Episode 297:

As Stephen Woessner and I teach in our book Sell With Authority, it’s critical for agencies to use content to attract their right fit prospects. When it’s done well and consistently, it can give an agency an unfair advantage over all of their competitors. But what exactly does doing it well mean these days?

Author, speaker, and entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi is credited with coining the phrase “content marketing”. His focus is on teaching marketers how they can build a business by being helpful more than relying on more aggressive selling tactics. He brings a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the work that he hopes will inspire your successful game plan.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Joe and I discuss the various aspects of content marketing. We look at how it has changed, what is being done wrong, and the many ways to improve your content strategy. We also discuss exit strategies, the importance of building a community, and new ways to think about niche marketing.

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

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What has changed in content marketing and why it changed so fast
  • What is being done wrong by many agencies?
  • The need for consistency
  • The importance of exit strategy planning
  • Can a generalist agency employ a content strategy?
  • Why you need to build a community
  • How to build patience into your lead generation
  • Niche marketing
“Most of us are creating content the wrong way and it doesn’t have to be that way. ” @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet “I don’t care how good your content is, if you’re not consistent, you’re not going to build an audience.” @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet “Marketing is different than making a decision over what project you are or are not going to take.” @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet “If you’re in the content business, you’re in the giving business.” @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet “If it’s a small niche, be the leading expert in that niche and the niche will grow and you’ll create opportunities you never dreamed of.” @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet “You have to create something that compels, and that’s what we don’t do.” @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Joe Pulizzi:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

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 what you make. The Build A Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to midsize agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Thanks for coming back. As always, I want to remind you that I am very aware that you are busy, and so carving out some time to hang out with me and my guests I know is a luxury that I get to enjoy, so I thank you for doing that. You are going to be super glad you did today. My guest is I’ll give you a little… I will actually tell you who my guest is. I know a lot of times, I mean, tease you and don’t tell you until I’m ready to intro them into the room, but my guest is Joe Pulizzi, former owner of Content Marketing Institute, author of several amazing books including the brand new second edition of Content Inc., the subtitle of which is Start A Content-First Business, Build A Massive Audience and Become Radically Successful with Little to No Money.

Drew McLellan:

That just came out in May of 2021. Great read, completely looks at content differently than the first edition, really talks about the variations between the two, so you’re going to want to get that. But before I introduce Joe, and bring him into the room as it were, I just want to remind you of a tool that we have available to you on the website for free, because I think we’re going to… I guarantee you that Joe and I are going to talk a little bit about niching. I know you get tired of me talking about this topic, but I think that it’s certainly critical with content to have some unique point of view, or as Joe calls it, a tilt to the way you look at the world.

Drew McLellan:

One way to do that is to have a niche. If you are wrestling with if you should have a niche, and which niche is the right niche for your agency, I have built a little report card, a criteria chart that you fill out. It’s an Excel document, and basically, it just walks you through some thinking around niches and which ones might be best for you based on some criteria I’ve identified that I think are important. If you go over to agencymanagementinstitute.com/nichecriteria, that’s all one word, niche criteria, you can download that Excel report card, and give yourself the test and see how you do, so highly recommend that.

Drew McLellan:

It’s been super helpful, I think, to the folks who’ve used it, so I’m hoping it’s helpful for you. All right, so all of you are very familiar with Joe. He is credited with coining the phrase content marketing. Before there were directors of content marketing or certainly before he created the Content Marketing World event, he was the guy who coined the phrase, and began to teach marketers how they could market by being helpful rather than trying to sell in a more aggressive way. As you know, if you have ever heard me talk before about the book that Steven Woessner and I wrote, Sell with Authority, what we talk about is really a content strategy specifically for agencies.

Drew McLellan:

It really walks you through how to do that. I think our book dovetails nicely with Joe’s. I’m sure he didn’t write it with that in mind, but it just worked out that way. We’re going to have an interesting conversation around a lot of things. Joe always brings a lot of passion and energy and enthusiasm for the work and for the people that he works with and the people he works for. I know we are up for a lively conversation. I don’t want to make you wait any longer, so let’s get right to it.

Drew McLellan:

Joe, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for coming back.

Joe Pulizzi:

I am so happy to see you and talk to you. It’s been so long. Of course, I’ve been seeing you travel, and you’re getting back to the real world and all that good stuff.

Drew McLellan:

Slowly but surely.

Joe Pulizzi:

It feels right, doesn’t it? It feels like we’re coming out into the bright light and in a good way.

Drew McLellan:

It feels like spring in every way, shape and form.

Joe Pulizzi:

It does. Absolutely. It’s good to see you. Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. Well, and I’m looking forward to seeing you in August.

Joe Pulizzi:

I can’t wait for that. Actually, it’s a presentation I’ve never done before.

Drew McLellan:

I know.

Joe Pulizzi:

We’re really focusing on how an agency can do what we did at Content Marketing Institute, so I’m going to be breaking it down. I’m excited because not everyone says, “Oh, Joe, do you talk content marketing?” Which by the way I’m fine with, because we’re going to talk about some of that today, but I really like focusing on, “Okay. You’re a business owner. You’re an entrepreneur. Here’s the decisions you have to make now so that in five years, you can have that exit, whatever that is that you want.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. I’m excited about it. I’ve asked all the speakers to give presentations that they haven’t given before. All of you are coming to the table with stuff that you’ve always talked about over a cocktail or over coffee, but just not from a stage, so I’m excited to bring that to everybody.

Joe Pulizzi:

It’ll be fun. I’d love talking about exit strategies these days, because nobody has them, so I love bringing them up. I mean not the whole presentation, but some of it is out there.

Drew McLellan:

I think it’s going to be great. Plus, we’re going to be together in person. I mean, that’s… I think the Build A Better Agency Summit may be one of the first in-person conferences for agency folks in 2021.

