By Stephanie Stahl published April 23, 2020 Est Read Time: 10 min

How We’re Navigating the New Now of Content Marketing

I expected to talk with many of you in person this week at our ContentTECH Summit in beautiful San Diego. However, for the health and safety of our attendees, sponsors, and team members, we made a swift decision to postpone the event until August and are hard at work on virtual elements. Not long after, stay-at-home orders issued first in California and then in most other states made in-person events of all kinds impossible in the short term and uncertain in the longer term.

Nearly every person and every organization is experiencing upheaval due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Charles Dickens’ classic line from A Tale of Two Cities echoes in my mind: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

I appreciate the time with my college-age children and my spouse. But I miss the ability to hug and socialize with friends and extended family. Stories of people who have easily recovered from the virus bring a sigh of relief. But stories of others who haven’t are gut-wrenching.

I’m saddened by and worried about the impact of all the businesses that have shuttered. But I’m in awe of the quick switch to new business models some are pulling off to stay afloat, contribute to the effort to contain the virus, or to provide useful services in a safely distanced way.

You’ve probably heard about these short-term pivots:

  • Distilleries making hand sanitizer
  • Digital tours of museums (the International Spy Museum calls theirs “missions”)
  • Clothing companies churning out face masks
  • Restaurants offering outdoor pickup or contactless delivery (including groceries, as well as prepared food)
  • Film studios releasing promising new movies straight to streaming services
  • Cinemas offering curbside movie-theater popcorn
  • Gyms and trainers offering streaming classes
  • Teachers offering lessons to entertain and educate cooped-up kids

Some version of these models will stay in play – at least in part – once we get to the new normal. And new versions will emerge too.

Preparing for the new normal is something the CMI team thinks about every day. We aren’t on the front lines saving lives, delivering food, or keeping the proverbial lights on. But many in our audience work for organizations that are and others are businesses, agencies, and solo practices that are looking for ways to keep serving customers, care for employees, and prepare for what comes next.

Preparing for the new normal is something the @cmicontent team thinks about every day, says @EditorStahl. Click To Tweet

So, instead of trading ideas with a small set of you in San Diego, I hope we can do it here. I’ll share some steps we’ve taken to adjust (and some we’re planning) and I hope you’ll share the steps you’re taking or how we can help your organization by posting in the comments or sending an email.

Take it (even more) virtual

With a fully remote team and a healthy set of online events and training in place before the pandemic, we’re no strangers to virtual work. But, like many organizations, we’re doubling down now. Here are a few changes we’ve made for our audience, sponsors, and team.

Expand digital components of live events

As I mentioned, we moved ContentTECH Summit to August in the hope that stay-at-home orders and corporate travel restrictions would be safely eased by then. But we’re still thinking strategically about virtual elements to complement both ContentTECH Summit and Content Marketing World in October.

Here’s why: Even if people can travel, available budgets might not allow it. And plenty of people will still feel concerned about mixing with others in person. We’re exploring digital add-ons to the events to open the experience to our whole audience regardless of their willingness or ability to travel.

Digital add-ons to future in-person #events can open the experience to our whole audience, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

This isn’t new territory for us. We’ve always offered virtual elements (on-demand video of conference sessions and livestreamed interviews from the CMWorld expo hall, for example). But we’re pushing ourselves to think creatively and strategically about new virtual experiences to offer in conjunction with the in-person event. We’ve received some great ideas from our speaker community, and we’d love to hear your ideas as well.

Add new virtual content

Adapting to the current situation has pushed us to add more virtual-learning opportunities. In addition to the webinars we regularly run nearly every Wednesday, we now offer occasional 30-minute Tech Talks on Fridays. Recent topics include ideas for pivoting content marketing during the coronavirus disruption and preparing for the new normal. You can see the list of upcoming Wednesday and Friday webinars here. They are free and, if you can’t watch them live, catch them on demand.

Change the way we work

I don’t just mean working remotely (that’s not a change for the CMI staff, we’ve always been a remote team). We’re re-examining all kinds of practices, policies, and procedures to help our community and our teammates work in this new world.

Step back and step up

As headlines became more dire, schools and workplaces closed, and everyday life became nearly unrecognizable in mid-March, CMI (like many of your organizations) pulled back from our typical marketing. We weren’t open to marketing messages given the immediate pressures and distractions and we knew our audiences weren’t interested either. We suspended any promotions related to in-person events.

