Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 173: Q&A with Mark Nardone @MarkCNardone

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If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.   The show is less than 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can subscribe right at Sales Pipeline Radio and/or listen to full recordings of past shows everywhere you listen to podcasts! SpotifyiTunes, Blubrry, Google Play, iHeartRADIO, or Stitcher

We were thrilled this last time to talk to Mark Nardone, Executive Vice President at PAN Communications.  We are calling this one “The State of B2B Content: What’s Working, Failing & What’s Next“.

We were honored to partner with PAN Communications on their well known and regarded annual Content Fitness Report. Mark will talk a little bit about where the report came from and discuss key highlights.



The Content Fitness Report contains insights that have the potential to influence decision-making and strategy for marketers across the industry. This year’s survey touched on topics like content integration and executive thought leadership – areas that have continued to influence customers and prospects for both of our agencies. I’m excited I was able to collaborate with PAN as they celebrate six years of delivering consistent, impactful content marketing insights.

Read more about Mark here. Get the free 2019 content Fitness Report HERE.

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Matt:  All right. Well, welcome everybody to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Thanks so much for joining us, as always. If you’re joining us live today on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thank you for making us a part of your work day. Very humbled to have you join us here. If you are joining us on the podcast, thank you for joining us as well. We are well over 100,000 listeners now. You can find us anywhere fine podcasts are available. iTunes Store, Google Play, Stitcher, et cetera. Every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio is always available past, present, and future on salespipelineradio.com.

Each week, we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is absolutely no different. Very excited to have with us Mark Nardone. He’s the executive vice president at PAN Communications, and we’ve been doing some work with them recently on some content research, so excited to talk about that. Mark, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mark:  Hey. Thanks for having me, Matt. Looking forward to a good discussion here.

Matt:  It’s not very often, Mark, that we see people that are at the same company for 20 plus years, but you’re coming up on 25 years at PAN Communications. That’s a long time.

Mark:  Yeah.

Matt:  Congrats.

Mark:  That’s a long time, man. Yeah. Yeah, no. Thanks. I appreciate that. When you’re in an organization as long as I’ve been here, you’ve got to kind of strive to keep changing and evolving, what you’re working on, what you want to work on. I look at those challenges and tackle them. I’ve been fortunate enough working in the business with my brother for 25 years to look differently at what I’m living and breathing here at the agency, and just mix things up a little bit. It keeps you fresh, and keeps you energized. I had a good run.

Matt:  One of my first jobs out of school, I was an intern and a junior person at a PR agency. I’m doing much more pipeline marketing, and not doing as much mark-on these days. Even though I’m not as immersed in that, as you clearly are… Even since the time I was doing this a while ago, the PR world has changed dramatically. Can you talk a little bit about some of the key themes that you’ve seen change in PR, and in marketing communications, especially for B2B? Both from the time you started doing this 25 years ago, as well as just over the last five to 10 years.

Mark:  Yeah, no doubt. I always talk about the evolution of the industry in general. Five or six years ago, as you’re well aware of, we saw the fact that the marketer was going to be faced a little bit more with trying to knock down the silos, and trying to get their teams to integrate and engage more often, and frequently, and collaborate on campaigns, and demand gen activities, and content, and everything else that they are working on consistently.

At the time, we were a pure play PR agency. We started to layer in social, of course, because that was becoming really, really important, so at the core of everything we do is earned. Content marketing started to rear its head a little bit more aggressively around that timeframe. We knew that the marketer was going to be faced with this challenge of skill set internally. Do they have the timeframe? Do they have the headcount to look at silos dropping, and bring in these teams collectively? If they don’t, will there be an opportunity for agencies to come in, in an outsource model, and handle that level of activity for a period of time?

