Joe Pulizzi and Dennis Shiao
written by
Helena Ronis
Co-founder and CEO at AllFactors
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What Marketers Need to Do to Survive and Thrive in 2020

July 2, 2020

I recently participated in a live webinar with Joe Pulizzi the founder of Content Marketing Institute. It was hosted by the awesome Dennis Shiao, founder of Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup. 

content marketers webinar

Joe’s latest book is titled Corona Marketing - What Marketing Professionals Need to Do Now to Survive the Crisis. 

Joe is an Amazon bestselling author, he’s written 7 books. His book Epic Content Marketing was named a must read business book by Fortune Magazine. He also wrote a thriller called The Will to Die. He co-hosts a podcast with Robert Rose called This Old Marketing. It has been downloaded over two million times in 150 countries, and he also has a newsletter at

The webinar started with Joe’s introduction about his latest book Corona Marketing and then went into Q&A about the book and broader questions about marketing.

The reason Joe wrote the book is because he saw that the current situation from a business and marketing standpoint is similar to what happened during the recession times of 2008 and 2009. 

He wanted to share techniques and strategies that marketers can use during this time. In a nutshell the book talks about focusing on your core customers, publishing content and applying marketing 101. Although those things are basic, Joe says that they are not implemented a lot because marketers are inundated with other things.

Joe wanted the book to be a reminder and a trigger for marketers to reset and eliminate marketing activities that are not effective. Instead, he wants marketers to focus on the things that are really going to make a difference in their customers’ and audiences’ lives. 

Joe says that they made a lot of marketing decisions like that at the Content Marketing Institute in 2008/9 and when the economy turned around in 2010, they were well positioned because of those decisions. It enabled them to be on the fast growth track from 2011 to 2015 because they set the game plan in the previous years with patience. The book is free and can be found at

content marketers joe pulizzi

Q: What is an unexpected impact that has resulted from your publishing of this book? For you or your business. 

A: Joe says he received like 30 requests to speak about the book in the past week. When people read the book they say “Oh yeah thanks for the reminder about focusing, I don’t really need to be on TikTok. I don’t need 18 different Twitter accounts -- Maybe I should take a look at my newsletter, maybe it’s important for my business and I need to make sure it’s not terrible but actually helpful.” 

We are at our best when we accomplish one or two great things. One of the chapters of the book is Do One Great Thing. 

If you look at the greatest media brands and content platforms of all time, they always start by doing one great thing. 

Whether it’s RedBull doing The Red Bulletin magazine, or the NewYork Times doing the newspaper only, and then they diversify after. They create what Brian Clark calls a minimum viable audience. It’s where you create that audience, you do one thing really well and then when you get to a point where you build up that audience, you can diversify.

What you don’t want to do is, say you launch a video series, a podcast series, and multiple virtual events, all at the same time, it usually doesn’t work as well as expected.

What’s better to do is to say: We are going to this specific audience, we're going to launch this amazing podcast, we’re going to do it consistently every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30am Pacific Time and we are going to be the leading provider of that information and that content type in the industry, to that audience base. Do that well for 12-18 months and have a subscription newsletter with it. 

content marketers joe pulizzi on the webinar

Q: What are your best tips to marketing pros who need to try to anticipate what lies ahead and stay positioned to continue to serve clients throughout this period and beyond?

A: Joe says serve clients by being truly helpful to them with the marketing that you send to them. By delivering the best value we can also generate revenues for our companies.

Marketers need to answer the question how do we help our customers live better lives or whatever our overall mission is. That's where your feedback mechanisms come into play: Do you have processes set up where you're talking with your customers and your audience on a regular basis? That's really important. 

When Joe was in sales in the Publishing industry 20 years ago, they were obligated to do reader calls. As salespeople, they had to call 5 readers a week and ask them “What do you think of the magazine?” “What are you struggling with?” “What keeps you up at night?”

This is the same thing we're doing right now, trying to figure out what are the needs and pains of our customers and how we can best deliver on those. 

Whether that's listening on social media outlets, talking to salespeople, talking to human resources, and talking to your employees. Those things should all be set up as processes, so that you have a clear understanding of what your customer is struggling with. It will help dictate what kind of content you create.

Q: What skills should marketing pros sharpen or learn in order to thrive in the new normal?

A: Getting back to the basics of running a newsletter, Joe says he still doesn't see a ton of really great email newsletters out there. 

It's all about audience building.

Email newsletter is one of those ways to build an audience.

Joe said if he would be getting into marketing right now he would be focusing everything on audience building. 

"When you build an audience, you build an asset for your organization. If you build an asset for your organization you can monetize that asset in multiple ways."

Second thing is you don't always have to build it from scratch. You could also buy it, Joe talks a lot about it.  

For example, AdWeek was purchased recently by Shamrock Capital for the audience and the content. 

Joe says he would imagine that Amazon, Netflix, Apple, New York Times and Washington Post will also get into buying media assets for the audience.

So what should marketers do now with that? Start making a wish list with the target audience that would fit perfectly for you. What are the content brands that fit in the ecosystem of what you're trying to build?

