This blog is part of Brandpoint’s ongoing interview series where we talk with content marketing professionals about their career, thoughts on the industry and key advice they’ve learned along the way.
Patty Radford Henderson has had a very interesting and diverse marketing career, spanning from the dot-com boom, working in digital agencies and a couple forays into independent consulting.
She’s currently balancing her second (very successful) solo venture, a book and a SaaS product, as well as making the rounds at a marketing event near you. In our conversation, she shares insights about a three-bucket approach to measuring your content and the best and worst parts about being her own boss.
Nels: Tell me about your current role and how you got there.
Patty: I’m currently working as a marketing consultant at Radford Henderson. Most recently, I had a digital agency called Union Park Marketing, and when my business partner and I decided to go separate ways we each spun off separate consultancies.
I decided to stick with it because I like having that opportunity to work one-on-one with business people and helping them advance their business. It also gave me the opportunity to work on a SaaS product idea I had. And I want to share my methodology for a data-driven content strategy so I’m able to do workshops and I’m writing a book.
[Patty’s SaaS concept is a smart marketing planning calendar that lets marketers map out their content calendars while avoiding the frustrations and inefficiencies of Excel. Patty was kind enough to share an Alpha version of the tool. Click here to check it out.]
N: When did you first realize you were ready to do your own thing?
P: I’ve been an independent consultant a couple different times in my career. The first time, I was at Martin Williams during the dot-com boom and I was in the group that was working on all the interactive projects. It was very exciting because it was kind of like the Wild West — we were all figuring out how to build and redesign websites and things like that. And when the [dot com] bust happened, a lot of our accounts at Martin Williams just went away, so my position as a digital strategist was eliminated.
I was given the opportunity to stay with the company and become somebody just working on traditional business, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to stay digital. So I decided to become an independent consultant so I could continue working in the digital space. I found it exciting and challenging and just knew I wanted to focus my energy there. I also knew the demand wasn’t going to go away and I immediately had projects coming in.
N: You then decided to start Union Park?
Yeah. I think I’ve had something like a dozen jobs in my career and I’ve worked half on the agency side and half on the brand side.
After my last round of independent consulting I had a full-time engagement where I was working with a luxury travel company and when that came to an end I thought, “Do I want to keep consulting? Or do I want to go work for a big brand or another agency?”
And I really wanted to build my own thing because I had seen success growing digital agencies within traditional agencies. I’d had success doing that at Colle + McVoy. I also had success helping to build marketing teams inside big brands and thought I just really want the ability to do it myself and to help clients beyond just consulting with them. I wanted to help them make it happen.
N: What do you love about being your own boss?
P: There is this ability to quickly see an opportunity and go for it — to pivot and make changes.
I also like the idea of the buck stopping here. I can be completely responsible for a project and I can take ownership for it. I can lay everything out on the table for my clients and go over pros and cons. It’s just very clean and efficient and easy to manage that way. Because if there are a lot of internal politics, it can muddy the waters and things can end up taking a lot longer. Sometimes navigating the politics can end up taking more time [than] the work itself and that’s when it’s really, really hard.
N: What is your least favorite part about independent consulting?
P: I don’t like being a new business person and having to chase down new projects. When you’re your own boss, you have to make sure you have work coming, and that’s a part of it I just don’t like.
I like helping people. When they get to the table I can be really good about figuring out a way to help them, whether it’s me or somebody else, or I can just give advice. But I don’t necessarily like being that new-business, chase-‘em-down-type person.
N: So you don’t really like marketing your marketing expertise?
P: Right! Isn’t that crazy? I’d just rather be helping than shilling my business.
I would say the work I get comes through referral. I’ve worked at a lot of different places through my career, so I have a great network of people that I know in the Twin Cities that send people my way. So that’s awesome.
N: How do you define good content and how do you measure it?
P: I think good content needs to support the brand’s position and it needs to drive toward the marketing objectives and business goals of the brand. It’s as simple as that.
N: How do you measure whether those messages are going through?
P: I like to think of measurement in three different buckets.
First, is it helping your brand get discovered? Is it content that is driving traffic to your site because you’ve optimized it for search? Make sure it’s content that’s in demand so people are looking for it and it’s driving people to your site.
Secondly, determine if the content is getting positive engagement. Are you getting people sharing and commenting on your posts? Are they reading your email and forwarding, etc.?
Third is, is it helping you with positioning and credibility? There was a vitamin brand that created a page of content for every nutrient in their vitamin and where that nutrient came from. They hadn’t optimized anything for search and I thought, “No one’s going to read this.” But I looked at that content and thought it was so valuable. So how do you measure that?