At the time, Gartner had mentioned that that period of time, maybe a year, maybe 18 months. When you go back five or six years, we started the integrated marketing, and PR moved from the agency being pure play PR into more of a well rounded integrated marketing and PR agency. That ricochet never took place. Marketers started to rely on the agencies, and teams, more often for channel optimization across social. How do you move content across all these cool channels? How do you layer paid into that effort? What does analytics look like wrapped around that? Of course, everything that’s been true to what we’ve been doing since the day we started is, how do you tell captivating and compelling stories?

We started to build this agency a little bit differently. We looked at it from the lens of, we’ve got to support the marketer, with their pain point of, maybe a skillset shortage a while ago, and how do we fill the void of that? With regards to them being able to lean on an agency a little bit more aggressively, that never ricocheted back. They still today may be building out a different department and team, but they definitely still integrate and lean on an agency, where it’s more of a collaborative, unified effort. We may handle it from social, they may have a social team. We may handle some content, but we’re reporting into a content marketer. We always are talking to a PR manager. We’re really in sync with everything that’s going on at PR. You know what I mean? It was the integrated approach, not only from services, but from skillset, and partnership is really, really alive and well right now.

Matt:  Talking on Sales Pipeline here today with Mark Nardone. He’s the executive vice president, 24 and a half year veteran, at PAN Communications. Let’s talk a little bit more about content marketing. We were honored you guys came to us at the beginning of this year and asked us to partner on your annual Content Fitness Report. I’ve been following this with you guys for a while. You’ve done a fantastic job of making this sort of real recurring annuity brand in part of PAN. Talk a little bit about where that came from, and what this year’s Content Fitness Report really focuses on.

Mark:  The concept started six years ago, almost seven years ago, where we were talking a lot with marketers. They were significantly challenged back in the day, just even organized content, let alone how do you move the content? How do you start the basis of a really good content marketing program? We started partnering more and more with them on the framework, and it came to the point where we’re like, “You know, it’s time for some surveys.” We’ve worked with marketers like yourself, Matt, for years, that we have a really good network of marketers. We started to launch this, what we called the fitness test. Then moved into the fitness report, once we got the results.

It just became kind of clear that it was a good guide. It was a great area for our peers in the industry, in the marketing industry, to lean into, and look a little bit closer at the data. Hopefully, take some best practices from the data, and put it into motion. No, it brings us pretty much to this year. We had a great response working with you, but we have some really great data that we could kind of glean from. A lot of our clients in general have used it, and started to take some of those best practices. A lot of the prospects we talked to, and some of our colleagues in the industry that we talked to, kind of rely on it a lot. As they kind of look at that mid year point in their calendar, and say, “Hi, is there a time for me to adjust and change, based on some of what we’re seeing in the survey, and feedback from some of our colleagues in the market?” The answer to that is, most likely, yes.

Matt:  For anyone who’s interested, you can get a copy of the 2019 content in this report. You go to a pancommunications.com, you’ll see a link to it right there. Our homepage will have a link to that in the show notes for today’s episode, as well. Let’s dig into some of the results of what we saw in this survey. There were some things that were, I think, sort of resonated with what we’ve seen elsewhere. Things like, when you ask people their top goals for content programs, a lot of respondents talk about brand awareness, and thought leadership made sense. When we asked people what the number one priority for teams was in terms of brand advocacy and trust, customer experience came up. I thought that was really interesting. There were a lot of different options people could choose, but the fact that customer experience bubbled to the top, I thought it was encouraging.

Mark:  I did too. It’s become evident over the last few years that there’s no better trust and advocate than the customer experiences. Solving pain points, and helping to move them to be more loyal customers along their journey. How do you move them into a word of mouth, referral based opportunity for the brand? I think marketers, and content marketers in general, are seeing that as an untapped area for them to pull into their strategy a little bit more aggressively.

We’re seeing it, quite honestly, Matt, and a lot of the clients and prospects we talked to, just based on some of their requests for proposals and approaches. Their number two or three activity they’re looking for is, how do you amplify the customer a little bit more around brand equity building exercises? It doesn’t surprise me that the customer experience seems to be one of the number one areas, but it also supports thought leadership. It supports trust. It supports value, credibility. Everything that may be at the top of the funnel, we’d want to try to enhance a little bit more. That customer’s voice needs to come through that a little bit stronger.

