Q&A: Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Sep 05, 2014

Article ImageJoe Pulizzi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and the author of Epic Content Marketing. As an outspoken evangelist for content marketing, Pulizzi is one of the key figures in the industry and has made it his mission to train and educate brands about the importance of content to their marketing strategy. EContent interviewed Pulizzi as he prepared for the annual Content Marketing World conference, which takes place Sept. 8-11, 2014, in Cleveland.

Q: I'm still not sure how you came to content marketing. Can you tell me a bit about "Joe before the CMI?" In other words, how did you come to be interested in content marketing in the first place?

A: While I've been in publishing of some sort for a long time (mock newsletter creation as a kid, yearbook editor), I got my start in content marketing at Penton Media, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Penton is the largest independent business media company in North America. You probably wouldn't know any of its 150 publications and brands unless you were in the trades like mechanical systems, manufacturing, or organic foods. I joined Penton in 2000 in the custom media department and took over the department in 2001. Basically, our job was to work with Penton advertisers that didn't want to advertise but wanted help creating their own content such as custom magazines, newsletters, webinars, or white papers. We served as an in-house publishing agency for longer-form content creation.

I cut my teeth at Penton, had some amazing mentors, and was able to see the shift from paid media to owned media firsthand from 2000 to 2007 as search engine optimization, social media, and lead generation programs were nothing without first having a content marketing strategy.

Q: Why the Content Marketing Institute? Why not just become a consultant or go work for a brand?

A: The Content Marketing Institute is a successful organization born from failure. When I left Penton in 2007, I deeply believed that organizations would start to invest more and more in their own content creation and distribution programs. My entrepreneurial solution was to create "eHarmony for content marketing"-a service that matched up brands looking for content with agencies and freelancers that provided those specific services. Business was good. ... We connected on more than 1,000 projects in 2 years. Unfortunately, the financials didn't look so healthy. Most agencies were unwilling to pay for the service or had a lack of funding to even get started.  

At the same time, I was getting asked to do more consulting and speaking for large, enterprise brands. It took me a long time to see that the opportunity was training and education for marketers ... that was where the customer pain points were. So in 2009, we made the pivot to Content Marketing Institute, whose sole goal is to advance the practice of content marketing. Why do CMI and not work for a brand? To be honest, I love the fact that we can help hundreds of thousands of marketers each month, share expertise across industries, and help the industry evolve. I'm not sure I could do that working for one brand.

Q: What do you think is the most significant challenge that content marketing is facing today?

A: It's different than what most companies are used to. The practice of content marketing is not necessarily rocket science, but it's significantly different than how most organizations are set up. Change is hard, especially in big companies. Agile companies and even startups have an easier time with content marketing than longstanding companies because of this. We believe that education and training is the way to break through to these organizations. Well, I don't know of a better way. 

Q: Content marketing and native advertising are often talked about in the same breath. How do you differentiate between the two when talking with critics of native advertising?

A: Native advertising is part of the content marketing approach, but only slightly. The content marketing approach is our strategy behind creating behavior change with customers and prospects by creating and distributing valuable and consistent information (read: non-sales). Native advertising is leveraging part of that strategy on someone else's platform, while paying to do it. That's where native gets a little blurry. It's clearly advertising because it's paid, but it generally is educational or entertaining in nature so that people will actually pay attention to it.

If you are a brand, your job is to steal attention from the publisher's platform and make it your own. As a publisher, you are giving away a piece of your credibility and platform to your advertisers, which can be a risky proposition for some.

All that said, brands can execute a content marketing strategy without leveraging native at all, and some brands can engage in native advertising without really creating a sustained content program.

Q: What advice do you have for publishers who are worried about the impact content marketing might have on their advertising revenues?

A: A couple things. First, publishers better invest in your content product so that it's best in class. Their advertisers are out there right now trying to grab all the attention with their own content. The publishers' audience has to be better than that of advertisers.

Second, publishers need to make a decision whether or not they are going to help advertisers create better content. There is a revenue opportunity there to assist in advertiser content creation, but it needs to be a focused effort in order to work (lots of competition there).

Third, prepare for a replacement now to advertising programs, like display advertising, that doesn't perform. I'd start making the switch to sponsorship models and event sponsorship, where there is more of a barrier to entry. Long story short, most brands have way more resources than publishers do, but that doesn't mean that publishers can't be better at the craft. Stay focused.

Q: You often recommend that brands hire journalists to create content, but what advice do you have for journalists that might be looking to make that leap?

A: Lots of opportunities here. The majority of journalists that I know are being hired by brands. The good news is that many brands want journalists to find the story, not to shill for the brand, but the downside is that the goal of the content has a marketing objective. The journalist always needs to be clear about the business objective behind the story.  

The really good news: much more money on the brand side, and in some cases, more resources to get the right story. I predict that in the next decade, the majority of high-profile broadcasters and news outlets will be owned by product companies of some sort. 

Q: What tools do you recommend to everyone getting started in content marketing? Are there any new tools emerging to address the specific needs of content marketers that have impressed you?

A: There are almost too many to mention. There are editorial and project management tools like Divvy­HQ, Kapost, and AtTask. Marketing automation tools like Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, ActOn, Salesforce Pardot. Email marketing is more important than ever before. Analytics is critical. Social media management tools. I like LittleBird to help organize influencers.

Outside of this, I'm a big fan of LinkedIn's new publisher platform-it opened up the influencer program to all members. 

But to be honest, the biggest issue for content marketing is that most marketers have no documented content marketing strategy. I would start the old-fashioned way and make sure you have a clear "why" for your business objective behind the program, a content marketing (editorial) mission statement, and an understanding of what it will take to build a sustained audience (like opt-in email subscribers).

Q: Where do you see content marketing going in the years to come? Can it sustain its current buzz?

A: Even though content marketing is well over 100 years old, we are still in the early stages of the practice. While most organizations are doing some form of content marketing, most don't plan, and the majority say they are lacking in effectiveness. This is a big problem.

But long term, brands creating audiences is critical. They need to do this through long-term, consistent publishing programs. They have ample resources to make this happen. They will figure it out.

Long term, content marketing will become a staple of brand marketing ... or may even be what we consider marketing in the future. In the short term, I'm anticipating a large amount of M&A [mergers and acquisitions] for brands buying media companies in certain industries. Actually, it's hard to believe that more brands have not purchased newspapers, media outlets, blogs, and more up to this point. The time will come. 

Q: Content Marketing World is coming up. What are the important themes you see emerging from this year's sessions?

A: Content marketing has moved beyond experimental. We are starting to see very large companies organize around the concept in the forms of Content Centers of Excellence. Brands are starting to really move the needle with their content approaches. Our job at Content Marketing World is to make sure we cover all parts of our framework so that brand marketers get the education they need ... from strategy and planning, to content creation, to distribution to measurement. With over 100 speakers and 100 sessions, we have something for every marketer that needs it. 

Q: Are there any sessions that you think are "must see"?

A: Now, you can't make me choose, can you? Lots of case studies: GE, SAP, REI, Walmart, Kraft Foods, Progressive, EMC, Cisco, Microsoft, John Deere, and more. Thought leaders like Scott Stratten, Kristina Halvorson, Jay Baer, Ann Handley. I believe I'm speaking as well. And, of course, Mr. Kevin Spacey as the closing keynote.

Q: Kevin Spacey, that's quite the closer! Will he be talking about content marketing or about more general topics?

A: Most people don't realize that Kevin Spacey has taken quite an interest in our little industry. He has a great take that's a must-listen-to. But yes, we'll get to some Q&A as well. I have some Usual Suspects questions for him myself.