Friday, September 08, 2023

Thursday, March 16, 2023

A.I. changes everything; But B2B journalism doesn't want to change

I seem to find myself in a strange time loop. 

A few decades ago, as the Web altered the nature of communications, it was painful to watch how B2B journalism failed to adapt. A stubborn resistance to change among older journalists permeated the industry.  

Now the world is changing once more, and B2B journalism is not adapting.

This time the force driving change is the emergence of artificial intelligence in content creation. And just like in the days of the early Web, I find myself in painful conversations with B2B journalists who insist they don't need to learn anything new because the old ways are best.

I complained about this a few weeks ago on social media. Paul Heney, founder of Trade, Association and Business Publications International (TABPI), asked me to elaborate. So I did. If you're interested you can read the essay I wrote.

So here's the thing. That essay is only a week old and it's already feeling dated. A.I. The changes wrought by A.I. are accelerating. The costs of ignoring it are accelerating too.

Until recently it was possible for business journalists to ignore A.I.'s implications. Grammarly is pretty cool. But it never threatened anyone's job. 

But ChatGPT-4, which debuted roughly 48 hours before I started writing this post, cannot be ignored. It is simply too smart, too powerful, and too good at doing much of what humans do for a living. Just a week ago I would tell journalists they had a year or so to prepare. I no longer believe this. In that essay for TABPI, I noted that content marketers have embraced A.I. tools and I implied that was enough. I no longer believe that either.

People will lose their jobs. Quickly. Companies will fall. Soon.

I have some thoughts on what things will look like when the dust settles. There are, I believe, a handful of approaches to B2B content and news that will succeed in a world dominated by artificial intelligence. In the next few weeks, I'll write about them here on this blog and share them at  

And let's hope that whatever it is I write doesn't become dated just seconds after publication when some new iteration of chatbot appears.


Friday, November 04, 2022

Sometimes content marketing goes wrong. Badly.

There's a scandal this month in the content marketing world. 
That's an unusual occurrence.  In its most common forms, content marketing is a bit innocuous.  But sometimes content marketing goes wrong. Badly. And when content marketing does go wrong, it's almost always because a company has decided its content should be more like journalism, but not actually be journalism. 

The embarrassing situation that Sequoia Capital found itself in this month perfectly illustrates this. As Bloomberg News reports, Sequoia is one of a number of venture-capital bigwigs that has invested heavily in long-form content, high-end documentary films and top-tier content creators in an effort to bolster their brand reputations. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Brand boosting is one of the things content marketing does. 

The problem for Sequoia is that it ran a fawning piece in September about Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of crypto exchange FTX. And in November, FTX collapsed. 

It didn't take long for people to start mocking Sequoia's article. And it didn't take long for Sequoia to panic. Rather than retracting the story publicly, or adding an editor's note, or commissioning a follow-up story or doing any of the things a journalism outfit might do after something like this, Sequoia at first just yanked the story from its website without explanation. That nothing-to-see here reaction by Sequoia seems to have prompted the Bloomberg article. And the Bloomberg article itself seems to have later prompted Sequoia to publish a sort-of, kind-of Editor's Note confirming the story had been pulled.

If you're a longtime reader of mine, you know I've long held hope that content marketing would grow to be more journalistic. (Here's a piece I wrote about exactly this nearly 10 years ago.) I believe that content marketing can do more than move people through a sales funnel, extend brand reach, etc. But if that is ever to happen, the companies that hire content marketers, writers, filmmakers and the rest will need to develop thicker skin. The problem, as I put it in an interview with Jon Bethune 11 years ago, is that "These companies don’t have the stomach for news and the confrontations it can promote. They panic when someone complains. They’re afraid of controversy." 

And as any journalist can tell you, complaints and controversy are nothing to panic about. They are the air we breathe.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Beauty is in the eye of the (AI) beholder

LifeScore Labs is a new client of mine. They use artificial intelligence to improve insurance scoring. They've relaunched their website ( with copy written by yours truly.
So, as I tend to do whenever I get the chance to mention artificial intelligence, I want to point out that I won the world's first online beauty contest judged by artificial intelligence back in 2016.
And as I remind my teenage daughter constantly, "No. I will never get tired of bragging about it."

Monday, October 29, 2018

I'm Just Lucky Like That

One of the great mysteries of my career has been that otherwise bright and talented folks in B2B publishing express an interest in working with me.
Even more mysterious is that some people who know me well, and have known me for years, express that interest too.
I chalk it up to combination of factors:
a) good luck. I have an enormous amount of it. Always have. I hope I always will.
b) dumb luck. Over the years I've had an extraordinary number of ideas about how to do things in B2B media. The sheer volume of those ideas dictated that some small number of them would turn out to be good ideas.
c) blind luck. I have a remarkable tendency to show up at parties, sporting events, restaurants, etc. and just happen to run into B2B executives and entrepreneurs just as they happen to be looking around for a consultant or adviser.
All of which explains how I found myself a few months ago at a small gathering in an apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge chatting about B2B journalism with a gentleman from Switzerland I worked with a few years ago. It also explains how that man wound up bringing me aboard his latest publishing venture.

