the knight of the pen rises

Posts by Anthony

Do you know Januarius A. MacGahan?  He was a liberator, an ‘activist,’ and writer.  People of Bulgaria were granted new opportunities due to the ink in his pen.

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I enjoy serving up informational tidbits here and there, introducing ideas and concepts.  Maybe it’s the teacher man in me.

Helping others is an enriching process.  Helping people learn is especially powerful.  It’s like throwing them the keys to the car, granting them carte blanche to put it in high, switch four lanes with the top down, shoutin’ out learning ain’t a thing.  (I analogize.)

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So, why am I referencing 19th century men of the pen and Jermaine Dupri songs?  Am I just being silly?  Like the jesters in lines of Shakespeare, there may be some method in my madness.

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I bid adieu to my ado; let’s visit the origin of my endeavor at your attention.  How does one become successful at writing?  That’s a great question.  I’ll never know if I am (It’s not for me to say.)  However, I promise I’m always becoming, always trying to rise.

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If I can help others en route, I will.  A young writer, Alex Morask, recently sent me an email after reading my content conversation with Nick Eubanks.

First, it’s incredibly cool of Alex to ask me some questions.  Secondly, I thought it would be great to share the answers, allowing others to read my thoughts.  Then, I was like, “Wait.  Hmm, who are some writers ‘on the scene’ I really enjoy? …Sullivan, Klettke, Agate…  Yes. I’ll bring Agate along on the interview.

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Alex asked good questions.  I hope James and I can offer good advice to Alex and other writers.

Alex Morask

I know that if you ever want a job in content strategy, you have to produce content yourself. But as a student, I have little to no true work experience in the field. I’m starting a website for myself and I’d like to blog about content and social media strategy, but do you think that would be looked down upon when I really haven’t had a chance to apply my knowledge in the real world. 

James Agate

I think ultimately it comes down to being authentic…participate in the conversation and have something to add and people won’t question your experience. The world of content marketing is a pretty friendly one where new individuals are welcomed. There’s no need for you to pretend you have this long list of credentials, in my opinion not having any field experience doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t valid, in some ways it gives you a perspective that others don’t have – your views aren’t tainted by cynicism, arrogance or 10 years slogging away in the same organisation where a “this is how we do things” mentality has given you a narrow minded perspective.

You (I would imagine) have a fresh view of the world so that means you can add something to the conversation which many others simply can’t.

Anthony Pensabene

Word, James.  Alex, carpe diem, my friend.

Start creating experiences for yourself, just as you did in emailing me.  You got my attention with your passion and willingness to learn.  I reckon there are others who will also admire that.

You’re starting a blog yourself?  (I know a guy who…) Do itRead all you can on topics that interest you; ask questions (a lot of them); interact with people on social media platforms; comment, letting your thoughts and brand be known; and, never get discouraged  <—.  If the interest is there, you’ll find experiences; they will also come to you.

Are you waiting to apply your experiences?  Why wait?  Start perusing opportunities to help others.  Think about doing pro bono work at first, to gain the ‘experience.’  That helps others; helping gives you opportunity to build your experience as well.

Alex Morask

What kind of jobs do you think I should be targeting out of school? I’m not sure if most strategists work for marketing firms or work in-house at companies. If you have any suggestions on what examples of my work I should be showing, that’d be awesome as well.

James Agate

My advice would be to find the agency you want to work at and get your foot in the door. Most of the best content/digital marketing agencies have a fairly fluid recruitment policy i.e. they want the best people on board, once they’re on board then they figure out what each person is going to do.

They might not have a content strategist position open now, they might not call it a ‘content strategist’ in fact they might not know they need a content strategist yet but there’s no need to stress yourself about this. Finding the right organisation that is going to give you the best opportunities (in terms of the clients you work with and the long term career prospects) is far more important in the early stages than the role you are actually applying for.

When I was getting started out of school I got a job at a magazine publisher because I wanted to be involved with that company, they are a great brand here in the UK and the connections and possibilities were endless. What I had noticed (and why I wanted to work there) was that nearly every employee at that company past and present was connected somehow, they all helped eachother, introduced eachother to business associates, helped one another make connections. That really excited me.

I took an incredibly boring admin role to get me in, then I created the job I wanted and got the connections I needed. It was only a stepping stone and I had a plan in mind so immediately my concerns about the job being “dead end” were laid to rest.

