Contently: Building Trust Through Thoughtful Content with Joe Lazauskas
Lindsay Tjepkema: When your content strategy isn't what your audience wants to hear from you, when the topics you planned to cover no longer resonate, when a global pandemic changes everything, not only for you, but also, obviously, for your audience, what exactly do you do? And perhaps more fittingly here, what exactly do you say? When your job, or maybe even your business is content, what does that pivot look like? I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around branded podcasts, and this is our podcast. Here in season 3 of the Casted podcast, we're talking with CMOs and marketing leaders to see how they're rethinking their marketing strategies in light of the COVID- 19 crisis. And for some of us who serve marketers and content creators, it's not just a messaging and content strategy that has changed, but also the messaging and content strategies of our audiences. Regardless of your audience, it's pretty clear that there's a lot of rapid change happening in content marketing today. So today, we're hearing from Joe Lazauskas who heads up marketing at Contently, a company many of you know and love, and they serve both marketing leaders, inside companies, and also freelance content creators. Although his audiences are closely related, they're very different, which Joe knows, and strategically works accordingly as you'll hear. Listen and learn from Joe as he shares an interesting behind- the- scenes look at the content strategy of Contently, as well as incredibly tactical and helpful advice on how to stay nimble with your own content marketing efforts amidst, well, this uncertain time we're all navigating right now.
Joe Lazauskas: I'm Joe Lazauskas, and I'm the head of marketing at Contently.
Lindsay Tjepkema: All right, Joe, thank you so much for being here. I'm eager to hear what you and your team are doing right now in the midst of this crisis. How has it most impacted you and what you're doing, specifically from a marketing perspective at Contently?
Joe Lazauskas: So, it's funny, I would say that it has impacted us a lot, but also, not that much at the same time. And I say that because, when I think back to the first virtual team meeting that we had a month ago, when we first went to work from home, which feels like it was six months ago, but it was only about four weeks ago, the immediate conversation was," What can we do to really help our audience the most in this time?" And that's always the guiding light of what we do from a marketing perspective on our team. So, in that way, it wasn't a huge change, but it was this different lens that we had to put on everything. Contently has two main audiences that we serve. The first audience is marketers who are trying to figure out how to create better content, how to tell better stories, how to drive ROI from their programs, how to use content to help their audiences and build their brands. And the second is freelance creatives. Contently, in addition to being a technology platform, also has a network over 150, 000 freelance creatives throughout the world. The brands that we work with use to create dynamic content of all kinds. And so, these are the two audiences that we've always really served. They're both a key part of our mission, helping them tell great stories together. So, we had to figure out how to help each of these groups. And on the marketer's side, we realized that looked more like spinning up brand new content that addressed the challenges that they'd be going through right now as the pandemic hit. And for freelancers, it was not just spinning up really good content that would help them overcome challenges, but actually starting to think about how we could help them in a more concrete, monetary way, because we knew that a lot of freelancers would soon be losing their work.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Such closely related, obviously, audiences that work together and that serve each other, but very different, different messages, different needs, different goals in this whole thing. Walk me through what that looked like. You started with first, who, who are we talking to? How'd you split that up into two main strategies, two main categories, two main initiatives. What did that look like?
Joe Lazauskas: Actually, we started with a silent brainstorming exercise, as we do a lot when we're trying just to come up with good ideas. We generally believe that if you do group brainstorms, where everyone's just throwing out ideas, really loud people like me tend to dominate. So everyone went off on their own over Zoom, to work on coming up with some different ideas. And it spanned both content initiatives that we could do for each audience, and then also sort of public good will initiatives that we can do. So the big idea that came out of all of it was for freelance creatives. We decided to start a fundraising effort with the freelancers unions, Freelancer Relief Fund, with the goal of raising$ 50,000 this month for emergency grants for freelancers who have faced economic hardship. So basically... And the way that we're doing that in order to also encourage our clients to keep creating work with freelance creatives through our platform, is that for every$ 200,000 that get paid to freelance creatives through Contently, in April, we're donating$ 5, 000 in grants. About a million dollars, almost, gets paid through the Contently platform each month. And then for every strategy deliverable we're selling, we're donating an additional$ 5, 000, and we're also working with some additional brands to partner on this to raise the total. So, that was kind of the big goodwill initiative that we were doing. But then on a more granular content perspective... And with both of these things we just wanted to go and talk to as many of our CS people, our salespeople who are talking to customers every day, our talent people who are talking to the network, interview some people of our own that we were close with, to understand what challenges they were undergoing. And so we've spun out a few different content series as the result of that. One thing that was immediate, for instance, was how to make the case for content marketing. Because a lot of people were feeling the pressure of potential budget cuts, with content often being one of the first things that is targeted because it has more of a longterm ROI than an immediate direct response ROI. So I wrote up a big mega post kind of outlining how to make the case on that. And we're doing a big educational webinar in a couple of weeks detailing that. Another big thing that came up was people having trouble figuring out how to collaborate in the most effective way on content, with their teams suddenly dispersed in this new way of working. So we ran a virtual education event on that last week, that was hosted by our Editor in Chief, Jordan, and our founder, Shane Snow, who's written a couple of bestselling books on human psychology and behavior and teamwork. And then, there's a lot of just smaller posts that get into the nitty gritty of virtual events, spitting out more educational videos, really just recentering our entire content strategy around answering the big questions that people have right now.