Joe Pulizzi:

I would have met… I can’t see anyone else beating you on that. Even the international ones aren’t… They won’t start happening either, so I think you got it.

Drew McLellan:

I don’t think anyone’s rushing to beat me either.

Joe Pulizzi:

You have to get some kind of an award for that.

Drew McLellan:

I think it’s the perseverance award. This, as you know, is the third dang date, so we’re doing it.

Joe Pulizzi:

I remember just seeing that. I remember he’s like, “Okay, we’re going to do it.” I’m like, “I don’t know.” Then he’ll go, “We’re going to do it.” I don’t know, and that’s like, “Okay, now, August 2021, we’re doing it.”

Drew McLellan:

It will feel very good to be back together, that’s for sure. Absolutely. All right, so I have 12 hours of things I want to talk to you about, so I hope you packed a snack.

Joe Pulizzi:

Good. I got a very large Snickers bar here.

Drew McLellan:

We’re good then. Let’s start with the book. What prompted you to go back and relook at content marketing now?

Joe Pulizzi:

I don’t want to make this too long, but 2015, I wrote the first version of Content Inc. as you know about. We’ve talked about it before. I sold Content Marketing Institute in ’16, took a sabbatical year in 2018, and became, I guess, a novelist in 2019, wrote a book, a thriller, called The Will to Die. It did fairly well, won a couple of awards.

Drew McLellan:

Hang on. Hang on, before you go on, I want to remind you I have like 100 of those books in my closet, because we’re going to give them away. I bought it-

Joe Pulizzi:

Thanks God.

Drew McLellan:

I bought it when it first came out, which it’s a spectacular book. I love mysteries. I thought it was great, but you and I decided that we were going to give away. You’re going to sign a bunch of books, and give them away at our presenting sponsors booth in May of 2020.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

I have boxes of your books in my closet for the last year. I’m excited to ship them to Chicago, so we could give them away.

Joe Pulizzi:

Think about that. That’s how long that you had to wait because I’m on to the next book.

Drew McLellan:

I know.

Joe Pulizzi:

I didn’t even… First of all, thank you. I’m excited to give those books away finally. People will love it.

Drew McLellan:

Me too.

Joe Pulizzi:

What’s crazy is it stars… The protagonist is a marketing agency owner. You’ll dig it. You’ll love the insight into that. Then COVID hit, and I’m like, “Okay, I could write another,” which I started. I was going to write version two of The World to Die. Then I started to get a bunch of emails and messages from friends of mine, some agency owners, some marketers, some entrepreneurs who were like, “Joe, this Content Inc. model, does it still work? I’m out a bit… I need a new job, or clients aren’t going well. I need to do some things different.” I said, “Maybe this is having resurgence because content creation has taken off to another level that we never thought of before.”

Joe Pulizzi:

I called my friends at McGraw Hill Education, and I said, “I think there’s something about this book. I think we might need to redo it.” They looked at the data and whatever data they looked at, Drew, and said, “Okay, I think there is something. I don’t know why it’s happening, but people are buying the book. People were listening to the Content Inc. podcast, which was dead for two years. I said, “Okay, there’s something here,” did the whole thing again, interviewed dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs trying to figure out, “Okay, is the model correct six years later? What’s happening?”

Joe Pulizzi:

We have a brand new model. We’ve got new case studies. We got a whole new section on exit strategies, a whole new section on planning, all new platforms. You know there’s been all kinds of new social platforms, and what I believe is that if you’re going to launch a content marketing initiative, or you want to launch a content-based business, this is the business model for it. I believe in it more than I believe in anything else I’ve done besides my novel that I wrote. That’s it. I’m excited to bring it back out.

Joe Pulizzi:

With more people creating content than ever before, there’s more people doing it wrong. I would like to help people live better lives, get better jobs, whatever they can do, especially for entrepreneurs, and in your audience of agency business owners. Most of us are creating content the wrong way, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s talk about that a little bit. Two-part question, one, it seems like it shouldn’t have changed that much. It’s not that much time, but I know, having read the original book and the current book, that things have changed. Let’s talk about some of the things that have changed and why you think they changed so quickly. Then two, or maybe wrapped up in that, what are we getting wrong?

Joe Pulizzi:

Oh man, there’s a lot of… First of all, we had a whole section on… If you remember the first one, there’s a whole section you have to be passionate about the content you created [inaudible 00:10:25] which you found in talking to a lot of content creators. That’s not the case. Passion is helpful, not necessary. We want to be passionate about our businesses, but you don’t necessarily have to be successful. You have to be differentiated. You have to deliver consistently over a long period of time. I wanted to double check and make sure, “Okay, is this one platform a real thing?”

Joe Pulizzi:

As you know, in the model, the third step is building out the base. You build out on one platform. You don’t go and say, “I’m going to do YouTube and a podcast and a blog all at the same time.” You build on one. You build an audience there, and then you diversify. Most businesses we look at that are creating content, they throw content on every channel that become a jack of all trades, master of none. They don’t build an audience, and it never works. We did say, “Okay, that is the model.”

Drew McLellan:

Well, I see that with agency folks all the time. In the book that Steven and I wrote, Sell with Authority, we talked about this. You gotta create a cornerstone. You’ve gotta have one anchor, platform and piece of content that you can then use the other platforms, the other channels to share that content out. One of the things I see a lot of agency owners doing as they build content out for themselves is they think, to your point, that they have to be everywhere, and so they exhaust themselves for about three weeks. Then all of a sudden, their consistency goes down the tank, and they’re done.

Joe Pulizzi:

Sadly, that’s about 99% of all cases out there, and that’s where I… That was funny. I was just on a Twitter chat, and somebody asked me, “What’s the biggest problem in businesses right now with content creation?” I said, “Well, okay, besides not having a content till…” That’s your differentiation area. You’re not doing the same thing as everyone else. It’s they diversify too quickly. They basically say, “I’m going to be on YouTube, and I’m going to be on Twitch, and I’m going to do the blog, and I’m going to do the podcast.”

