Home > Marketing > PR, Content and Net Neutrality; Off Script #9: Steveology

PR, Content and Net Neutrality; Off Script #9: Steveology


A few years ago, I met him out on the social media trail. How it happened, I can’t quite recall, but over time, we just sort of took to each other.

Of all the things that Steve Farnsworth is – a man who counts IBM as a client, a regular on social media power lists, and ubiquity on the web – one that stands out for me is his approachability. He’s brilliant — and a genuinely good guy.

One of the most amazing things about the web – indeed one we take for granted today – is the opportunity to meet people we might not ordinarily meet.  Steve and I are on opposite coasts, and what’s amazing is how a few hundred social media exchanges over the course of several years can lead to…a real friendship.

Steve has long been a believer “content marketing” even before the phrase gained the popularity it has today.  As he points out below, today, content is a line item on marketing budgets more often – and if there’s a saving grace to a term at risk of overuse, it’s served as a catalyst for marketers to re-think the fundamental approach to marketing.

content marketing hype-cycle x600

1. Your background suggests you “grew up” in PR but eventually broadened into marketing –what lead you to follow this path?  What is a necessity, fate, or some other factors?

“It was actually the other way around. I started in Apple’s Marcom in a coordinator role doing brochures, tradeshows, direct mail, advertising, budgeting, and working with PR.

At the time I wanted to be a CMO someday. Early in my career I made it a point to do several yearly informational interviews with senior marketing professionals to gain guidance and insight into my career path. (I technique I strongly recommend to people wanting to grow and thrive in their career.)

While I was meeting with one prominent agency principle, I asked her what else I needed to do to fill out my skill sets for my career path. She asked me what I thought was my weakest skill set. I said PR. She looked at me and point blank said, “Well, if that is your weakest link, and that’s an important one, then take it head on and get a PR agency job for a year.”

I did. I quit my job went to work at a PR agency. It was hard, but I loved the power of words to change the way a product or company was viewed in its category, or even redefine its category.

I stayed longer than a year, and became a vice president of client services. That role required me to provide communication strategy, manage account teams globally to achieve results, and keep clients excited to work with us. It was a great job and I worked with an awesome team of smart young account managers, and had my mettle tested by the C-level executives I advised.

When people pay you money to advise them, they want to know why you are making X recommendation over Y. And you better have a well-reasoned thought process ready to articulate when asked. The first few times a CEO or CMO asks you the hard questions it can be daunting. However, it quickly becomes exhilarating (addictive) to have these high-level discussions.

In 2002 one of my oldest clients, who had become a good friend, approached me about joining a start-up he was doing. I joined Steve Hausle as a founding management team of 6 for a company that provide highly secure remote backup. I joined as vice president of marketing.

My first job was to name the company. I conducted a number of naming exercises, and based on one of them we finally decided to combine key elements of the service we were providing: intelligent and access. Axcient was born. They are still around and doing well. Now they call the service Recovery-as-a-Service. Working at Axcient brought me back to digital marketing.”

2. Much of your writing too, such as your blog, traditionally focus on PR, but has shifted.  Today you’re often writing, commenting or otherwise talking up content marketing.  What was the tipping point for you – when did it occur to you that this was a seismic shift in marketing rather than a fad?

“When I started in PR more seriously, content marketing was a major technique I used. That’s not what we called it, but that was what it was: white papers, studies, having our experts quoted, research reports, and article placements. At the time there were only a few tools to build and manage your own platform, and it was expensive. Today there are hundreds of tools that give you the ability to create and distribute bottom line impacting content, if you do it right.

The Internet has become ubiquitous through mobile device adoption. Now every company has become a media company, to paraphrase Tom Foremski. Sadly, most companies don’t understand the importance of creating journalistic quality content, or how to map their content to the informational pain points of buyers to promote demand generation. However, that fact does pay my bills.