Lindsay Tjepkema: One of the things that I've been hearing a lot is, refueling my messaging, right? So my messaging doesn't really work anymore, either it just doesn't make any sense, or it could come across as tone deaf, or it's not a fit right now, it doesn't solve the problem that my audience has right now. That problem has completely changed. So how did that change for you as far as how you were communicating to these audiences and what you were saying as you... These initiatives sound great, and goodwill and also keeping people engaged with you and with your platform, with each other. But how did you actually put those messages out there? How did you frame up what Contently could do for your audience, in a way that you felt would be most likely to resonate and be received the way it's intended?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, so I approached it from a perspective of, it was more important to focus on actually developing good, in- depth, meaty, educational content for people, then just changing the tagline on our website. Instead of just changing it to being," The remote content collaboration platform for when Coronavirus is keeping you apart." which everyone seems to be doing. Everyone wants to be the Zoom for content marketing, the Zoom for marketing automation. And that ultimately just rings kind of opportunistic and hollow, as opposed to really drilling down and understanding, okay, people are struggling to figure out how to collaborate on creative content when their teams are apart and when they can't sit down and look over each other's shoulder like they normally do in the office. They're struggling to figure out how to best communicate big ideas and project timelines and initiatives. They're struggling to figure out how to even work with their compliance teams when everyone is suddenly remote and people have different varying levels of comfort with the technologies that they might even have in place in their Stack already, be it something like, even just Microsoft Teams and Google Docs. So starting to answer those questions for people were really important. For our clients, obviously there's a greater need for additional tutorials for more people to be using our platform, for spinning up more strategic help for people to figure out what sort of stories would actually resonate with their audiences and not come up as opportunistic. But I think that meatier, in depth educational content works so much better at a time like this, then just coming up with a new Facebook ad to run, or a new tag line. Because what you need to instill in people, is the sense that you actually really care about what they're going through, you can relate to and understand their experience, and you have some answers for them and you can be the right strategic partner for them at this time, as opposed to, you're a clever marketer who thought of a new logo design that conveys social distancing, which might be something that gets you a writeup in Ad Freak, but isn't really going to make anyone think that you're the right partner for them when you're talking about... Like us, which is a more involved, in depth, strategic B2B partnership.
Lindsay Tjepkema: No, that's so important. It's connection. It's seeking first to build that relationship and to serve and to provide relevancy. That's what you just defined was how to really, really serve your audience and ask," What can we do today to help our audience tomorrow?" And that's really important, and something that in this time of so much panic, it can feel like we need to just produce more content, more, more, more, more, more, ride the coattails, like you were saying before, hop on board with what everybody else is talking about in an effort to nab some keywords or optimize some content. That's so not what it's about, especially today. What is some advice that you would give to marketers? We have a shared audience here. You talk to marketers, so do we, specifically of the content variety. So with what you're hearing, what you're learning, about what people are looking for most, what advice would you give to this audience who's struggling to make it through and to thrive on relevancy and to be valuable to our audiences today?