Joe Pulizzi:

I get that. I don’t you probably hear about this all the time, too. When I sit down with an entrepreneur that wants to be a content creator and a content entrepreneur, they always say they’re doing three or four things at the same time. I say, “Look, I love your ambition. I haven’t heard of a successful model ever, ever that has done this unless they’re throwing a billion dollars at it. So if you don’t have unlimited resources, you need to pick one, and you need to build an audience on that one channel, and do that for about 12 to 18 months, and then you can diversify.”

Joe Pulizzi:

I’m not saying diversification because you’ve diversified really well, but you already built your channel. When we started Content Marketing Institute, we basically just blogged for 22 months, and we build a loyal audience around that blog.

Drew McLellan:

You blogged every day. That content was deep and rich and valuable, and people got addicted to it. I think that’s the… You’ve gotta have one place for people to go and know that they’re going to get your best stuff.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, here’s another good example. There’s a business owner that said, “We have a YouTube strategy, and we’ve got really good content on YouTube. I don’t know what’s happening. We’ve been doing doing it for over a year.” I’m like, “Okay, who knows, right?” I go and look at the channel. Well, basically, what they did is they have one episode go up in one week. They skip a week. Have two episodes going up the next week. Then skip a week. Then they have three episodes, and some other thing going up there. I’m like, “I don’t care how good your content is. If you’re not consistent, you’re never going to build an audience. It’s like must see TV with NBC, it still is a thing.”

Joe Pulizzi:

People think that, “All because of social media, I can just throw it out there at any time.” No, you have to… As Andrew Davis always says, you have to set an appointment. You want that audience to say, “Oh, it’s 8:30 on Thursday morning, and the newsletter comes out today. I want to get it.” It still works that way, but a lot of people forgot that.

Drew McLellan:

I think you’re right. What else changed? Why had things changed so quickly? It can’t be just the platforms.

Joe Pulizzi:

It’s not just the platforms. It’s the… What we also realized is that success… We didn’t have this in the first book. When I wrote in 2015 the first version of Content Inc., I had not gone through the exit program of selling Content Marketing Institute. First of all, I learned a lot, and the whole thing is in the book now from how do you sell? Who do you go to? You don’t want to spend a lot of money. What’s the LOI? How do you do that legally? All those things. If you’re ever looking at selling your company, I go through the whole process, and we talk to entrepreneurs like Brian Clark and Rand Fishkin.

Joe Pulizzi:

They go through exactly what they did, because they sold parts of their company. From that standpoint, but what we also found is that most content creators that are having trouble being successful is they have no exit plan at all. You and I talked about this. Obviously, you’re in the book as well, and you’re in a section of exit strategy, and that’s what you were saying, “This is the one time where I’m actually starting to think about it.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. By the way, I have no intention of exiting anytime soon.

Joe Pulizzi:

There you go. Exactly. I don’t want people to think you’re exiting.

Drew McLellan:

I’m not going anywhere, everybody, but I want to be thinking about it.

Joe Pulizzi:

You need a plan.

Drew McLellan:

I want to lay the groundwork now so that down the road, when I do decide to exit, I’m ready.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s right. It affects everything along the way. Basically, our seven step is a new step. It’s called sell or go big. Are you going to sell? You have to plan this. Who do you want to sell to? What kind of company do you want to sell to? Do you want to sell it all? Do you want to leave it to your kids? Ask all those questions, or you might say, “I don’t want to sell.” I’d like to create a lifestyle like John Lee Dumas who does Entrepreneurs on Fire podcast. He says, “I want to keep this thing forever. I want to have a lifestyle business. I’m super happy.”

Joe Pulizzi:

I’m like, “Okay, good. You have your exit strategy. You know exactly what you’re doing.”

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s the key. There’s nothing wrong with the exit strategy being, “I’m going to set a date, and I’m going to lock the door at the office on that last date and walk away feeling good about what I just did for the last 20 or 30 years, which is how many agencies, especially smaller agencies, how they wrap up their career.” I think it’s often looked at as a less than desirable outcome, but if you’ve built an agency, and you’re using it as an ATM machine to take care of your family and to build wealth outside of the agency, there’s nothing wrong with closing the door at the end.

Joe Pulizzi:

As long as that’s the plan.

Drew McLellan:

The plan. Right.

Joe Pulizzi:

I talk about this in the book. I had a workshop for about 50 heating and air conditioning contractors, all small business owners. All the businesses were between two and $5 million. We were talking about exit planning and exit strategies. I said, “How many have a formal exit strategy that you’ve actually written down somewhere, and you look at it on occasion?” Nobody did. Then, of course, I picked out some people from the audience, and we were talking, I’m like, “Okay, what are you going to do with your business?” He said, “Well, I might leave it to my kids, or I might sell it to somebody.”

Joe Pulizzi:

I said, “Okay, well, those are two really different things, so you should be planning for that. By the way, you don’t need to have the answer now, but you have to go through the discovery process if you’re a business owner, because then you’ll know the strategy completely changes. Because if you’re going to leave it to your kids, or you’re going to have a lifestyle business, or you’re going to sell to somebody else, that’s a three to five-year process that’s completely different.” But I think people just say, “Oh, I get to this point, and then I’ll just do it.” I’m like, “No. Don’t. No. Silly, you don’t do that, and you don’t want to be in a position where you’re being reactive and not proactive.”