Matt:  When we asked people to tell us what was the number one deterrent in developing programs, especially employee advocacy programs, and let’s talk, maybe it was a two part question for you. You know, first of all, employee advocacy. How does this tie into content marketing? I think some people may wonder about the connection. I’m curious to get your definition of the connection there, but the number one deterrent was seen as lack of company motivation. I wanted to have you unpack that piece as well. Two part question for you.



Mark:  Yup. Definitely, lack of company motivation, in our opinion, is top down. If your executive team, if your leaders aren’t actively engaging in the brand, in the content, have a strong voice and opinion, a vision, or are just in general active out there, then the employees necessarily aren’t going to feel that spirit. In our opinion, it starts with leadership really starting to tackle the challenges of putting out more of the message around the brand, the value prop, and actually supporting the story. When you move over to the employee advocacy side, let’s say that all of a sudden there’s great participation from c-suite and leadership. Oh, it’s not only about, how do you share that content, how do you become a really strong support in your brand advocacy effort as an employee? It’s like find your tone, you know, find your lane. Don’t feel like you just have to replicate everything that’s going out.

We’re trying to work with comm teams, and brands in general, about how do you start to look at leveraging the great platforms that are out there around employee advocacy, and having your employees find their own voice? Comfort level? All of a sudden, that’ll just fuel participation. Some of the simplest things you’d think would be taken care of, the sharing of it, the pace and sharing of it, that you don’t have to flood the content waters out there. Be smart, be personalized, at the way you’re leveraging as an employee, your company’s content. Again, you’ll start to see really a great groundswell of advocacy start to build all around the brand. Not only around customer, not only around influencers, but definitely around employees.

Matt:  You hinted at this. I think we definitely, in some cases, we see an employee reticence to participate. Maybe because they don’t, they’re not confident in their skills. They’re not sure how to do it. They don’t have the tools, or the systems, to make it a recurring habit.

We also see still today plenty of companies that are, I would say, afraid of having their employees actively participate. That maybe don’t trust their employees. That are worried about brand consistency, and message consistency, coming from a smaller number of approved slash trained spokespeople, versus having that be something that is more broad. I certainly saw that in the PR world, where you say, “No one’s talking to the press, except for these two people that have been media trained, and they know our messaging.” Right?

Where now, we have an opportunity where you’re like, “No, we want everybody to write blog posts. We want everyone to be on social. We want to create this community groundswell.” Very different way of thinking about things. Yet I think there are plenty of companies that are still worried about opening Pandora’s box.

Mark:  Missed opportunity. Missed opportunity to really take your brand to another level. This generation that’s in the workforce today grew up on these networks and channels. How do you work collectively as a brand to help them build trust, but also make sure that they feel part of the movement? If you’re not trying to gather that employee spirit a little bit more behind that brand, you’re going to miss a huge opportunity out there, Matt. You’re going to miss an opportunity around talent acquisition. You know, if you look at the labor market that’s going on right now, best asset you should be leveraging is the voice of the employee.

How do you look at the journey that an employee has taken in their career, or they’ve expanded their skillset through really robust training and development that the brand put in place? Or that brand’s become a great best place to work. What a culture. You know, you can’t just shout that from the top down. It’s got to be everybody part of that. I feel like that’s an old school model. That’s a missed opportunity for a brand today. It can be controlled and managed, but you got to let them speak in their voice a little bit more.

