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Lead Balloon Ep. 8 - The COVID Pivot, with Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi explains how he built his content marketing empire during the Great Recession, and how those lessons apply during the Coronavirus pandemic.



There's no need to sugarcoat it: things looks grim. The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has exacted a brutal price in lives, public health and global economic activity, and there's little respite in sight.


But with a likely recession setting in, those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs in marketing and communications are looking for ways to do more with less.


Enter Joe Pulizzi. In the midst of the last recession, his fledgling company changed marketing forever, rebranding the notion of "Content Marketing" and forging a media empire. From the ashes of the Great Recession, he raised the Content Marketing Institute, three best-selling books and “This Old Marketing” the Podcast.


In this edition of Lead Balloon, Pulizzi shares his tale, as well as advice for communications professionals hoping to weather the storm.


Transcript


Dusty Weis:

Something came out of my toddler's mouth the other day and I'm still trying to process how I should feel about this.


Dusty's Son:

Things look grim. Things look grim.


Dusty Weis:

That's your assessment of the current situation, things look grim?


Dusty's Son:

Yeah.


Dusty Weis:

As if we needed another harbinger of doom in the COVID-19 coronavirus era. "Things look grim." I don't know where he heard that. I've got to hope that this is one of those things that he heard from the evening news and not from me because what kind of parent am I with a toddler running around the house chirping, things look grim, like a demented little parrot. I just have to hope that he isn't internalizing any of this negativity. That if he has memories of it someday, that it's lots of extra time spent with two loving parents, not two balls of anxiety who are losing sleep over a very real public health threat and threat to financial stability.


Dusty Weis:

Maybe this whole thing is a sign that, while still acknowledging the personal and financial peril that our family faces, that we all face in some way or another right now, that we should also be looking for the silver lining in all of this. This week on Lead Balloon, the tale of a marketing revolution that was built in the ashes of the great recession of 2008.


Joe Pulizzi:

If the great recession didn't happen, I don't know if Content Marketing Institute would have existed. We have no right in launching a Content Marketing World. We have no right in launching the daily how to blogs. Somebody else should have done that and then here we are little or less, we just came around, nobody was investing in that area and we were able to take a leadership position.


Dusty Weis:

Joe Pulizzi, the godfather of content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, bestselling author, host of This Old Marketing podcast and so much more. Joe Pulizzi joins us with the tale of how he turned professional ruin into a multimillion dollar brand, like going big when everyone else went home. I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a show about disasters and public relations and marketing told by the well-meaning communications professional who live them. Looking at past disasters and learning from them, it's what we do here on Lead Balloon and we try to make that process fun and entertaining as much as possible.


Dusty Weis:

Please do make sure that you subscribe to Lead Balloon in your favorite app. Follow Podcamp Media on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more great tidbits from the show and I want to note right here off the bat that there are a lot of people suffering right now. This episode is not meant to minimize the tremendous loss of life, loss of health and the loss of financial stability that so many people are enduring. Our hearts go out to those people and they need our help. Please do what you can. But when Joe and I talk about the excitement or opportunity presented by this recession, this pandemic, it's not because we're insensitive to all that suffering.


Dusty Weis:

It's because right now, as business people, we're staring at a mountain of lemons and as professionals, we might as well get started making lemonade folks, because the alternative is, well, getting bogged down in how grim things look. Which is where Joe Pulizzi and I started our conversation.


Joe Pulizzi:

I'll tell you, I don't know if you've read a lot much on the 1918 Pandemic.


Dusty Weis:

Too much.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah, so you know what happened, you know how it went.


Dusty Weis:

They let them back ... Especially, out in San Francisco, they let them back out into the streets and then there's a spike in cases and they ratchet it down and yeah, we're seeing history repeat itself here, 100 years later.


Joe Pulizzi:

Sometimes we forget our history. It's too bad but hoping for the best.


Dusty Weis:

Yeah, the history I'm interested in talking about is a little more recent. It's your 2008 recession pivot story. I think it's a real cool story and certainly timely for the moment right now, so, I appreciate you making the time.


Joe Pulizzi:

No problem.


Dusty Weis:

It's an honor and humbling that you would.


Joe Pulizzi:

Well, it's my pleasure. I mean, I had to reschedule. I'm traveling and doing all kinds of things and had to reschedule so I could be here in my home office. No, you know, I'm kidding.


Dusty Weis:

Let's be honest, we're all sitting here twiddling our thumbs just hoping to be guesting on a podcast.


Joe Pulizzi:

Everyone seems to have a lot more time these days.


Dusty Weis:

Yeah, yeah.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah.


Dusty Weis:

Well, hopefully that translates into a spike in listenership in podcasts too.


Joe Pulizzi:

There you go.


Dusty Weis:

The jury is still out on that at this juncture. It's tough to get anybody on the internet to agree about anything these days but if you Google the godfather of content marketing, the consensus is unanimous, you're that guy, you're the godfather of content marketing. So, first of all, what a title but second of all, if we hop in the way back machine and rewind the clock just 15 years, you aren't really the godfather of anything yet, you were a company man at Penton Media and so, the reason that I think that your story is so compelling right now is you set out to found the company that would become Content Marketing Institute right about 2007 and then, 2008, recession and that could have been pertinence for your career as an entrepreneur but it wasn't.