Joe Pulizzi:

Like, “Oh my God, somebody got sick. My number one project manager left. What am I…” You don’t want to be in that position, so you have to plan the right way.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Every week, I have a conversation with an agency owner that says, “I went out in two or three years.” Great. What’s the plan? “Well, that’s why I’m calling you to put together a plan.” “Okay, that’s not enough time.” I mean, it is enough time to do some things, but we are eliminating some of your options if we’re doing this in 18 months.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, no, you’re exactly right. The one thing… I shared this in the book, which is a lot of people don’t believe it, but this is what got me to selling the company in 2016. In 2008, I started writing down all my goals, and I started my exit planning at that point. In 2008, I had no money, and we were majorly in debt. I just started what became the Content Marketing Institute blog. I’m trying to figure this thing out. I wrote down, “I want…” I wrote it in past tense. I’ve sold the business in 2015 for $15 million. A lot of people think that’s like, “How can you even do that? You don’t…”

Joe Pulizzi:

First of all, I’m like, “Okay, that takes a lot of ego to do that, but that was the goal.” There was a specific reason for it, because I wanted to have 10… My wife and I wanted $10 million after taxes by 2015, because we wanted to spend 15 and beyond with our two boys. I wanted to be out of the day to day running of the business, so it made sense, and then we built it up to that point. Now, we started everything at the right time. We were a little bit late, but we did everything we wanted to by 2016.

Joe Pulizzi:

But if I wasn’t reviewing that goal every day, the business would have been entirely different. I made decisions on who to hire, who not to hire, what products to launch so that we could create the value. We purchased three media companies in that time, because I said, “If we purchased that company, I can hit this other goal quicker. This would make sense.” I want more people to write those things down. Review them on a regular basis. It’ll impact the business like you wouldn’t believe.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. One of the things that I know that you talk about really in both books, but you really hammer it in the latest version, and this is, again, a conversation as you know, because you know a million agency owners like I do. This is an age old debate, niche or generalist. Can a generalist employ a content strategy?

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, first of all, the answer is yes, but I think you have to qualify that [inaudible 00:20:09] successful cut that strategy, and the answer would be, “No, I don’t know how to do it. I honestly don’t know how to do it.” When I started it, I remember when we were running the internal agency media, and we had 42 different industries that we were supposed to be focusing on, I said, “I can’t do this in 42 different industries. We have to pick one or two, where we can be great at that we can be indispensable at, and focus on those. If business from the other ones come in, that’s fine. We’ll take it.”

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Joe Pulizzi:

You always take it. You know, right? But where are you going to market?

Drew McLellan:

That’s the part, I think, that when we talk about niching, people get so black and white about it. If I say that I’m the agency for HVAC operators, when the florist calls me, I have to say no. I’m like, “You don’t have to say no until you want to say no.” When you have so many HVAC people that you don’t want to do the florist anymore, and you don’t care how big the bag of money is they walk in the door with, then say no, but until then say, “Come on, bring your money in.” You bet you will do that for you.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s right. Again, we’re talking about marketing. Marketing is different than making a decision over what project you are not going to take, because you’re going to have all kinds of opportunities, but if you’re going to say, “Oh, we ran against this all the time, and this is where we want.” When we went up against the generalist agency, we won every time because I would say even if we were more expensive, I’d say, “Okay, I know who you’re looking at.” They’re a great company and great people, but we’re the leading experts in mechanical engineering.

Joe Pulizzi:

We know this industry inside and out. I know every player in mechanical engineering. We can do this project better than anyone in the world can. I actually know this other company. I know who they probably have to hire. They don’t have that person on their payroll. I mean, I eat them for lunch if I knew that’s the case, because niche is always… It’s always easier to market. That’s the thing is that, “Okay, you have to make a decision as an agency, what are you going to be the best in the world at?”

Joe Pulizzi:

By the way, the other thing is if you do ever decide to exit, you always have higher valuations.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt.

Joe Pulizzi:

Always have higher valuations as a niche player, because you’re purchasing the people that could buy you or partner with you are so much… You think it would be less, but it’s actually greater because you get all of them. Any media company, any association, any other agency in that industry would love to have you. It would be a liability for somebody like that to purchase a generalist agency or partner with the generalist agency. Again, you’re right. The strategy is different. You can always accept any business you want, but how are you going to market and grow your agency? That’s quite a bit different.

Drew McLellan:

I talked about the difference of how you present yourself in an outbound way versus what comes in the door. Who cares what comes in the door? If you can do what they need done, and you can make them happy, and it’s profitable for you, great, take it. But when you do this well, there will come a time where you just say, “Thanks. No. We just do this. We only have these kind of people, so thank you very much, but no, let me refer you to someone else, but that probably takes three to five years.”

Joe Pulizzi:

It takes a while. I mean, we were… I can’t imagine if we said, “Oh, no, no, instead of the Content Marketing Institute, we’re the Marketing Institute.” You know what, I know a lot. I actually know some of the people that started Marketing Institute. You know where they’re at now? They’re not doing the Marketing Institute anymore, because you can’t. You can’t build a community around that. You can’t build energy. You can’t have a focus. There are so many things we could talk about.

Joe Pulizzi:

You can’t deliver relevant content to people interested in marketing. It’s just too broad=, but could you say, “Oh, I’m targeting marketers in larger enterprises. I have 10,000 employees or more that are focusing on complex content solutions in order to build an audience or drive product sales?” Hey, that’s the Content Marketing Institute. We could do that better than anyone else in the world. That’s what I want an agency to look at.

Drew McLellan:

The whole idea of building a community, I think, is often a missed element of content marketing. People think about building an audience, but they think about building an audience to sell them stuff, which I think is different than building a community. Talk about that a little bit.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, this is the tricky thing, and this is why some people don’t like the Content Inc. model, because I say, “Look, if you can hold off revenue from this as long as possible, and I know that that’s tough to say, but just go with me on this.” If you’re going to hold it up because all you want to focus on when you start this model is how do I help my audience live a better life, get a better job, do something, make me indispensable in their life. They get up every day, and I make their life better in some way through your podcasts, through your event series, through your e-newsletter, through your blog, through your YouTube, whatever it is.