Matt:  Amen to that. You think, you know, we trust these employees to have one on one conversations with prospects and customers when we’re not listening, and yet we don’t trust them to communicate their advocacy to the broader world when we aren’t listening. Seems a little potentially hypocritical, but I digress. We got to take a quick break, pay some bills. We’ll be right back with more with Mark Nardone, and we’re going to talk more about the Content Fitness Report. We’re going to be talking about budgets, ROI reporting, and where all this is going. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

*Break*

Matt:  All right, welcome back. We are here on Sales Pipeline Radio today with Mark Nardone. He’s the executive vice president at PAN Communications. Congratulations, as well. You guys just made an acquisition. You probably were before, but you are now officially international office with the acquisition of a London PR firm, so congratulations on that. It’s been fun just knowing you the last few years, Mark, and just watching the growth and success you guys have had. Very well deserved, and fun to watch.

We’re here to talk a little bit more about the 2019 Content Fitness Report. We’ve been talking about it before the break. If you want to get a copy of this, make sure you go to PANCommunications.com. There’ll be a link there on the homepage. We’ll have a link in the show notes for you to get a copy of this, as well. We can talk about brand awareness, and thought leadership, or customer experience, and yeah, that’s all good, but how do we measure that? How do we know that all this investment, whether it’s in money, or whether it’s just in time and resources internally, how do we know this is working? 69% of respondents from our survey said they are not confident in how well they’re able to measure, and even sort of define, ROI from content programs. That seems like a problem, and it seems like a gap. We need to bridge that gap.

Mark:  No question about it. I think the new models that are starting to take place, where you’re seeing the convergence of marketing and sales more aggressively. You talk often about it, Matt, with account based marketing. In the old days, we used to call that a named account strategy. Those are some clear areas where you can see the impact of content flowing through a very targeted, focused approach. Whether it’s segmentation through regions, through audiences to brands. Hopefully, the sales team will definitely point to the value they’re getting out of the style and tone of content that marketing’s driving to them. I think the onslaught of that new strategy that’s looking across sales and marketing helps clarify ROI a little bit more. If you don’t have an ABM strategy, there still is a massive gap in how to feel comfortable and measure the power of your content.

In essence, that’s going to definitely impact your ability to gain more budget, and kind of activity support, as you look into your next few years. I mean, content is the core of everything that goes on around at brand. It’s the storytelling, it’s the engagement. There’s so many things that content supports. When you look at some of the data, I mean, it’s almost like it kind of ricochets up and down. You go back to 2016, 2017, 2018, you’ll look at percentages that, there’s almost 10% to 20% gap up and down. All that speaks to you and I saying is, they’re still not familiar, or they’re still unsure about how to measure this.

The obvious things are going to be traffic patterns. Is your content driving to value pages of the website? Are you seeing great message pull through, and share a voice, share of impact, in the analytics and measurement platforms that you have, that you’re working with your teams on? Sometimes, you don’t have to try to boil the ocean. Maybe you just focus on two or three really great KPIs, so that you start to gain more confidence in your ability to measure the impact of your content. Because sometimes as marketers, we try to do too many things, and maybe measurements following that. We’re diluting the overall value of our content efforts by reaching across so many indicators, rather than focusing on a few.

Matt:  It’d be really great if you could get a little passionate about this, Mark, and just bring a little more energy into the conversation. No, I know you live and breathe this on a daily basis, and I agree with everything you’re saying. I think that sometimes the metrics that are easiest to measure are the metrics that really mattered the least, right? I think that it can be quite elusive, sometimes, to get to the true ROI number. Like, “Okay, I wrote this blog post.” What is it worth, right? Are we investing all this money in content? We’re building thought leadership, but what is that worth?

Mark:  Right.

Matt:  We’ve been investing in these forever as marketers, right? When you hire a PR firm, when you spend money on brand, when you spend money on media training, you are investing in all of this, as well. Sometimes I think, Mark, that there’s a difference between precision and intent, right? It’d be great if we could precisely measure the impact of all of our content, but if we understand its role, and if we can operationalize making decisions and prioritizing work internally, based on achieving those objectives, I think that in and of itself helps point you in the right direction, helps deliver the right results, and gives your organization, including your CFO, confidence, that they understand why you’re prioritizing what you are.

