Episode 109

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Joe Pulizzi is the founder of Content Marketing Institute which is now a UBM company. It is the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s fifth book “Killing Marketing” was just released. His third book, “Epic Content Marketing” was named one of “Five Must-Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The evolution of content marketing
  • Focusing on your core verticals to help clients out with some part of the process that they’re terrible at
  • How agencies can help clients build an audience of people that knows, likes, and trusts them and how that has a large impact over time
  • Why elevating someone to the status of an expert with content marketing is a long-term process
  • Focusing on clients that already value and have a budget for content marketing
  • How delivering value to prospects on a long-term basis will all you to do business with them without going through an RFP
  • How getting your audience to know, like, and trust you with content marketing will allow you to sell easily
  • Some of the many different ways to monetize your customer list
  • Changing the defined idea of marketing to match consumer behavior
  • Why you can’t be everything to everybody and need to focus on a niche
  • Why your sliver of opportunity to get started in on a niche is right now

The Golden Nugget:

“There is no niche that is small enough.” – @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Batter Agency Podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and growth with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today, you’re going to love this conversation. You are going to love my guest. I’m going to introduce him to you, but you all know who he is already. So Joe Pulizzi is the founder of Content Marketing Institute, which is now a UBM company. It is the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World.

So for most of you, you cut your teeth on Joe and his team’s content. So when content became the new buzz phrase, you are heading to Content Marketing Institute and reading that content, and many of you I know have been to Content Marketing World.

Joe is also the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. He has written five books, including his latest, which is a must read for every agency owner called Killing Marketing. It just came out in September of 2017. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of the five must read business books of 2013 and it is still, by the way, a must read business book if you haven’t read it.

You could find Joe on Twitter, and we’ll put his Twitter handle in the show notes. As you can see on the video, if you’re looking at the video of me talking, you may see that Joe, as always, is wearing orange. So Joe, welcome to the podcast.

Joe Pulizzi:

Drew, thanks for having me. I didn’t know if people would see me, but I always wear orange, so it doesn’t matter. I don’t have anything else in the closet. It’s definitely going to be orange regardless.

Drew McLellan:

You would be so easy to find in a crowd.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, if I’m at a Brown’s game, I’ve got the orange hair on because I’m a little bald a little bit on the top as you see. Ever since I won that Lifetime Achievement Award, I lost all my hair, just the parts.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That seems fair.

Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah. Exactly. No. I’m orange. It caught on, whatever it was, and when I started the business in ’07-’08 and it just makes things a lot easier. I’m into the whole Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg and they wore the same thing, and one less decision to make. I’m totally in agreement with that. If I don’t have to make a decision, I’ve got, like when I go speaking, I’ve got a very particular wardrobe, and it just makes things a lot easier. Don’t have to think about it. Just go ahead and do it and done.

Drew McLellan:

I’m trying to picture Steve Jobs all in orange. It doesn’t fit for me. It’s truly your color.

Joe Pulizzi:

I might not look good in orange, but it doesn’t matter because I’m all in.

Drew McLellan:

It is who you are.

Joe Pulizzi:

It is. It is.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to go back to the origins of when you started thinking about and talking about content because I think content, given the short lifespan of that phrase, even though I think we’ve been doing it for a longer time, it’s evolved significantly. So walk us through the history of where content was versus where it is today, and particularly in terms of how you see agencies interacting in that space.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, I mean, I worked at an in-house agency and a publisher. So I worked at Penton Media and it’s now Informa, but for those of you that don’t know Penton, at the time it was the largest independent business-to-business publisher, published events, and magazines, and I think over a hundred different verticals or whatever the case is. I came in to Penton Custom Media and took that over in I think 2002, and we were responsible to help customers tell better stories if they didn’t want to buy advertising.

So we would work on custom magazines and custom newsletters, and then into blogs, and webinars, and all kinds of stuff. What was interesting when you talk about the evolution of why are we even talking about this content marketing thing, so we called it, it was custom publishing. So when I started in this thing in the late ’90s, it was custom publishing, it was custom media, it was custom content. Some people called it branded content, all kinds of different phrases, and nothing took hold.

When I took over business development in 2002, 2003, 2004 and on, I would go meet with Senior VPs of marketing and Chief Marketing Officers and I would say, “Hey, what are you doing in custom publishing?” and they’d already be sleeping. It doesn’t mean anything, the custom publishing, custom content, even branding content. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not sexy. There is no emotional connection there, but when I started to lean and I’d say, again, I tested the term and this is probably ’05-’06 I started to test content marketing when I used to meet one-on-one with CMOs and I’d say, “So what are you doing in content marketing?” Just throwing it out there. It wasn’t even a word or phrase at that point.