For example in 2011, when Joe knew that the Content Marketing Institute was going to be successful, he wrote down what he thought would really help them from a business model and audience satisfaction standpoint. He wrote down “we really need a rewards program”. 

So he created a list of a couple of reward programs and then he worked those connections over a while and ended up purchasing an awards program. 

Then he said we really need a West Coast tech event. So, he started looking at West Coast technology, marketing, technical events, and ended up purchasing the Intelligent Content Conference in 2014. 

The process is to make the list, then find out who the contact is and negotiate. He talks about those strategies in the book, how to make the list and how to look at what the value is. Some people will value it on a per subscriber basis. If you are a Media Company then the valuation will be on earnings basis or a revenue multiple.

To recap, these are the two skills that Joe talked about that marketing pros should learn:

1. The basics of audience building, which is basically publishing.

2. The art of mergers and acquisitions. In five years it's going to be another part of a marketer’s job.

joe pulizzi talking to content marketer

Q: Do you believe that companies of all sizes should consider acquiring other properties?

A: Joe says “we were only a 15 person business when we bought those two, both of them were six figure deals."

How big a company is always relative. If you're a 100 person company there could be a multi million dollar opportunity there. 

Even for a solopreneur you could carve out some kind of a deal that has an earn out, where you're not spending any money upfront but you're going to pay them based on how you're going to monetize their asset. 

The sky's the limit when it comes to it, these opportunities are everywhere. 

For example media companies that are owned by people that want to retire. They don't know the way out, so if you came to them and offered to buy, they might want to sell. 

Q: Why are you writing another version of the Content Inc book? How is it going to be similar or different from the first version?

A: Joe says he wrote the first Content Inc book in 2015, it was written more as a content marketing book for entrepreneurs and small businesses, not an enterprise book. 

It was always Joe’s favorite book because it covered the story of the Content Marketing Institute model. Then Joe found a hundred other case studies that created the same model and realized that there is a process to building an awesome media asset and then selling it for a good amount of money. 

He wanted to tell the story again because there are things in the model that needed to be updated. Since 2015 he actually went through the process of selling the business and figured out the steps, which he’s going to detail in the book. It is basically about how you can build a media asset and how you can sell it.

In the new book he’s going to update the model on the front end, because there are a couple of things he wants to go in more detail on the content tilt and diversification. Then go into a lot of detail about how to sell a media asset, which wasn't covered at all in the other book. 

Joe says it'd be out early 2021. He’s currently in the process of writing the book, he showed his notes during the webinar and said that he’s been having a lot of fun finding case studies that are interesting. 

For example, he found one case study called Hustle Con where the entrepreneur created a big conference of 1-2 million audience very quickly and then launched a media company called The Hustle and spun out which is another multi million dollar media asset. 

It is the same model over and over. Joe says “you find a niche to create something very special for a specific audience. You basically harvest that audience over a long period of time. Once you harvest that audience you start launching products off of it. It's publishing and content marketing 101."

It’s exciting that the model is almost the same every time. So as a marketer we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

There is also a Content Inc podcast! Joe is publishing a new episode twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays. It always has an interesting nugget of wisdom, podcast listeners can find it at the Content Inc podcast page and in any podcast app of your choice.

content inc podcast for marketers

Q: You founded Content Marketing Institute during a recession, if you were to start it now during the current pandemic, what would you do differently and why?

A: Joe says that he wouldn't change the focus on the email subscriber. It's still the number one marketing strategy he says, “if we didn't have that email list at Content Marketers Institute we would have had nothing, so the focus on that was critical.”

In terms of content type Joe says that right now Podcasts are a great way to build an audience. If he would launch a media brand today he would launch with an amazing podcast, three times a week. 

"You publish it to your site, distribute it to podcasts, and put it on YouTube which is basically a video of the podcast and the platform has a huge audience you can cultivate for your niche."

Q: Do you have a good way to convince CMOs or companies to adopt the approach of having a more humane voice as brands?

A: Joes says "If you're not doing internal marketing as part of your content marketing then you're missing out. It should be core, it should be the number one thing you do."

Joe mentioned that he’s a big fan of Don Schultz, father of integrated marketing. Don Schultz wrote a hugely popular book in 1990 called Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). Throughout the book he talked about how before you do marketing externally, you have to market internally, the most important people on your marketing team are your employees and the executives you report to. They need to understand what you're doing. 

Why is that so important? On the executive side because most of the time when content marketing programs get killed, they don't get killed because of lack of performance, they get killed because somebody doesn't understand what's going on and why you're doing what you're doing. 

It’s the marketer’s responsibility to educate the organization internally. When Joe was at Penton Media before Content Marketing Institute, he always thought that they were going to cut their custom media program because nobody understood what Joe’s team was doing. Because all the other media companies were selling sponsorships and trade shows. 

Joe then put together a weekly educational inner office info sheet where he sent it to all the publishers, and the CFO and the CEO. As well as his direct reports. He talked about content marketing, he educated them on it. 

He sent them some examples of what he was doing and what was happening in the industry. He taught them why it was important for the business.

Joe felt that if they didn't understand that, he would get a knock at the door pretty soon saying “Joe, you can pack up your stuff and go because we don't know why you're here”.