Anthony Pensabene

Alex, be as objective as you can, understanding it’s a subjective world; meaning, it’s great to have particular positions or agencies in mind.  But try to balance that fine line of structure with going with the flow.

Also, be patient.  When I first started out, I was doing PR.  I didn’t know content strategy and overall business consulting was in my future.  I just loved writing and thinking.  I didn’t even know if I wanted to stay in ‘business.’

Your future is wide open.  Understand, working at an agency may give you opportunity to learn things from those with experience (For instance, I’m a writer with PR experience.  That makes me a double-edged sword.)  Alternatively, going to work at a boutique firm or a startup may present you with more immediate responsibility and the opportunity to eventually blaze your own trails.

Keep becoming, understanding things change (that’s a good thing), including your confidence, skill sets, and ability to see the  ‘larger’ picture.

Alex Morask

To break into content strategy, I assume the number one thing for me would be to start blogging myself, but can you recommend any other courses of action I should be taking or educational resources I should be looking into?

James Agate 

I would develop relationships first and foremost (seeing as you are talking to Anthony, I can see you are already doing this), talking with people in the industry, getting to know them and getting them to know you is going to put you in an excellent position when you are seeking employment after you’re done being a student.

Get some experience – use your blog as a way to pull in some free ‘portfolio’ work. Start putting together strategies for clients you don’t even have, put these up on your website and even send them out to the companies themselves (if you get lucky they might even hire you – see Dan Shure’s example of this – he even got hired in the end I think >> http://www.evolvingseo.com/2012/01/05/a-taste-of-seo-for-nashoba-valley-winery/)

Be nice – go out of your way to help people and generally be a nice individual and this will take you a long way. I’m not saying don’t be proactive, but there’s no need to be cutthroat. I happen to believe that nice guys don’t always finish last :-)

Anthony Pensabene

Great advice, James.  I love this post by Courtney Seiter on being interested.  That philosophy works in all facets of life.  When you give, you get.  If you’re interested in others, you invite their interest as well.

Dive in the community.  Some receptions are warmer than others in the waters; don’t let that discourage you.  Keep focus, continue becoming.

I love James’ advice on relationships.  Dan Shure was the first person in the community to really help me out.  I enjoyed this post; I loved his writing style, sending him an email, asking if he would like to team-up for a post.

Dan was immediately busy, but liked an idea I had.  He said he would give my post ‘a look’ if I wrote it up.  I did.  He offered me advice; then I sent it over to Mike King, who placed it on his blog.  The help of others held intrinsic value for me.  I was ‘on a mission’ thereafter.  I attended my first industry conference this summer (also due to the guidance of Dan Shure), and made great (IMO) friendships and connections with people I respect.

As far as educational resources, be an informational monsterRead SEO blogs, marketing blogs, psychology blogs, and so on. (What does psych have to do with marketing/business? Everything.)  Return to old-school marketing texts; go to the library and take a gander at studies performed in the past; keep your mind on the pulse of a rapidly-changing online industry and keep rising.

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I thought it would be fun to turn the interrogation tables on Alex.  Also, I knew I would be putting this on my blog, thinking other peers (maybe people looking for a writer/strategist?) could benefit from peering into the mind of this young man.

Anthony Pensabene

In your opinion, what do you believe are needed tools (this could be experience, degrees, attitude, whatever) to become successful in the space.. (There are no wrong answers)

Alex Morask

To me it seems you need to have three traits in this industry to truly succeed. The first–an ever-evolving understanding of concepts, strategies, tactics and tools that go into developing a comprehensive digital marketing plan. A plan that includes content creation, social media, SEO, email marketing, lead generation/nurturing and analytics. That’s not to say you’ve got to be an expert in each one of these fields. But you should be able to create a plan has all of these aspects working together collectively. The second trait.. is the ability to effectively implement the plan you’ve created. Because it’s probably difficult to be a marketer when you haven’t marketed anything. Implementation is what it’s all about. And success in this field is based on numerically accountable. The third trait of a successful marketer is being an excellent storyteller. And this usually goes hand in hand with being a strong writer and communicator. The ability to identify and understand a target audience, coupled with the ability to craft compelling and persuasive content that solves that audience’s needs is something I consider essential. So in the the end, three traits I associate with marketing success are education, experience and storytelling capabilities.