Dusty Weis:

You pivoted, you grew and you thrived in the midst of all that turmoil. I think that story is going to be a real comfort to a lot of folks right now as here we are once again staring down the peril of another recession. Take us back to 2007. You're the VP at Penton Media, what are you doing and why are you feeling the itch to do something different?


Joe Pulizzi:

Well, first of all. Thank you so much, I don't know how the Godfather of content marketing thing stuck but somebody introduced me that way. I think it was the whole Pulizzi Italian angle and went to the Godfather thing and I was shocked when I was coming out on stage and then a couple of people tweeted it out and I just leaned into it. I mean, what are you going to do? I'm like, okay and then of course, people started introducing me that way and I just rolled with it. It's been fun. Thanks for reminding me of that again. I'd always wanted to start my own business. Ever since I was a teenager, I had a little notebook of all of my business ideas, was lucky enough to get into Penton Media.


Joe Pulizzi:

For those people that don't know Penton Media, so this is 2000. I started at Penton Media at the time when they're the largest business to business media companies on the planet. I started in a little division that nobody cared about called Penton Custom Media. I didn't even know what custom media was at that point. What we learned was we did not do traditional advertising. We did not do traditional sponsorships like everyone else and Penton did for Penton's magazines. Mostly, trade magazines that you'd never hear of unless you were in design engineering or heating and air conditioning or something like that. We did the magazines and the sponsorship for those.


Joe Pulizzi:

What Penton did, what Penton Custom Media did, we would come in and we would help them with their own stories. How do I talk more efficiently to my customers? How do I help them with their own needs instead of just talk about my products and services all the time. Those look like custom magazines, print newsletters, those types of things and then later on, the webinars and podcast and social media. All that time, while I'm learning this art of custom publishing custom media, it wasn't called content marketing at the time, I had this itch to start something and back in 2006, I'm talking with my wife again about another business idea and my wife says, "Look, either you go start this business or you stop talking about it."


Joe Pulizzi:

She was done with me. I said, okay and we talked about it and I said I'm going to ... this is the end of 2006 and I said, "Okay, by the end of March 2007, I'll make a decision on either I'm going to stay at Penton or get another job or go start my business." Well, in the last day of March, 2007 is when I decided. I formally left Penton and on April 2nd, 2007 started what ultimately became Content Marketing Institute. Now, it's funny when you're talking about recession and you know this, that exact day is when First Century Bank, I think it was, went bankrupt.


Dusty Weis:

The fist domino to fall, yeah.


Joe Pulizzi:

That is the exact date when we started the company. That was the first one to fall and then of course, if you know your history, March of 2008 was Bear Stearns, on and on and on and then we were deep into the great recession, all during while launching this business. While you're going through it, it's horrible so I know what people are going through right now. If you're in a business of any size right now, we're all sweating it. Everybody is sweating it but also at the same time, now I realized, probably couldn't have been a better time to launch the business because while everyone else is battening down the hatches, we were investing in trying to build an audience.


Dusty Weis:

All right, let's talk about that pivot for a second. When you launched your company in Spring of 2007, you called it Junta42 and you had a very different business model than what you eventually settled on with Content Marketing Institute. What were you doing at the time?


Joe Pulizzi:

April 2nd was actually, my first blog post. It was called the Content Marketing Revolution but the name of the company was going to be Junta42 which we ... that's a whole another conversation about why, why I call it that. I thought it was the coolest web 2.0 name.


Dusty Weis:

That's an old Douglas Adams reference if I'm not mistaken.


Joe Pulizzi:

Exactly. Yeah. You're exactly right, 42 and Junta or Junta means a lot of things. It means a military coup but it also means a meeting so meeting and 42, the meaning of life coming together. I thought it was the greatest thing ever but basically the business model that we launched into outside of ... starting this blog and trying to build an audience, we were basically trying to become the eHarmony for content marketing. It's the best way to describe it. We set up, we had a database of agencies and journalist who knew how to create content and we were matching them up with marketers and brands that needed content. We wanted to do print magazines or newsletters or article marketing or whatever the case was and we would match them up.


Dusty Weis:

You were meeting with early success doing that.


Joe Pulizzi:

We did. We launched it in June of 2008. We were lucky that we started to land some pretty big deals as we were going, I mean, there were a couple of million dollar deals that went through the system that we didn't get paid out of the million dollar deals. The way that it worked is an agency would spend about $5,000 a year to be in the system and then we would send them leads. That's how we did ... like it or not, that was the business model.


Dusty Weis:

It worked, for the time being at least, Joe and his wife Pam were able to sign enough clients to keep the lights on and get their entrepreneurial legs under them but then well ...


Speaker 1:

The Dow tumbled more than 500 points.


Speaker 2:

Bear Stearns shares down 90% this morning and it's not just Bear, pretty much every single bank is plunging in early trade this morning.


