Episode 326

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There’s no denying that artificial intelligence isn’t just part of the future, it’s here today. But the concept is overwhelming for many agency owners. It’s hard to know where to begin when you don’t even know what questions to ask or how to find answers, especially when you are already pulled in so many directions every day. Who has time to add learning something as complex as AI to their TO-DO list?

After running her own agency and then spending a decade at Content Marketing Institute, Cathy McPhillips joined the Marketing AI Institute earlier this year as the Chief Growth Officer. She comes at AI through a marketing-practitioner’s lens which gives her a more approachable perspective for people who might be curious but confused by AI.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Cathy and I give a beginner’s overview of the crossroads where marketing meets artificial intelligence. We look at the ways to approach AI, how agencies are using it, and the tools that make dipping your toes in the water manageable, clear, and helpful without a huge time commitment. It’s the goal of this conversation that you will leave feeling inspired to take your first steps into understanding the potential of marketing AI.

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.

Marketing AI

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Two ways to approach AI
  • The purpose and goal of the Marketing AI Institute
  • What agencies are looking for in terms of AI
  • How AI can help with efficiency
  • The difference between marketing automation and AI
  • Why AI can never fully replace the need for people
  • Some tools available to get started with AI
  • The easiest first step
“I’ve learned that AI isn’t as unobtainable as I thought it was.” @cmcphillips Click To Tweet “There are two ways to approach AI: the problem-based way, and the use-case way.” @cmcphillips Click To Tweet “If your CMO comes to you and says they just saved eight hours writing copy, you don’t care that it was done with AI, you just care that he saved eight hours. So give your employees the freedom to try out new things.” @cmcphillips Click To Tweet “Content creation is a very easy, tangible place to start with AI.” @cmcphillips Click To Tweet “You don’t need to know how a car works to drive a car. You just need to get from Point A to Point B.” @cmcphillips Click To Tweet “Where’s the time suck? How can we make it smaller? And is there a tool that can help us?” @cmcphillips Click To Tweet

Intro to AI for Marketers: https://www.marketingaiinstitute.com/intro-to-ai-for-marketers

Ways to Contact Cathy McPhillips:

Additional Resources:

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 Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today, we are going to talk about AI, but from a different perspective. So I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in a second. Just really quickly, I want to remind you that the Build a Better Agency Summit, we had the first one in August of 2021, the 2022 version is May 24th and 25th. If you’re an AMI member, family day is the 23rd. And tickets are going fast. And so, if you are looking for a way to spend down some dollars as you wrap up the year, maybe grabbing your ticket before the prices go up would be a good idea.

Drew McLellan:

I have some amazing speakers. We’re going to be talking about out how to leverage community for your clients and for your agency. We’re going to talk about innovation. We’re going to talk about building trust inside your organization and trust inside your client relationships so that that trust serves you well long term. We are going to talk about where we as agency owners get a little bit complacent, and how we put our agencies at risk and how to make sure we don’t do that anymore. We are going to talk about imposter syndrome. We’ve got all kinds of amazing speakers, as always.

Drew McLellan:

Great speakers, great other agency owners to network with. And I would love for you to join us. If you’re interested, head over to the Agency Management Institute website. In the upper left corner, you’ll see the BABA Summit. Click on it, and you can register right now before the tickets prices go up or before you’re using 2022 dollars. We’d love to have you join us.

Drew McLellan:

All right. Let me tell you a little bit about my guest today. Many of you are familiar with Cathy MCPhillips. Cathy has been a steady influence, a constant at Content Marketing Institute for over a decade. She joined the Marketing AI Institute in the spring of 2021, and has a new role there now. I asked her to come on the show and talk about from her perspective as a layperson, not somebody who has a deep, deep knowledge of AI and is not a data geek or an expert in it, but somebody who’s surrounded by it every day in her organization and also using it, and also interacting with agencies who are using it. I just wanted to get her perspective on, how do we get started? And so I think this is going to be a fascinating conversation and I am anxious to get into it. So let’s go.

Drew McLellan:

Cathy, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Cathy McPhillips:

This is bright and early. This is great.

Drew McLellan:

It is bright and early. And as I said to you yesterday, other than for you, I’m not sure I would be up this early, but yes, it is great. I’m glad to spend the time with you. So thanks for doing it. And especially, thanks for too it for doing it right before the holidays. I appreciate.

Cathy McPhillips:

Oh, absolutely. Nice way to ease into the weekend.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. The long weekend. Give everybody a little sense of your background. You come from agency stock and you’ve done some interesting things, and this is a relatively new position for you. So let’s give everybody your career trajectory.

