Episode 431

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We’re already a week into the new year, which means it’s time to get back to business. We’re kicking off the first regular episode of the year with one of our favorite podcast guests, Robert Rose, to discuss how we should approach our content marketing strategy in 2024.

For the longest time, strategy was always something that agencies just threw in as part of the package for the tangible content work they were already doing for clients — but times have changed.

Strategy is now becoming the bread and butter of agencies that should drive their content blueprint. It’s quickly becoming what keeps us in business and competitive against larger consultancy firms.

In this episode, we’re getting into the weeds of content marketing strategy and how to sell it to clients so that we can stay at the top of the food chain. We’ll also cover how AI fits into our content strategy, how we can leverage it as a tool, and what our clients want from us regarding AI education.

This is a fast-paced episode with a lot of areas to cover, so buckle in and get ready to rethink your entire content marketing strategy for this year.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

content marketing strategy

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Content marketing strategy isn’t sexy, but it’s the roadmap that shows you where to go
  • Where we get content strategy wrong
  • Selling yourself as a strategist to clients
  • Selling our ideas vs. giving them away
  • Competing against large consultancy firms by shifting from digital assets to content strategy
  • Leveraging generative AI in content creation
  • The opportunity to teach clients about AI is ours to take
  • Efficiency over efficacy — what makes us more profitable?

“It's not, ‘How can we become great,’ or ‘How can we help our clients become great every now and again?’ It's, ‘How do we build an operation that can consistently create great things?’” - Robert Rose Share on X
“The vast majority of businesses don't create too much content. They actually create too many digital assets. And that's because most content teams and agencies are not in the content business. We're in the digital asset business.” - Robert Rose Share on X
“Often, these great, big, wonderful content ideas get put into tiny containers. I've seen what could be entire brand campaigns get poured into the contents of a blog post simply because that was needed at the time it was due.” - Robert Rose Share on X
“What you want to get paid for is great content and great ideas. That's where you become sticky.” - Robert Rose Share on X
“One thing we've discovered is that in the few projects we've done for clients, we have found that AI doesn't make things more efficient. It actually makes things more effective.” - Robert Rose Share on X

Ways to contact Robert:


Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast Group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.

And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the URL? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If you haven’t been there for a while, come on back. If you haven’t joined, join in to the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of the money you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by a white label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with an episode of Build a Better Agency. And you are gonna be really glad that you tuned in for this one. This is one of our favorite guests. We’ve had him here before. He’s been a speaker at the summit, and he is just all around, probably most of ours. One of our favorite guys in terms of being smart, in terms of being generous. I know all of you are familiar with his work and follow him closely. So you’re gonna be excited when I tell you who it is and what we’re gonna talk about. But first, before we do that, just a quick reminder as we come upon the new year, we’ve got lots of great workshops in 2024, starting in March. We don’t have any until March, but March, April, and then all the months following, we’ve got workshops here in Denver all through the spring, summer, and fall focused on agency owners.

We have the AE bootcamps, all kinds of good stuff. So if you’re curious about when those are, and getting registered for those, head over to agency management institute.com. And under the How We Help Navigation link, you’re gonna see workshops. If you click on the word workshops, you’ll actually get to a list of all the workshops and there’s details about each one. And you can click on each one and read more about them. So if you’re thinking about professional development and growth and learning for yourself or someone on your team, that’s a good place to start. All right. Okay. Let me tell you, or I guess remind you about our little bit about our guest. So Robert Rose is really a content king.

He understands content and the strategy behind content better than most will ever understand it. He has written several books on the topic. As you know, he is a key figure at Content Marketing Institute. He is one of the lead dogs at Content Marketing World. If you’ve ever been to that conference, which is a great one. And this fall, he just put out a new book called Content Marketing Strategy Harness the Power of Your Brand’s Voice. And it’s awesome. It is very how to, it is very illuminating in terms of how we should be thinking about the strategy of content marketing for ourselves and for our clients.