Speaker 3:

The firm has been buffeted by constant rumors of a looming liquidity problem.


Speaker 4:

People will lose their jobs, more people will lose their homes, people will have difficulty getting loans.


Speaker 5:

So, in just six months, three of the five biggest independent firms on Wall Street have now disappeared.


Speaker 6:

They are losing their jobs and these firms are going to go out of business and it's nuts, they're nuts. They know nothing.


Dusty Weis:

That's got a familiar ring to it, doesn't it? All of a sudden Junta42's clients started dropping like flies. The bills started piling up and Joe Pulizzi had to take a long hard look at why his business model wasn't working.


Joe Pulizzi:

There's two things. First of all agencies and this ... you learn this hindsight, agencies never spend money on marketing anyways. So, never start a business when you're targeting agencies. Just don't do it. First of all, they never spent money. Second of all, they had no money because most of them were just struggling to stay alive so they could make it to 2010, who knew how long this thing was going to last. By September, we're like, "Okay, people are not ... even though the system is working. People are not signing up. They don't have any money. I don't have any people. I mean, I got brand signing up, and they want to be matched up with agencies, but the agencies won't even be in the system because they can't afford $500 a month to do it."


Dusty Weis:

Right, so here, you've got this compelling business plan and it was so compelling that you staked your family's fortune on it. You and your wife were both partners on this business venture and you're faced with a decision of whether or not to abandon your original plan. How did you go about weighing that decision to stay the course or not, and what eventually compelled you to change gears?


Joe Pulizzi:

It's September of 2009. We need money to keep the lights on, and one of our best case studies hadn't renewed in the system. The agency did not renew, it did not sit on the automatic renewal for the credit card. I'm like, "Oh, there must be some mistake because we just delivered a multi million dollar account to this agency." I get the CEO on the phone, call her up, and I'd say ... I'll just call her Judy. "Hey, Judy. I see you're not signed up. It must be some kind of mistake. Can I get your updated credit card and we'll get you up in the system so that we keep things going," and I needed that $5,000 badly. She said, "No, Joe, we're not going to re-up to the $5000 deal even though we just landed you a million dollar project."


Joe Pulizzi:

She says, "I think we can get better ROI somewhere else," and I'm floored. I'm like, "You can get better than 1,000% ROI?" I said, "If you can get better than that, from an ROI perspective, tell me what it is and I'm going to sign up for it." Well, of course, she's just using an excuse. I don't know if she didn't have the money or what the deal was but she said, "No, Joe, I'm not going to re-up in the system," hangs up the phone and I'm devastated. I hit my low point because here it is our best case study and I can't even resell them into the system. I remember this, so I hang up the phone and I go outside into our backyard and I'm just feeling completely sorry for myself.


Joe Pulizzi:

I'm like, "Oh my god, what did I do?" I left executive position at a publishing company. I was making six figures plus, things were great. I put everything on the line for nothing. The next two weeks, I'm thinking, all right, what am I going to do? Am I going to go find a job somewhere? I don't think this business model can continue. Actually, nobody really knew this at the time but I was starting to check in on some people like any jobs available, what's going on, because I really didn't think ... I thought the business model was dead. There's no way that if I can't land the biggest ... the best deal that I have then it's not going to happen.


Joe Pulizzi:

For whatever reason, I'm in my email inbox and I'm looking at feedback from our blog subscribers. Luckily from 2007 to this point in 2009, we had been blogging on a regular basis. When I say we, mostly me, three to four times a week, blogging about how to practices in content marketing, targeting marketing professionals. We built up an audience of five, 10,000 people on a regular basis. The email list was starting to grow and I would get a lot of feedback. I started going through all this feedback for some reason, probably because I was just in depression. They're starting to say, "Joe, can you do any consulting? We have a large enterprise, can you come in and do some consulting? Joe, here's a speaking event, we'd like you to speak at."


Joe Pulizzi:

"Joe, can you do that? Joe, are there any events out there for content marketers? I'd like to send my team to these events." All these things are coming up in front of me and I'm like, "Oh, my God, here I am. I'm trying to sell this thing, this eHarmony for content marketing thing, that nobody wants to buy, that nobody wants to do anything with, and my audience is telling me what they're willing to buy." They're emailing it to me and for a year and a half. I was totally ignoring it, like, "Oh, that's nice. Yeah, I wish there was an event that people could go to. Yeah, I wish there was an informational resource for content marketing where people could really get an education on this thing."


Joe Pulizzi:

Then, it hit me like a lightning bolt. I'm like, "Oh my god, I can't believe I was so dense and I didn't see all these things." I don't know why I had a ... I had a cocktail napkin in front of me. I was probably drinking heavily at the time.


Dusty Weis:

A lot of that going around these days too.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah, exactly, so I had the cocktail napkin and I remember drawing this, I wish I still had it but I remember it well. I said, "Okay, we're going to create the leading online educational resource for content marketing." I'd put a circle around that and I said, "A circle around, we were going to create the leading and largest magazine dedicated, print magazine dedicated to content marketing," and I said, "We were going to create the largest international event for content marketing." This is at the end of 2009. We're not called Content Marketing Institute at this point, we're still Junta42. Basically, that was the visual business model.