Cathy McPhillips:

Sure. I knew in college, I wanted to go into advertising. I knew in high school I wanted to go into advertising. And my first job out of college, I knew I wanted to be in media doing planning, and the first job I could find was in production, so I took it. I did that for a little while and I did end up getting a job in media. So I was at two agencies in Cleveland. And then started my own business in 1999, which seems like an eon ago. And did that for about 12 years. And then met Joe Pulizzi. So then I went to the Content Marketing Institute for almost a decade. And then in the past year, I’ve known Paul Roetzer who owns the agency PR 20/20 and the Marketing AI Institute, and I started working with him just this past May. So just about six or seven months, I can’t do math this early.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I’m totally with you on that. So working with Joe as Content Marketing Institute became a thing. And now with the Marketing AI Institute, it seems like you’re… And maybe this is part of what drew you to advertising too, it seems like you like to help grow and create things, because it certainly, in your current job and your last job, you sort of had a tiger by the tail.

Cathy McPhillips:

I think a lot of that was just timing on my part, convenient timing, coincidental and serendipitous timing on my part. It’s exciting to be in this place where I can be a little bit… Paul’s been doing the AI stuff for five years, but it’s still early in so many cases that it’s nice to… I’m learning as I’m going both as a marketer and for the company, and as the marketer myself, I’m learning as I’m going along. And to be able to share that knowledge with other marketers and other agencies and things like that, It’s been really nice to say, “I understand your terminology, I understand your struggles, your challenges.” And not that Paul and Mike don’t, but t’s just a different lens I’m looking through.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, as you and I talked, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted you on the show, is because you come at it from that marketer’s practitioner’s lens. I think a lot of the listeners are in a place where they’re like, “I keep hearing about AI, I know it’s a thing. I know it’s a thing I don’t know as much about as I should, but I don’t even really know where to jump in.” And so, a lot of what I want to chat with you about is, how are you seeing agencies explore and experiment with this? And obviously, the institute has some incredible tools and resources and events that I think a lot of agencies, it’s just not on their radar screen yet.

Drew McLellan:

And so I want to make sure we talk about all that too. Paul’s amazing, but I think Paul eats, breathe and sleeps this stuff.

Cathy McPhillips:

And drives.

Drew McLellan:

And drives it. He has a depth of knowledge that is staggering, but in some ways, it’s almost overwhelming because you feel like I can never catch up. Every time he talks, I’m like, “Oh my God, I will never catch up to what this man knows about this.” So I think you coming at it from more of a lay position and being amongst the agency clients that you guys serve just is a different perspective.

Cathy McPhillips:

Yeah. It’s interesting just to dive with some tools and things myself as a user, like you said, as a practitioner, and saying, “Oh, this isn’t as unattainable as I thought it was.” I have learned so much. Sometimes it’s just giving it a shot, downloading something, a free two-week trial, and seeing and saying, “Oh my gosh, this just saved me eight hours.” And just seeing how that fits into my life.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Again, I think agency owners and leaders are still trying to even figure out, how do they categorize AI? Is it efficiency tool? Is it a effectiveness tool? Is it a scaled tool? Is it all of those things? And it probably is, depending on the tool. I’m curious about the ones that… When you and I were talking yesterday, we were saying that a lot of people seem to dip their toe in the water for the first time with AI around copywriting, some machine learning, generated language. I know you had said you had played around with a little bit of that. So can you talk a little bit about how you’ve experimented with that?

Cathy McPhillips:

Sure. I’m going to back up just a second. One of the things I’ve learned, because I learn every day is there are two ways to approach AI. There is the problem-based way and there’s the use case based. A problem-based case would be something like one of your clients, their email open rates just have tanked, and you just don’t know what to do. And you’ve tried X, Y, and Z, and it’s not working. And you just need to figure out a way, “How can a machine help me do this?” So that’s a bigger process of figuring out, finding a tool that can do a bunch of different things for you that the human just isn’t able to analyze the way a machine can. The other way, the way that I’m using it right now is more use case based.

Cathy McPhillips:

And in one instance, I needed to create social media copy, email copy for our big event, MAICON, which happens every summer. And I downloaded this tool, Copy.ai, and they give you a free two-week trial and I’m like, “I’m just going to try it and see what happens.” And so I plugged in a 100-word description and I entered the URL of our website of the event and clicked button. And I got probably over 100 different length, different approaches of copy. And I liked two things about it. One, obviously, how fast it was. And two, in all my years of writing, I write how I speak. I write and it sounds like me, and the machine didn’t sound like me, which was both good and bad.