Joe Pulizzi:

“If you do that, they start to rely on you. What’s amazing is they will actually long term, they will tell you what they will buy. They will come out and say, “I want to support you. How can I give you money?” That’s with the Content Marketing Institute. I wasn’t planning on doing an event called Content Marketing World. It’s just that enough of the audience members of our community came to me and say, “Joe, there’s no event out there. Who’s going to do it? Are you going to do it?”

Joe Pulizzi:

I said, “Well, would you go?” “Oh yeah, I’ll go,” where you get 1,000 of those people saying they’ll go, and you create an event. It was great because it, basically, was a gathering of the entire community. It was fantastic. I think where I felt a lot of businesses go wrong is they say, “Okay, I’m going to create this audience as quickly as I can, and I’m going to try to extract the lead, and get that lead to the system and have the salesperson call a number, and that’s not what this is about. This is all about putting off how other companies do business for as long as possible, because we’re in the giving business.

Joe Pulizzi:

If you’re in the content business, you’re in the giving business, and you’re trying to help them with information that’s basically free. If you do that the right way over a long period of time, it will come back to you in so many different forms, and that’s the community. I’ll end up with this because we’re talking about the book launch, so you got a package from me in the mail. You got with the book and cookies and stuff, because you’ve been such a great supporter of ours for so many years. I sent out 122 of those. Every one of those came in through our building the community.

Joe Pulizzi:

I didn’t know you before I started Content Marketing Institute. Then we started to engage each other around this type of thing. You were building something. I was building something. That was our community. You came to the conference. I want to go to your conference. This is the stuff that happens, and this is the best way to have business. I’ve got 122 people that I sent out a care package to that I’m pretty sure that they’ll all support in some way, because we’ve all supported each other all through the years.

Joe Pulizzi:

It’s not like your traditional, “Oh, what’s my target, and where’s that lead? What are we going to do?” It’s like, “Oh, no, I know, Jim. I know Drew. I know Suzy,” because we’ve been interacting with them through the blog or podcast. It’s weird, right? A lot of people don’t get that, but that’s community. Everybody’s trying to lift each other up.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting, you can be in community with people who are your competitors.

Joe Pulizzi:

All the better, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Pulizzi:

I mean, we… What’s interesting, when we started, we talked about the book about starting a research program, which I think is really you could position yourself as an expert. We started this in 2008, 2009. Our key partner was MarketingProfs, Ann Handley at MarketingProfs was also a key competitor of ours, but we came together, Ann and I, because I think we’re saying people, and we said, “Wouldn’t it be better instead of us doing two separate research projects, and we came together and did one industry project?” I said, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing,” and we were obviously competing with them on many different levels all the way up to present day.

Joe Pulizzi:

It has worked out, and now, it’s helped both companies because that research is the research in the industry. I wish more people would do that and say, “Look, I don’t care. Who are the top 10 blogs?” Oh my God, the top 10 blogs in our industry, one of them is this agency over here. Well, if it is, put it down. Put it down. That’s only going to help you that if you are… Basically, you’re putting out the truth. People will actually trust you more if you’re putting competitors in your content, I think.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I just think it just shows that you are confident in what you have to offer, and that you recognize that there are other people who also have good things to offer, and it’s okay for everybody to be at the same party.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s right. You say, “Oh, yeah.” If somebody asks you, that’s a great blog. They do a wonderful job. That’s a great podcast. Aren’t they competitors to you? Yeah, but they create some great content. We go up against them on pitches. It’s wonderful. It’s no reason why you can’t both succeed. There’s plenty of business out there for everybody, but I would take that mentality.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the big mistakes that agencies make when they start to create content, and they start to build an audience and a community is as the audience starts to lean in and get a little closer and, as you’re saying, start to get a little dependent on the content value it, maybe they send an email, a thank-you note about a video or whatever. The agency immediately labels that person to lead, and they run at them. We all know that when someone’s running at us, odds are we’re going to turn around and run the other way.

Drew McLellan:

Certainly, I think in the sales process, we know that. We all know… No one likes when the salesperson is following you around the store or anything like that. How do you help coach people to be patient enough to let it work?

Joe Pulizzi:

By the way, that’s a great… Nobody’s asked me that question. That is a really good question. Are you build in patience into your statistics, into your lead generation process, into your qualifying process? You wouldn’t believe how this works, but it works fantastic. If you set a number of touches, let’s say, “Joe…” I remember Joe Chernov, a friend of mine forever. He said he was at Eloqua for years. He said, “We didn’t want to become nasty, the ones that sent out the notes right away and start to get them in the lead funnel.” We said, “We looked at the data, and we found out that the data told us that our best customers come from eight content touches before anything happens, and then we put them into our qualification process, and maybe send it to a salesperson.”

Joe Pulizzi:

They’ll say, “Okay, they gotta touch the white paper, or they’re going to download this E-newsletter. They’re going to click on this link. Of course, they’ve got all the data, and they do that. Okay, great. That’s one way to do it. Well, we did the Content Marketing Institute. This is like 2013. I wanted to find out. I said, “Who’s our best customer?” We didn’t know. I didn’t know. Is it somebody that comes to Content Marketing World? Is it somebody that reads the magazine? Well, what we found out was it was none of the above. It was those that engaged regularly with at least three things that we did.

Joe Pulizzi:

They listen to the podcast. They subscribe to the E-newsletter, and they went to content marketing world, or they had the Webinar Program. They did the training program, whatever they do. It was always the number three, so build whatever your… Heck, I don’t know what your number would be, but build that patience [inaudible 00:31:26] you say, “Look, if they subscribe to the email newsletter, it’s not enough. Maybe they need to subscribe and open 90% of emails for nine months, and then you might send them out something. I don’t know. I think you have to figure it out.