A new opportunity

So now I'm Content Adviser to Daily Fintech, a remarkable publication that covers that fast-changing world of financial technology. You can read more about my appointment, and sign up for our fintech newsletter, by visiting the site.
What's most interesting to me about this role is that the gentleman from Switzerland I mentioned earlier -- Bernard Lunn -- has a long history of finding varied and interesting ways to monetize B2B editorial.
That fits well with one of the goals I set  at the start of this year to "expand my B2B consulting business by adding clients who are willing to consider new approaches to content and new methods of building revenue." Because as I said then, "The content revolution may be over. But I'm convinced there are still some revolutionary breakthroughs available for companies bold enough to try."

Off to a lucky start

Fintech today is often a wild and scandalous place. Whereas the first stage of the financial-technology revolution yielded some truly wonderful publications like PYMNTS and The Financial Brand, the recent history of Fintech news is somewhat less professional.
I think that creates an opportunity for a brand that won't shy away from the more complex and controversial subjects in Fintech (Blockchain, cyrpto currencies, etc.) and is able to adhere to the nobler aspects of B2B journalism.
The trick, of course, is for Daily Fintech to separate itself from its numerous, less-than-ethical rivals.
Normally, that would be a time-consuming and difficult task.
But here's the thing. Just a few hours after Daily Fintech announced I was joining the company as an adviser, Breaker magazine published an expose of how some of our rivals in the crypto-fintech space are engaged in unethical forms of content marketing.
I didn't have anything to do with the article.
I'm just lucky like that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Crisis, opportunity, Jung, and Skinner

I posted something on this blog a few days ago. That's become an exceedingly rare event. This blog has been largely dormant for a very long time. And with good reason.
First and most importantly, the issues I used to write about here have become less important. I started this blog way back in 2004 as a way to share my thoughts on what seemed to be the start of a revolution in B2B media. But that revolution is now long over. What seemed bold and controversial back then (use links! publish your stories online first! open a social-media account!) is routine and accepted today.
Second, my career has changed dramatically. When I launched this blog I was a fulltime working journalist. But within months I wound up launching a consulting business aimed at B2B publishers. A few years after that, the content-marketing craze took hold and my consulting business morphed into one aimed largely at B2B companies interested in becoming publishers. That shift led to my taking on a fulltime role with a global research firm -- launching and running that company's content-marketing department. I kept my consulting business running, but on a part-time basis. Then, a few months ago, I left my fulltime gig and returned my focus to consulting.

What are you thinking?

After I published that little post a few days ago, a few of the folks who used to read this blog back in the day reached out via email and social media. They said kind and flattering things. And they asked about my plans for 2018.
So I began writing replies.
But here's the thing: I've been a professional communicator for so long that the act of writing has become entwined with the act of thinking.
My internal dialog is well beyond what the Buddhists call monkey mind. The natural state of my brain seems to be a strange amalgam of static, word association and bad poetry.
Thus, if I want to know what I'm thinking, I have to share what I'm thinking.
When I write, my thoughts become clear to me. Just as when I speak aloud to another person, the gibberish in my head is made coherent.
So as I began writing those replies, I realized that what had been a few random ideas about 2018 had become a plan for 2018.
Among the details of that plan are:

-- increase my focus on crisis communications for nonprofits. I've been lucky enough over the years to work with a number of nonprofits on a wide variety of public relations and marketing efforts. But the part of my consulting business that has grown the fastest, and where I see the greatest need, is in crisis communications.
My sense is that nonprofits are particularly vulnerable to the new forms of social-media-driven crises that we've seen in the B2C world. More importantly, something fundamental is changing in how a crisis plays out in the media. And many of the crisis communicators I've met seem unprepared for a world of "fake news," trolls who have morphed into influencers, and memetic warfare.

-- continue to find ways to combine my interests in communications and psychology. Longtime readers of this blog know that my first degree was in psychology, that my first career was in counseling the developmentally disabled, and that I'm equally enamored of both Jungian analysis and Skinner's behaviorism.
I'm always looking for ways to connect my psychology background with my content consulting. Last year I a) helped a B2B company rebrand through Jungian archetypes, and b) revamped the content offering of an applied behavior analysis (ABA) provider.
This year I'm returning to my old textbooks, picking up a certification in behavior analysis, and speaking to more experts in psychology in an effort to find new insights applicable to crisis communications. (Here's an example of the sort of stuff I'm pondering these days: Much of social media can be understood as both escape-maintained and attention-maintained aberrant behavior under Skinner. What, if anything, can the effective techniques used to extinguish such behavior among  individuals teach us about how to respond to collective behavior during a communications crisis?)

-- expand my B2B consulting business by adding clients who are willing to consider new approaches to content and new methods of building revenue. The content revolution may be over. But I'm convinced there are still some revolutionary breakthroughs available for companies bold enough to try.