Cathy McPhillips:

The first post I looked at, I’m like, “Hmm, it makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense for the language of the company, for the tone of right of me since my signature’s on it.” But what I did like was there were some instances where I’m like, “Gosh, that’s just such a different way to approach how we talk about our event. And I wonder if that would resonate differently with our audience. I’m going to give it this a shot. So maybe I A/B split some copy and I just see which one’s getting better opens, which one’s getting better conversions.” And it was really easy.

Cathy McPhillips:

Backing up a little bit, when I was going through some of the copy, if it didn’t make sense, like the first one, for example, I went through and I made some changes there, the machine saw what I did and then it changed the rest of the copy on the remaining 99-plus post. So the machine watched what I did and learned from me and made the other ones better. And I think that’s the the AI at play. The AI is learning what I am doing and it’s giving me better results again the next time. And I don’t need to know as a marketer or as an agency that that’s AI that helped me, I just need to know that it helped me.

Cathy McPhillips:

And I think that’s where marketers hear this word, and guilty, I’m one of the people. A year ago, two years ago before Paul and I started talking about me coming to work for him, I was in the same boat. It just sounds like artificial intelligence, it’s robots. It’s sci-fi. It’s something that I don’t want to do, I don’t want to learn.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it sounds super complicated.

Cathy McPhillips:

It sounds super complicated. Then the other side of it is, is that I pride myself on being very community driven, very personal with my customers, and what’s that going to take away? And it didn’t, it didn’t take away anything. It just took away a lot of hours off my plate. And that’s just one use case of money. You can A/B split subject lines, you could do different versions of creative, different sizes of creative. So it’s not there to replace your job, it’s just there to save you time and be more efficient with your time. And that those hours that I saved writing all that MAICON copy and cutting down all those hours, I picked up the phone and I started calling some customers and scheduling interviews because I said, “I’m not going to waste one second of that time I saved, how could I better use this time in my job?”

Cathy McPhillips:

So I scheduled five interviews with customers and said, “Are you reading our stuff? What’s working, what’s not working? What else can we provide for you?” And that’s so valuable to our brand, and to them. I just probably got five more people-

Drew McLellan:

And that, by the way, is something a machine cannot do for us, right?

Cathy McPhillips:

And it never will be able to. I know that’s one of the things we say, is AI won’t replace you, AI gives you time to be strategic, creative, build a brand culture, build a community culture, build a community, and that’s what the technology is there to help you with, take all those repetitive rote tasks, the data-driven tasks off your plate to a degree. The human has to be involved, even in the analytics, in a lot of the data side, there needs to be someone on the other end looking at what the AI is producing.

Drew McLellan:

Given your role in the institute… Well, let’s back up. Paul answered this question when he was on the show, but I’m curious from your perspective, what is the institute? What is the purpose of the institute? And why did he start it, do you think?

Cathy McPhillips:

Well, I think he started it for a couple reasons. One, because he was very interested and he said, “This might be a thing. I think this has some legs.” But I think the other side of it was showing marketers this actually… I think a little and I thought about this with CMI too, it’s a little bit like a nonprofit in a weird way where they really just truly want to help people be better at their jobs and be happier in their lives. Obviously, we’re monetizing things like our academy program and our event, but ultimately, it’s just, “Do marketers know this thing exists?” Whether you use AI power tools or not, just at least know it’s an option for you.

Cathy McPhillips:

So just advancing the industry, letting marketers know that this isn’t just going to be a part of marketing, it’s going to become marketing at some point. And let’s get in on the forefront and teach the marketers how they can do this. But also there’s this whole ethical, moral side of things like, are these tools using AI the right way? Are people using the tools or using AI the right way? Because it could go south. Something’s always ruined by someone or something. And how can we make sure that everything that we’re doing is good for mankind, is good for our industry and doesn’t give marketers a bad name? That’s what I was saying. Anything we’re inputting into the computer, the machine learns from us, but we need to recognize our own biases, the data biases that we have if we don’t have a complete data set and we’re trying to learn.

Cathy McPhillips:

We just need to make sure that we’re feeding the machine the information that it needs. And if not, how can we change that? Or how can we at least take the output and make it something that is better?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s interesting. I had never really thought about it before, but you’re right. CMI and the Marketing AI Institute actually align very much with how AMI operates, which is, we serve this community and we care about this community. And yes, there are ways to make money at it, but it’s really driven by a desire to build and serve a group of people that you care about. And make them better.