Joe Pulizzi:

I went back to my wife and I said, "I think this is it, like I think this ..." and she's like, "You're crazy. You're really crazy," but thank God she loved me and she believed in me and from that moment on, pivoted the business model and said, "Okay, we're going with this thing called Content Marketing Institute." We ended up launching Content Marketing Institute in May of 2010. It just took off from there. I ended up luckily pre-funding it. We went out to partners that just knew me and I just stake my reputation on it. I said, "You know, would you be a benefactor and pay $10,000?" We were on baloney and ramen noodles at that point. Five wonderful companies gave us in total about $50,000 to make it through, new development, new website.


Joe Pulizzi:

Content Marketing Institute launches May of 2010, then Chief Content Officer Magazine launches in 2011 and Content Marketing World launches in September of 2011. We were holding it in Cleveland and we were hoping, like can we get 100 people to come to Cleveland for an event called Content Marketing World and believe it or not, and you could see the momentum at the beginning of 2011 start to happen, and then going out there for the opening introduction and keynote at Content Marketing World. There were 660 people. "Good morning. All right, we're going to get right to it." That's the moment because right before I went out on stage, that's the first moment in September 2011 that I said, "Oh my god, I think this thing is going to work."


Joe Pulizzi:

My wife and I are literally crying backstage. David Meerman Scott, if you know, David, a prolific marketing speaker, he's standing next to us, watching us hug and cry.


Dusty Weis:

It's wild to me because having recently launched a business myself, you have a lot of difficult conversations going into it. You have conversations with potential funders and pitching to your first clients and all of that is like an incredible stress level. Then, the conversation that stands out most vividly to me too is the conversation that I had with my wife, where I turned to her and said, "Hey, you know that really, really good, stable job that I'm lucky to have? I want to leave that in the dust and stake our family's fortunes on this cockamamie idea that I've been rolling around in my head for a little while." Maybe it was the Palomas and the Mexican sunshine, talking but she just turned to me and said, "I trust you explicitly."


Dusty Weis:

"If this is a thing you feel like you have to do, go out and do it." It's funny because it sounds like our wives have a lot in common with each other.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah.


Dusty Weis:

They're both married to loud men who enjoy talking a lot and both of them are completely and totally reticent to get on the microphone themselves.


Joe Pulizzi:

They were so shy to do this kind of stuff. Exactly.


Dusty Weis:

Just looking back at it. Do you think you'd be in the same position that you are right now, if you hadn't had the complete and unwavering support of your wife over the years?


Joe Pulizzi:

No, actually, and it's funny, I don't even know if and when I would have started a business, because I always ... and entrepreneurs know this, right? You know when there's no good time to start a business. You can always find an excuse. I was like, "Oh, I mean, it's 2006 and I'm talking like, the kids are two and four. This is a horrible time. We've got a mortgage on the house. We just bought a house and why would we take a risk like that?" Of course, in a hindsight, the riskiest thing to do, and now in my opinion, as being an entrepreneur is to stay with a company where you have no control at least, we have control to make some of our horrible decisions that we've made but without her support, that wouldn't happen and the other thing was is when we were going into debt and taking up more credit cards and things like that. She could have easily said, "No, we gave it a shot."


Dusty Weis:

Yeah. Pull the ripcord. We're done.


Joe Pulizzi:

We gave it a shot and like I said, you're right, we did give it a shot. I'll always have that and now I can go back and find another job but she said, we have a saying in our house, in our family, it's go big or go home. She said that, go big or go home. What are we doing here? Are we going big? Then, go big, give everything you've got to it. No, we're not ... no regrets.


Dusty Weis:

When you're counting on your business to keep a roof over your family's head, that's a ton of pressure. So, supportive spouse, you mentioned the cocktails and the cocktail napkin.


Joe Pulizzi:

It definitely helped.


Dusty Weis:

How else do you deal with that pressure?


Joe Pulizzi:

I think what really ... I was nervous all the time. I was a wreck. I'm lucky I didn't have a heart attack or something because I was always a wreck, wondering what I was doing but I think you have to have this belief in yourself, that belief in the idea that is unreal. You know it's silly, right, but you have to go all in and you have to believe it. I think what we probably did better than most is we really focused on a niche that I believe we could be the leading expert in the world. We really did say, "Okay, well, what can we do better than anyone else?"


Dusty Weis:

Joe Pulizzi took the 2008 recession and pivoted to something bigger and better and ultimately much, much more successful. Coming up after the break ...


Joe Pulizzi:

What's great is you just take your expectations for the next two years down to nothing and build the business, build an audience, right?


Dusty Weis:

How can marketers and comms professionals apply lessons from the founding of Content Marketing Institute to the very real but very different crisis that we face in 2020 from the Coronavirus? That's all coming up in a minute, here on Lead Balloon. This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. Joe Pulizzi launched a new business in 2007, only to watch it get smashed to pieces by the great recession of 2008. Where a lot of other people had to pack up, shop and close their businesses, he dug in pivoted and single handedly changed the marketing world. Here we are, again, staring over the edge of another cliff and the guy who thrived amid the last recession has some hopeful advice for comms professionals.


