A couple weeks ago, I attended the 2nd annual Content Marketing Retreat (#CMRetreat) hosted by Fusionspark Media along with our Content Director at Weber Shandwick (@mydeadlyballoon). Having missed the first annual retreat, I was excited to finally head across the sound to beautiful Langley, WA for a day of big learning.
The Retreat exceeded my expectations on all accounts. Great location, stellar organization throughout the day, knockout food (holy homemade pumpkin bread) and of course most importantly, an all-star lineup made for an excellent trip.
Throughout the course of day one, attendees hear from Rod Brooks, Russell Sparkman, Tim Frick, Jayme Thomason, Chris Baggott, Pawan Deshpande, Mark Jacobs, Jeff Erramouspe, Simon Kelly and Robert Rose.
The crowd was a diverse group from all over with a slant towards those working in smaller organizations. Topics covered a wide range, from top level content marketing strategy to maximizing use of Google Analytics data to improve content optimization. While many conferences can drag at certain points, the short presentation structure followed by panel discussions made for a great format to maintain audience attention throughout.
Below are five key takeaways that stemmed from the Retreat.
1. Content Marketing is Not Rocket Science
Sorry, it’s just not. Does content marketing require smart analysis, technical insight, natural instinct for audience demands and the ability to piece everything together into a solid strategy? You bet, but it takes practice and requires that you are constantly thinking about how best to stay a step ahead of your audience and the competition.
2. Brands That Succeed at Content Marketing Fail…a Lot.
During his presentation on developing a step-by-step content marketing plan, Robert Rose emphasized the importance of establishing an office culture that embraces innovation. You, along with your coworkers or employees, need to feel that it’s okay to fail. In fact, you need to be realistic about the fact that success often stems from a series of smart failures where you’ve progressively learned more and more about how best to achieve your goals. The iPhone and iPad weren’t created overnight and neither will your strategy for how to sell X products or engage with Y number of people. Try and keep trying.
3. Data Is the Hidden Gem Behind All Good Content Marketing
It’s scary to me these days when a company or organization gives you a blank stare when you ask about website or engagement analytics. Data drives strategy. If you don’t have a benchmark and ongoing consistent measurement to track what content is resonating with which audience, you don’t have the fuel necessary to revamp your content marketing plan.
4. Curation is An Art Form
Successful curators have amazing taste. They know their audience’s taste like the back of their hand. They know the value of attribution, the importance of framing and how to deliver content to their target audience in the right format in a consistent fashion.
5. Content Marketers Understand the Difference Between Audience “Needs” and “Wants”
Rod Brooks did a great job putting this point on display. Rod is the CMO for Pemco Insurance. We all need insurance. We know that. Do we all like to talk about insurance on a daily basis? Nope.
What we do love to talk about is our family, friends and community. We love to discuss topics of shared interest that resonate across the board relevant to our safety and well being.
The same applies for your company. Stop trying to shove your audience’s needs down their throat and take a broader look at the shared values and interests of your target community. What type of content does this audience want? What do they care most about? THAT is your point of entry. That is your bridge to building trust and creating robust dialogue.
Thanks again to Russell Sparkman and all of the presenters. Looking forward to another fantastic gathering next year.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of my favorite local storytellers and communications leaders, Hanson Hosein. Between directing the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program, running Media Space, shooting an award winning independent film, and leading Four Peaks – Hanson is one busy man. Huge thanks to Hanson for taking time out of his schedule to provide insight below. A coworker previously recapped some learnings from Hanson’s recent SAL lecture and this Q&A provides some deeper insight on the relevance of storytelling in the PR industry and the ways in which communications continue to evolve.
In lectures and presentations, you talk about the convergence of journalism and marketing. Expound upon the future outcome you envision and overall impact this will have on the PR industry.
The “storyteller uprising” that I refer to in my talks is predicated on a simple foundation. We’ve seen an explosion in the wide availability of cheap communications technology (cameras, smartphones, social media distribution networks), combined with a breakdown in business models for media organizations that have traditionally enjoyed an institutional lockdown in communications. Suddenly, anyone now has the opportunity to create a trusted relationship through communication. And that “trust” is no longer relegated to brand names in marketing or journalism. Anyone can establish that trust by creating a powerful narrative, and then by interacting on a regular basis with those we seek to engage with our story.
