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 (LifeScoreLabs.com) 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.

Friday, June 14, 2013

ASBPE loses its mind

If you're a member of the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), it's time for you to resign in protest.

For reasons that are unfathomable, that formerly reputable organization has asked me to be the keynote speaker at its annual national conference.

I'm sure you are as baffled by that decision as I am.

I, and perhaps you, might be willing to overlook such a ridiculous move if this was the first offense. But longtime readers of this blog know that ASBPE made this exact same mistake in 2008.

If, for some inexplicable reason, you decide not to resign your membership over this outrage, you should know that ASBPE has also invited some less bothersome characters to speak at the conference. Some of those folks may actually turn out to be interesting. Certainly they can't be as poor a choice as I am. It's even conceivable that the other speakers will be so wonderful that attending the conference won't be a complete waste of your time.

It's up to you to decide. The conference is scheduled for July 26 in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Ill. You can get the details here. If you are willing to overlook ASBPE's poor taste in keynote speakers, I'll see you in Oak Brook.

If, on the other hand, you are a person of some taste, you can submit your resignation letter to the contact address here.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Investigative reporting and content marketing

I have a thing about calendars. I tend to think in terms of anniversaries and cycles, and I'm often conscious of completely inane and useless pieces of time-based trivia about my past. It's not unusual for me to remark over dinner, for example, that "it was exactly two months ago today that we last ate this!" Or to comment while getting dressed in the morning "the last time I wore this jacket was on that trip to Boston exactly a year ago on Saturday!"
Needless to say, my family is less than enchanted by this habit.
So I can only hope that you, dear reader, will be less than annoyed when I mention that
a) it was exactly a year ago today that John Bethune published an interview with me about what's gone wrong in B2B content marketing.
b) and it was exactly a month ago today that I submitted my annual predictions to the Content Marketing Institute in which I argued that something is about to go right in content marketing.

You should go read all the predictions at CMI. There are tons of insightful remarks this year by tons of insightful people. Read those. Then come back and we'll talk about what I said.

The Sacred and the Profane

So let's review. My prediction looked like this:

Content marketers have mastered much of journalism: analysis, profiles, how-to articles, etc. But no brand has attempted the most sacred form of journalism: the investigative piece. That changes in 2013. Some brand will do solid, hardcore, investigative work -- not of its industry, but of a tangential subject of interest to its customers.
Imagine a baby-food company, for example, investigating the dangers to children of outgassing VOCs. 

I chose that example deliberately, because it's similar to an example I gave in a comment on an article called "Content Marketing is Not Journalism." Check out the article. Read the comments. Consider the nature of the argument.
If you read that piece I think you'll come to the same conclusion I come to -- this is nuts. They're arguing that content marketing can't be journalism because content marketers wouldn't tell a story about "about killing babies with Bisphenol A."
But as I said in my comment, content marketers have told the story about killing babies with Bisphenol A.
The real issue, it seems to me, is that content marketers didn't break the story about killing babies. Content marketers aggregated it. They added value to it. They distributed it.
But content marketers didn't break the story.
(Note: a review of the coverage of Bisphenol A shows people behaving badly across the publishing spectrum. The best, early work on the dangers of BPA showed up in peer-reviewed journals. After that,  advocacy groups began to receive some coverage in the mainstream press. But that same mainstream press consistently published counter-science pushed by manufacturer's public-relations wings. You'd be hard pressed to find any serious investigative work by journalists on the subject for the first few years of the controversy. What you can find, easily, is the sort of he-said, she-said nonsense that dominates journalism when the subject matter is difficult to digest. The sole exception to this was the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal -- which did the tough, investigative work beginning way back in 2007 and never let up.)

Until some content marketer somewhere breaks a story of such significance -- until someone does solid, hardcore investigative work - then content marketing will remain a lesser form of journalism.

( I feel obliged to interrupt myself and make note of the obvious -- if only to prevent people from posting comments that make note of the obvious:
There's nothing wrong with lesser forms of journalism. Not everything that journalists do is magnificent and holy. There is a place for celebrity journalism, just as there is a place for weekly newspapers that focus on high-school sports, trade magazines that teach people how to sell more widgets, local TV broadcasts filled with gruesome crime stories, and newsletters aimed at spreading paranoid theories in order to promote investments in gold.
Furthermore, not every piece of content that a corporation creates is a piece of journalism. Nor should it be. Corporations, even those that produce "great" content marketing, also produce marcomm, press releases, advertisements, instruction manuals, etc.)