Joe Pulizzi:

What's going on right now is terrible. All the way around. I have no good things to say about that, but there are some wonderful journalists, writers and content creators available.


Dusty Weis:

Yeah.


Joe Pulizzi:

Right now, they've gotten let go by media ... again, there's another huge round of layoffs that have happened in media companies that great content creators are available. We did that, I went to the mastheads of some of these magazines and I reached out to people, I'm like, "Hey, would you help me with this research," people that wish you had no right in working with. That's what's exciting, it is the greatest time ever right now to launch a business and to grow a business, because you've got so many people battening down the hatches and we kept pushing through. I mean, we focus on this niche, the content marketing which nobody was talking about.


Joe Pulizzi:

Nobody called it content marketing so we sort of renamed that thing and like it always had been that way, to say, "Okay, we're going to call it content marketing right now," because we were targeting marketing people and marketing people don't listen to anything that's called custom media or custom publishing. They're already falling asleep. If you say, "Are you doing custom publishing?" They're sleeping. You have to call whatever you're doing marketing for marketing people to pay attention, direct marketing, search marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, same thing. It's very simplistic but it works.


Joe Pulizzi:

We were focusing on this thing called content marketing and doing this blog better than hopefully anybody else out there and all the other media companies and marketing media companies in our area, they were just holding on for dear life because they had to and I get it but if you have the resilience, and you can say, "Look, it's going to be lean for the next couple of years, but we can come out of this stronger and better," and that's what happened. By 2010, that's when we made that formal pivot to Content Marketing Institute, it just took off right away because the whole time we've been investing in our audience and building this audience and everyone else we reached out to in 2008, 2009 had said, "Hey, this content marketing is a thing. Are you going to cover it?"


Joe Pulizzi:

No. We can't cover anything new. We just let our marketing writer go. We're not going to do an event or no new events, we can't do ... partner with you on an event in content marketing or whatever ideas we had, research project, all kinds of stuff. We just did our thing and then 2010 came and it took off.


Dusty Weis:

The Paul Harvey rest of the story is Content Marketing Institute blew up, you wrote three best selling books, Content Marketing World, The Conference also blew up and became a major destination for anybody that works in this space. Then, This Old Marketing Podcast became a huge success with millions of listens too. You basically redefined an entire sector of marketing practices overnight. While personal results might vary, looking at this new recession here, what do you see that's similar to the recession that we went through back then and what's different, and what do marketing entrepreneurs need to do to come out of this recession with at least a fraction of that success?


Joe Pulizzi:

I've just been writing a lot about, "Okay, how do we market in a pandemic and what's the same from what happened in the Great Recession to what's going on now with the pandemic and the virus." You're seeing something very similar with what's happening with companies, it's just happening at a faster rate. We're having to let people go. There's a lot of companies that are going out of business. If you were on the edge of, you didn't think this business was going to work or not, you're already done. I mean, you're gone, small businesses are going to have a real tough time coming back from this and what you're probably going to see is, you're going to have the people with with less money or you're going to have even less opportunity coming out of this and people with more money are going to have you more money.


Joe Pulizzi:

It's going to be a lot of inequity that happens, unfortunately. Those are the same types of things that happened. Now, what's different, is that this is 100 times worse. So, if you thought that there was a great opportunity during the Great Recession, that's the good part. The good news is there's even more opportunity now. Just as the other day, I talked to a guy that wanted to start a business. He's like, "Well, I took that all off the table now because of what's going on." I said, no. I said, I get it, you think it's riskier but it takes you three years, three to five years to get a business up and running and going anyways.


Dusty Weis:

Right. This is the perfect time to sit there twiddling your thumbs and waiting for clients, because that's going to happen regardless.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yes, basically, what's great is you just take your expectations for the next two years down to nothing and build the business, build an audience, right? What's your niche? What are you going to do to build that audience? Is it going to be a podcast? Is it going to be an Instagram series? Is it going to be a blog? What is it? What are you going to do, an email newsletter, to really build that audience so that you become the leading expert in something so that when people are ready to buy, they trust you, they know you, they're going to be loyal to you and they'll buy from you.


Dusty Weis:

I was actually ... Just the other day, I was talking to someone who's been planning to make the leap to full time entrepreneur. He was recently laid off but he's got a good business plan. He's looking at the podcast space and he says that he keeps getting hung up on the want ads. He's sitting, he does a little bit of work on his business plan and then he's like, "Oh, here's a steady full time job that I could apply for." I told him, I get it. I'm a year into this thing and I still have these regular crises of confidence. The question I guess I would have for you is, does that go away? For how long were you tempted back toward the stability of a regular job before you finally just embraced, "You know what, I'm it. I'm the CEO, I'm an entrepreneur."


