Nobody likes to be laughed at–much less, publicly. Amirite?
As a person who has, um, strong stances on things–especially in writing–being called out on my opinions is nothing new to me. Neither is stepping on toes–usually totally unintentionally. While in person, I HATE conflict, for whatever reason, in writing, I somehow manage to invite it. Go figure. I usually just move on or forget about drama when it happens, but in this specific instance, I just haven’t been able to forget and move on, so I’m finally posting this missive that’s been sitting on ice for a long while now.
More than two years ago, when I wrote about why I thought content marketing doesn’t work for associations, I figured it was a benign enough topic. At the time, I was working for an agency, doing content marketing and sales enablement for large global brands, startups and other for-profit business. When I wrote that article, I was contrasting my experience working in the association space for more than 15 years with my experience doing content marketing for for-profit clients. The definition of content marketing I was working from was using content to drive tangible results: sales leads, web traffic, brand recognition and thought leadership, and then being able to show exactly how a post about X resulted in Y leads that ultimately led to closing a sale worth Z dollars. Simple enough, right?
Apparently not, because a few months later, none other than the widely-dubbed “Godfather of Content Marketing” himself, together with one of his colleagues, spent a portion of their podcast literally laughing at how stupid I was and I how I basically had no business opining on content marketing. In a blog post. On my personal blog.
I’m not linking to it because…actually, forget that–I will link to it–here you go. Treat yourself to a listen and put yourself in my shoes–how would you feel to hear yourself talked about in such mocking, condescending tones? Literally being laughed at for being stupid and knowing nothing about content marketing or associations…or pretty much anything. Because, you know, I’d never had any real life experience in either or anything. And also, because when two guys guffaw about how dumb a woman is…well, yeah, that too. At 13:00, they sum up the scolding by declaring that my thoughts on the matter could have easily been corrected had I merely reached out to be schooled by the Godfather about how I should have written about content marketing and associations correctly. I’ll be sure to remember that for future posts.
Fast forward a year, almost to the day I wrote that post, and what happened was almost surreal in its irony. I’d left the agency world and returned to associatons–an association that just happened to be partnered with none other than the custom publisher the “Godfather” himself worked for when he allegedly coined the term “content marketing.” My org’s magazine and other sources of content produced and sold by this custom publisher were exactly the success stories the Godfather was referring to when he talked about how content marketing works great for associations. And I’m here to tell you–if that is what content marketing success looks like for associations, then associations are doomed.
The terms of the org’s deal with that custom publisher were the most ridiculously unfavorable terms I’d ever heard of for any business pretty much ever. This publisher had been producing the association’s magazine for more than a decade, as well as basically all of the org’s other non-dues revenue offerings. Anyone could receive the magazine and newsletters for free–even though those things were touted as member benefits. All the content lived not on the association’s website, but a separate, custom website…that belonged to the publisher, not the org. They were making a fortune while the association was watching its revenue share plummet with each passing year. It was depressing but also, I admit, vindicating, to pour over spreadsheets that detailed just how not favorable the “Godfather’s” custom publishing company’s terms were for the association, yet how fruitful they were for the custom publisher.
Another year later and I not only stand by my original post about why doing content marketing effectively for associations is hard, I also have another caveat to add to the deal: associations need to be super careful when partnering with a publisher or “expert” on content marketing because there are plenty of people and organizations that are happy to use your content for their own gain, not your association’s. Less than a year after separating the org’s dealings with this custom publisher, revenue across the products that company was producing/selling is up almost 300% over the previous year. If losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, not being able to house your org’s content on its own website and totally cannibalizing the org’s member value prop is what content marketing success looks like for associations, then I don’t want to know what failure looks like.
The Godfather is right about one thing: associations do have a distinct advantage when it comes to producing and publishing quality content. Which is all the more reason not to squander it for the gain of a custom publisher or another outside party who sees associations as ripe targets…just as lowly association bloggers like me are ripe targets for experts who are just smarter and better.