The thickness of skin: the depth of coverage

The problem, of course, isn't that solid, hardcore investigative work is hard (although it is.) The problem is that it generates hate.
If you've worked in journalism for awhile, you know all about hate. People hate journalists. They write nasty letters. They sneer at us. They accuse us of lying, of stupidity, of being in the pockets of corporations and political parties and secret cabals.
And if you've worked in journalism for awhile you've learned to sort of like hate.
Hate motivates us. As does love. For isn't that what we mean when we say that journalism's purpose is "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable"?
Marketers, on the other hand, tend not to welcome hate.
As I said in that interview -- did I mention it was exactly a year ago today? -- with John Bethune "my experience has been that the overwhelming majority of these companies don’t have a culture that is open to journalism. 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."
But that will change. I believe it's changing now as more and more talented and experienced journalists enter content marketing.
And there's a model we can use to guide us during this change.
Consider this:
Corporations and their marketing and public relations departments are responsible for an extraordinary amount of charitable work. Companies choose a "cause" and they champion it. They sponsor walk-a-thons and volunteer drives. They associate their brand image with some form of "good." In many of these cases they seek to solve a problem -- poverty, disease, lack of education, etc.
This is comforting the afflicted.
Investigative journalism is the flip side of this. Investigative journalism seeks to uncover the roots of a wrong. Why are people in this area poor? Why are children sick? Why can't Johnny read?
What I'm predicting, specifically, is that brands will begin to look at both sides of the coin as part of their content-marketing efforts.
Why can't a baby food maker investigate VOCs?
Why can't one of the companies that associates itself with pink ribbons and the search for a cure for breast cancer also fund and publish investigative work into what causes the disease?
Want an example from B2B? (This is, after all, a blog about B2B journalism.) Have you seen the wonderful work being done to get truck drivers involved in battling human trafficking? That movement comforts the afflicted and seeks to "cure" the problem. Bless them for that.
But why can't a truck manufacturer flip that coin, hire a few reporters and look for the people behind this obscenity?
Of course it will be hard. Of course you might get sued. Of course people will hate you.
But trust me, there is great joy to be found in afflicting the comfortable. There is great joy, too, in feeling the hate.
There are also great branding opportunities for companies that can take it.

This time next year

I was recently named one of 25 journalists to watch in content marketing. That's an honor, and not one I mean to belittle.
But the list that I long to see is something deeper, more meaningful.
I don't expect to be on that list. At present I deserve no such honor.
But the list is coming. I believe this.
Soon there will be list of "content marketers to watch in journalism." And some of those content marketers will be on that list because they have proven themselves to be investigative reporters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vanity, predictions and trumpets

You know those Google vanity alerts that incredibly arrogant, egotistical and self-centered people use to alert them whenever someone mentions them anywhere on the Web?
I have one of those.

It's a good thing too.
Because otherwise amid the hurricanes, nor'easters, power outages and business travel that have marked my life in recent weeks, I would have had no idea that the good people at the Content Marketing Institute said something nice about me. It turns out that it's hard to read email newsletters by candlelight on a computer without power. So by the time the lights went back on, I had an inbox full of stuff I had no time to read. So I deleted a slew of newsletters.

The vanity alerts, however, survived the purge.

The tricky thing about those vanity alerts, however, is that they also tell you when someone has said something not-so nice. And that's what I thought had happened when the alert told me I was mentioned in an article called "Failed Content Marketing Predictions Revealed."
Fortunately for me and my ego, the article discussed not just the predictions from earlier this year that were wrong, but also those that were correct.
As Joe Pulizzi put it: 'For 2012, Paul Conley predicted that, “Public-relations departments and advertising agencies will make a big move into content marketing. Uh, Paul… you got that right.'

You can, and should, read Joe's entire post. It contains insights from people who are brighter than I. And unless they have vanity alerts that prompted them to write Hooray-I-was-right blog posts like this one, you may have no idea how bright they are.

What you can't read ... at least not yet ... are my prediction for content marketing in 2013. I submitted mine a few days ago. And when the Content Marketing Institute publishes its full report on the industry for 2013 next month, I hope my predictions will be included.

Then next year around this time, assuming that I'm right (as any incredibly arrogant, egotistical and self-centered person would) I'll brag about it here again.

In the meantime I'll be working on my latest project; developing a software program that will play the sound of trumpets whenever someone on the Web says I got something right.