Joe Pulizzi:

You'll always be tempted, I was always, I don't know, I won't speak for everyone. I was always tempted. I was tempted until September of 2011, when I came out on stage for content marketing world now. You always doubt yourself, it's a natural human thing that you don't feel that you can do it. You're always going to want to focus on, "Oh, is there a plan B out there?" All entrepreneurs are crazy in some way and you just have to look at that and say, "No, I'm going to be one of those crazy ones. That make ... We're going to push through." So, you just have to look at those want ads and laugh and say, "Yeah, there's some other person that's going to take that job and good for them because I'm going to go back to work and work my butt off 12, 14 hours a day."


Joe Pulizzi:

I mean, if you're thinking about it all the time, so that in five years or seven years, I have the financial freedom to do anything I want to.


Dusty Weis:

That's a great segue into sort of the next chapter of your life here. You and your wife, you sold your stake in CMI and you launched a nonprofit foundation, The Orange Effect which delivers speech therapy and technology services to kids. It doesn't get any more admirable than that. Tell me a little bit more about that and how folks can get involved if they're interested.


Joe Pulizzi:

Thank you. Yeah, actually, we formally started Orange Effect Foundation as a 501(c)(3) in 2014. We sold Content Marketing Institute and all the assets in 2016 but we'd been working since 2007, like when I actually went out and launched the business with my wife, we started a golf outing, that's called the Golfer Autism, it's still going on today and we were trying to raise funds specifically for speech therapy and most of the funds go directly to families who can't afford speech therapy and their kids are on the spectrum. In one way, shape or form. They don't have to be on the autism spectrum but they have some sort of speech disorder.


Joe Pulizzi:

We've been working on them, we're now on our 14th year of working on that, six year as Orange Effect Foundation and we've now been delivered ... we've got scholarships going out to over 200 kids in 33 states. We're a fundraising organization so we raise funds and we look and we vet families that aren't able to afford speech therapy in some way. Our insurance can't cover it and they would go without if we ... if Orange Effect Foundation and our wonderful supporters weren't around so we vet every quarter and we dole out this money to them, to the kids that need it and it's close to our heart because our oldest is on the spectrum and he couldn't speak a word at all until he was three and a half, four years old. The only reason he's going on to college in the fall and ...


Dusty Weis:

That's so cool.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah, you'd never even know there's a problem with the speech anymore. The reason why that is, is because it was early intervention speech therapy. There are so many families that have to choose between, "Well, do I put food on the table or do I get to this therapy for my kid." Now, they're going to choose food every time and they should but they shouldn't have to so we try to come in and support that. It's theorangeeffect.org and we'll take any and all donations and by the way, if you know of somebody who has a child in that kind of situation, we absolutely take applications so you can fill out an application at theorangeeffect.org as well. Yeah, we're just going strong, always looking for support. Still so much to do but we're getting there.


Dusty Weis:

That's really cool to hear in such a worthy cause and hopefully, as this new recession and the pandemic have hit, we've seen a lot of economic uncertainty but I've also been heartened by just the number of people that have stepped up in their efforts toward charity and giving back to the community as well, and so another great outlet for people that are feeling a little bit of uncertainty right now to use their time and their talents and their money to make the world a better place too. That's exciting to hear. You're living my dream right now, a little bit. You're writing again but you've done a little pivot into the world of fiction. The story behind the why of this is actually really fun. Tell me about the Will To Die, your latest novel.


Joe Pulizzi:

It's funny, it always comes back to my wife for some reason. Yes, so sold the business in 2016. I stayed on with CMI until the end of 2017 and I decided to take a full year sabbatical in 2018 which basically meant, I wasn't doing anything, nothing formal. The first 30 days in January, I did a no electronics free every day, so got totally off of email and social media and did the cleanse.


Dusty Weis:

How was the withdrawal on that?


Joe Pulizzi:

I think it was always a little itchy the first couple weeks, I got to tell you, to be honest but then got into February. I did a dream trip. I took my dad to Sicily and we saw all of ... he's never been back to the home country. We went back and it was a father son trip that I'll never forget and did that for two weeks in February and just spent time with the family and didn't travel as much. I used to travel 50% at the time, so basically stayed home. I highly recommend it, if you could do it. So, it was fantastic to be able to do that but during 2018, I was just talking to my wife and we're talking about my other books and I don't know how the conversation came up, but it was something around ... so I wrote or co-wrote five other marketing books.


Joe Pulizzi:

I said, "Have you ever read one of my marketing books?" She said, "No." I said, "You never read one of my marketing books?" She said, "Well, I've read the acknowledgments because I want to see what you say about me but other than that, I haven't read anything." I'm like, "Why not?" She's like, "Well, talk about something interesting and I'll read it." I was like, "Oh, God, you got to be kidding me." I took that as sort of a challenge and I said, "All right, I'm going to write you ..." because she loves mysteries and thrillers.


Dusty Weis:

Okay.


