By Joe Pulizzi published March 8, 2014

Stop Building Your Branded Content on “Rented Land”

pnr-this old marketing logoPNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

This week, Robert and I discuss the LinkedIn job bank fiasco, and debate whether or not agencies really can do content marketing well. In addition, we explain our thoughts on whether or not marketers should publish branded content on platforms they don’t own, and offer some critical reviews of Facebook’s algorithm changes. Lastly, we explore this week’s #thisoldmarketing example: Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles.

This week’s show

(Recorded live on March 3, 2014; Length: 56:44)

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Show overview

1. Content Marketing in the News

  • LinkedIn Announces Member Blocking (7:00): Robert and I explore LinkedIn’s announcement of new functionalities that allow users to block members and provide a number of additional privacy tools (contributing article: LinkedIn).
  • Is Native Advertising Misleading Readers? (9:30): Guardian columnist Bob Garfield takes native advertising to task. Robert and I ask ourselves whether he’s just ranting or if there are actually viable solutions out there? (contributing article: The Guardian).
  • Can Agencies Handle Content Marketing? (14:24): We explore a three-article bonanza on things that progressive agencies are doing to produce epic content marketing — and the things that brands need to keep in mind when working with agencies (contributing articles: Digiday on why brands are cutting out agencies; AdvertisingAge on myths about in-house creatives; Digiday on whether agencies are equipped to do content marketing).
  • Miracle-Gro Launches Content Site on Growing (21:50): Scotts’ Miracle-Gro launched a fantastic content “campaign” called Grow Something Greater. Robert and I discuss our thoughts on whether or not we think it’s built to last (contributing article: The New York Times).


  • Why We Shouldn’t Build Branded Content on “Rented Land” (28:20): Robert and I discuss a profound article by John Battelle on why brands should not give in to publishing on the likes of Facebook (contributing article: Battelle Media).
  • The Future of Journalism Education (35:16): We share our conclusions on why the direction that journalism education seems to be headed may provide great opportunities for brands (contributing article: Poynter). On a related note, the future of content marketing education got a bit stronger this week, with the launch of CMI’s new Training and Certification program. Find out how you can access free classes here.
  • The Coming Boom in News Media (39:40): Investor and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen believes that the future of news content creation has never been stronger (contributing site: Wired).
  • Why Facebook Is More Like Verizon Than Google (42:28):Youtility author (and friend of CMI) Jay Baer theorizes that Facebook is turning into Verizon, and explains how Google, Facebook, and Amazon are splitting up the web world (contributing site: Convince and Convert).


2. Rants & Raves (45:17)

  • Joe’s Rant: I discuss why some B2B companies need to get out of the dark ages, and conquer their fear of the “competition” seeing their content.
  • Robert’s Rant: In addition, Robert rants about the thinking that content marketing can be automated, from both content curation and content creation standpoints.

3. This Old Marketing Example of the Week (51:30)

  • Patagonia: The Footprint Chronicles: The Footprint Chronicles examines Patagonia’s life and habits as a company. The goal is to use transparency about our supply chain to help us reduce our adverse social and environmental impacts and on an industrial scale. We’ve been in business long enough to know that when we can reduce or eliminate a harm, other businesses will be eager to follow suit.”

For a full list of the PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Brian Clark

    Glad to see you guys join the chorus against “rented land.” And Battelle’s articles certainly help, although I don’t know how “profound” the thoughts are.

    Nicholas Carr warned against the practice and coined the term “digital sharecropping” in December of 2006. In 2011, Sonia Simone wrote a hugely popular article on Copyblogger that solidified the label and the warning, and this was well before Facebook pulled the switch on the biggest bait and switch in Internet history.

    That said, you still have people out there who don’t see the problem with building on land they don’t own or control. I think the key point is — real publishers and media companies wouldn’t do that. End of story.

    • Hashim Warren

      Brian, what do you think about Gary Vaynerchuk’s take on this?

      My former boss helped change my mind about the value of building on rented land. Gary says the value isn’t in the channel or the content, which he says is a commodity.

      The value is the context. And by context Gary means the relationship you build with a customer. The know, like, and trust you gain through your blog, or Facebook, or anywhere is platform agnostic and transferable.

      Look at Danny Sullivan who left his original company and their popular blog some years ago. The authority he gained transferred to another site.

      What do think?

      • Brian Clark

        Hey Hashim, good to see you here.

        Danny Sullivan was an employee when Incisive Media bought SEW and SES. They wouldn’t pay him what he thought he was worth, so he left and started his own media company on his own land (literally Search Engine Land and Marketing Land) and also a bigger and better conference (SMX).

