What just happened? Content Marketing World 2014

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Doug Kessler

13. 09. 2014 | 7 min read

What just happened? Content Marketing World 2014

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For a content marketer, a trip to Content Marketing World in Cleveland is like a 6-year-old kid getting a three-day pass to Disneyworld — all rides included plus a free selfie with Mickey & Minnie (Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose in this case — I’ll let you decide which is which).

It’s also kind of dream-like, because, as you walk around, you keep running into people that you ‘know’ — but only through social media. What always shocks me is how like their tiny profile picture everyone looks. I really do recognise them.

Some wags who opted for distinctive social profile photos — making a face like Munch’s ‘The Scream’, for instance – have to confirm it’s really them by mimicking their signature expression every time someone approaches with that ‘Do I know you?’ look. Me, I’ve got big, radiating lines behind my Twitter pic (like the Brasso tin), so I have to do this weird, hand-gesturey thing that probably doesn’t translate to real life at all.

Throw in the people I really, really ought to know but can’t place due to early-onset Face-heimers Syndrome and the whole thing is very much like my bar mitzvah.

Only oranger.  Much, much oranger.

Also like my bar mitzvah — and wedding for that matter – there’s a constant feeling of social overload. A rising sense that, though you’d love to spend an hour with any of a few dozen people you never get a chance to hang out with, you are very probably not going to do that. There are just too many content marketers in one place.

And every 3-6 hours, I cross paths with the Walt Disney of content marketing himself, Joe Pulizzi, in his orange suit and matching tie and shoes (the International Guild of Tailors needs some kind of a malpractice procedure). Whenever I see Joe at his event, I want to say something nice and encouraging and grateful and funny but I also want to leave the guy alone. He and his team work all year to make this happen and I imagine he’s actually tripping his brains out on oxytocin or whatever that happy hormone is. The kindest thing might be to sidle up and say something nasty just as an antidote.

The content

The content of Content Marketing World is content about content. And if you think the preceding sentence is unique in having the word ‘content’ in it four times, you haven’t been to Content Marketing World.

There are streams on content strategy, content discovery, content distribution, content creation, content futures, content process, content ROI and content for demand gen. There are workshops and ‘intensives’ and panels and author Q&As and Industry Labs. It’s the most content-rich content experience in the content world.

But this content marketing thing is not new to me. When I’m not writing about it, I’m reading about it and when I’m not reading about it I’m tweeting about it and when I’m not tweeting about it, I’m re-tweeting about it.

So I confess that I tend to start the first session of the first day feeling a bit jaded. As if I don’t have anything to learn any more. This idiotic assumption is promptly nuked within a few minutes of Andrew Davis’s kick-off session (imagine Jim Carrey but really smart but also on crack). Andrew attacks the folly of the marketing funnel by taking us on a manic odyssey initiated by typing the words ‘meat loaf’ into Google.

And instantly I’m back where I want to be: on the alpine bit of the massive learning curve that is content marketing, right alongside 2,500 fellow climbers.

Andrew is followed by Julie Fleischer, an evil genius employed by Kraft to figure out how, using only content, social media and data analytics, to make each and every one of us consume eight gallons of Miracle Whip a year and love it. This is state-of-the-art content marketing for consumer brands and it’s scary.

julie Fleischer

The keynote sessions alone are worth the trip to Cleveland. Robert Rose gets all evangelical on our asses, urging us to rise up and create value instead of just describing it.  Scott Stratten (imagine Jesus but with an attitude and major tattoo action) brings the house down with what can only be described as a master’s thesis inside a comedy routine within a cage fight.

On stage

But I’m not just here to listen to stuff, I’m also here to perform. Twice.

A last-minute dropout dropped me on to a panel on native advertising, a topic I’ve been kind of vocal about. I think I was the Designated Asshole: the guy shouting foul from the sidelines as the juggernaut of branded content sweeps past. My concerns about native have always been mixed with lots of other emotions, from curiosity to naked greed, but I feel it’s my duty to play my role and whine a bit on about such antiquated ideas as editorial integrity and the separation of church and state.

Unfortunately, the people I really want to question – The New York Times, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal (who, meta-ironically sponsored the stage we were on) weren’t on the panel. I was left sitting next to brilliant marketers from Mashable (Stacy Martinet), Tumblr (Brant McLean) and BuzzFeed (David Spiegel), none of whom can be blamed for the desperation of the ‘legacy masthead’ publishers (thanks Todd Wheatland for that neat phrase). In fact, all three are smart, ethical and articulate. Which kind of undermined my Righteous Indignation strategy, forcing a deft switch to Plan B: Bumbling Sycophancy (fortunately a forté).

