News & Opinion

Content Rules Interview with Phil Gerbyshak

June 01, 2011


Earlier this year, I passed on a copy of Content Rules to friend of the company and all-around awesome fellow Phil Gerbyshak. And, being the good friend that he is—and proving that content does, in fact, rule—he returned the favor by giving us a review of the book when he was done with it. But Phil didn't stop there, he went out and got an interview with the authors and gave that to us, too.

Earlier this year, I passed on a copy of Content Rules to friend of the company and all-around awesome fellow Phil Gerbyshak. And, being the good friend that he is—and proving that content does, in fact, rule—he returned the favor by giving us a review of the book when he was done with it. But Phil didn't stop there, he went out and got an interview with the authors and gave that to us, too.

I'd like to thank the authors for doing it and Phil himself for passing it on, and without further ado, here is that interview with Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, authors of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, eBooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Busine.

Phil: Why does "content rule?"

Ann: There are lots of reasons.... like:

1. The "rules" of Marketing and PR have changed, and 2. Technology has enabled all of us to easily publish web sites and webinars and videos and blogs and so on on the web; and 3. Your customers are looking for you online. They are Googling their purchases; they are surveying their social networks before they make buying decisions.

But the key thing is this: Content is the best thing a brand, company, individual, church, rock band or any organization can use to tell their story. Why is that? Because what you say and how you say it is a key way to differentiate yourself. You aren't like everyone else, right? So why sound like everyone else in the way you communicate your core value to your potential audience?

C.C.: This isn't something new even though I feel like our book has reminded people of the fact. Since the first caveman drew on the walls of the cave people have been excited by content. Anyone can create content for their company, but the challenge is creating compelling content that stands out from the masses.

Let's face it, the Internet is a constant fire hose of information unlike we've ever seen. Add to that newspapers, magazines, television and every other input we get during the day and we are buried in content. The trick is somehow making your content break through that and reach the people you hope to turn into customers.

Phil: How much time does it take to do content right?

Ann: I wish I could offer something definitive here, and say YOU CAN CREATE AMAZING CONTENT IN 30 MINUTES A DAY! (But wait - there's more! If you act now I'll throw in a SECOND Ginsu knife... absolutely free!)

I'm kidding.. of course. That's a hard question—there's no magic answer to that question. I'd say "how much time on a regular basis can you commit sustainably?" Because content is not a one-off; you'll need to make a long-term commitment. So what can you spare on a consistent, regular basis?

C.C.: If only it was as easy as punching a time clock. The truth is that it takes longer than you think. Most people skip right to the creating without thinking about the strategy or the "why" of creating the content. That part can take longer than most people think. After that it depends on what you are creating. A simple blog post could be done over your morning coffee, but a how to video is going to take much longer.

Your level of perfectionism will have the greatest effect on your time table. If you are constantly nitpicking and editing something you've written it is going to take much longer than if you just post it and see what comes.

Phil: Is there anyone who can't benefit from a strong content strategy?

Ann: Hmm. I would say no. But then again, I don't believe in absolutes (except perhaps when it comes to love). ; )

C.C. Absolutely no one.

Phil: What's the one thing people don't realize about content?

Ann: That quality matters way more than quantity. So often I see blogs that are updated regularly, but they are boring pabulum without any joy in them. That's a crying shame to me, because it's a missed opportunity. I'd rather see a really great piece of blog that's updated irregularly than I would a blog fed daily with the equivalent of Marketing Gruel.

C.C. That it isn't a numbers game. Yes, the bigger your audience the better in some cases, but I'd argue that I'd rather have 100 people read my eBook that have a high chance of buying my product than 1,000 casual readers who will never come back. It is the age old quality over quantity argument.

The other thing that everyone seems to forget is that this is a long term play. Content is something you need to be creating and keep on creating. We talk about "stoking the campfire" and it is so true. You might have something flame up in a blaze of glory attention, but it is going to burn out and fade away just as fast. You have to keep creating and be smart about it so that it integrates into all other aspects of your business. This isn't something that sits off on the side and is done on it's own.