And so I can’t wait to dive into this with Robert. I wanna talk a little bit about how the book came to be, the main tenants of the book. We’re gonna talk a little bit about ai. So I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff that I wanna run by him. So buckle in, ’cause this is gonna be a very fast episode. And before you know it in a blink, the hour’s gonna be gone. So let’s welcome him to the show. Robert, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for coming back.

Oh my gosh. One of my favorites on the entire planet. Thank you so much for having me back, my friend.

So we have a lot to cover and I’m, I’m sure we’re just only gonna scrape the surface. But let’s start with the book. So you have written several books. You have a brand new book I have coming out, which I’m gonna hold up, even though only you and I are gonna see it, content marketing strategy harness The Power of Your Brand’s Voice. So what prompted this book? ’cause I know as an author you sort of get a nudge of like, ugh, that book has to be written. Right? So what was the, what was the nudge for you?

You know, here in All, in All Full Transparency here was, here’s the very quick story, basically. So for the last 13 years, I have been creating a, a class, and it’s primarily driven through content marketing university, which is I do through Content Marketing Institute. And every year for the last 13 years, I have been tweaking it and changing it, improving it, hopefully. And in 2021, and I am conscious of the day 2021, ’cause 2020 was a weird year. Yes, it was. I basically felt like it was done. Like it was, I finally felt like I had, you know, in the classic sculptor, I had uncovered the el elephant after chip, chipping away everything that didn’t look like an elephant, and was really proud of it.

And basically really started to think I should codify this in some way. Like I should, you know, ’cause it’s, you know, it’s a big PowerPoint, it’s a lot of videos, it’s scripts, it’s, you know, sort of all this thing. I should codify it into a book and just sort of of have it. And in the middle of 2022, the summer of 2022, basically Kogan page, just I guess, you know, in sort of a synchronicity, emailed one day and said, Hey, listen, we are thinking about, we really want to have a book on content marketing, and would you wanna do that? And I said, that’s funny, you should mention that. And I said, but here’s the thing. It’s gonna be a really geeky book and it’s gonna be about strategy.

I said, it’s not gonna be about content. It’s, you know, in other words, there are plenty of books out there, including some that I’ve written that storytelling and the great content and how to create impactful SEO and all that great books out there. And it’s not about marketing, because there are great books out there about marketing as well. But what there’s not a great book out there about right now is content marketing strategy, sort of how all of the things that we do, the activities that we do in a business sort of fit together to create some sort of competitive advantage with this practice that we call content marketing. And they were like, well, that’s exactly what we want. We want a textbook, we want a geeky university style textbook of, of, of strategy. And so it was a match made in heaven.

And I was like, great, let’s go. And so I, you know, starting in the, in the winter basically of 2022, we finally got to a deal, and here we are at the end of 2023 and the book is out.

So I will say for the, the listeners, it doesn’t read like a geeky textbook. I mean, it’s, it reads like, thank you. It reads like one of your books. It’s, it’s, it’s good, it’s practical, it’s great stories, it’s great examples to help people understand the, the structure of what you’re talking about. So if, if you’re listening, you’re like, I don’t wanna read a textbook. This is a typical Robert Rose book. It is not a textbook. It, it, it may have a lot of thank you for that juicy meat in it, but it, it doesn’t read that way.

Yeah. Well, I try and keep it, you know, I mean, I try and keep it entertaining anyway, you know what I mean? Yeah. It’s like, that’s, that’s the, you know, if if you’re not having some sort of interesting, fun sort of, you know, entertainment, I, I don’t think you’re learning. So, you know, but I guess what I mean to say is that it’s, it’s not, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not a wind you up and get you excited book. It’s a how to for sure.

Right. Well, that’s actually what I was just gonna say. That’s what I love about it, is it is a how to. And so when we think about this audience agencies, and, you know, I think when content sort of started to become a thing, agencies have, you know, you and I will recall, we’re really struggling to figure out how to monetize it, how not to, you know, get paid a dollar to do something that was gonna cost $10 to do. And Yep. How to really help their clients understand the value of creating content and having a strategy around it. And I think we’ve come a long ways in terms of sort of figuring out how to price it and how to get it done well. But I think a lot of agencies struggle with clients wanting to rush right to the creation of the thing without having a strategy.

