Joe Pulizzi – Author and Former Director of the Content Marketing Institute [Podcast]

We are super fortunate to have Joe Pulizzi with us. Joe is the founder and former director of the Content Marketing Institute and also an Amazon best-selling author of many books, some non-fiction and some fiction.

In his latest book, Corona Marketing, Joe Pulizzi dives into 13 steps a marketing professional needs to take NOW to achieve massive success once the crisis is over. He’s giving this one away!

I’ve known Joe for many years and have shared his posts with a ton of people. I’m very excited to have him on today. You will get a chance to find out why I am such a fan!

In this we discuss…

  1. Media as a product
  2. Marketing during an economic crises
  3. The relationship between content marketing and social media marketing
  4. Finding the motivation to write
  5. The writing process

If you are struggling with your content efforts or know there is something more you could be doing, this interview is for you!

Let’s get to it!

Digital Transcription – Edited for Readability


Jon-Mikel Bailey: Welcome, I’m Jon-Mikel Bailey and this is the Wellspring Digital Chat where we interview marketing experts, bringing their brains directly to you. We’re very fortunate to have someone that I’ve been friends with and following for years.

Joe Pulizzi is the (former) head of the Content Marketing Institute. But I really wanted to give Joe a chance to tell you a bit more about himself. So Joe, if you would just please take a minute and introduce yourself and tell these good people who you are what you do what you’re about.

Joe Pulizzi : Oh, pleasure to be on. Hopefully, you know, you threw out the “marketing expert” thing. I think you’re setting expectations way too high here but…

Jon-Mikel Bailey: You got to set the bar.

Joe Pulizzi: I probably am best known for founding Content Marketing Institute. My wife and I started that back in 2007. We actually sold it 2016 I left CMI in 2018 still safe stay friends with all the CMI folks. So I write fiction and nonfiction, all in the marketing category if that makes any sense at all.

So I’m enjoying doing a lot of writing these days, I was doing a lot of speaking about marketing on the road, but not so much these days. And my passion right now is the Orange Effect Foundation. And that’s where we raise money for children who need speech therapy. I have speech disorders, and we now have grants going out to kids in 33 states.

So we’re working hard on you know, a lot of people don’t think about it. Where the importance of actually in this time, a lot, a lot of that face to face speech therapy has gone away. So you know, there’s a lot of important things going on out there. And that’s just one that we focus on.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Absolutely. Well If you’ll humor me, I want to tap into your content marketing brain for this interview because I’ve just enjoyed a lot of what you’ve had to say over the years and, frankly, even recently, you’ve been saying some really important things which I want to kind of dive into.

Content Marketing and Creating Media as a Product

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I recommend Content Marketing Institute all the time, I always sing your praises as someone who has really been championing the cause of content marketing and not just content for content sake, but content marketing done well, and we’ll talk about that here in a second.

I wanted to actually start the interview with a quote from your book Killing Marketing that you wrote with Robert Rose and I wanted to actually quote a piece that Robert wrote, and get your reaction to it.

So, Robert talks about how brands need to create media not to support a product but as a product. And I’d love to hear your take on this. Can you explain this concept a bit further, brands creating media as a product?

Joe Pulizzi: You know it’s interesting. Robert answers this better than I do. Probably because of the fact that he works with truly large enterprises, right? The aspect I come at it with is “what if we’re wrong about how we are launching a product first and then building communication platforms around it?”

And the way that I like to think about it is “let’s switch that of course.” You know that I love the information business model. So if you are a marketer, if you’re a business owner, what if you said: “the most important thing that we do is how we communicate with our customers.” That’s the most important. I frankly think that’s true.

And then our product becomes secondary. Now that’s not the case for 99.9% of businesses out there. They say, “Okay, we’ve got this great product. Now how do we sell it?” Well, the way that we think about our content brand, our content platform as the product, the first and most important thing we’re thinking about is the needs and wants of our customers. Automatically, because that’s the point of an informational business.

We have to deliver on the informational needs of our customers. That’s first and foremost. And how do we make them better? How do we make their lives better, help them get better jobs, those types of things? Once we build that audience, then we can monetize it. Then you can launch. The belief is that once you build a loyal relationship with a group of people, you can sell all kinds of things, not just the initial product you had in mind?

Look at Amazon. Amazon, Amazon started with books, okay. They only sell literally everything. So what is Amazon’s product? Amazon’s product is the relationship they have with their customers, right? And now they could just sell everything. They built this relationship over time. I think that’s the business model of the present and future.

So if you, let’s say that you are going to start a business today, and you had this great idea for this product, I probably would tell you to pump the brakes on the product and ask your questions like, “okay, who?”