Cathy McPhillips:

Right, and then make them better. Coming off of two years working with a nonprofit, it was really hard for me to leave that nonprofit to go work for CMI. I started with CMI in a consulting role, just saying, “I like having my own business, I like having my clients.” And then once I saw the way CMI was run, aside from the fact that Joe and Pam are just amazing human beings-

Drew McLellan:

Right, they are.

Cathy McPhillips:

… and family came first, and that’s how Paul is too. I’m like, “This actually is run in a way that it’s built to help people, and that’s how I work. That’s what makes me wake up in the morning and be happy to go to my job, is knowing that I’m helping someone do their job better.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think it’s a great way to approach the work. So given that, what are you seeing? When you interact with the agency clients that are a part of the institute in some way… Don’t let me forget, I want to go back and I want to talk about the academy for sure and also the event that you guys are running, the big entry level event. When somebody literally or figuratively walks in the door or knocks on the door, what are they looking for? What are agencies looking for right now in terms of AI and how you guys can help them? What I’m thinking is, I think every agency owner right now believes they’re behind, like, “I don’t know as much about a as I should. We’re not using it as much.”

Drew McLellan:

And what I’m wondering is, is everybody behind? I feel like we’re all in the kitty pool still, splashing around just trying to figure it out. And I think everyone thinks they’re are there by themselves and their competitors are super far ahead. But I wonder from your perspective, if that’s true.

Cathy McPhillips:

I think we’re all in the same boat. We’re all just like, “Okay, I don’t know where to start. What is AI?” I think so many people are still in that beginning stage. Interestingly, last week I put a poll on our LinkedIn page, our business LinkedIn page-

Drew McLellan:

Oh, I saw that.

Cathy McPhillips:

And I could see on the backend how people responded and who those people were. And there were CEOs, owners, some high, high level people that they checked the, “I don’t know how to get started.” It wasn’t even, “I don’t have time,” it was, “I don’t know how to get started.”

Drew McLellan:

So the question was basically, where are you? Right?

Cathy McPhillips:

It was, gosh, I don’t remember exactly how I worded it, but, “What’s prohibiting you from using AI power technology?” And it was, I don’t know how to get started, I can’t get buy-in, or I don’t have time to find the right technology for me. And most of the people selected, I don’t know how to get started. And now we’re working on something else right now, working to find some CMOs for our event, can we get some CMOs to come to our event about how they’re using AI? And I think even CMOs, I think they’re more in the camp of, I don’t have time, I don’t have time to stop my role and all these people that I’m managing, everything that I’m doing to figure out how to pilot AI. But really, it was, how do I start?

Cathy McPhillips:

That goes back to the use case model, which I’m circling back to. To answer your question is, agencies, if they can just find something that they can start with. And that’s what we’ve been telling CMOs is, you don’t need to know what… If your marketing manager at your agency came to you and said, “I just saved eight hours writing copy,” you don’t care that it’s AI, you’re just happy they saved eight hours. So it’s giving your employees the freedom to test out new things, to try some new approaches, to do some things that will help them do their job better, faster, more efficiently, which saves billable hours or gets those billable hours used towards some something different, better, more.

Cathy McPhillips:

There are some tools that agencies are using. From an analytics standpoint, if you’re doing paid media, you could use an AI powered tool that can analyze, that can optimize, that can do all that stuff for you. There are other tools that could do that, but what the AI is doing is it’s watching what is happening and making the changes on its own, where some tools that aren’t AI powered, I’m going in every day and checking and clicking and moving budgets around and doing things like that is very human driven. And the AI is doing it for me. And sure, I need to go in and check it, but again, that’s just hours. I’ve bought paid media as part of my job, and it’s a time suck.

Cathy McPhillips:

And then sometimes I forget or I just get caught up in something else and I don’t, and I’m like, oh my gosh, we just lost a week because I didn’t go and optimized things. Could we have gotten more conversions? Should I have shifted more money towards the Facebook ads that were converting better than the LinkedIn ads and I kept on 50-50? What would’ve happened if I would’ve done that? I can do that for you. So, just from that side of things, it’s better for your customers, it’s better for me, it’s better for the company just to have that technology that they can do that. So that’s one big use case, I think, for agencies.

Cathy McPhillips:

And even from the business development side of things, I think there’s tools that AI can help looking at your funnel of brands you’re going to for clients and whittling that down to, “Here’s the people you should be focusing at first. Here’s where they are in the funnel. Here’s their lead score.” And it’s a lot of the things I said you can do manually, but AI’s just going to help you do it faster.

Drew McLellan:

Well, lead score is a great example. I think most agenci