The panel is elegantly chaired by Mitch Joel, author of some of the coolest books ever written by an almost ideally bald guy who isn’t Seth Godin. Mitch isn’t just smart and charming and well-prepared. He’s also grinning like a guilty dog because he and his partners recently sold their digital agency, TwistImage, to WPP and are now, presumably, very, very rich. (Bastards).

After the session, I exchange cards with my fellow panelists so I can get my clients in on this native thing while the getting’s good. (Who just whispered ‘Hypocrite’?).

Now it’s time to start stressing about my solo session in the Content Creation stream, “Mastering Tone of Voice”.

The Gods of Scheduling put me dead last, just before Kevin Goddamn Spacey and in the very same time slot as the people I most wanted to go and see (Washer. Handley. Sheridan. Shaeffer. Brenner.) (Sheesh).

The CM Awards session runs long so I’m asked to do my session in 30 minutes instead of 45. Apparently Kevin Spacey cannot be moved from his 4:30 slot.

I offer to have my people call Kevin’s people but then I remember that I have no people.

The time crunch is actually no biggie: I speed up when I get nervous.  Soon, I’ve zipped through my ten tips for managing tone of voice (Tip #8: Avoid Lawyers) and we’re all off to see a real live movie star.

Spacey doesn’t disappoint. He’s done his homework and works hard to connect his stories with our emerging discipline. He’s dressed in a grey suit with a tie he calls orange but is really a pale shadow of CMI orange. He looks like a governor running for president and he kind of talks like one too, emphasising points with choppy hands, impregnating pauses and breaking from the auto-cue for riveting little vignettes of Frank Underwood from House of Cards.

He exchanges banter with Joe P for a while, including doing an impression of him that’s more like Joe Pesci meets Bugs Bunny – then answers some questions.  It’s all good fun and now it’s all over.

Up from the bright orange bowels of the Exhibition Center and out into the blustery Cleveland night. There’s a non-metaphorical hurricane brewing that serves nicely to foreshadow the new world of marketing we’re all marching off to create. And if we’ve learned anything over these 2-3 days it’s that this brave new content-driven world won’t happen if we don’t make it happen.

But it will. Because 2,500 content marketers are on their way back to their desks with a bright orange bug up their arses.


My own personal CMW Awards, from my limited experience:

Best session
Handley on Writing. She wrote it on the plane and still performed a 360-degree slam-dunk and hardly even mentioned her amazing new book.

Best interviewer
Buddy Scalera made the Author Q&As feel like the best TV talk shows. Without the grinning bandleader.

Best debate
Marcus Sheridan vs Mark Schaeffer, refereed by Michael Brenner.

Best new book on process
Pam Didner’s ‘Global Content Marketing‘ — and Robert Rose has a new one coming out too.

Best sandwich
A smoked ham thing on pretzel bread. It’s like a pretzel but it’s bread.

Best party
The 4th Street bar crawl on Tuesday night sounded big. I’m too old for that shit.

Best panel
Jesse Noyes of Kapost assembled some super-smart CMOs to give us all a dose of reality.

Best coffee
The NewsCred stand brought their own barristas.

Best breakfast sandwich
Egg & cheese on a southern-style buttermilk biscuit.

Most conspicuous absence
Joe Chernov. Just had a second kid, so hey. (And Inbound 2014  is imminent).

Coolest swag
Oracle gave out drink bottles with little cages to hold fruit. And the WSJ did dot-portraits for people.

Coolest launch
I didn’t see enough on the show floor but the Kapost Content Library and Content Auditor tools are slick as hell. And the Rainmaker platform from the Copyblogger team is an impressive content-marketing-business-in-a-box.

Coolest idea
Acrolinx has some AI software for evaluating the readability and actual tone of voice of a piece of copy. Which looks interesting but spooky too.

Coolest hat
Heidi Cohen’s neon orange beret.

Best story
Caine’s Arcade, the 9-year-old boy who started something huge — as told by Andrew Davis.

Best techie
The dude in Ballroom B (sorry, forgot his name) who fixed my slides before I even knew they were broken.

Best community builder
Hands down: Joe and the CMI team. Amazing hosts. They created a big event that managed to feel small, intimate, warm and welcoming.


Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • content-marketing

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  1. Carmen Hill

    September 13th, 2014

    Best CMWorld recap
    Doug Kessler, hands-down


    October 20th, 2014

    This is absolutely outstanding. I loved the conference, but I loved your run-down more. I’m sorry I missed your presentation. Will look for you (stalk you) next year! 🙂

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