What does this mean for PR? Traditionally, PR served as the intermediary between companies seeking to sell something (a product, an idea) with professional media outlets. In many ways, PR had to learn journalistic skills to do its job well, in addition to understanding the marketing side. Now, those professional media outlets still retain some value, but there’s also this remarkable opportunity for us to engage people directly. No one really likes to be “spun,” “messaged” or “marketed” to – and younger people are increasingly becoming savvy to that. So if you’re going to expect anyone to pay attention to what you’re saying, you’ll need to create valuable content, with a voice of authenticity that is relevant to people’s lives. Who says that this needs to continue to be the exclusive preserve of journalism or marketing? Public relations at its heart is about engagement – it just needs to learn a few more reflexes and reconsider its own business.
In other words, PR can think more expansively now – it can push into advertising and digital marketing agencies’ territory. And it can help build direct, trusted relationships around media and information. Ultimately this means a title shift for the industry along the lines of “Engagement Management” or “Trusted Communications” (the funny thing is that “Public Relations” is probably most apt now – but it’s a tarnished term in the average person’s eyes). It’s a huge opportunity to create a one-stop shop for clients if done strategically, entrepreneurially and with an eye on tight budgets.
Content. Content. Content. We’re in a transformative period where the notion of active content creation is flooding mainstream. Can you provide a couple of examples of the type of content that’s recently caught your eye or regularly breaks through the clutter?
Clearly any powerful story cuts through the clutter. That’s why we’ve been so rapt with attention over the people’s uprisings in the Middle East – we can relate to people who rise up against oppression. And those people are creating content on a regular basis through online video and social media channels despite the best efforts of repressive regimes to lock them down. I’ve also been recently impressed with car companies like Ford and Hyundai: their engagement strategies (the Fiesta Agent program was brilliant), combined with bold narratives really catch my eye. But even here we need to take a step back when we think about “content.” It’s not just about the quality of what these companies are communicating….their success also comes in the products that they’re creating – which are obviously industry-leading. In other words, your communication strategy itself doesn’t win the day. The content itself has to be good. People see through crap more than ever today.
A couple of years ago, I wrote this post around skills needed to compete by young PR pros. With digital continuing to play a larger role in all overall strategic communications plans, what advice are you delivering to your students to prime up for a competitive job market?
The deep economic recession has forced us all into the ROI (Return on Investment) age. In other words, we think twice before we expend any energy or resources on a particular endeavor until we’re sure that the value proposition is a good one. I believe the same holds true to the education that we offer: we just can’t take for granted that professionals are going to want to plunk down their money and take whatever we have to offer. We need to work harder to prove the value proposition to justify their money and time. This requires nimble, entrepreneurial thinking on our part, and an ability to provide high quality educational content.
The same holds true for what our students need to do to get a job. They need to show that they have a specific, unique skill set (storytelling, social media skills, a keen understanding of engagement in the digital age), but that they’re also capable of stretching for the task at hand. Everything is changing so fast that to profess immutable expertise – and to hang your hat on that – is almost dishonest. Rather, we should all be prepared to do what it takes to accomplish the task with consistent excellence. Our students who are finding great jobs are those who have demonstrated leadership abilities in the communication field, along with a strong sense of the practical.
As a master storyteller, what are three core components that you look for in any good story?
(1) A clear narrative with a memorable, emotional punch.
(2) Creative, non-distracting production qualities (or compelling visuals)
(3) A desire to engage beyond the beginning, middle and end of the narrative itself.
You’re helping lead collaboration of Seattle’s top technology innovators through your Four Peaks Salon. What local storytelling or innovation trend are you most excited about?
I love the confluence between community engagement and technology in our region. It’s what sets us apart. We like to connect – online, and in-person through events. And there are so many local developers who are creating new platforms to facilitate those connections to bring together the real and the virtual in a way that allows us to capture the moment of that connection, and to have it lead to something meaningful even after the event is over. That’s what we’re focused on with Four Peaks – to create that connective tissue that enables amazing collaborative work to emerge from those surprising human connections.