There was no tipping point per se. I have been in B2B all of my career. Often B2B deal sizes start in the tens of thousands, but can quickly become hundreds of thousands dollars, or millions. The better information you provide, the more people know you as an expert, and shorter the sales cycles. That reality has made “content marketing” the biggest arrow in my quiver.

The fact that content marketing has been trendy the last few years has been awesome for me financially and professionally. Companies have budgets for programs, but often lack internal expertise and know-how to create content that builds demand generation. I have done that for two decades and love to do it.”

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3. In his book “Epic Content Marketing,” Joe Pulizzi points out that content marketing has existed for a long time by another name:  custom publishing.  He says in his work and research, he could tell there just wasn’t much demand for custom publishing among senior marketers. Why do you think that was? If it’s such an effective approach, why did it take so long to reach the state of popularity it enjoys today?

“In the past content creation was either datasheets or product brochure from Marcom, or news releases and whitepapers from PR. Having a budget to “create content” and the idea of actually becoming a media company is still beyond most organizations ability to grasp. The content marketing hype-cycle helped alert those asleep at the wheel that this was a requirement for doing business in an information (Google) age.”

4. Sometimes in your posts or other content, I’ve noticed you mention IBM as a client.  They’ve always struck me as a very conservative company – yet in my interactions with you – you strike me as very casual. How did that relationship get started and what do you think sealed it for IBM as a client?

“IBM mid-market reached out to me a few years ago. They were building a network of bloggers for a media hub called Midsize Insider, and offered to become a sponsor of The @Steveology Blog as part of that program. While IBM is conservative in many ways, they actively sought me out, and I am not a button down guy. So they knew what they were getting going in. I quickly learned that they also strive to bring in new approaches to their technology and marketing arsenal. In that quest IBM has been able to be a leader in social media, social sales, social business, and mobile. They have a number of senior folks doing genuinely cutting edge programs at IBM.

While my writing style can be a little edgy, and they have gently asked for revisions from time to time, they have also been also generous and wonderfully flexible. They have done an excellent job connecting me to internal domain experts, shared advanced announcements, and included me in influencer opportunities. It has been great being associated with them. This has been the biggest value for me personally, and I think they have the best blogger outreach program I have seen to date.”

See these related interviews: 
How a Period Begins a Conversation; Off Script #8:  Mitch Joel
PR and Storytelling; Off Script #7:  Lou Hoffman
Fans as a Metric are Fool’s Gold; Off Script #6: Jim Tobin of Ignite

5. You’ve been an outspoken critic of net neutrality. Can you break the issue down simply for us – and why are you so passionate about it?

“I have a few dogs in the fight. I make my living because of the internet, and as a consumer I rely on unencumbered access to it for learning, entertainment, banking, news, and personal communications. However, in a democratic republic what’s most alarming is the egregious disregard for the public interest by a Federal regulatory agency.

Consumers are the losers, but the good news is that after a decade of persistent legal and political skullduggery by Internet carries, they’ll make even more money for doing nothing. Literally, nothing. The changes that the FCC has made are massively in favor of Internet providers, and sadly this is not about a faster Internet for users.

It’s fundamentally a lobbyist organized and government approved protection racket. It’s no shocker that the FCC is currently run by a cable industry crony Tom Wheeler. Consumers who already pay for high-speed Internet will ultimately pay more for the same speed or settle for a slower Internet.

Imagine the United States Post Office knocks on your door. The letter carrier demands a ‘special’ handling fee for a letter you already mailed. They explain that this handling fee ensures your letter is delivered at the usual time. However, if you don’t pay up, the letter might get lost in the back of the mail truck for a week. No crime has been committed since it’s now legal to shake you down.”

* * *

Many thanks, Steve-O, for carving out time for this and for your candor, as always.  Connect with Steve on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn – and I’d highly recommend the weekly show he co-hosts with Janet Fouts and Adam Helweh called The Friday Hangout.  They’ve even got an iPhone and Android apps so you can listen on the go!

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:
Quiet Professionalism in PR; Off Script #3:  Ian Lipner

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