of the campfire. I feel welcome around this campfire, and every so often you throw in another log on the fire, and I’m like, “Oh, cool, I’ll stay a little bit longer.”
You’ve got to make me feel welcome, give me a reason to come in and sit down, and then give me a reason to stick around. I think that’s the community thing that people forget, is that the best communities are constantly being fed. There’s something more to keep you there so you don’t leave or hit that unsubscribe button.
Drew: Well, and I think too, that’s where agencies have an advantage, is if they have an area of expertise, whether it’s an industry niche or some sort of a deliverable, to really be able to dive deeper into that content.
Let’s say you’re a financial services expert, now everything you’re writing about that’s about the financial services industry, that helps me, as a financial services professional, be smarter at my job. And, to what we were talking about before, if I’m a bricklayer, I don’t care and I’m not going to read it. Well great, because that’s not the ideal client for you anyway.
C.C.: Yeah. It’s funny how many times … I’m giving a speech in the Netherlands here in a couple days, and I know I have a whole slide talking about the content you create does not have to be for everybody. Because I think that far too often … Because when you go general … You see this with agencies too, where they’re like, “We do everything.”
No you don’t, and if you do, you’re not doing … Jack of all trades is not a good thing for an agency to be. Yes, you can do a lot of different things, but I hope you focus, whether it’s an industry, or you’re very good at video, or you’re very good at photography, who knows. Like you said, financial services. There’s lots of different ways.
The content you create does not have to appeal to the general public. You want it to appeal to the types of customers, and clients, and brands that you’re hoping to attract. I think too often people are trying to appeal to everybody.
It’s YouTube that messed it up for everybody, because viral videos are the cat videos that get millions of views, and I think people forget that you don’t get a million views for your agency stuff. You don’t need a million views. You need a couple thousand. Don’t get me wrong, you always want more views, but I’ll take a thousand views from potential clients rather than a million views from just random people who are never going to give me business.
Drew: That’s right. Yeah, absolutely. I think sometimes agency owners forget how few new clients they need to be successful. Really, for the average agency that I deal with is 300 employees or less, and for them a handful of rock solid new clients are all the can onboard in the course of a year. They don’t want to take on 15 or 20 new clients. They don’t have the infrastructure to do it.
C.C.: Right, and it’s almost a … If all of a sudden you bring on all these new clients and you can’t service them, that’s worse than not getting them in the first place I think.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. Well, especially in today’s world, where you get talked about everywhere. You want to deliver on the promises you make, because otherwise everybody’s going to be calling you out publicly.
C.C.: Yep, exactly. There you go. Then if you’re not creating enough content to bounce that off of Google’s front page, guess what people are going to find.
Combining Your Online Content with Your Offline Presence
Drew: Right. Absolutely. So how else … I know that a lot of the stuff you talk about is things that happen online, but I also know that you have a very robust offline life. So how do you recommend people connect their online digital footprint and content with their offline presence?
C.C.: I’ve never been asked that one before. Wow. I think it’s one of those things where … That’s where being who you are is really really important. As an agency … I’ll focus on Instagram for just one second. As an agency, if you go to a networking event, like CreativeMornings which was today in Boston and all around the world.
If you go to that event, take some pictures at the event and post it, and say, “Hey, this morning we listened to a great speaker,” or if we’re at a conference, or even if it’s just, “Hey, we had our staff meeting at this local coffee shop.” Whatever it is, adding that out of the office …
It has nothing to do with any … I’m a big believer in just … If you follow me on any network, you’ll see I share … I took a picture … I had a really good lunch a couple minutes ago, and then the next picture was of my desk. Are either of those things going to bring me business?
Probably not, but what it does do is it makes it much more human. You start seeing these other sides. And agencies can do that. They can show pictures of their staff. They can show little slices of life, and that connects the offline and the online, to show that you are more than just your clients, you are more than just your pitches or your product launches. There is more to you. It’s amazing how many people don’t do that. I see individuals do this a lot, all the time, where all their feeds are, are pimp, pimp, pimp, pimp, and it’s like, “Don’t you have a life? Come on.”
C.C.: It’s crazy.
Drew: Well, and I think the balance to that is, your community gives you permission to do those sort of off topic things, when you’ve also given them enough valuable content that they’ll hang in there. Then over time they come to know you and they like those things.
I’m sure this happens to you all the time, but I’ll go to a conference or something else and I’ll bump into somebody who’s read the blog or followed me on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, and what I love is that they say two things. One, “My gosh, you sound just like you do online.” I love when I hear that. And the second thing they’ll say is, “How’s your daughter?” And I think, okay, you know what, they know what matters to me.
C.C.: Yup. Yeah, it’s always funny, because I remember, especially back in the early podcasting days, when Facebook wasn’t … God forbid, Facebook didn’t exist yet, at least not publicly and stuff. So there wasn’t a lot of images, and people would be like, “Wow, you’re just like you are online.”
I’m like, “Well yeah, who else would I be?” There’s nothing better. Whenever I go anywhere, I get, “How are the kids?” or “How’s Nadia?” where anybody who knows me knows my dog is part of my life. Yeah, you’re right. Those feelings … Those are the people that make me really happy, and I instantly want to have a conversation with, because it shows that they’re paying attention to me and what I do, not just …
Drew: That you matter.
C.C.: Yeah, exactly, and it feels great. It is weird though, because I always feel bad when I don’t know as much about the other person. I still this day feel awkward. It’s probably someone I never even interacted with before, but I’m always like, “Man, I wish I knew something about them.” It’s my New England upbringing. I feel like I want to know everything.
Drew: Well, but again, they have to share it, first. But I think a lot of times, when an agency first picks up the phone, or answers the email, where the prospective client is finally reaching out, so they’ve done all their due diligence, they’ve done their homework.