Joe Pulizzi:

You have to play with it a little bit, but I’ve liked that because what you’re saying is, “I’m not going to approach them until I’ve really built a long-term relationship with them through the consistent delivery of valuable information.” That’s it. Whatever it is for you, it’s not, “Somebody subscribed to the blog, or we got a podcast downloader, and somebody filled out a form.” So what? That doesn’t mean anything. That’s what I would do.

Drew McLellan:

I think the concept of having enough patience to, in essence, wait for them to raise their hand and say, “Actually, I would like to give you some…” Well, like what you said, I have money in my hand. I would like to give you some money. What are the things I could buy with this much money?” But we, historically, are so eager when someone shows some interest, we’re so eager to rush at them that we literally drive them back three or four touch points away, and then we have to work twice as hard to get them to walk back in close to us again as we did the first time, because now, they’re wary. Now, they know you’re going to try and put your hand in their pocket.

Joe Pulizzi:

It’d be great… I actually just did this. Geez, it was in March or something I did this, where I went out, and I would send a thank-you note to all of our subscribers at the highest levels of open. I went to all the ones that I’ve been sending the newsletter for over a year, and want somebody that opened every one of them, and it was nice. I’m like, “Oh, this person, this person,” and I just sent. I said, “Look, I have analytics on my email, and I see that you’ve opened everyone for the past 14 months. I just wanted to say thank you.”

Joe Pulizzi:

After that, you’d be unbelievable. How many things… “Oh my God, thank you so much. Is there anything I can do for you? You’ve been so helpful for me,” and then we got into back and forth conversations with subscribers. They literally would have laid down thousands of dollars, and that’s a better way to approach it. It’s just a thank-you message at some point. Instead of, “Oh, we’ve got this new thing, or when can I come in for a pitch meeting?”

Drew McLellan:

Well, what I find fascinating is we teach all this stuff to our clients. We talk about it all the time. We talk about building relationships. We talk about that it’s two way. What you just demonstrated is that’s a relationship. That was you reaching out to somebody who had been very loyal to you, and just saying thank you, which then triggered back a communication, which then led to, I’m sure, some very interesting conversations about how they were using your content, how you were helpful. It led to testimonials. It led to referrals.

Drew McLellan:

It led to purchases, but it all starts with making sure that you are coming at it from the right perspective, which is what you said earlier, which is it’s about helping. It is about… In our vernacular, what I say to agency owners is every time you’re about to hit publish, what you need to ask yourself is how is this going to help my audience be better at their job today? If I can help them be better at their job, then I should not hit publish.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, you have just said what a company needs to systematize is what most people do. Let’s say for a blog. It’s like, “Oh, here’s the blog post. Here’s the search keywords we’re targeting. Here’s the published date. Here’s the review or all that stuff, right?” What you need to know, that’s all good, but they don’t put audience outcome, and that’s what you just said. What is in it for the person reading or engaging in this content? How are they going to live a better life? What are you going to give them? Not that you’re going to sell…

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s what happens. Most people put, “We want widget sales. We need X amount of leads from this.”

Drew McLellan:

What’s the call to action?

Joe Pulizzi:

The call to action should be, “How am I going to help that person get a better job,” whatever the goal is for your content that day with that piece of content. Once the editorial… It’s amazing what happens from a staff culture standpoint, because if everyone knows that the goal is, “No, the goal is… The content is to really help our audience do something. Did we hit that mark, or are we just… Is this a promo piece?” That’s a promo. I don’t think we should do that. I think we should go back, look at our editorial mission, look at our content mission, and do it the right way.

Drew McLellan:

I agree. All right, I want to talk more about content mission in a second. But first, let’s take a quick break. Then we’ll come back.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there, you know I am incredibly grateful that you listen every week. I want to make sure you get all of the support and tips and tricks and hacks that we have to offer. In every issue of our newsletter, I tell you what’s on my mind based on the conversations I’ve had with agency owners that week. We also point you to additional resources, and remind you of anything we’ve got coming up that you might benefit from. If you are not subscribed to our newsletter now, we can fix that in a flash. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com/newsletter, and complete the simple form, and we’ll take it from there.

Drew McLellan:

All right, let’s get back to the show.

Drew McLellan:

All right, I am back with Joe, and we are talking all things content, exit strategy, agency, philosophy. We’re getting into all of it. Before the break, we were talking a little bit about content strategy. I want to marry that with this idea of… We started to talk about the importance of niching. One of the things that I think you and I preach in common is this notion which no one believes me, by the way, when I say you cannot niche too small. Talk a little bit about that.

Joe Pulizzi:

When I do these… I used to do these workshops all the time, where somebody would come to me and they’ll say, “Oh yeah, we’ve got our niche. It’s-

Drew McLellan:

Healthcare.

Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah, healthcare. It’s like, we target, “Okay, I’ll give you a good one.” This was one that happened a month ago. Somebody came to me and says, “Okay, you sell IT equipment to who?” “Oh, we target.. Our buyer’s plant managers.” “Okay, so you’re creating what? Some IT content to plant managers?” “Oh, yes, something about that. We, basically, cut semiconductors.” I’m like, “I don’t need to know all the details. I just need to know who are you targeting?” I’m like, “All right, in this topic, to that group of people, you think you’re niched enough. Can you be the leading expert in the world to that audience in this topic?”

Joe Pulizzi:

They look at me, and then they have their mouth dropped, and like, “I don’t know.” Well, let’s see if we can. We go down and say, “What if it was plant managers of companies that buy IT equipment from India and China, or outsource India and China? Can you do that?” “Okay, well, maybe. Okay, whatever.” Well, how about if you said plant managers that have more than 10,000 employees that are located in the Pacific Northwest, whatever?” I’m just going down the rabbit hole, right, to then outsource to China. Could you then be the leading expert in the world at that?