  • Who is your audience that you’re targeting?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • What is your purpose?

You know, those are just big Simon Sinek type questions, right? Where you’re just asking the why. Because maybe the product you’re launching isn’t what you should be launching, maybe you should just focus on “Wow, this is a really great group of people that I really care about, or we really care about. And let’s move how we communicate with them up to the forefront, and everything else is secondary.”

Jon-Mikel Bailey: See, I think you gave Robert a run for his money.

Joe Pulizzi: But he’s got that Professor type thing going. He really needs a pipe while he’s explaining these things, and a velvet jacket would help as well.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I have friends with Photoshop skills. So I guess we need that.

Joe Pulizzi: You know, he’s kind of got that cross leg pose and the pipe and maybe a fire in the background.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah, I’m gonna see if I can’t make that happen.

The Importance of Marketing During an Economic Crises

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Okay, so, you know, I have to talk about the elephant in the room. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. And not only are we in the middle of a pandemic, but we’re also in the middle of what I would like to refer to as a period of positive and dramatic social change. So you talked about earlier, you mentioned that you founded CMI in 2007, which was, you know, literally, I think you said the day before the Great Recession kicked in.

Joe Pulizzi: We launched what became Content Marketing Institute with the first bankruptcy of the real estate fiasco that happened in hedge fund and everything. So that was just April 2, 2007.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So you launched literally the day that the day it started to go. So we’re obviously in the thick of some serious uncertainty right now and, you know I’m gonna kind of throw you a softball here. So in your opinion, is this the time to be safe? Or is this the time to really boost your content marketing efforts and what cautions would you give to people if they did decide to boost their content marketing efforts? Well, not just not just content marketing, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Joe Pulizzi: Let’s think about your stock market investor. You’re a true stock market investor and you’re in it for the long term. You don’t get excited when the market goes up, you get excited when the market goes down because that creates opportunity. When everything’s going on all cylinders, “frankly, it bores me, like, okay, whatever.”

But when the market drops, like I believe it will again because I think this is a head fake going on. But you know, don’t take my advice. I’m not a financial analyst or anything. That’s when you see opportunity. So you’re right.

Oh, I love your statement about 2020. So I’m an optimist. So let’s just say that 2020 could be one of the most pivotal wonderful years we’ve ever seen even though it’s so horrible right now going through it for a lot of people. And let’s just keep it marketing related right now. What happens in times like these, and they happen during every recession. And of course, the news just came out recently that we were actually in a recession, the United States was in a recession and in February, we’re going to be in a recession for some time, regardless of what the stock market’s doing.

It’s going to be tough times ahead, you’re going to have a number of bankruptcies. So survival is key. I get it if you’re in survival mode. You know, you’ve got your own issues to deal with, on how you built the business and your audience and what industry you’re in that, okay, let’s put that aside.

Everyone, for the most part, is battening down the hatches I mean, you’ve heard as well as I have how many people cut their budget, they stopped it. “Okay, we’re, we’re going to freeze everything. And we’re going to hold”

Well, that’s fine. But if you look at the how the greatest companies of all time were built, this is the time when you double down. This is the time. So look at this is when we actually have the opportunity to cut through all the clutter. It’s going to be easier to communicate if you invest in that.

And, I mean, you know, we’ve talked about CMI’s growth before. If my wife and I started Content Marketing Institute at any other time, I don’t know if we would have been able to grow it into the, you know, 200,000 plus subscribers, and content marketing world and all the things because everyone else pulled back.

And it’s weird. It’s almost like “okay, we’re, uh, you know, we’re all at the starting line.” And then all these other big media companies and brands, who had mindshare. They were way ahead of us. And then all of a sudden, they just stopped running. And we weren’t running very fast or just trotting, but we pass them up because they stopped.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: They’ll get leg cramps.

Joe Pulizzi: Exactly. So now, you have to resist the pullback because you have fear and you’re like, “oh, we want to protect jobs and those types of things.” But now is when you get the Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. And if you like him or don’t like him, Zuckerberg, so this is when they’re all doubling down.

This is why the richest people in the world become richer. Because they can afford to take those risks. So just pretend that you have a lot of money or a lot of resources and say, “What if we did, let’s act that way.” And I would double down now.

Your question is about content marketing. The great thing about content marketing is it just takes resources, it takes time, it takes energy. If you’re going to, of course, you can put a lot of money behind it. But it doesn’t necessarily cost as much. Robert Rose might disagree with me, but it doesn’t, doesn’t have to cost as much. You can do a lot of things creatively and do things in an innovative fashion, sharing that spend, you know, seven or eight figures on it.