        Lesson # 1: Danny didn’t like being subject to someone else’s control, so he put himself in a position where he was in control. Perfect example of what we’re talking about here.

        Lesson # 2. Danny didn’t start a Facebook page to launch a new search conference. He build his own media hubs which he controls and makes money from independently of the conferences. He then uses all social media outposts to point traffic back to his media properties, providing all the context anyone needs while leaving him in creative and economic control.

        Thanks for the great example, Hashim. Everything you said before that didn’t really support it, though.

        • Hashim Warren

          Brian, I chose Danny because the first example was rented land and it shows that his authority, his audience, the good will he built transferred over.

          (though I thought he was some type of co-owner at the first business)

          I hope one day you and Gary can share the same stage or the same podcast mic so we can see the differences in philosophy clearly defined

          • Joe Pulizzi

            Great conversation guys. Hashim…I guess my take is this…there is nothing wrong with building a following on other channels – getting into conversation, sharing articles, etc. For example, I publish regularly on LinkedIn because I’m using it to attract new subscribers…that will hopefully ultimately subscribed to our owned content. Same for guest blogging…it’s an amazing opportunity if you choose right…but at the end of the day, we need a center of gravity to call home.

            I think the point is…using all the relevant channels to build your following is great (as GaryVee says), but if we only build there and don’t have anything to call our own, we have no control. Look what Facebook did to brands investing in that platform. Now they are all forced to advertise. What a shame.

          • Jeff Korhan

            There’s a quote from the film Wall Street: “I create nothing. I own.” Mark Zuckerberg is Gordon Gekko. And yes, it is a shame. Happy my shares of FB are doing nicely, but the ride just cannot last. Agree with you Joe that Google should capitalize on the opportunity.

          • Joe Pulizzi

            Love it Jeff. Thanks!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love it Brian….and we should have mentioned Sonia’s post. I love that one. You are right…a media company would never, ever do that…no asset, no control.

  • Pat Graham-Block

    I cannot count how many platforms I have participated in only to have them go out of business or their site crashes and they never build it again. Never again.

  • Hashim Warren

    This episode was so good I took notes and listened twice. I love the examples given.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Hashim. Love it!

  • davanna

    I need help! Please give me some advice! Background: I just got hired for a administrative assistant position supporting a small business sales team. I am very happy with this position. My problem is that I have experience writing content (blog posts, website content) and doing the social media for another small business in my previous job. I know a little tiny bit about SEO copywriting; mostly as it applies to writing mostly blog posts and press releases for local small businesses to rank on specific local searches — something I did successfully in my previous job. I consider myself a writer first and foremost. Quite frankly, I was not able to find work locally as a copywriter, so I decided to take this administrative assistant position because I need a job. Here’s my problem: My current employer knows I have this experience. They want me “turn on marketing” as you describe in your rant. And they want me to do this while acting as support staff for the sales team. In other words, they want me to do brilliant content initiating and marketing, while at the same time providing solid support in an administrative capacity for the sales team. My head is on fire about this because I know enough about marketing to know that to do good, quality content that connects with your target audience you have put time and effort into it. You have to strategize, you have to research, you have to write blogs, white papers, ebooks (or whatever content is called for), decide where to put this content, and where to push your content in a focused, coherent way through your social media channels. How can I tell them that what they want me to do is basically impossible given the limitations of time and resources? And tell them this without getting fired because I am essentially refusing to do what they want me to do? If I could just find a way to explain this to my boss without seeming like a refusenik or uncooperative. Can you help me? Please? I just started this job so I do not have a good enough relationship with the head honcho to allow me to just be totally frank. I’m afraid of losing my job over this. Thank you for any help you can give me!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Davanna…I wish I could be more help to you. I would just make sure that the expectations are clear with what they want you to do, and what the overall goal is of the content they want you to create BEFORE doing anything.

      • davanna

        Thank you, Joe. It turns out that I won’t be working for them, after all. I wasn’t able to communicate to them the fact that what they wanted me to do is a major undertaking that would take me away from the job that I was actually hired to do. I came across as uncooperative, and so they just showed me the door. I don’t want to shift blame for what happened, but basically they hired me for one thing, wanted me to do something else when they realized that I had other capabilities — and this was just a demand, really. There was never any negotiation or discussion about what was expected of me in the newer role. I’m not sure I handled it all that well, but some situations are just bad from the get-go. Thank you so much for your kind response.

