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Published in Content Marketing category on (09/22/2015)

Joe Pulizzi Shares the Secrets of Content Marketing World Success: Interview #1 in the Making Rain with Events Series

joe pulizzi


Great event experiences that generate industry excitement don’t just happen by accident. It takes brilliant strategy and many months of planning to deliver a truly successful event. Last week, I attended Content Marketing World with Lynn Langmade, Certain’s Director of Content Marketing, in Cleveland, Ohio, along with 3,500 other marketers from over 50 countries. We wanted to get a firsthand look at a marketing event that has built a very strong reputation over the last few years. That wasn’t the only reason, of course. We also wanted to learn from some of the best content marketers in the world, discover best practices in sales and marketing alignment, and be entertained by some great keynotes. Most importantly, we were just looking to make some great connections with new friends and old.

(If you missed Content Marketing World 2015, you can learn about 3 key content trends at #CMWorld and more in Certain’s awesome recap post.)

I think I can speak on behalf of both Lynn and myself and say that the event delivered on all of those expectations and more. Beyond the phenomenal event experience itself, I also had the pleasure of reconnecting with Joe Pulizzi, CEO of the Content Marketing Institute, just a few days after the event for a podcast interview. We had a lot of fun talking about what he thought worked best at this year’s event, where he hopes to improve, and how he works to create community and a great experience above all else.

Based on the topics the audience showed the most interest in and engaged with the most, we went on to discuss the connection between content marketing and events–both delivering events as a piece of epic content as well as leveraging those event investments to inform the strategy for the rest of the year. Finally we looked at how the 6-step model in his new book, Content Inc., could be applied to event marketing.

Scott Ingram: Talk about just how significant Content Marketing World is in the scope of CMI

Joe Pulizzi: It is our main revenue generator. There’s no doubt about it. Obviously, in the new book, I talk a lot about how we built the business model behind Content Marketing Institute, and it was the blog. The blog built the initial audience, there’s no doubt about that. We did that for three and a half years before we launched anything else. Built that loyal audience over time and then made the decision, if we’re going to create this business media model, which I had quite a bit of history with as you know coming from Penton Media and understanding business publishing. I really believe in the three legs of the stool. You have the leading platform when it comes to digital–that’s the blog. The print platform, which I still think is incredibly important, and that’s Chief Content Officer Magazine. And the event: Content Marketing World. That is our core event, even though we do a number of events. We do a number of virtual events and other physical events. Content Marketing World is our pinnacle event, where our community gets together every year and shares experiences and challenges. It is by far the most important thing we do from a business model standpoint.

SI: How do you measure its success?

JP: Most importantly, financially. Content Marketing World will be over a $5 Million event this year. 70% of those revenues come through registrations and 30% comes through sponsorship. We’ve kept that ratio for the past 5 years. That’s very very important. I always believe that (you have to) have that kind of a model, of a breakdown. I’ve been to a lot of events that are–let’s say 70-80% sponsor-driven. You feel almost like you have to be beholden to them and you have to change the content because of the sponsors. The good thing about Content Marketing World is we don’t have to do that. If there’s a sponsor that simply wants too much, they want their own speaking gig, or they want too much say in the programming,e just say “I’m sorry, we just can’t do that. We’re really looking out for the experiences of our attendees, and that’s the most important thing.” We say, if the experience of the attendee is not first rate, then you, as a sponsor, will not benefit, and we’ve been saying that for the last five years. I love that ratio. I think that more events need to have that kind of a ratio, instead of focusing solely on sponsorship,which I think is a losing proposition for most companies.

SI: You could feel it. The integrity of the event was so strong. The other thing that I like that you did, this helps not only the sponsors but also the attendees, you gave the event room to breathe. You opened it up and there was definitely space between sessions and you weren’t just session to session to session to session with never an opportunity to connect and interact whether it be with other attendees or with the sponsors and I thought you did a really great job.

JP: That’s good to hear that, Scott, because I actually think we need more room to breathe. I think that we could probably extend some breaks by 15 minutes. Especially now that sometimes you have to walk a little bit. Now most people think it’s all about the education. And by the way, education and the training and the conference sessions are critically important. But the number one reason why people go is the networking. They want to meet people that are in the same position they are. They want to meet people that are having the same challenges that they are. They want those types of experiences, and that’s what I love the best is when you have our return attendees that come back. It’s like a homecoming. They love getting together. They love meeting. That’s maybe the best thing about what’s going on with the event right now. Even though it’s grown from 600 in the first year and now 3500. You get people that come back to me and say Yes, it’s a big event, but I still get to go and see all of my friends again and still get to communicate with them and meet them. That’s the one time they get to meet the others they’ve been meeting, and have these great friendships and relationships with over the last couple of years. That’s a hard, hard thing to do, but I think you have to create that space in between. Whether that’s after the keynotes, you have 45 minutes or an hour of breaks or in between the sessions or the lunch and learns and other things, they can actually spend some time networking, which is critically important.

(Click on the podcast link above to hear the rest of the interview with Joe and get more tips on how to make your next event successful.)

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