Small companies can really shine now because there’s no politics, you can be determined on the answer. I’m being the informational expert for that audience and just do it consistently over time. And in the 12 to 18 months to 24 months, after this is all over, you’re gonna look at it like, “Oh my God, we built an audience that really counts on what we have to say every day.” And that group of people ultimately will buy from you.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Well, hey, you know, the Bubba Gump Shrimp company would not have been a household name had it not been for the storm.


Joe Pulizzi: That’s a good example. I’m gonna totally gonna steal that. Well, it’s what that was amazing to me, because I mean this. So we’re talking about this content marketing mantra in 2007/2008. And I’m trying to get B2B Magazine and Ad Age and AdWeek to cover it. And they’re all cutting back. They’re like, “Look, we’re just covering core stuff. Right now. We can’t cover content marketing.”

And I’m like, “How do we get people to cover it?” Well, don’t you cover it yourself? Exactly. Just do it yourself. And I think that’s where you have to give companies permissions, like, “yes, you set up the processes, hire the experts, do the work, so you can become the information expert in whatever niche you’ve chosen.

The Relationship between Content Marketing and Social Media Marketing

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So, you know, we work with a lot of small companies, small businesses, even some large businesses, and a lot of marketers, who, frankly, tend to look at content as nothing more than just ammo for their social media channels.

I personally think this is kind of missing the point. But I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit about the relationship between social media marketing and content marketing and where there might be some common mistakes happening and what you think people might look at doing differently.

Joe Pulizzi: Yeah, I mean, boy, there’s a lot of different ways we could take this conversation and take it wherever you want. I mean, If you just take the two terms, you take content marketing and social media marketing, the first thing comes to mind is own versus rent. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Sure, a content marketing platform is generally an asset that you’re trying to build a social media marketing strategy, still not bad. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just different where you’re renting somebody else’s pipes. As let’s say content distribution. Sure, there’s an audience already out there, whether you know, you’re talking about YouTube or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, you don’t own it.

You don’t own the connections there, somebody else does. But you’re going to rent that for a while, you’re going to lease it for a while, because the idea is, if you have some kind of strategy and some kind of good content message that maybe they’ll come back to that content platform and sign up for something you do own like an email newsletter or something like that.

They can work hand in hand, they usually do. A content marketing strategy generally uses social media pipes to distribute information out there. So there’s nothing wrong with either, of course, I prefer the content marketing strategy more than anything because of the fact that at the end of the day, if you do it right, you have built an asset. You’ve built an informational annuity.

Unlike if you put all your eggs in the Google Plus basket a couple of years ago, what do you have? Absolutely nothing. Right? If you built up 50,000 Facebook fans on Facebook, what do you have? Not much, you got some data, good for you. You know you got to and you’ve got some really targeted opportunities to show your ads, which is what Facebook wants you to do. Nothing wrong with that.

That, that I think the thing that we have to remember when it comes to social media marketing, content marketing is they’re all pipes. There’s a lot of options and you have to choose strategies about choosing. It’s also about saying no to a lot of things. You want to limit social media marketing does not mean that you have to be everywhere your customers are, insane.

Which you should have a limited amount of energy and content resources in your marketing department. And you need to choose very specifically, where are you going to put that energy? Does that mean you’re going to have a great e-newsletter and a great podcast? Great, focus on that.

Maybe you have decided that the best place to distribute that message and build the best audience would be Twitter or LinkedIn. Great. Forget TikTok, forget Pinterest, forget Instagram, forget Facebook, and focus on those things. I think that’s where a lot of businesses have gotten it wrong over the past few years because they’re just everywhere.

And they now have 150-200, even small companies, so many social media accounts, I can’t keep track of any of them. You can’t be great at anything when you’re in everything. So pull back, make some choices and it’ll be better for it. It’s gonna feel like it’s a horrible thing that you’re doing. And then you’ll realize, “Oh, we stopped doing those seven things. And our customers didn’t complain. And nobody seemed to notice that we’re not tweeting all the time anymore, you know, and maybe more engagement on the channels that matter.” That’s right.

I’d love to see it. I mean, when Robert Rose and I, we’ve been on a lot of content audits, and we’d go into large enterprises. And we’d stay there for a couple of days and do some interviews. Most of the time, our lead champion would expect us to make content recommendations like “to do” things, right. And every time it was, you’re doing way too much stuff. Let’s cut a lot of this out. And let’s not be mediocre at 100 things. Let’s be great at two. That makes the difference.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: You mentioned a term in there that I think I’m going to steal which is an informational annuity. I love that.