So now that it's in writing, my plans are clear. At least to me. And it's time to work.

For an earlier look at my think-by-writing process, you may want to read this post from late 2006: Blogito, ergo sum.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thirteen lucky years

I woke this morning with a need to write.
There's nothing unusual about that. I wake most mornings with a need to write.
But what was unexpected today was that I had an urge to write here, in this particular blog. I have a dozen places where I can write -- some for money, some for fun, some for no good reason at all. But today I wanted only to write here.
And that seemed strange to me, knowing that I hadn't written anything here in ages.
It took only a few minutes before I realized what was going on. Today is the anniversary of this blog. Exactly 13 years ago today I was hit with unexpected urge to launch a blog. And I did.
No doubt my subconscious remembered what my consciousness did not: that this blog changed my career, and thus my life. No doubt my subconscious recognized that the anniversary of such a significant event in my life requires comment.

I've written previously about the effects this blog had upon my career. Suffice it to say that Paul Conley Consulting, the vehicle by which I make my living, exists solely because people read this blog way back in the early days of the Web. Suffice it also to say that the industry I wrote about then has changed in ways that none of us could have imagined. Heck, by the six-year anniversary of this blog I was writing about how much of the B2B content world had moved into content marketing. That shift has only accelerated. And those of us who were lucky enough to get in front of that shift have done well.

And perhaps that, in the end, is what I want to say on this anniversary: I've been lucky. By taking the time to write about the world of content and communications I was forced to interact with other bloggers, writers, communicators, marketers, and executives -- most of whom are much smarter than I. And each of those interactions made me just a tiny bit more likely to make the right moves in my career when it counted.

So to all of you who read this blog during these past 13 lucky years, I want to say "thanks."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ten years ago today, I launched this blog

It's hard for me to remember what my career was like before I launched this blog on a whim 10 years ago this very night.
Certainly the world of traditional B2B publishing was different back then. Lots of folks were making lots of money. And lots of folks thought the good times would last forever.
I was different then too. I was younger ... and often willing to say things aloud for no reason other than that I thought them. And what I thought back then, and wrote on this blog, and screamed from any podium that would have me, was that the B2B publishing industry was in trouble.
But time passes. And things change.
I haven't updated this blog in more than a year. That's because although the problems faced by traditional B2B publishers continue, my interest in those problems has faded.
Today my interests, and my career, are entirely in content marketing.
That's not anything that anyone would have predicted when this blog debuted. Arguably, the content-marketing industry didn't even exist 10 years ago today.
But the content marketing industry does exist now. And it is clearly where the opportunity exists for B2B writers who are able to make the transition. I said that when this blog celebrated its seventh birthday. And I said it on the six-year anniversary too.
And odds are I'll say it again next year too.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Long-winded in the Windy City

Two weeks ago today at about this time I was some 90 minutes into giving a one-hour speech. I tend to run long. This, it should be noted, is not because I have a lot of terribly important things to say. Rather, I'm one of those annoying characters who really, really enjoys being on stage.

The occasion was the national conference of ASBPE, the group formally known as the American Society of Business Publication Editors. And if you had the good sense to not be sitting in a suburban Chicago ballroom that day listening to me drone on and on, I congratulate you.

However, it should be noted that at least one topic I spoke about is probably something you've heard about in the past day or so -- the emerging idea that publishers should use a separate freelance team (or separate staff) to create native advertising. It turns out that just yesterday the news broke that Wired magazine had created a unit called Amplifi "to create content for brands that's highly tailored to the Wired reader while labeled as promotional." The most interesting thing about Amplifi is that "at the heart of the operation is a vetted roster of writers, filmmakers and others. Some have even worked for Wired editorial in the past, but they’re not current contributors, so as to avoid any journalistic conflicts of interest."

I'm thrilled by this development. You should be too.

Now just to be clear, I didn't originate this idea. Nor did Wired. Rather, there's an emerging consensus surrounding the ethics of content creation for native advertising. I developed my thoughts on this based largely upon the standards of MIT Technology Review. (Or, to be more direct, I stole the idea from them.) Lots of brands are struggling with this issue, and many are coming down on the side of a separate, vetted team that must meet the standards of both the advertiser and editorial leadership.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on editorial ethics and native advertising, check out this article about my speech to ASBPE. Phillip Perry did a good job of explaining my position on the issue, as well as some of the other topics in my speech.

He didn't, however, write anything about what I thought were some of the more interesting topics in my presentation -- the power of transmedia, constructivism theory in education, and using monomyth to understand the subtext of your content.

He must have fallen asleep at the two-hour mark.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


So it turns out that there is a 60-second long video of a writer named Paul Conley staring into a camera. He doesn't speak. And the purpose of the video is unclear to me.
I bring it up here for two reasons:

Because the other Paul Conley doesn't say anything. And I have no doubt that silence would be more interesting than anything I will have to say to a room full of B2B editors.
Check out the video below.