  • Louis Gudema

    Through comments in a Twitter chat I set off a conversation on this topic on, so I thought I’d chime in with my thoughts here, too…

    I can well understand the almost unanimous position that we should bebuilding “on our own land”. The recent case of Facebook throttling back visibility of content of brand pages in new feeds is a good example of why (although I don’t understand why brands thought they’d have a free ride forever). And I did once have a page with a small, nascent following inexplicably deleted by Facebook. That said…

    I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. The New York Times, which has
    built it’s own property and could have just elected to have all of their online engagement there, has a FB page with over 5M followers. CNN has over 8M. Large brands like Starbucks (36M) and Coca Cola (80M) similarly have staked a claim on FB. And B2B brands like Cisco (1M+ across all of their FB accounts). Why? Because that’s where the people are. And we’re on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Pinterest, and on and on.

    So if I comment or share something on LinkedIn, there’s the possibility of 1,000+ people that I’m connected to seeing it, and with that I’m helping build
    awareness of that brand and that community — and my own brand. And tens
    of thousands of others in the LinkedIn group may see it, and me. If I
    comment on something here, far fewer people will see it.

    Bob Johnson at IDG Connect wrote a recent piece called “Connecting Conversations to Content: How to Drive Engagement through Social Media 2014”. According to his survey of IT decision makers, they used FB more than any other social media site when researching and buying — 2-3 times more than analyst blogs, and more even, than Google search. (This surprised me — we’re talking IT buyers, not music fans!)

    Back to the NYTimes: The New York Times has 760,000 paying digital subscribers and 950,000 print subscribers with access to digital. But it has those 5M FB followers and over 11M Twitter followers. If it stuck to a “only on my own property” philosophy, it would miss out on reaching a lot of people.

    Finally, we have seen good portability between properties. When Nick Bilton or
    Nate Silver leave the Times, people follow them to their new digs. In the virtual world, where any “property” is just a click away, the “build on your own land” requirement may not be as important as it is in the physical world (it may not even be a very apt metaphor). Sheryl Sandberg wouldn’t lose her following if she left Facebook, people will follow Oprah anywhere, and Lady Gaga. But you don’t have to be as big as those names. The people who really care about interacting with you will move.

    Fortunately we’re not an either/or situation. We are in an omni-channel world. We
    should probably have both. I have my own property, a blog (, and am active on FB, Twitter, LI, other blogs, etc. — in part to drive traffic to my blog, and in part for the interactions and branding from
    being there.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Louis…I definitely agree with you. The issue is with those brands that don’t have an owned presence. The ones you noted do. So yes, leverage all the other channels to build fans and followers, but make sure you have an owned strategy as part of that first…because you can’t count on the connections someone else owns.

      Really appreciate you chiming in.

      • Louis Gudema

        Yes, my point in mentioning NYT, etc., was that even companies that already have large owned presences are using “rented” land, too, although they could easily ignore the social media channels. So we smaller fry should take advantage of all options, too.

  • Dr. Anthony C. Edwards

    I’ve considered both sides of this argument. Ultimately, I think that @juntajoe:disqus and @disqus_TSgO4BZJXY:disqus are right about this. The reality for many brands starting out now is that audience building is hard (but worthwhile) work. It’s easy to get distracted when you receive more engagement on rented land than owned land. It’s also easy to focus on social media metrics independent of business metrics. I’ve been guilty of both at times. Focusing on content marketing takes courage because the results may take a long time to see the benefits. It’s kind of like growing your own fruits and vegetables versus buying them from the grocery store. For some, a website or blog is a “thing” and not an asset. If successful, they can generate revenue just like land or a building. The challenge is creating content that is so good that people will leave social media and engage with you on “owned land.” I think it’s important to engage on social media as traditional search declines, but I must remind myself that the number of followers or fans isn’t the ultimate goal.

  • Jan Van Haver

    While listening to the podcast in the car today, I remember hearing some quote like “there used to be thousands of markets of millions, now there are millions of markets of thousands” but I can’t seem to find it can anywhere (for correct attribution when using it on my blog). Can anyone tell me more about it?

  • Steve

    To create our own content marketing hub, so we’re not on rented land, what do you recommend as a content marketing platform to build our own site. We don’t want to customize our ecommerce site to handle content. Thanks!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Steve…I can tell you that most build a wordpress blog as their platform.

      • Steve

        Joe, thanks for the reply and the great discussion. We have a WordPress blog. Our IT team mentioned Joomla as a possible option to build the hub. Thoughts?

        • Joe Pulizzi

          Nothing wrong with Joomla, but if you already have wordpress built out, I’m unsure of why you’d need Joomla.