Joe Pulizzi: That’s Yeah, I mean, right there. I mean, I think that for some reason, boy, marketers are, we’re the worst marketers for our business. You got to remember, we treat it like an expense, we treat it like advertising. And marketing should be built as an, I believe it, should be built as an asset that can be monetized in multiple ways. Well, now’s as good a time as any to do that.

Finding the Motivation to Create Good Content

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Preach brother, preach. Yes. So, I mentioned writing content, I mention the need for content to business owners and some marketers and they get this look of intense fear on their face, and sometimes, you know, they know that they need it. They know they need a content plan, but they just, they just don’t know, they’re just overwhelmed by the enormity of the task in their minds. And I’m wondering if maybe you can give them any advice on how to take that first step towards that climb that they’re going to need to make towards, you know, tackling that content mountain?

Joe Pulizzi: Well, I think the first thing that we talked about, some of this is you give yourself permission to start canceling things. I’d almost like to see, you know, I mean, back in the day when I was in publishing, we did a zero-based budget where we, every year, we came in and we didn’t use the previous year’s numbers. We started fresh and we said, “okay, here are the facts that we have. How would we allocate resources?”

I would love that to happen if somebody’s asking the question you just put out. I’d love them to do that. Because I think that there’s a lot of things we do in an organization we’ve been doing for a long time and we don’t even remember why we started these things in the first place. But maybe we know that the horrible newsletter we send out needs to stop.

Or, why? Why we started that podcast? Wait, why? Why are we even doing it? So I would get, I would really get down to basics. And I would ask why, first of all, why are we in business? And what is our purpose and really get down to the core mission of what your marketing organization is trying to do?

Our goal is to have healthy communications with our customers who want to build that audience. So I would absolutely start there. And then from that standpoint, and once you understand the why, you know, what do you want your customers to do, the information you give them.

But I think what a lot of people forget to do is, let’s say you’re creating a blog post. Most of the time, we believe the outcome of that blog post should be a lead or some step to the buying process. Which is to me, that’s secondary, the primary thing is the primary outcome should be what’s in it for the customer. Why? Why am I writing this blog post? I’m writing this blog post because I want my customer to see the opportunities of their career path, or whatever, I help them get a job, better job, live a better life, whatever it is. That’s the number one thing.

Audience outcome is the thing I’m focused on any time I’m writing anything, right? We’re not doing that in marketing. So I don’t think this is not theoretical stuff. This is just we get so stuck in the traditional way. We’re supposed to market. We’ve got a product. This is where we’ve got the four Ps, we should be doing it that way. And, you know, we’ve been trying to break that down for 20 years. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

We think the media model is the better model. And what media forgot is they forgot how to monetize it. Right? That media model is perfect for how you build an offer. So take your product marketing chops and shove that over into the media model. And that I believe is the business model for the future. I just don’t know how many years we’re away from that.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Or how many times we need to beat people over the head with it.

Joe Pulizzi: We get very reactive to the situation, especially with what’s going on right now. And we forget that these things take time. And I mean, even when, you know, when somebody says, “oh, I’ve been I started this podcast and I think it’s nice enough and it’s delivering consistently and I’m just not seeing a lot happen.”

Things happen. And that’s well, “how long you been doing it?” “Oh, we’ve been doing it for about three months.” Call me in a year. Yeah, exactly. You don’t remember, I mean, I just coming from publishing, maybe it makes you more patient. But, you know, whenever we would start building an audience in a new market, we knew where our breakeven was three years away. You do that in marketing.  

And maybe that’s it. You know, marketing, you have such a short leash. Well, that’s and, you know, side note that that’s when you have to come to the point where you have to educate your financial executives and marketing executives on what you’re trying to do. So they understand that these things do take time. Sure, if you educate them enough, maybe it’ll give you enough leeway to do the things you need to do to build the asset and really create a great relationship with your audience.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I agree with everything you just said. And I think that there are things happening that I see. Now I don’t know, you know, if it’s gonna resonate, but a lot more people are, are out a lot. A lot more experts are out there saying the same stuff that you’re saying and, and I think people are starting to listen, I don’t know. We’ll see. Some of my clients definitely get it. Some of our clients are, you know, have a hard time wrapping their heads around it. But I think we’re getting there.

Joe Pulizzi: By the way, I mean, and you know, you talk to enough of your clients, you don’t have to have a content marketing approach. Sure. I feel it’s a better approach, right? You can go and have a traditional, I’m going to send out social ads and ads here and have my newsletter that just promote stuff and you can do what most companies do. I think those companies don’t last very long.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It’s not a long game.