Joe Pulizzi:

Maybe. “Okay, now, you’ve got to start. Now, you have something.” It’s like, “Well, what if there’s not enough buyers in there?” I was like, “Why don’t you do your work first, and see?” I mean, if you talk about… I got the same people that said, “Joe, content marketing, it’s too niche. There’s not even any titles or what…” You’re right. When we started in 2007, my first blog post was what is content marketing? There were no content marketers, no content marketing titles, no chief content officers, no content strategy officer, nothing like that, but we said, “Look, we did the data. We know that this is the thing, and if we can educate to marketers that know this is the right way, then we start creating these believers.” It will happen itself.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, now, look at today. 13 years later, if you said, “I want to go into content marketing as a niche,” I would say, “It’s too big. You can’t…” You have to go into financial content marketing and derivatives for agency owners in Tibet, because you couldn’t get that, so yes. If it’s a small niche, be the leading expert to that niche, and do it over a consistent period of time. If you do it really well, what will happen is that niche will grow, and you’ll create opportunities you’ve never dreamed of.

Drew McLellan:

Have you ever read the book Becoming A Category of One by Joe Calloway? It’s an older book.

Joe Pulizzi:

I’ve heard of it. I’ve not read it. I’ve gotta read this.

Drew McLellan:

Read it. He’s brilliant. It is one of the best branding books, because it does talk about exactly what you did, which is if you can’t be a specialist in what you want to be, then create a new category. That’s really what you did with content. Content marketing was you created the category. You created the term. You created the industry, and based on what you knew was coming down the road, and what you’d already observed. The book is a brilliant… It was written way before content marketing was a thing, so that’s not going to be one of the examples, but it’s a great read.

Joe Pulizzi:

By the way, HubSpot did the same thing with inbound marketing almost the exact same time. They used to say, “Oh, is it magnetic marketing? No, no inbound marketing, inbound lead. We’re a sales organization.” They did the whole thing like we did from the other perspective or the publishing perspective, and it worked for them. By the way, HubSpot’s about a $13 billion market cap company now, so it works totally well for them.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think what people forget is in the agency business, we’re not in the quantity business. We’re in the quality business. You land two or three clients that are about 10% of your AGI, that are spot on that you can knock it out of the park for them, because you understand their industry. Your agency is going to double in size every three years. You go faster than that, you’re going to implode. We don’t need a million new clients. We need a handful of right new clients, which is exactly what niching and content, that combination, will bring them.

Joe Pulizzi:

I would say I love the question, and I love to challenge businesses and say, “Can you be the leading expert in the world at that?” If you follow the strategy, can you? When you look at what they think is their differentiation area, they almost always answer no, they can’t do it. I’m like, “Well, what are we doing then?” Literally, why are we even doing this? Don’t do content marketing. Go buy ads or go whatever. Go plaster billboards around, because obviously, there’s no strategy here.

Joe Pulizzi:

If we’re going to do this, we have to figure out a way where we can be the best, we can be the place that they have to go, where the cool kids want to be, where the community wants to play. That’s what we gotta do, or don’t do it at all.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think too that if there’s somebody already occupying that spot, a lot of agencies want to be the marketing go-to… Well, I’m sorry, but there are other people who own that position already, so you do have to narrow down to get to a place where somebody is not already standing.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s right. I mean, we talked about this in the book, where the content tilt comes from. I love the part in the Matrix, where Neo who’s the one, Keanu Reeves’ character, goes in, and there’s a little boy there bending the spoons. The boy’s bending the spoon, bending the spoon, and Neo can’t figure out how to bend the spoon. The little boy says, “You have to remember there is no spoon,” and I love this part. This is what the whole content tilt came from. I’m watching this movie, and Neo tilts his head. What is he going to do? He looked at the spoon differently from a different angle.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s all we’re asking business owners to do. Look at your area a little bit… Come at it from a different direction. What’s that hook? Mark Schaefer, who wrote Cumulative Advantage, calls it finding the scene. When you see that opportunity, you bust through that scene with all kinds of energy, but you have to find the scene first. I love that.

Drew McLellan:

You know that everyone listening is saying, “Okay, Joe, how do I find the scene?”

Joe Pulizzi:

You can do it all… First of all, you have to start from the beginning. You have to find your sweet spot, and everybody usually has that. Like, what is your skill or expertise area, and what is your audience’s desire? The intersection of that, that’s your sweet spot. That’s your starting point. Then you have to figure out, “Okay, does this comes down to your niche?” Comment. You have to find the content tilt. Next, we break through all this content clutter out there, so how you can do it, you can do it like HubSpot. Content Marketing Institute did it by changing the story. Change the positioning entirely.

Joe Pulizzi:

You can say, “Oh, we’re going to do a little bit differently, because we’re going to focus on a platform that no one else is on.” Maybe you’re the first podcast to do it. Maybe you’re going to say, “Oh, no, everyone else is focusing on cloud computing to IT people,” but you’re going to focus on cloud computing to a whole different type of audience, a whole different subset, or it’s a different kind of cloud computing. It’s whatever, more specific on cloud computing for financial professionals. I don’t know. You can do it by audience. You can do it by story positioning.

Joe Pulizzi:

You can do it by platform, or maybe you could do it by all three, which is the jackpot, where you just said, “Oh my god, I found an opening.” Now, it might take you some time, but once you build that audience, you probably have built a little bit of a moat around you. Now, I’ll give you an example of what we’re doing. I just started the new company. The new company is called The Tilt. We have an email newsletter for content creators. We’ve got the content mission. Everything’s fine, but what’s our content tilt? We’re going around this thing called Content Entrepreneurs.