You measure that based on the perception of the visitor. They don’t necessarily have to read all of it but they’re left with a feeling that this company did their homework. They must be credible, they must be experts. So in that third bucket, it’s all about how you affect the mindset toward your brand. It didn’t need to be engaged with or pull traffic in. But it was there and it made an impact.
N: What do you think is the most damaging misconception about what content marketing is?
I think a lot of people think about it as the form you fill out to get a white paper. And then you get on this lead-nurturing list for sales.
I actually think about content marketing as synonymous with marketing. Everything you do in marketing involves content. The “About Us” page is important content, the product detail page is content — not just social media and not just lead-gen forms with the white paper.
I’ve been doing content marketing my whole career and content just became a focus. People were so channel focused and not concerned about content for so long. So I’m glad it’s been getting the focus, but to me, it’s always been important.
N: What’s a content marketing tactic you think is overrated?
P: I don’t particularly care for the content that you have to fill out the lead-gen form to receive. I do that all the time and they follow up when I’m not at all ready to buy. I shouldn’t be in your sales funnel, I’m just looking for data. And then you end up having an odd sales experience, which can turn into a negative experience of the brand. I just wanted to check out your content and get to know your brand more.
If I’m interested in buying, I’ll call you. It’s like being approached in a store. If I need help, I’ll find someone. But if I’m just browsing, I don’t really want someone continually interrupting my shopping experience.
If you optimize your content for discovery, building online equity and being seen as an authority on those topics, it far outweighs shoving someone into your sales funnel when they may or may not be ready.
P: Yes! It’s called KWFinder. It’s a keyword research tool and I think it’s great because it pulls in data from all over the place like Google Analytics, Moz, etc. You’re able to get a rating for how hard a keyword is to rank for organically. You’re also able to see the top search engine results and related terms.
I think it’s so invaluable because it’s telling you what content is in demand and how hard it is to rank for that content. It provides phenomenal insight. It’s affordable, too.
N: What else are you working on right now that you’re excited about?
P: I’m working as a fractional CMO for a brand out of Australia. It’s a natural skin care brand and I’m helping them launch in the U.S. and am working on their whole website-launch campaign.
It’s a really great brand and I like the idea of this fractional CMO position. They’re a startup and not able to bring in a senior person full-time so they can keep me on retainer while I’m directing their internal resources and some resources here in the States I’m pulling in as needed.
N: Do you still have time to work on your book and your other projects?
P: Yes. That’s another great part about that model, is that I still have time to keep my other projects rolling at the same time.
N: What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite book, either marketing or otherwise?
P: There are three business books I really like.
One is Traction by Gino Wickman. I’ve always read books on business models and leadership and have been really intrigued in expanding my knowledge in those areas. But I thought Traction was the first real, practical how-to-run-a-business book I got my hands on. The real, simple frameworks it provides are great. And we were running EOS (the business structure on which Traction is based) at Union Park and really liked using that framework.
The other one I always like to recommend to people is called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. It’s about the entrepreneurial myth and why so many startups fail. Every business needs a technician, a manager and an entrepreneur. The technician is doing the work, the manager is running the business and the entrepreneur is the visionary, thinking about where the business needs to go to stay relevant.
I can’t remember the example they give in the book but I always use this one because I have a lot of background in the salon industry:
Let’s say you’re a stylist cutting hair and you’re sick of bringing in all the clients only to give half your money to the owner. So you’re going to go open your own salon. You WERE the technician, but now you’re now the technician, the manager running the business AND you need to be the entrepreneur, understanding how the industry is changing and where your business should go. But maybe you really like cutting hair and don’t like running a business, being the HR person and making policies. And maybe you’re not a visionary and you can’t see where the business should go.
Now, all of a sudden, you’re working for a bad boss (you’re the boss and you’re not good at it), and you don’t have anyone really looking ahead, so the business folds. The book says you really need to find your role and support it with other people. If you want to be a manager, then hire technicians under you. If you’re the visionary, you should eventually hire a manager to actually run the business. Or maybe you decide that you want to just be a technician and focus on being a phenomenal stylist.
I always recommend that book to people who are trying to decide whether or not they should go out on their own and start their own thing because it helps you think through what you really want to do.
The third book is called Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs about the art of persuasion and different forms of argument. It pulls in tactics from Aristotle and things that orators have used for ages. I used one point from that book recently with a client, arguing from a point of strength. I was able to say, “If this works on the top of Mount Everest, surely it’s good enough for here in Minnesota walking to your car.” So being able to say your product works in the most extreme situation is a good point of positioning.
N: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
P: It would have to be that you can’t really control people or circumstances so, at the end of the day, all you can do is be proud of how you handled yourself. And that can be applied in all facets of your life. Life is not easy, work is not easy, having kids is not easy, being married is not easy. There’s a lot that’s tough in life and I think that lesson is a good thing to fall back on.