Joe Pulizzi: Yeah. But you can, I mean, if you’re in it for short term and 12-18 months, and you want to flip this thing and fine. If you want to build one, you know, the great company in your industry, your great brand in your industry, the greatest relationships in your industry, so that where content marketing approach. Absolutely.

Joe Pulizzi’s Writing Process

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So you are now a full-time author. You’ve got some of your books behind you. This last question is from Kim Chappell who’s on our staff. She’s a writer. And so she has a question for you. As an author, tell us about your writing day. Do you sit down and write content? Or do you have a method? What puts you in the mood to write captivating content?

Joe Pulizzi: Well, Kim, thank you for the question. It took me a while to get there. Obviously, I went from I mean, I’m an entrepreneur at heart, first and foremost, and then I’m a marketer. And then five things and then I’m a writer. I, you know, I’ve written before I wrote my first fiction novel, The Will to Die, which is a different experience than writing nonfiction.

Five nonfiction and fiction books. I would write them I’d write blog posts before, and I could kick out you know, I can kick out a blog post in 30 minutes and whatever and do some editing on it and great, do a little bit of research, no problem. But for writing something like a fiction novel was a totally new thing. What I didn’t realize is that it takes a week or so to get into a rhythm, where you can write creatively. What I thought was that “Oh, I just clear space, clear time.”

Sit down at the keyboard and start going. Well, no, I mean, I learned that quickly, nothing happened. Sure, usable, creative writing for me and this is a lot of people will tell you differently, but it’s a personal thing I think, happens after a week or two of getting into the rhythm. So once I got to about 9-10 days, and I would clear off the morning and say, “Okay, well, I’m going to sit here until I write 1000 words.”

The first week was excruciating. And then by the second week, and the third week, I was writing 1500-2000, sometimes 3000-4000 a sitting. Because you’re in that rhythm. And so what does that mean? It’s just like running or working out or anything else. You just can’t go out running, I haven’t run in six months, I’m gonna run a half marathon, right?

But that’s what you think is writing. It’s just writing but you really have to program yourself for great writing. So, Kim, it’s pushing yourself through the truly horrible content you’re going to create to get yourself in shape to write something that’s worth digesting.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So it’s like the couch to 5-k programs out there.

Joe Pulizzi: I didn’t think that was the way. It was just writing. I can write, anybody can. But then you realize, “oh my God, I actually have to get myself into writing shape. So it takes some time.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I’m the worst with movie and TV references. But have you ever seen the movie, Finding Forrester?


Joe Pulizzi: Oh, yeah.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: And he tells the kid to, you know, just type, just get on the typewriter and type the word you see on there. And he starts with writing his…

Joe Pulizzi: The Sean Connery character. Yep. And then goes off on its own. Yeah, it’s just getting in the rhythm. There’s a lot to that. And by the way, that’s, that’s content marketing as well. I mean, when we started the Content Marketing Institute blog, see, I’ve written 1000 plus blog posts, I go back to the first 30 to 50 and they were horrible. I cringe. They’re cringe-worthy.

I got some good the good stuff is 100 to 200. So, absolutely. So you just gotta write if you want to get better at writing. Write more. When I was asking advice for when I was in a nine-month writer’s block if you will. If you believe in that kind of thing. I was asking people, you know, what, what do I need to do? And the advice I got from everyone is “writers write.”

That’s it. Yep. runners run. You know, it’s the same thing. And I realized, “oh my gosh, you’re right.” If I got up every day for two weeks, and write, I’m a writer. So I just have to get to that point. Writing now. Self-discipline. So hard. Very challenging. Indeed. Yes.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time and talking to us about all this. This content stuff. There’s some really good stuff in here. We’ll obviously include some links to Content Marketing Institute, to your book Killing Marketing, as well as The Will to Die, your fiction piece. If anybody wants to check that out for sure.

Joe Pulizzi: Marketing thriller. If you like mysteries, it’s a marketing myth. I know it’s crazy, isn’t it? I actually thought that there should be a new category called a marketing thriller like a financial thriller, marketing. Yeah, basically lead character’s a marketing agency guy, much like yourself, and you have to read it. And the character gets into a situation and needs to solve a mystery.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I love it. Yeah.

Joe Pulizzi: Oh, you would. You would really like it. I want to say why you would like it but you would really…

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Okay, now I have to give it a shot. Okay. I’m buying it. So again, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. And that is our show. And have a great day and be safe and be kind everybody. Thank you.

Jon-Mikel Bailey Avatar