Phil: Who are your favorite examples of companies who do content right?

Ann: Open View Ventures—a VC company right here in Boston (where C.C. and I live) has an amazing blog with really good, insightful content.

Also great: Workshifiting, which is published by Citrix.

Also amazing:, a site published by Roberts & Durkee, a Florida law firm, to help people struggling with health issues resulting from living in houses with toxic imported drywall.

All of these examples are particularly good because they focus on one of our key content rules: Share or solve, don't shill. They share resources and solve problems for their customers and would-be clients, they don't sell. They put Content Before Contact.

C.C.: The one that just this week caught my attention again is Google. Most people don't know that they have a speakers series called Talks@Google and they always video tape them and put them online. But, in March Lady GaGa spoke there and this introduction video they made for her talk really blew me away because it takes all the things that make Google what it is and reimagined it into this great introduction. I showed it to my kids and while rocking out they said, "I didn't know Google did all of this."

At the other end of the budget spectrum is Heyday Footwear here in Boston. They are a small business, but they don't look it and have been active on Twitter and producing an ongoing video series with the owner as the host. They are a shining example of how a small business can and should be leveraging content.

Phil: If someone wants to get started doing content, what's the FIRST thing they need to understand?

Ann: WHY they are doing it. What's the purpose? What are you hoping to achieve? Content for content's sake is awesome if you are a novelist; not so great if you are business.

C.C.: That they can't do it all. Figure out what you are good at and enjoying creating and then play to that strength. Get as good as you can at that and focus on that. You can always expand later, but if you try to do everything at once it is not going to work. Plus, PLEASE answer the question of why you are wanting to do this? Just going out blind is not going to help your bottom line.

Phil: What are 3 things a business needs to ask themselves about creating their content strategy?

Ann: 1. Again, first and foremost: WHY are you—as a business—doing what you are doing? Why are you publishing what you want to publish? What goal are you trying to achieve?

2. Then: WHO are you trying to reach? Where are they? Are they online? Are they on Facebook? LinkedIn? Or are they primarily offline?

3. And finally: WHAT can we publish that they will find both useful and enjoyable? What problems can we solve for them? What resources can we share? And how should we go about that? How do we create stuff they've love and appreciate in a sustainable manner?

C.C.: Why do we want to do this?

How is this going to save us money or make us more money?

Are we committed to this for the long term?

Phil: Anything else that you want to share?

Ann: Final thought: When it comes to content, play to your strengths. Don't try to be all things to all people, but pick your niche and audience, pick how to communicate with that niche, and build your Content from there. You have to love what you are creating—otherwise it'll fail.

And also: A personal plea: I started my career as a journalist, and those who are trained in journalism often make awesome content creators, and a lot of them are looking for jobs right now. Some companies—like Eloqua, here in Boston—have hired Corporate Journalists to create content for them. And I encourage any company who can afford it to follow a similar route, even on a contract or part-time basis. Journalists know how to write, they have a passion for creating content, and (more importantly) they have a nose for a story. So if you feel like you need help—try your local college journalism program graduates, or former journalists. C.C. Never forget to have fun with this. People forget that it is fun to create content and I always like to remind people. You are not Spielberg or Hemingway and probably never will be so stop getting stressed over if what you created is perfect. ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of Marketing Profs, a rich and trusted resource that offers actionable know-how to its 365,000 subscribers. As a thought leader and writer with a passion for good content, she writes and blogs extensively about online business, marketing, and sometimes just life.

C.C. Chapman is a media creator, entrepreneur, and online marketing expert. He recently launched—a site where a dad can be a guy—to serve as a cornerstone of the online parenting space.

You can learn more at


Phil Gerbyshak is Marketing Technology Strategist for Turning Minds. He works with small businesses to increase employee & customer engagement (and profits) by teaching them to tell their stories more clearly inside and outside their organization, using the right tools to the right audience. It's really not about the tools; it's all about the conversations you participate in and the connections you create and cultivate.

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