That happens to content marketing all the time Joe says. For 20 years he's seen it when he talks to content marketers. They say nobody knows why we're here and our value, which is a problem. Joe then tells them you have to educate your organization, they're not going to find it on their own. You can send them a five minute audio message every week or send them an email, it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you do something.

Teach them about what you're doing and what's important. If your challenge is in sales because the salespeople don't know how to use your content, then do what Xerox did. 

Xerox created all kinds of content, what they then did was to email the three most important pieces of content every week to the sales team. In the email they specified how to use them in three bullet points.

That email changed the entire company. The salespeople weren't using the content and then after those emails they started saying “Oh, this team is trying to help me with my job. Great. They want me to sell more” 

Focus on things internally to educate the people around you about what you are working on.

Q: In the five figure media deals, what kind of media outlets are those? Do you have any examples?

A: Joe says that he did a couple deals at the Content Marketing Institute. They were email subscriber deals. There were a couple of small events in the marketing industry that he knew were going under so he reached out to them and offered to purchase. 

You could also do it with some upfront cash he says. Specifically with influencers and earning possibilities for them. Let's say that you've got a YouTube influencer in your industry, or a great blogger. You could say "I'd like to purchase the rights to X, Y, and Z , we would like your brand to be part of our ecosystem of brands. Is that something you're open to?"

You can also go to small magazines. 

Joe brought up an example of when he worked at Penton Media years ago. There was one very unnurtured brand that was driven down by real bad management. The company ended up selling the entire magazine, the email database and all the media properties for $75,000. The entrepreneurs that took that business for $75,000 grew the revenues of that business two years later to $3 million, probably worth five or $6 million as company valuation. 

So they took $75,000 and made over $6 million in a couple of years.

Those types of opportunities are out there. Look at the unnurtured media brands in your industry. You will find many of them. There is a lot of value there, they just need a little bit of love and attention.

Q: How can a marketer demonstrate value proposition in an increasingly crowded space?

A: Think about your content tilt Joe says "how do you look at that area of expertise a little differently? It's almost like when Neo tilted his head in the Matrix movie and looked at the spoon a bit differently. How are you looking at your industry a little differently so you can break through the clutter?"

neo and the spoon

Joe says that they did two content tilts at Content Marketing Institute:

  1. They called it content marketing versus custom media and custom publishing. 
  2. There was so much clutter in small businesses so they shifted their focus on enterprise businesses. 

You can also differentiate yourself by the audience you target, ask yourself is it niche enough?

You can also differentiate yourself in positioning. For example if you’re in an industry and everyone is doing video and nobody was doing a podcast or audio, it can be an opportunity.

You need to look at a different subject matter. Maybe you're too broad and need to focus on something more niche so you can be the leading expert in that specific industry. That's what Joe said he’d be focusing on. 

For him he says when he started he had no audience. He focused on this thing called content marketing and took a bet and invested heavily into that area, which was basically “publishing for marketers”. It does not have to be a new thing, it's just a repositioning of something that already exists. You can do it by audience subject matter or any of those things mentioned above. 

First, figure out your mission. What can you be really good at communicating and how would this help your business? 

Then sit down with your team and figure out what's your content tilt? Why are you different? Why does it matter? How are you going to communicate differently than everyone else and get your audience’s attention?

Q: Can you share what you think makes a good newsletter? Some contain long articles. Others have short blurbs with links to other articles. What makes it good?

A: Joe says that one of his favorite newsletters is The New York Times Daily. He gets a good overview of what’s going on in the world.

He also loves the Ann Handley newsletter because of the personality behind it and she’s very specific on her “how to” advice. 

If it's a roundup newsletter it has to be an amazing roundup that saves time to the reader, The New York Times essentially is around up. It has a little bit of context to it, but they link out to other articles and the value is that it's all in one place. 

Otherwise you have to create content that’s unique and can not be found in other outlets, so the newsletter subscribers can receive unique content they can’t find anywhere else.

Q: How do you recommend identifying good influencers for a business?

A: You can fairly easily find them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin if they are in your industry. A simple Google Search can find which platforms have the audience that you want to reach, and who the individual influencers are in those platforms. 

In some cases it’s potential partners or media companies, make a list of all those. 

Some of the partners or companies on your list will be out of reach like the Wall Street Journal and maybe your top five will be hard. Start from the easier ones on the list and go down from there. Do not spend too much time on the unattainable ones on your list.

When you put these influencer programs together, don't make the influencers do too much work. 

For example when people reach out to Joe he says it’s easier for him to share when people reach out with things like ”Hey we put together this research where we highlighted you and linked to you. We just wanted to let you know."

Joe says that most of the time he would share that kind of stuff.

The second time you reach out, don't ask for anything again Joe says, same for the third and fourth time. Then maybe the fifth time you could start asking “is there a way we can work together?”

That’s what you can do instead of just coming right out and asking them for something.

A note from Helena about finding influencers: Rand Fishkin launched a new tool for finding influencers and audiences called SparkToro. I’ve been using it for the past few months and it’s quite amazing. You can check it out at

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