They’d lean in to the chair and they’d say, “Oh, content marketing? Yeah, we do content marketing.” They didn’t know, but they’re like, “Yeah, we do it,” because it made sense to them. You got to remember, I mean, agencies that are listening to this know this. Marketers are simple people. You don’t overcomplicated it. We tend to overcomplicate it with things like custom publishing and custom content, where you don’t even know what that is. Content marketing is fairly straightforward, “Oh, I’m going to market with the use of content,” whatever, then we can get into talking about what that content is. Is it product-focused? Is it helpful content? What is a video content? Those types of things.

So then we launched what is now Content Marketing Institute in 2007 and just went all in with that for … Look, used some things like Google Trends and saw that there was an opportunity for this thing to take off, and then went all in. My first blog post in April of 2007 was What is Content Marketing? I went through the whole thing about we’re just going to call it content marketing from now on, and after that post, we never even questioned it. We said, “This is content marketing,” and then folks like Brian Clark over at Copyblogger, even though he hated the term, he got behind content marketing, and then more agencies started to use content marketing because they found the same things that I did, where you go in and you really start having good conversations with clients around this thing.

So if we talk about what that was back then, it was Wild Wild West. If you talk about content marketing, it pretty much was, “Oh, we’re going to create blogs so we get found in search engines,” or “We need a lot of content because we’ve got all these great free new channels like Facebook and Twitter and we’ve got nothing to put it. So let’s just start creating content everywhere our customers are at and it will be great.”

What agencies found out was and still maybe true today, most brands are horrible at creating valuable, compelling, and relevant content on a consistent basis and that’s why they would go out and say, “We need help doing this.” They would either do this for, “Oh, we need to go get freelancers to help us,” or “We would go find an agency that would help us with our overall strategy.” It’s hopefully part of the marketing function, but at 2007, 2008, 2009, it was still a separate things. It was still like if you went into a large enterprise and you wanted to find the content group, that would be a publications division where they were probably working on some newsletter or some magazine down the hall, maybe down the steps by the boiler, where those people are kept.

Then magic started happening in 2010-2011 where marketers started saying, “Oh, my gosh! We’ve got to fill all these channels with stuff that’s relevant or people are going to ignore us and we need followers and we need subscribers. What do we do?” I say this, I don’t know if I can be totally serious, but starting to take it a little bit more seriously about the function of this.

Now, we move on into today and, of course, it’s completely changed. All those free channels are now paid channels. So whether you talk about Facebook or LinkedIn where we thought, “Oh, we’re getting free distribution,” well, that’s not true anymore. If you want to found, it needs to be paid. What I think the good thing is, at least for brands and for agencies, is we’re going to ’18 and we’ve got to simplify the model. We can’t be everywhere customers are at because with the limited resources that most companies have, they can’t do a good job consistently to deliver something that’s going to be meaningful over time.

So if you’re an agency, you can really focus on your core verticals. You can really focus on some area of the process that your clients are horrible at. Are they really horrible at interviewing process and are they horrible at understanding what the story really is. In a lot of cases, that’s true. Are they horrible at finding the experts in their own company and/or their clients and customers to find out where the stories are at? In a lot of cases, that’s true as well.

Are they not very good at figuring out how do you build a platform of subscribers over time just like a media company would? Most companies are terrible at that. Well, agencies can come in and say, “Look, we can help you build a platform so that you can build an audience, so that your customers or prospects begin to know, like, and trust you,” and if we do that, we will see a positive behavior over time.

So what I love about the opportunity for agencies right now is this is not anything about short-term campaigns. You’re going in there and say, “We can go and do this for six months and help you out with this,” I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. I would go and say, “Look, this is a long-term approach that you have the opportunity to be the leading informational expert around this thing to this group of people, and we need 12 months, 18 months, 24 months to make that happen, and we’re going to set your expectations along that so that we know when we get to that 12 month, 18 month mark, we’re going to hit certain KPIs that are going to make a difference for you.”

So that’s what I love about it. It’s an annuities business. It always has been, where you’re not just going in for, “Oh, we’ve got this budget because we have some new product launch that we’re …” No. This is about, “Hey, we really need to be known as this in the marketplace, and to do that, we need to communicate this,” and the only way we can really differentiate ourselves today is not on products, not on price, it’s on how we communicate. I truly believe that. It’s more critical than ever before.