Just to clarify–When I say education, I’m not insisting that you must have a formal education or a degree. I’m currently majoring in advertising. A degree that hasn’t benefited me very much at all in the digital marketing field. In fact, almost all the classes I take are completely unrelated! I taught myself what I know entirely from blogs, books, online courses and following thought leaders. There’s an ocean of information of how this field works available online. Navigating and applying it is up to the student.

I guess I’ll finish this question off by mentioning that having the right tools is a necessity. Maybe not so much having the tools, but understanding how to use them. You’ve got to have your own blog or website that you optimize for search and create content on. You should be able to implement landing pages, email campaigns, use the various social networks, etc. And there’s a lof of awesome software out there that helps people through this stuff. Lord knows I don’t come from the technical side.

Anthony Pensabene

Secondly, what is your view on ‘influencers’ and what would you expect/hope for in someone you ‘look up to’?

Alex Morask

Influencers are invaluable in this industry. Some more than others. I’m not sure about other students, but digital marketing was something I kind of picked up on my own without college classes. And because of this, professionals who were (schedule willing of course) able to share their expertise, advice, and knowledge with me when I really needed it were a bigger help than they’ll ever realize.

You see, the fields of digital marketing are relatively new. So students like me lack understanding on how to effectively break into the field. It’s simply not easy to get your foot in the door when you don’t know how. And that’s an area where influencers can really help. By offering recommendations on what skills students should be focusing on, what tools we should be learning, what should fill our portfolio, and what kind of positions we should be aiming for, they can give us a leg up on landing our first gig and start getting the real-world experience that we need.

For me personally, influencers played a huge part in my progression as a marketing student. I began learning when I stumbled across Brian Clark and Copyblogger. And now I’ve been reading their work for over a year and a half and have also purchased some of their products. All of which have helped improve my copywriting and content marketing skills. I’m also a big fan of Joe Pulizzi and the Content Marketing Institute. On top of all the awesome, daily content CMI pumps out, Joe even responded (in a very timely manner) to each one of my emails picking his brain for advice.I also follow Michael Stelzner and the Social Media Examiner, Sonia Simone, Jay Baer, James Chartrand, the folks at Hubspot, Derek Halpern, Chris Garret, Francisco Rosales, Heidi Cohen, Marcus Sheridan and the Contently team just to name a few.

Anthony Pensabene

Do you believe newcomers in search should have a broad marketing background or focus on a niche aspect to flourish?

Alex Morask

Both. I believe that the various spaces in marketing (content creation, SEO, social media, lead generation, etc) all have to work together if you want to create an effective, holistic marketing system. Without one, it’s difficult for the others to operate efficiently. I believe a marketing professional who understands holistic systems and how each one of these areas work together is imperative to a successful marketing campaign.

However, I do believe it can be more difficult to find a job for someone that chooses to study a broader range of skills rather than mastering one. It seems that more companies are hiring people to fulfill specific marketing tasks (SEO Specialist, analyst, content writer, etc) rather than general positions. Thus, I think it’s important for a marketing student to focus in on a specific niche, while still paying attention to the ways other areas of online marketing not only work in general, but ways they affect, interact with and shape their niche.

Anthony Pensabene

Is there an alternative to Google (as most widely-used engine in sight?) and in general, how important is it for brands to still consider traditional, offline marketing methods in current-day business climate?

Alex Morask

To answer the first question, when I think of Google.. I think of far more than just search. In addition to exclusively using Google for searching, I use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Documents, Google Analytics and have a G+ profile. This provides me with a completely integrated control of the web. One that I’ll never get with any other provider. So there may be alternatives to Google as a search engine, but there are no alternatives to Google as a complete producer of seamless online experiences. And that’s why people will continue to use it over everything else.

For the second question, I’d say it depends on the type and size of the company. If you’re a larger brand and you have enough money in your marketing budget, then these methods can still be effective when used in conjunction with innovative online tactics. I think there’s little doubt that TV, print and outdoor are still effective for P&G, Coke, Nike, Lego and other brand giants. But these are companies that have also built an active, engaged community online to complement their offline ventures. Especially Coke, whose the biggest consumer product company leading the charge into Content marketing.

But if you’re a small business.. or a mom & pop shop.. things are a little different. Traditional tactics are too expensive to fit into your budget, so you have to increase your online marketing. Especially in the social media sector. The problem is that the ratio of small business owners who don’t understand online marketing to the ones who do is a lot to a little.