Joe Pulizzi:

I said, "Okay, that's what I'm going to do." I started sometime in 2018, writing and boy, it was horrible to start with, but started writing, writing, writing and I finished the manuscript in February of 2019, finished the manuscript for The Will To Die, which is a thriller, about a marketing agency guy who ends up taking over his father's funeral home and discovers all kinds of murders and things in a small town. She reads it. I'm thinking, I hope she likes it and she got done with it. I kid you not. She's like, "Oh my god, this is really good." I'm like, "Come on, you're just being nice to me." She's like, "No, really." She said, "I just read this Patterson novel and this is 10 times better than that." I said, "Okay, now you're really joking. You're so full of it."


Joe Pulizzi:

I went through the editing process and I sent it to a couple editors and it was 110,000 words. We finished the final manuscript at 85,000. I cut a lot out of it and went to publish it. Published it as a free ... gave it away as a free podcast in December of 2019, formally published it in March of 2020 and it were lucky enough to hit the bestseller list on Amazon in four different categories and stayed there for a little while actually.


Dusty Weis:

Congratulations on that. It's really super.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah, thank you. It's been a fun ride. It's been wonderful to see the reviews out there. It's a fun story, it takes your mind off of some of the craziness that's ... It's a murder story but it's also kind of a fun ride if you like that kind of stuff. It's been fun doing something completely different using a different part of my brain.


Dusty Weis:

They say write what you know and so certainly, your main character is a marketer but a lot of people would be surprised to hear that you've got one foot in the marketing world personally but you've also got another foot in the funeral industry.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah, that's right, 20 years in marketing and publishing and then my grandfather was a funeral director and I was running around the funeral home when I was three, four years old and basically grew up there on and off and worked there for four or five years on college breaks and whatnot. So, the expertise and the knowledge of the funeral industry is something I didn't have to look up. I basically took, yeah, the two sides that I know and love ... because it's actually a marketing ... I call it a marketing thriller because if you are a marketer, you will really like the storyline because we talk a lot about marketing but at the same time, it takes place in the center and in and around a funeral home. It was totally fun to go back to some of those crazy stories my grandfather used to tell me and I sort of adapted them for the book.


Dusty Weis:

Is this the new path going forward for Joe Pulizzi, is your main character in the novel, is he going to be your new Robert Langdon and we can count on more adventures down the road here?


Joe Pulizzi:

Yes, Will Pollitt is the main character and absolutely is going to make a return, no doubt about it. I'm working on three things right now. I'm working on Part Two to The Will To Die. I just finished a quote, unquote, Corona Marketing Book that I'm going to be releasing for free here in the next three weeks just to help some of the people out that you're trying to reach as well with how do you market during a pandemic. Then Content Inc., which is my 2015 book, I'm re-releasing that with McGraw-Hill and hopefully that will come out in the next, seven, eight months. The perfect time for that model, basically, the whole content model is how do you launch a business by building an audience first when you have no money.


Dusty Weis:

Right. Yeah.


Joe Pulizzi:

That's what it is.


Dusty Weis:

That's a great topic to talk about right now, actually, Corona Marketing. A lot of operations are in a position right now where all their marketing plans for the year have just exploded and flown out the window. I've talked to a lot of potential clients who maybe had money tied up in trade shows or live events, sponsorships and that's all gone. You're a content marketing practitioner now. Hopefully, you've still got some budget left. I know that you're always in the corner of content marketing but where do you put that unalotted budget?


Joe Pulizzi:

Well, if you have budget left I think is the issue because there are ... I mean, I've talked to quite a few marketers and their budgets are getting cut, no doubt about it. They're going away and you just want to cut the right things at this point because we're trying to ... a lot of these companies is just trying to survive. What you want to invest in is your communication, your ongoing communication with your true believers. Who are the customers? Who are your customers that you really need to continually deliver amazing information to on a regular basis and focus on that. That's what we want to get out, so I don't know what that means. Does that mean a podcast like what you and I are doing right now to them?


Joe Pulizzi:

Does it mean any newsletter? Focus on one thing that you can be great at, to one audience and build that audience there, because that's what's going to get you through, the people that already know you, love you, trust you. Those are the people that you want us ... you want to give him a big virtual hug all the time in the form of amazing information. If you can do that on a regular basis, I think you'll be able to survive. That's what I'm recommending to companies and I'm basically saying, "You don't have to do everything. You don't have to do the podcast and the webinar series and the E-newsletter and Facebook and Twitter. You don't have to be on everything."


Joe Pulizzi:

Focus on doing one thing really well delivering one thing consistently to them over and over again. If it's really relevant, valuable, informative, entertaining information, it's going to work out for you and you'll be able to keep and build that audience.


Dusty Weis:

Your podcast, This Old Marketing, you guys are more than 200 episodes deep now. You record that one with your old colleague, Robert Rose from CMI. What do you like about that medium as a way to stay connected with customers?


Joe Pulizzi:

This says it all. This story says it all. We started the podcast in 2013, when I would go out and do speeches. Before 2013, people would come up to me, wonderful people and they would say, "Joe, we love your book, Get Content, Good Customers or Managing Content Marketing, the how to blogs or the E-newsletter. Joe, we went to Content Marketing World last year and it was fantastic." Once 2013 came and that podcast started, 99% of the people that came up to me in whatever setting was, "Joe, I love the podcast," and I was so amazed. It's such an intimate platform. They get to know you so well. That became the thing that sticks with them more than anything else.