Joe Lazauskas: I would really tap in to your frontline teams for intel right now, because that's often the quickest way to get a little snapshot of market research, is ask your customer success team what questions are they hearing for people? What challenges are they facing? The same thing for your sales team. Not ask them about the challenges that your team is facing and getting them to sign that deal in the next month or to get that renewal, but what are the big pain points that those people are feeling internally. And prompt your frontline teams to ask those questions and report back to you. That's often the easiest way to get quick market research about what are the two to three topics that you should really address first. The second thing is that if you do have the relationship with any of your clients through say a customer advisory board, definitely tap into that group to get intel and feedback from them. I've been trying to talk to as many people from our customer advisory board as possible. And then look at the common threads that come up there, and tailor your content accordingly to answer those big questions or problems that they're facing. And don't be afraid to move quickly. I think it's been a really almost therapeutic... It's been really therapeutic work for my team to really focus on developing a lot of helpful content for our audience over the last four weeks and to spend their time doing that. Because it's cathartic in a way, but it also makes you feel good. But we also, as we're going through this, have this mantra of," You can always be thoughtful, always be helpful, never be opportunistic in anything that we're developing." Because that's the last thing you want to do, is feel like you're just developing a piece of content that's related to Coronavirus for the sake of developing a piece of content that's related to Coronavirus. And I give our Editor in Chief, Jordan, a lot of props here. He is like the opportunism hawk with anything. So anything that we write or develop or any ideas we come up with, he always has that really critical lens on it to make sure that we're not writing a blog post for the sake of writing a blog post, or creating event for creating the sake of an event.
Lindsay Tjepkema: That is so important because you can do it accidentally, especially when you're passionate, right? So when you deeply believe that this topic or this piece of content or this advice or this product or this service, can help right now, it can come across... Passion can easily be received as opportunistic or sound tone deaf, when it's not intended to be that way. All right, so also, one other thing is how, in the midst of all of this, so you're taking feedback from sales and feedback from customer service. How are you kind of closing that loop and saying, okay, in this time where we're all working remotely and everything's changed and messaging really has changed, how are you going back and making sure that sales and success and customer service knows these new things that you're doing and how to use them?
Joe Lazauskas: We're a startup. So being a small startup, you have some advantages, which is that it's easier to really communicate to everyone effectively, and everyone's more of a digital native on this stuff. So we're really just blasting it out via Slack, taking questions from people, giving them notes on how they can use it with customers and prospects. And they get it, because the ideas have come from them for the large part. So, a lot of this has been a two way communication of them saying," Hey, we really could use a piece that lays out this whole case for why you should be still creating content right now, and what some of the biggest opportunities are, and things to watch out for." And so then we develop those pieces and we send it to them, and we're like," Here's the piece that you asked for to answer those questions." They're like," Oh my God, thank you. I'm going to send it to X, Y, and Z today." So when you're actually developing content that is meeting needs that they have already, it becomes super intuitive for them to know how to then use that piece.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely. You get that buy in early on, and you're all in it together, you're much more likely to have the buy in on the tail end too. Anything else you would share? Anything else you feel like marketers need to know right now?
Joe Lazauskas: The other area is just the total Wild West of figuring out how to do a good virtual event, which I'd say has been the other big fun challenge for us. So we had a CAB event or customer advisory board event coming up. It was going to be in New York, have had to figure out how to retrofit it to work really well as a virtual event, but also because we always want to be leading by example with our customers, of doing super cool things and being really interesting and thoughtful with our content. I've had kind of the unique challenge of it, and it's all of this figuring out how to put together a really cool virtual event. And we're going to be trying a lot of different games, be sending physical items that tie in directly to the content. It could go well, it could go horribly. So I, perhaps am not in the best place to be giving you advice on this right now. But I will say that, if you have any virtual events coming up, I would encourage you to try and be as experimental as possible, because people are going to get really sick of just standard screen shares over Zoom.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely. And I would add to that too is, ask yourself how you can use the content that you put together leading up to the event, that you create during the event. How you can use all of that in different ways across other channels after the event. Don't make it a one stop shop. Well thank you so much, Joe. This was really helpful, very, very, not only relatable, but tangible advice that a lot of people could use. So thank you for sharing. We appreciate it.
Joe Lazauskas: No problem. Thanks for having me.
Lindsay Tjepkema: That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, including bonus content not included in this episode, like the stories you haven't heard about their career, and the advice they have for you in your path to becoming a marketing leader, visit casted. us to subscribe and receive our show as it's published, along with exclusive content each week.
When your content strategy isn't what your audience wants to hear from you, when the topics you planned to cover no longer resonate, when a global pandemic changes everything, not only for you, but also, obviously, for your audience, what exactly do you do? And perhaps more fittingly here, what exactly do you say? When your job, or maybe even your business is content, what does that pivot look like? Today, we're hearing from Joe Lazauskas who heads up marketing at Contently, a company many of you know and love, and they serve both marketing leaders, inside companies, and also freelance content creators. Although his audiences are closely related, they're very different, which Joe knows, and strategically works accordingly as you'll hear. Listen and learn from Joe as he shares an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the content strategy of Contently, as well as incredibly tactical and helpful advice on how to stay nimble with your own content marketing efforts amidst, well, this uncertain time we're all navigating right now.