Mark:  Yes, absolutely, and Matt, I think it starts with unifying your teams a little bit more. If PR, in general, if we use this example. If PR and social is siloed from anything that’s going on with demand gen, don’t you think those teams need to be unified, so that they’re seeing the efforts supported on campaigns across all different marketing activities? That at the end of the quarter, or the end of the month, or the end of the year, you’re able to show your c-suite the impact that a campaign made across all of these skill sets and functions? Today, believe it or not, Matt, that’s still broken.

Matt:  Well, it is broken. People say they need more budgets, they need more time, they need expanded skill sets, to make content work more effectively. I mean, some of this also speaks to the cultural change that needs to happen inside some organizations, which is not going to happen in a 30 minute meeting. It’s not going to happen in a budget cycle. Talk a little bit about the customers you see most, I hate to use the word enlightened, but at least the most progressive, in terms of thinking about this? What are the cultural elements that exist internally that they have in common? What are the attributes of the way the organization operates, and thinks about content, and about thought leadership, that makes them most successful at doing this?

Mark:  I’m going to go back to maybe one of the things that I just mentioned earlier with the unifying teams. Looking at them as a whole, rather than as pieces. Bringing them together for ideation, campaign setting, program activation, attribution of those programs. Hey, attribution doesn’t necessarily need to be finger pointing, that, “Oh, my campaign attributed this versus this in revenue.” It just means work together as a team, sharing your successes, and help fix the challenges you’re faced with. We have the luxury of fixing those challenges in real time. Like never before. We can see a campaign may not be performing the way it should be across PR, across social, across some of these other channel activations. We can start to adjust the tone and personalization of that going out to market. There’s no better time than in the moment to try to right ship some of those things.

I feel, Matt, that one of the things we measured in the CFR was skillset of the dynamics and the change that the department of marketing teams are starting to take shape on moving forward. Like identifying somebody that’s just responsible for influencer marketing. Whether it’s paid, organic, whatever it happens to be, that’s what they’re responsible for. Having that person work closely with the head of content marketing, and how do you bring the influencer’s voice in a content marketing strategy? Now, how do you then take that content and move that across PR and social? Different forms, different tones, different channels, different trades, business press. I mean, you can kind of see. I mentioned unifying early on, how that all comes together around storytelling. The more modern enterprises and departments that we’re working with clearly see that. The traditional ones still have a hard time shaping to that direction.



Matt:  Just for a couple more minutes here as we wrap up with Mark Nardone, and talking a lot today about the Content Fitness Report that PAN Communications and Heinz Marketing worked on earlier this year. We’ll make sure you can get a copy of that in the show notes, and you can check that out at PANCommunications.com. Mark, I know that you are also a lifelong student, and are continually reading and learning on the content marketing front. Who are some of the people in the industry today that you spend the most time listening to? That you might recommend other people that are looking to improve their content marketing game should go check out as well?

Mark:  Matt, I’ve been following you for a while. I think the content you produce is exceptional.

Matt:  That was not a plant. I promise.

Mark:  No. Anyway, I’ve been, you and I have been collaborating and following each other for a while. Ann obviously, at MarketingProfs, is always one of the go tos. I appreciate her direction, and her strategy, and her pros, her approach. Brian Solis, another one. I guess it depends on the discipline that we’re talking about here, but I like a lot. Michael Brenner, I mean just really good, sound advice coming from probably the three or four that I just mentioned. They don’t try to oversell. It’s more of a guide, more of a knowledge sharing approach. That’s what I like, like I’m sure you do. I’ve been following them for years. They continue to challenge us as marketers, and improve the way in which we talk to our clients and our prospects about things.

Matt:  Well, we are out of time today, but I want to thank our guest on Sales Pipeline Radio, Mark Nardone. We will make sure that we have links to get a copy of the content of this report’s summary in these show notes, as well as in the replay of this episode that we’ll have up on SalesPipelineRadio.com here in a couple of days. We’ll have a transcript of this conversation available on HeinzMarketing.com in a little over a week. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode. We’ll see you next week on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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