Joe Pulizzi:

It's so powerful from that perspective and that's where ... when 2013, 2014 came along, I became a believer in podcasting because you cannot touch another person in an emotional way through print on paper, through even an event, like you can through something going through their ears in an audible format I don't know what it is. You know them probably better than I do Dusty. It's just amazing what happens so that's why I become a big believer in podcasting. So, still this whole marketing podcast, I've got another podcast I do called Content Inc. Podcast. I'll probably do more if I could but I'm such a believer in the format and the medium.


Dusty Weis:

Yeah. For me, I've always felt like the ears are just sort of a shortcut straight to the frontal lobe, to the emotional part of your brain. With other senses, other marketing, there's always a lot more layers of scrutiny that you have to punch through to get your message across. You hear that sound that was on the car radio when you had your first kiss and boom, you're instantly transported back to that place.


Joe Pulizzi:

Right.


Dusty Weis:

I think the same thing is possible with just about any form of audio marketing. I'll die on this hill if I have to but it's a good place to be right now and it's social distancing friendly.


Joe Pulizzi:

That's it.


Dusty Weis:

As we can see, sitting here talking to each other.


Joe Pulizzi:

Well, the thing is even though with the boom in podcasting, there's still a huge opportunity, there's still so few podcasts compared to videos, compared to articles out there. By the way, most people start podcast and give up after a short period of time. If you could keep going and be that consistent voice, over time, it takes about 12 to 18 months to really build an audience in that platform. You know it?


Dusty Weis:

Yeah.


Joe Pulizzi:

It works. You got to be patient.


Dusty Weis:

Well, and the other thing is, I just saw an article that we're over a million podcasts now. There are a million podcasts out on iTunes and that's super, that's exciting. I love to see a wide palette of different voices but 95% percent of those podcasts out there right now, they haven't put any investment into thinking about who their audience is, about targeting that audience and about speaking to that audience in a language that only they understand. For those 5% of podcasts that are actually investing in a strategy behind it, that are actually thoughtful about choosing who their guests are and what their content is, I think that those are going to be in a position to really just thrive and do well over the next couple of years.


Joe Pulizzi:

Absolutely. It all starts with audience. Don't start anywhere else, audience first.


Dusty Weis:

Play to your strengths. Invest in building an audience, run the marathon, not the sprint. It's a set of tactics that anyone can use to get ahead once we return to some semblance of normalcy, whenever that might be but it's also an important reminder that it could be worse. If you've got your health. You've got everything right now and as the Simpsons once told us,


Lisa Simpson:

Look on the bright side Dad. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?


Homer Simpson:

Yes, Crisitunity.


Dusty Weis:

Joe Pulizzi's story and Content Marketing Institute are living reminders that as business professionals, the biggest risk is letting a Crisitunity go to waste.


Joe Pulizzi:

If the Great Recession didn't happen, I don't know if Content Marketing Institute would have existed, because it was growing so fast, there was such an opportunity there. I think the other media companies, if they would have been financially sound would have picked up on it. We had no right in launching a content marketing world. We had no right in launching the daily how to blogs. Somebody else should have done that. Then, here we are a little or less, we just came around, nobody was investing in that area and we were able to take a leadership position. That's what's exciting from a business standpoint about what's going on now because you're going to have a number of individuals, entrepreneurs and small businesses.


Joe Pulizzi:

Be able to do amazing things because everyone else is battening down the hatches or unfortunately going out of business or focusing on their core audience and core area of expertise when you can come in and do something great to an underserved audience. To be honest, I don't think I'd probably be ... I might be working at a publishing company, which is so sad. Not that there's anything wrong with that but I don't know if I would have been an entrepreneur.


Dusty Weis:

That's not your jam. It's not for you.


Joe Pulizzi:

Yeah. I probably would have went back. I'd probably would have went back and got a job somewhere. I don't know.


Dusty Weis:

This has been an awesome conversation and again, I just hope a comfort to a lot of people facing a lot of uncertainty right now. I appreciate you taking the time. Joe Pulizzi the godfather of content marketing, founder of Content Marketing Institute. You wrote Killing Marketing, Content Inc., Epic Content Marketing and now most recently the marketing themed, the murder mystery, The Will To Die. Thanks for joining us on Lead Balloon.


Joe Pulizzi:

Thanks Dusty. Anytime my friend.


Dusty Weis:

I should also mention that we are working on getting our toddler to add some new phrases to his repertoire. I hope you found a reason to smile and a little bit of optimism too, in today's episode. Keep grinding, keep your distance and all that. Please make sure that you subscribe to The Lead Balloon podcast feed, if you found this episode helpful. I'd also love it if you shared it with pretty much everyone you know. After all, I'm trying to run a business during a recession here. Feedback is always welcome in the comments section or at dusty@podcampmedia.com. If you've got a story that's perfect for the show, I would love to hear from you there as well.


Dusty Weis:

Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Still, we're still doing it. Check out our website, podcampmedia.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Until the next time, I'm Dusty Weis. Be well folks.



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