B2B is different also. I think all B2B companies should be looking for ways to heavily introduce content and inbound marketing to their marketing mix so as to replace the traditional methods that are becoming more and more inefficient. Now, I don’t mean B2B companies should try to get rid of offline tactics. A lot of B2B offline marketing still makes for really good content. Just look at brand magazines, advertorials, articles in trade publications, trade shows, public speaking engagements, etc. But B2B brands can find ways to put these offline tactics online and get them in front of a bigger audience.

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A former jiu-jitsu teacher of mine and incredible teacher man, Steve Bongiorno, would oft say those words, alerting us that the student who is on the mat for their first time will learn from the black belts, and vice versa.

Thanks for the read, Musers!  And a special thanks to James Agate for being my partner here and Alex Morask for rising to the occasion, allowing us to think about our own trajectories, and the ability to help others along the way.

8 thoughts on “the knight of the pen rises

  1. Love it. If there were a young British version of Alex I’d be putting together a lengthy proposal to my directors explaining how we needed to fit him/her into our budget regardless of the fact that there would be no immediate return.

    For me, passionate interest, self-awareness and intellectual capacity are the three ‘musts’ to do this work. I guess you could get by without the self-awareness, but I wouldn’t want to work with you if you did.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Iain. I’m sure Alex will have opportunities coming his way; he’s already on the right path. Yep, see a team of passionate people; and see limitless possibilities.

  2. I would add 1 thing to Iain’s list: Autodidacticism. I think it is crucial in any technology-driven industry that practitioners are able to adapt to the constantly fast changing landscape by teaching themselves the new skills they need along the way.

    1. Great point, Nick – the variety i would expect coming from you. Absolute advantage/need to be versatile (dare i say agile) regarding the pace of the online/digital age/industry

  3. Thought I’d answer too :-)

    1. Starting a website – GO. FOR. IT. Like others said, make that website your experience! Choose a company you love, one with obvious weaknesses in their content. Post an study analyzing it and make suggestions for how they could do better. In other words -> pretend they’ve hired you and do the work!

    2. Jobs – Keep your eye on jobs.inbound.org (you probably know about it though). I’ll say one thing about “looking” for jobs those. Through your blog and interactions around the web; make companies come to YOU. If you are consistent with your own content on your blog, commenting on others blogs, and being involved in communities (ie: discussion forums, in-person meetups) add some patience (HT Anthony) you’ll get some attention. Also, yeah, can’t stress meeting people in real life enough.

    Also, I’d highly recommend seeking out some freelance work too. The first few SEO jobs I did were voluntary, or for family and friends, so I could learn and add a few sites to my experience list. When you do this; document everything! Take anything you’ve done and be able to show a before and after – what you did yo improve things.

    When first looking for freelance work I set up a Google Alert for Craigslist Ads.

    This is the Google Alert query –> site:craigslist.org seo | search engine optimization -“services offered”

    I bet if you did something like –> site:craigslist.org copywriter | content strategist -“services offered”

    … you’d get some good results.

    3. Breaking In – Technically I’m not a content person, but let’s see. Blog, yes, of course. Also, create other mediums of content; video, audio, graphics, screencasts, in-real-life (like speaking etc). And if you can, find a mentor.

    (As a side note, yes I did get the winery job AND the chocolate company I blogged about. Both companies ‘found’ me – I simply posted the articles and put them out into the real world and waited for serendipity to work its magic)

    What the heck, I’ll answer the other questions too…

    4. Tools – Read these books; 80/20 Principle. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Good to Great. Those cover attitudes. Other than that; PEOPLE and relationships. Those are your tools. Be trustworthy, reliable and consistent.

    5. Influencers – Here’s my approach to influencers. I’m never wondering what I can ‘get’ from them. Always try to figure out (even though they may be ‘above’) what YOU can do to help THEM. There’s always something if you look hard enough. Never try to force them to get your attention. EARN their attention through listening, helping, being consistent and work your way onto their radar.

    And ultimately, I choose people to connect (like Wil Reynolds) who could ALSO be a friend. I would actually want to hang out with him. Be excited about who you choose to connect with. For every ‘influencer’ I’d ever care to connect with, there’s 20 (who might very well be able to help me) who I am not excited about connecting with so I don’t.

    6. Broad or Niche – I do think having at least a broad MINDSET is important, even if not having the broad experience. Develop direct experiential skills in a niche or two, but learn intellectually broadly.

    For example, my skill is SEO – but am constantly reading/listening to marketing blogs, podcasts etc.

    7. Alex – you nailed this answer. I have nothing else to add … now go start that blog!!

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