So I think that’s what the opportunity is is that to figure out as an agency what are you really good at, how can you differentiate yourself, and maybe you’re not in every vertical, maybe you’re the best in healthcare or pharmaceuticals or in financial services or for attorneys or small businesses or whatever. That’s where the opportunity is at to be the one or two or three key players in those markets.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think a lot of agencies struggle with there’s so much pressure on the CMOs of the world to deliver quickly that a lot of agencies, it’s a two-prong challenge for them. One is, “How do I get a client to invest in this long-term strategy?” Two, a lot of agencies wrestle with clients in terms of budget. So a lot of businesses, especially mid-tier business, I’m not talking about the Coca-Colas of the world, but those mid-tier businesses where the small to mid agency lives, they’re like, “Well, I can get a freelancer,” or “My wife can write it,” or my fill in the blank, right? So how do you recommend as you’re coaching agencies, how do you recommend they approach this and how do you recommend that they talk about, I mean, because one of the challenges of content is to do it well and right. It takes a lot of time.

Joe Pulizzi:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

So it’s not inexpensive. So what’s a best practice in your opinion around talking around that and helping a client understand the investment?

Joe Pulizzi:

Look, it’s a great question. You and I have had this conversation a couple of times. It’s shoemaker’s shoes with agencies when it comes to education for their audience. I mean, most agencies don’t have their own content marketing programs.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, that’s going to be my next question. So yeah.

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, it’s all in the same. So when somebody asks me, “Oh, which agency should I choose?” The first thing I always say is, “Well, look at their own content marketing. Are they producing their own magazine, newsletter, blog posts, video series, whatever it is? Do they do really well? Are they building their own audience?” Because if they’re not, you got biz not important enough for them. I get the whole thing where we’ve got to focus on client work, and we got limited resources. I get that. This is too important if you’re going to get in this.

If you’re not going to really be all in with content marketing, then there’s lots of other things you could do. You don’t have to do content creation and distribution services. So I would focus on that first.

If you’re getting into conversations with a client and you’re trying to educate them on the need for content marketing, I would give them Killing Marketing or give them another, give them Everybody Writes from Ann Handley, give them your book, give them some book that they can educate and leave as fast as you can.

That’s really, really hard for you to educate them and get their buy in when there’s so many companies out there that already buy into it. Find the ones that buy into it. Find the ones that already have a budget dedicated to it and go after that. Just don’t waste your time doing it.

I’ve seen so many agency salespeople they just struggle and say, “Oh, I’m sending them these articles,” and that’s fine. You can do that, but don’t expect business from them for a year or two because having a one content champion in the organization probably isn’t enough. You need a group. You need the CMO.

I just did a workshop with a mid-sized consulting company and the CEO is there. They all had copies of the book. They were all bought in, and we went through and asked the questions. That’s the type of company that you want. That’s the company that’s just, “Look, we realize that we need to do this. We know that we’re not really good at telling the story ourselves, and we need help to do that.” Great. That’s fantastic.

So that will save you a lot of time right now is just to say no to all those ones that where you’re fishing there might be an opportunity and just put those to the sides and let’s just focus one ones that already buy into it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Your point about agencies and their content, I think it’s pretty difficult. This is something that I’m preaching all the time. I think it’s pretty difficult to convince someone that marketing strategy is a must do for every company on the planet if your agency doesn’t do it.

Joe Pulizzi:

I’ll give you a really good example, and I can’t say the name of the company, but you’ll probably figure it out. So this is three years ago. I go into one of the largest publishers, news publishers in the world. They have a huge division of salespeople that are focused on selling content marketing. I was giving them a presentation on content marketing. It’s basic. It’s trying to help their education.

As I was going through the presentation, I have the one slide that showed, of course, you know the slide, it’s the logo slide, where it has all of our clients on there. We showed all the clients, and they’re basically all Fortune 500 companies, all really big companies that we do advisory or consulting for.

I had the person that brought me in raised his hand and said, “How did you get all that business because that’s our prospect list? Those are the ones that are buying advertising from us, but they’re not buying any content marketing services.”

I said, “Well, you want the truth?

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Well, the truth is is that all these companies, they filled out a form on our site and wanted more information. We didn’t get any RFP situation, open situation. There was no pricing discussion. We put the price in front of them. They said yes and we started doing business with them, and then we went through some more.” I said, “Most of the people that ended up becoming our customers, they had been reading our magazine or our newsletter for six months or more. They had already bought into it. We had already been delivering that,” and then we talk about their situation.

Nobody even knows this company does content marketing services. They’re not sending out information. They don’t have their own strategy. So here’s the biggest of the big companies’ unlimited resources and they’re not doing it, and here’s little old us coming in there saying, “We’re just delivering value that is beyond what we do with our products and services.”