But we also knew many in our audience still were looking for answers to work-related questions while trying to balance new personal pressures. So instead of pulling back from social and blog content, we changed it up.

Instead of pulling back from #social and #blog content, @cmicontent shook up the calendar, says @EditorStahl. Click To Tweet

We quickly set up #CMWorld Twitter Chats every weekday during the week of March 16 to give the community a chance to trade ideas and tips on adjusting to the coronavirus disruptions. Topics included:

Community Manager Monina Wagner also hosted a virtual coffee break on Zoom that week, inviting people to meet, relax, and talk about things not necessarily related to COVID-19 (although, as you probably could guess, talk turned that direction and that was OK).

The editorial team shook up the blog content calendar, mixing in new articles for shifting content marketing concerns. Here are a few highlights:

They also quickly brought back previously published posts whose topics are extremely relevant now, including:

We also decided to make the on-demand videos for some of the most popular and helpful speaker sessions from Content Marketing World 2019 available to everyone for free. Check out the full playlist, or dive right in to Andy Crestodina’s presentation here:

Acknowledge uncertainty

As much as we work to help our audience find answers, we also realize that everything is changing quickly.

We’ve worked to remove the risk of committing dollars and time to our events by relaxing the refund policy for our 2020 in-person events. (You can read the details on the FAQ pages for ContentTECH Summit and CMWorld.)

Content Marketing University has abandoned its quarterly enrollment periods in favor of open enrollment through the end of the year. That way, people can sign up and dive in whenever they have the need (and budget) for training.

Pull the team together (at a safe distance)

Though we’re experienced remote workers, the discomfort, distraction, and anxiety from all the changes to our personal and business lives is inescapable. To help each other stay close and focused as a team, we’ve started a few new practices.

Every Monday, we use our Microsoft Teams space as a place for NETMA (Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything) posts, an idea based on a practice at a former job of Cathy McPhillips, our vice president of marketing. Each team member posts something they’re excited about working on, something others might not know about that they’re doing, or something they might need help with. Now everybody knows (almost) everything happening at CMI.

We try to mix in a personal element, too. Some weeks we share something interesting we’ve read, watched, or listened to. Some weeks it’s photos of our workspaces or favorite coffee mugs.

 

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Pets make frequent appearances. Shared photos from neighborhood walks and out-the-window views help us feel like – yep – we’re all in this together, even though we’re physically apart.

We even created and sent a team puzzle to everyone’s home, then shared the completed puzzles of our own smiling faces.

 

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I’m thankful for the great team I work with every day in the best of times and the worst of times.

Try something, aim for the right thing

I’ve said, more than once, we at CMI don’t have all the answers for today’s marketing professionals. No one does. Yet none of us (and by us, I mean brands and institutions) have the luxury of standing back.

Consider the results of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic:

  • 65% of consumers surveyed agree that how well a brand responds to the crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood to buy that brand in the future.
  • 71% agree brands and companies they see placing profits before people during this crisis will lose their trust forever.
  • 65% agree that hearing from brands they use about what they are doing to respond to the pandemic is comforting (though another 37% said that type of communication is just adding to their anxiety and concern).
71% agree brands and companies placing profits before people during this #crisis will lose their trust forever, according to @EdelmanPR via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Keep in mind, Edelman fielded the international survey during the week of March 23-26, 2020. The 12,000 who responded that week might say something different this week. Still, that’s a powerful snapshot of the expectations people are placing on the organizations they interact with.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to adapt, pivot, create, or what you’ve seen others (locally or globally) do that impressed you. Please share your thoughts in the comments or send them to me via email. I’d love to see your pet photos and neighborhood scenery as well.

Stay connected with us to get a mix of content marketing advice, help, and insight to help you and your brands weather this short- and long-term new normal. Subscribe to the newsletter. Join us at noon U.S. EDT Tuesdays for #CMWorld Twitter chats. And browse the list of COVID-19 resources for content marketers we’ve created and compiled. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Stephanie Stahl

As General Manager of CMI, Stephanie leads the brand’s event, digital, print, and e-learning operations. Previously, Stephanie served as VP of Content Marketing for UBM’s Technology portfolio, providing strategic guidance on content development, content optimization, audience engagement, and go-to-market platforms for technology clients. Stephanie also spent many years as Editor in Chief of InformationWeek. Find Stephanie on Twitter @editorstahl and LinkedIn.

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