So I think this book in particular, in particular for agencies, for on the client side, is a great framework to sort of use to educate clients about why strategy matters and how to create strategy. And as you know, you know, with the book that Steven and I wrote and all of that, I’m a firm believer that content is how agencies should market themselves as well. So it’s also everybody, a field guide on how you should be thinking about your content strategy for yourself and for your shop, and how to build that out so you’re not just banging out x number of blog posts a week or whatever your cadence is, but that there is a, a framework and a strategy by which you hang all of the content.

So it accomplishes what you’re trying to accomplish. I mean, that’s the power of this book is the strategy part. And as, as you say, it’s not the sexy part. Right. So let’s talk about, let’s talk about that a little bit. So I know you, you talk about that content strategy isn’t necessarily the sexiest part of content marketing, but it is, it is the roadmap. It is, it does tell you where to go as opposed to just getting in the car and driving around aimlessly.

Yeah, I mean it’s, you know, the, and you make such a great point with regard to agencies, because having worked, I mean, I came outta the agency world and, and, and now I’m myself am am really an agency. I’m small, you know, sort of solopreneur kind of thing as a consultancy, but it’s the same business. And, and it’s a dual sword, right? I mean, where we are helping our clients in many ways develop their prowess as a trusted advisor to making their marketing and content better. And we ourselves need to do the same thing, right? And enable our organization to market ourselves better. And so the idea here is, is that what has gotten conflated in so many ways with regard to content marketing and our approach to it is the content itself.

In other words, we spend all our time, time to create, you know, something viral or something amazing or impactful or innovative or, you know, storytelling and all of these things. And we spend all our time there. And those things are ephemeral at best, right? They’re, they’re only going to exist as a successful metric for the time that they’re created. And best case scenario, somebody starts copying us and we become just part of the noise again. And so it’s not how we can become great every now and again and how, or how we can help our clients become great every now and again. It’s how do we build an operation that can consistently create great things, and that’s both for our clients as well as for us.

And so the way to do that is to, you know, we often think, oh, content marketing is marketing like a media company. Like right, you we’re gonna create all these cool trailers and films and cool things that a media company would. And it’s like, no, it’s not that. It’s about operating as a media company does. So the processes, the digital asset management, the activities we do, the foundational charters for our teams, the ways that we construct those teams and the activities that they perform in day to day, so that we operate as such, is the way that we create that consistency and really treat it like a strategic function in the business, no matter if we’re doing that for our clients or for ourselves.

Well, and I’ve always said, you know, if you’re not ready to do this for clients, then you’re the perfect Guinea pig. Do it for yourself first. Exactly. Build it out for you. And then when you have it, you know, at a b plus level, great. Roll it out to clients.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it, it’s, it’s, it’s a challenge in the sense that you, you, you know, when we think about how does content get made, and this is true in agencies as well, we think, how does content get made? And mostly we go, it just happens, right? You know, we, we, we, we have an idea and then, I don’t know, the team kind of does stuff and magic comes out the other side of it. And then by the way, that’s businesses as well as agencies. Yeah. And that messy, magical stuff might literally be us. Like we might literally get the creative brief or whatever, and it’s like, make some magic happen and we make some magic happen, and out comes content on the other side, and then they go, how did you do that?

And you go, I don’t know, we just did it. It it’s project by project or piece by piece or whatever. And it’s actually putting a system to that that’s really important.

Well, and I think for a lot of agencies it’s, it’s either there’s no system or it’s the system of Right. Everybody’s gonna be in a conference room and nobody leaves the conference room until their blog post is done, or, or whatever. That’s right. The thing is right’s. So it’s either this mandated activity, but still it’s at the activity level, not really the strategy level. And, and, you know, I I I rail against the idea that a lot of agency content is still, you know, the Pantone color of the year blog post that, you know, all 10,000 agencies write as opposed to them really understanding why that would be relevant or not to their audience.

That’s right. And either letting it go or putting their own spin on it so it actually has, you know, that’s right. That’s

Some connects,

Right. Appreciate everything else they’re doing.