So if you’re an agency listening to this, maybe there’s one area, maybe there’s a vertical or a type of customer that you really think there’s an opportunity, well, focus on that. It could be an e-newsletter, a mini magazine. It could be an event series. It could be a webinar series. It could be any of those things and focus on really, really educating those people over time, and then you’ll see the difference, and probably if you do it right, that’s your sales and marketing process because they’ll probably raise their hand at some point and say, “Oh, I’m ready. It’s been six months. I’ve been engaging in your e-newsletter. It’s fantastic, and now I think I’m ready to buy.”

You’re like, “Wow! That was easy.” It just took six months, nine months, a year, a bit more to get to that point.

Drew McLellan:

What I find fascinating is basically we have to give ourselves as agency owners the same speech we give our clients, which is this is not short-term, this is not one and done, this is a new way of presenting yourself to the marketplace on an ongoing basis, and you’re planting seeds every day all day. Sooner or later, the seeds bear fruit, but you don’t know necessarily which seed or which fruit, but over time, the harvest is plenty, right?

Joe Pulizzi:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

I find it fascinating that, literally, every agency owner I know gives that speech to their clients, but can’t look in the mirror and give themselves that speech and actually get it done. That’s the challenge.

Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah. I guess, do you believe in it enough? Do you believe … With our organization, so it’s a multimillion dollar division that’s just focusing on education and training, we’ve never gone out and called on somebody. So I don’t know even know if we’d end up doing that like how much bigger it would get, but I don’t want to get to that point. We just take incoming leads and we figure out which ones are the business we want to take.

Wouldn’t that be a great position for any agency to be in? So that’s what I hope for somebody listening today and say, “So you offer a lot of agencies whatever you offer a lot of different services,” but if you’re going to be a content marketing agency, you really say, “Okay. Before we start offering services every other SEO company had said, ‘Oh, we offer content marketing,’ let’s be thoughtful about it like we want, like you said, like we want our customers to be thoughtful about it and say, ‘This is a long-term strategy. This is how the marketplace is changing, and we want to be the leading provider then to do that. We’ve got to walk the walk.’”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s funny. We’re offering, we’ve got a workshop coming up in January of 2018. So if you’re listening to this in realtime, listeners, you still have time. If not, talk to me about when we’re going to do it next time. Anyway, the name of the workshop is Creating Content that Creates Revenue. To me, that’s what this is all about. So one of the things that, as you know, I’m a huge fan of your work, but the book that you just wrote, Killing Marketing, is probably in my opinion the best of all of your books.

Joe Pulizzi:

Oh, thank you.

Drew McLellan:

It is a game-changer. I mean, it really forces you to think completely differently about the work we do. So as I’m reading it through the lens of an agency owner and through the lens of someone who helps agencies, one of the places where I really, really dug in and I want to spend a lot of time on the podcast today talking about is this whole idea of monetizing content. So I think for a lot of clients and certainly a lot of agencies, we think of content as something that costs us a lot of time and money to produce. I think your book really unpacked this idea of, “Well, wait a second. You don’t actually have to. It doesn’t have to cost money. Yes, it’s going to be an investment, but it can have an ROI that is much greater than what it originally cost.”

So I do want to dig in to that, but first, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and talk about how agencies can make money creating content for their customers.

If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, odds are you’ve heard me mention the AMI Peer Networks or the Agency Owner Network. What that is really is it’s like a Vistage group or an EO group only everybody around the table owns an agency in a noncompetitive market. So it’s a membership model. They come together twice a year for two days, two days in the spring and two days in the fall, and they work together to share best practices. They show each other their full financial so there’s a lot of accountability. We bring speakers in. We spend a lot of time problem solving around the issues that agency owners are facing. If you’d like to learn more about it, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com\network. Okay. Let’s get back to the show.

All right, everybody. Welcome back. So Joe Pulizzi and I are talking about content marketing. Before the break, we were talking about the idea of monetizing. So for most agencies, one of the challenges they have going in and selling their services is they’re seen as a cost to their clients. As I was reading your book, I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if an agency could go into a client and say, ‘Hey, here’s the investment that is going to take for us to help you with your content, but we’re actually going to be a revenue stream for you’?” What a different conversation that would look like as an agency compared to the other agencies who are walking in the door.

So can you talk to us a little bit about this whole idea of monetizing content and maybe some other ways that we go, “Oh, yeah, I wouldn’t have thought of that,” and some ways that people are like, “Oh, I would have never thought about that”?

Joe Pulizzi:

Well, thank you for, first of all, this is not like a new, new thing. I mean, when I started selling custom publishing in 2000, we used to go in and we used to work on revenue opportunities for associations and large businesses, and we&