CHALLENGE - You need to motivate 100 people to take action online. You have boiled your strategy down to the following two options:
1. Identify 1,000 people to connect with individually in the hopes that 100 of these will take your desired course of action.
2. Identify 15 key issue influencers to help leverage your message to their networks.
Here’s a hint to help you decide – option 1 is going to be very time consuming while option 2 is going to save you time and be more impactful in the long run.
Influencers are of course a core component of any communications campaign. Though there is not a template process for building relationships with influencers, it is important to first understand that influencers command attention and drive action through a general process that goes something like this:
Influencer talks -> Network listens -> Network takes action -> Network’s networks listen, take action -> Multiply.
Done successfully, this word-of-mouth model can be incredibly powerful, hence its value to the PR/marketing world.
As part 1 of this series, it’s important that we first examine how one actually emerges as an influencer. In other words, what truly defines “influencer” status?
Does it take 25k Twitter followers? A Facebook page with 10k fans? A blog that averages 500 views and 30 comments per post?
Sure, numbers are a crucial component of overall reach but do not serve as the only foundation of influence. Numbers aside, what is that key qualitative factor that makes someone a force to be reckoned with?
Any solid human relationship revolves around trust. Online, trust plays an even more important role in helping establish and build long-lasting personal relationships (if you doubt this in the slightest, give Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents a read). When you develop a reputation as a trustworthy person, things will begin to snowball on their own.
This man is an influencer. Does he have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans? Nope (though it’s only a matter of time as the organization scales to their current exponential growth). But ask a random selection of ten Chicagoans if they know Jonny and chances are pretty good at least one person will raise a hand.
Anyone who has a touch to the cancer community in Chicago knows that Jonny is the heart and soul behind Imerman that is endlessly working to bridge connections in an effort to help no patient fight cancer alone. In drilling a bit deeper, here are the top 3 qualities that make Jonny an influencer in the cancer community:
1) TRUST - Within 30 seconds of meeting Jonny (be it through his incredibly charasmatic emails/status updates or offline at the insane amount of events he attends), you feel as though you can reveal your deepest secrets to the man. He embodies that unique quality that makes you want to sit down and chat for hours.
2) CARE – Want to win people over? Fast? Be yourself, be personable and care what others have to say. Can we ever understate the importance of listening? Works the same offline and on. People want to be heard. The more we learn, the more likely someone is to lend their own ears back and the better we become at associating and communicating with one another. Few people lend an ear as well as Mr. Imerman and this extreme focus on listening is a quality that is universal across influencers.
3) CONNECTED – I’ve never met someone that networks as well as Jonny. And not in that awkward “random guy at the event, forced business card handoff” kind of way. Jonny endlessly connects with others who later help him connect and build the community of survivors, patients and caregivers for Imerman Angels. He pays attention to the details of everyone he meets and before walking away, he makes sure they hear the simple three-line core overview of what fuels his passion for life every day:
I’m a cancer survivor and I help connect cancer survivors with patients. No one should battle cancer alone and the mission of my organization is to make sure that doesn’t happen. If you know anyone who knows anyone battling or who has survived cancer, direct them our way.
Moreso, he remembers the details about YOU. I’m always impressed by people that are able to recall minor details about your family or interests over the long haul and it goes to show why the “care” factor is so important in becoming an influencer.
Done and done. This simple approach is why Imerman is growing like crazy and making more and more connections and pairings each day. It’s the reason Imerman has never once had to directly fundraise to support operations. It’s the reason that Imerman is so successful and making a HUGE impact on helping provide a crucial support network for cancer patients and caregivers.
So the next time you’re poking around trying to figure out what makes someone an influencer, make sure you’re taking all factors into consideration outside of those big shiny numbers online. The traits that define influence are going to differ based on your target community and it’s essential to first know what jibes well with who you’re trying to connect with before mapping out an outreach plan.
Next up later this week – Influence Part 2 – Where to Find Influencers…