Joe Pulizzi:

What I found out, I use Google Trends. I looked at all the data. I said, “Okay, nobody’s using this term content entrepreneur. Everyone’s using creator economy. Everyone’s using passion economy, but nobody’s talking about the thing. The thing is entrepreneurship. What is the… The… It’s a content.” It hit me like a lightning bolt, Drew. I’m like, “Oh my God, this is it.” Will I think it’s going to work? Yes, I think it will, because nobody is there. That’s barren ground, just like content marketing was, and if we deliver to that audience of content creators who want to build sustainable businesses, over time, I would say in two to three years, we’re going to have a significant size business, because we found that till, so there you go.

Drew McLellan:

I think for agencies, I think they immediately think industry. I think that’s a fine way to niche, but you still have to look at the industry differently. We talk about it as, yes, you have to have a niche, but you also have to have a unique point of view.

Joe Pulizzi:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

To your point, you have to tilt your head and go, “Actually, I don’t think that’s the way they should mark it in the fresh produce industry. I think what they should really be thinking about is this.” Then when we take that point of view to the clients, and we can show them that it works, now all of a sudden, we have ample content to share. We have ample case studies, and people begin to go, “Okay, I want that combination,” and that makes you unique.

Joe Pulizzi:

Andrew Davis calls this a hook. If you’re a follower of Stephen King and On Writing, he’ll call it the inciting incident. You have to create something that compels, and that’s what we don’t do so that you have to really… That’s why I love the tilting of the head. Why should someone care? That’s it. Why should this audience care? You could do it by industry. You could have it be niching up. You could change the story. You could change the platform, but ultimately, what makes you different? Why should people care? What’s the hook? There you go.

Drew McLellan:

Well, like I said, I have 12 hours more of question, but I know you have to go. We’ll have to park this for now, but super excited to see you in August. Really excited to have you share your thoughts about the exit strategy and how to build that way out before you’re ready to go, but thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re super busy. I’m always grateful to have the time to hang out with you and chat and share stories. Thanks for being with us.

Joe Pulizzi:

No, thanks for all your support. This is what’s tough about it, because whenever you email me and you ask for something, I feel, “Oh, I got to do it because it’s Drew. I mean, because he always supports me, I gotta do it.” I’m really looking forward to August. It’s going to be a lot of fun to be, and that’ll be my first in-person event back, so hopefully I still got it. I used to do 30, 40 speeches a year. This is back to the grind. We’ll see if we got it.

Drew McLellan:

I think the audience will be very happy to see you, and they will be ready for you for sure. I’m excited for it. if folks want to find the book, if they want to learn about the new company, where do you want to us to point folks?

Joe Pulizzi:

I always say three things, if you’ll allow me, first, the book, content-inc.com. You can get it now in all formats. If you want to subscribe to The Tilt, it’s two emails a week, thetilt.com. If you like content creation of what we’re talking about, you’ll dig the newsletter. The third thing that you know is Orange Effect Foundation. That’s our nonprofit where we work our best to get speech therapy services for kids that really needed to have speech disorders, and that’s the orangeeffect.org.

Drew McLellan:

It’s such a great organization. You and I were talking before we hit the record button. Kelsey, my daughter, had a lot of ear infections when she was a baby, and so speech therapy completely changed her life and made her honor student and all the things she was able to do through college. If we hadn’t caught it early, and if we didn’t have the resources to get her the help, her life would have played out very differently, so the work you’re doing there is… I mean, the work you do about content is great, but the work you’re doing to change kids’ lives is huge.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, thank you. We are a fundraising organization, so even $50 helps cover one hour of speech therapy for somebody. That’s what we do what we do. The more kids we can make a positive impact on, the better This world is going to be.

Drew McLellan:

Amen. All right, my friend, thank you for being with us.

Joe Pulizzi:

As always.

Drew McLellan:

All right guys, this wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. I’m hoping Joe got you a little fired up about thinking about how you can position the way you serve clients in a way that is uniquely yours. There’s something beautiful and valuable about being in a space that is not crowded with everybody else doing it the same way. I’m telling you, once you do that, the prospects are easier to find. The audience is easier to build. The relationships are richer and deeper and take away the money because the money is awesome. I’m not saying that you don’t want to make money.

Drew McLellan:

But when you can actually help people be better at their job and get a promotion, get a raise, change their company, help their company help more people, that’s a pretty gratifying way to make a living. I want that for all of you. I really do. It’s why Stephen and I wrote the book that we did. It’s why I have folks like Joe on the show. I’m hoping that we inspired you to think a little differently about the way you go to market. We’ve been talking about it, so I’m just going to remind you, the Build A Better Agency Summit is August 10th and 11th in Chicago. It is going to be awesome. Joe is going to be there. Jay Baer is going to be there. Tamsin Webster is going to be there.

Drew McLellan:

I mean, I am telling you, I called in every favor I have of people who are going to be there to teach you how to run and build an agency that supports you and your family, supports your team, and really helps you build the business that you want to build. I hope that you’re there. We still have some tickets left. We are capping it on purpose to a pretty small amount of folks, 250 people, so grab a seat before we run out, because this is going to be really awesome couple days. I hope I see you there. Head over to the Agency Management Institute website, and the Build A Better Agency summit button is right there on the top left.

Drew McLellan:

Quick shout out and thank you to our friends at White Label IQ. They are the presenting sponsor of the podcast, so they make it possible for us to come and hang out with you every week. You can learn more about them and their white label services. They white label design Dev and PPC for agencies all over the land. Many AMI agencies swear by them. You can check them out at whitelabeliq.com/ami, and they’ve got a special deal there for you. All right, I will be back next week with another guest, helping you think a little differently about the business, getting you excited about the work that you do.

Drew McLellan:

In the meantime, you guys know how to reach me if you need me. Either shoot me an email or pop into the Facebook group. There’s about 1,000 agency owners in there, talking about interesting things. Today, we got into a lively conversation about whether or not you should give someone stock just because they’ve been an employee for 15 years. As you might imagine, my answer was no. But anyway, always having great conversations. We’d love to have you join us, and I’ll see you next week. Thanks so much for listening.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build A Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.