So where do we get content wrong? Where, where do we, or where do we, or clients, where do we get the strategy wrong in terms of the operation? Is it that it just isn’t codified and it’s not sort of an a, a system and process in our project management system and that we have sort of tools to use to sort of do it the same way over and over? Is that the mistake we make? Or is it somewhere else?

It, well, it, it’s in all of those places, but I’m gonna pick on one very particular thing because what we have found is, is that if you can at least get this one thing right, then a lot of it becomes a lot more sane or a lot more doable. And, and the switch that we have to make is that when we, when we meet with clients, and inevitably today, especially in the world that we live in, the feeling is we create too much content. Like we create so much content and we don’t know what’s working, and we don’t know how to make more of it. And we’re trying to make more of it as best we can. And it quite literally is the throw enough spaghetti against the wall, and some of it sticks kind of right, right.

Mentality. And the reason for that, and when we actually uncover, and we actually go in and do the audit and do the work, what we find is, is that the vast majority of businesses don’t create too much content. They actually create too many digital assets. And that’s because we’re not in most content teams and agencies. We’re not in the content business, we’re in the digital asset business. In other words, we get asked for a digital asset. It could be an ebook, a white paper, a webpage, a landing page, a website, an email program. You know, we’re thinking container first. And then we go, great, now we have this strategy to create a container. Well, one of the elements that we have to put into it is content.

And so we think, how are we gonna pour content into this container to make it work as best we can? And unfortunately what happens is, in most cases, we either duplicate ideas we’ve already done, or we create ideas as best we can for that container. And what happens is, is that great big, wonderful content ideas get put into really small containers. I’ve seen so many amazing what could be entire brand campaigns poured into the con contents of a blog post, simply because that was what was needed at the

Time that was due, right?

Yeah. That was what was due, or the reverse, which is actually worse and happens more often, which is really small ideas get put into these big pieces like a white paper or a research project or a campaign, because that was what was due at the time. And so we have to reverse that thinking. First of all, in any internal content team or the agency, the first thing we have to do is create as a process the content. What is the idea? How are we gonna express that idea, the words, the pictures, the ideas, all of these things in a mishmash of focused, you know, sort of expression, then figure out, great.

Now what are all the containers that we need to actually express that in the right way? Just switching those two ideas can change us from sort of an asset factory into a true content creation machine.

Yeah. It’s interesting because when I think about sort of how most people approach like a content plan or a marketing plan, it’s okay, every quarter we’re gonna produce a eBooks, and once a month we’re gonna produce a blah, blah, blah. And every year we’re gonna do a piece of research and have an executive summary. Yeah. And out of that, we’re gonna produce 52 blog posts, but Exactly. But there’s no idea or like meaningful meat on the bone in any of that. It’s a laundry list of things to make as opposed to ideas to share.

That’s right. Our editorial strategy in so many ways is a widget strategy, right. You know, you see so many editorial strategies that look exactly like what you just said. You know, you get the Excel spreadsheet and the plan is, okay, we’re gonna create 50, you know, 50 eBooks, plus we’re gonna create, you know, 14, you know, blog posts, you know, per, you know, quarter. And we’re gonna do a podcast and they’re gonna have seven episodes of it and, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they’re just widgets, they’re just content widgets, right? And then we go, great. Are we approved with that? Because that’s how we associate, we’ve come to sort of, in our minds associate cost. Right?

Right. I was just gonna say, I, I think that’s what agencies are thinking is like, well, crap, I, the way I sell a content package

Exactly, is by container.

Yep. It’s four large things and three medium things, and that’s right. 12 little things, right?

That’s right. We’re getting paid for exactly the wrong thing. Right? Right. We’re getting paid for exactly the wrong thing because honestly, creating the next ebook, let’s just be honest, the mechanics of that, we know how to do, we know exactly how much that costs, right? What we don’t know is how much the great, amazing, innovative idea that we need to generate. And that’s always the hard unknown part, right? It’s like, oh, what are we gonna put into this container that we know exactly how much it’s gonna cost