For you to sound and feel just like what they’ve experienced online, and for them to be able to reference some personal aspects of who you and your agency are, takes the conversation to a completely different level. A much more … A level of some intimacy and some connection, that as people, I think, we all want.
C.C.: I agree. I agree fully, because it makes that human factor, makes it a little bit more connected. You feel like you know … You know the people and the faces behind the agency, and it’s not just … It’s just not the agency pitch, it’s actually, these are actually humans. These are actually good people, and they do good work. If you can get that combination, it’s a beautiful thing, because sometimes bad people do really good work. But when you can actually work with people that you connect with, that’s even better.
Drew: And ultimately the work is better.
C.C.: Amen. Always.
Immediate Action Steps for Creating Content that Plays to Your Strengths
Drew: Yeah. All right, you and I could chat for more than hours on this stuff, but I want to bring us to some kind of a conclusion. I try and wrap up every podcast with some real action items.
So based on all of the places we’ve bounced around in this conversation, if an agency owner is nodding their head and they’re saying, “Yep, either I want to build community so my content has more reach,” or “Yep, I gotta get serious about creating content that’s good and differentiates us on a consistent basis,” or “I want to really dig into this idea of social good and how it can serve both my community and my agency,” what’re some things that agency owners could do right now, as soon as they get off the podcast, that they could put one or more of those into action?
C.C.: Well I was going to say, they could hire me.
Drew: Sure, of course they could.
C.C.: It’s funny, I can’t say that with a straight face. I think what they really need to do … The very first thing they can do is to stop and take a look at their social channels. Seriously take a look at whatever accounts they have, Facebook, Instagrams, the Twitters, and see what they’ve published in the last month.
Just take the last month, and really look at what you’ve done. And ask yourself, if I knew nothing about my agency, if I was just somebody out there in the wild, what would I think of this agency? Then get even more specific. Think, okay, if I was a brand, if I was a dream client, and I looked at this, what would I think? If you’re looking to hire, do it from the employee perspective. Play that game. Put your mind in the other person, and just look and say, “Am I doing it? Am I creating content? Have I done anything to build a community?”
If you haven’t done that in the last 30 days, maybe … That’s where I would start, because it’s a really quick snapshot of, “Oh my God, we’re not doing anything, are we?” I think it’s a really quick and easy way to get you started. And then think, “Okay, well if I didn’t, what can I do in the next month to get that ball rolling?”
Right there, anybody can do that, any size agency. We’re not talking about coming up with a three, six, and twelve month plan, although that would be a next step. Just look at the past month of creation, and the next month, and how you can improve it. And start there, because you’ll start seeing, “Oh yeah.”
The other thing, the one bit of advice that I try to give people all the time, especially when it comes to content, but it’s true of anything you’re trying to get better at. It gets easier the more you do it. You can only read so many books, you can only watch so many videos, before you actually have to get your hands dirty and do it.
Once you start doing it, it just becomes second nature, or it becomes easier. There’s no shortcut to this. You have to either do it yourself, or hire professionals to do it for you. But somebody’s going to get their hands dirty. If you just try to think of finding the shortcuts and automating all this stuff, it’s just not going to work. I can’t be any more blunt than that, because I firmly believe that.
Drew: Yeah. Well and, given that many agencies sell this to their clients, it seems to me that this is a muscle that they should be exercising on their own benefit as well. If you’re going to go sell it, then you should be doing it for yourself. Otherwise I think clients look at you and go, “I’m sorry, but the emperor is naked.”
C.C.: It’s amazing to me how many agencies I see doing that. Who they talk a good game, but then I spend five minutes looking and I’m like, “Well, they say they do this, but they’re not doing it for themselves?” And let’s face it, brands are getting smarter. Your name, having the big agency name or the previous success, alone is not enough. We all know this.
Budgets are getting smaller, they’re getting tighter. Being an agency of record isn’t what it used to be. People are going up for review much more often, and so you’ve got to be constantly proving yourself. If you’re selling this stuff, digital marketing, online marketing, whatever you want to call it, you’ve got to be doing it yourself.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. All right, so everybody, if you do nothing else, go back and do a little self-assessment, and maybe ask some folks in your agency to do the same thing. Bring people together and have a very candid conversation about whether or not, if you were a prospective client, you’d be impressed, or you would even notice. Because I think sometimes not getting noticed is the worst of all.
Drew: So C.C., if folks want to track you down, what’s some contact information that they can use to find you?
C.C.: Sure. Easiest place is CC-Chapman.com. It’s my site. There’s a contact form. There’s blogs out there. I’m CC_Chapman on pretty much every other social network. Hit me up, say hello. I love talking to people and I love helping people do this stuff right.
Drew: Well, and another great place to start … I can’t imagine you haven’t done it already, but if you have not read C.C. and Ann’s book, you have got to get it on your Kindle, or get it from the library, or run to Barnes & Noble, whatever, how you feed yourself with books. However you need to do that, but make sure that that is on your library shelf and that you have read it.
Again, if you’ve read it five years ago when it first came out, it’s probably time for a reread, because there’s great content in there. C.C., thank you so much for sharing what you know and your enthusiasm around the topic, and being so accessible. I am very grateful that you were with us today. Thank you.
C.C.: Oh, thank you for having me.
Drew: My pleasure. Everybody, another great podcast in the can. Come on back next week for another guest. If you are enjoying this content, please subscribe so you don’t miss any.
If you think that it is rock solid and you’re enjoying it, always happy to have a review and rating.
If you have questions about this topic of how to create content that plays to your strengths or any of the things we talk about on the podcast, you know you can reach me at [email protected]. Thank you very much for giving us your time and attention, and I will see you next week.