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How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry with Joe Zappa, Sharp Pen Media: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | Nov 28, 2023

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we’re talking how to become a thought leader in your industry with Joe Zappa. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

  • Episode Summary & Player
  • Show Notes
  • Marketing Smarts Summary
  • Transcript

Marketing Smarts: How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry with Joe Zappa, Sharp Pen Media

Thought leadership – when done right – can be a fantastic way to build your credibility and bring in new business. It also allows you to influence and shape the industry in ways that align with your POVs and offerings. But how exactly do you roll out thought leadership for yourself, your team, and your organization? We wanted you to learn from a brilliant mind in the space, so we welcomed on Joe Zappa, Founder and CEO of Sharp Pen Media. They offer C-level marketing strategy, content, and PR for adtech and martech companies. This episode covers everything from thought leadership to PR. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • How do you become a thought leader in your industry?
  • What is the key mechanism for building thought leadership?
  • How do you know what content to create?
  • What is the value of an agency in thought leadership?
  • How do you focus on thought leadership for individuals vs. the company overall?
  • What does thought leadership actually look like?
  • How do you get over the fear of creating content?
  • What role will AI play in thought leadership?

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

  • How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry with Joe Zappa, Sharp Pen Media
    • [0:00] Welcome to Marketing Smarts
    • [0:28] Anne Candido, April Martini
    • [0:34] How do you become a thought leader in your industry?
    • [1:49] Learn more about Joe on LinkedIn and at
    • [2:38] “The Framework for Creating Digital Content People Want to Watch
    • [2:48] What is the key mechanism for building thought leadership?
    • [5:04] Tech (Technology)
    • [7:12] Google
    • [8:39] How do you know what content to create?
    • [9:41] PR (Public Relations), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), CEO (Chief Executive Officer)
    • [12:52] What is the value of an agency in thought leadership?
    • [19:39] What does thought leadership actually look like?
    • [20:25] Earned Media, Social Media
    • [22:58] Influencers
    • [24:33] AdTech (Advertising Technology)
    • [28:12] How do you focus on thought leadership for individuals vs. the company overall?
    • [29:50] How do you get over the fear of being intrinsically tied to your business?
    • [30:30] Do you want to stand out in your industry and get more sales? Show you’re different to attract and retain top talent? Build a brand that drives real business results? Grab your Brand Strategy Workbook at:
    • [31:19] How do you get over the fear of creating content?
    • [32:21] Revenue
    • [33:14] P&G (Procter & Gamble)
    • [33:55] What if people don’t feel like they can speak on behalf of the company?
    • [36:33] KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
    • [36:55] How do you help people understand this is working?
    • [39:00] CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)
    • [39:48] Facebook Ad
    • [40:30] Networking
    • [45:00] What role will AI (Artificial Intelligence) play in thought leadership?
    • Marketing Smarts Moments

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Anne Candido 0:02
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today. And if you missed anything, don’t worry, we put worksheets on our website that summarize the key points. Now, let’s get to it. Welcome to Marketing Smarts. I am Anne Candido and I am April Martini. And today we’re going to talk about thought leadership. So when b2b and service oriented businesses are trying to differentiate in their industry, a key strategy is to grow thought leadership. But what does this mean? We get this question all the time. It means being a recognized authority in your area of expertise. And when done right people listen, which helps to reinforce your credibility, and why people should choose you. But in addition to that allows you to influence and shape the industry in ways that align with your POVs and offers which really helps to support your business.

April Martini 1:03
Yes, exactly. Which means fuel for demand gen and lead gen, but also a more efficient push down the funnel, which then of course, results in higher conversions to sales, which is what we’re all after. It also can potentially lead to incremental marketing channels, and even actually monetized with things like speaking gigs and appearances and those types of things. The dilemma generally comes with the question is thought leadership then centered around the company, or around certain people within that company? And the answer really is generally both. So we’re gonna get into that more today along with all the important house around how do you go and do it?

Anne Candido 1:42
Yeah. And today, we’re gonna bring a guest on to discuss this topic. And that is Joe Zappa, Founder and CEO of Sharp Pen Media. Hey, Joe, it’s great to have you, you want to introduce yourself a little bit more and say more about sharpen media.

Joe Zappa 1:54
Hey, thanks so much for having me. My name is Joe Zappa. I’m the CEO of Sharp Pen Media, which I founded two years ago, Sharp Pen Media is a content marketing, and PR agency, mainly for adtech and martech companies. I was a journalist in adtech, and martech, for five or six years before I started the agency. Specifically, I was the editor of a Mar tech media site called street fight. And so basically, now my team and I help our clients write the content that I used to edit when I was a journalist and would receive it from other PR agencies. I

Anne Candido 2:25
love the name of that we had another person on he would talk about really attention is it, you know, street fight. So I think it all kind of leads very nicely where the name came from. And that’s dad, everybody, and everybody’s a big fan of dad. So it’s really nice to have you on Joe. And so with that, let’s get into how to become a thought leader in your industry. So Joe, let us know what do you think is a key mechanism for building thought leadership?

Joe Zappa 2:53
Yeah, I think the most important thing is to start with strategy and think at the company level to reprise your distinction from the intro, before just talking to executives and pumping out whatever they happen to say in a 30 minute conversation. So for example, I on boarded a client last month, I met with the head of marketing, then I met with the rest of the executive team, we’re asking those fundamental questions, right, like, what does this company do? What does it historically been? Who are its customers? Who are the best customers? What do we want its customers to be in a year? Like, what do we want to stand for all these things? You’re trying to divine? What is really different about this company from the rest of the competitors in the space? And then what about it resonates with its customers. So in addition to those executive interviews, I also recommend interviewing a handful of customers at the beginning. By the time you do that, you’re going to ascertain, okay, here’s what’s really special about this company. Here’s what people love about it, here are the interesting ideas its leaders have. And then you can take that positioning and those key ideas on three to five industry topics. And those become the pillars for all of your thought leadership.

April Martini 4:00
Of course, you’re speaking our language when you say starting with strategy. And what I also like is it really mirrors the approach that we take to which is making sure that you’re actually spending the time to talk to the people not only in the organization, but also the customers on the other side, because I think that really helps to keep everybody a little bit honest. But also, we all know that there’s biases on both sides. So with those of us that are responsible for helping to build this strategy, we can come in as sort of that third party and help to really boil down what are the key things we’re hearing, like you said, what’s most special about this company? What are the things that’s really going to help it stand out? And then what should we be doing with relation to thought leadership from there?

Joe Zappa 4:47
Yeah, and they’re to your point there often is a distinction between what the company is excited about and what the customers are excited about, like in my experience, like I work mainly in ad tech and Mark tech and the tech companies are generally very Excited about the products surprise, right? Yeah, they’re like, we’re doing this cool new thing. And we have this technology and whatever. And then you talk to the customers and half the time, they’ll be like, oh, yeah, I mean, the products cool. But they’re like three other products that are very similar. And what we love is the people, right? So then you have to get into, okay, can I be part of the message and you ended up like doing messaging on multiple levels to where you have, okay, this is what we’re gonna have on the website. This is what resonates with the customers. But we’re also gonna have another level of sort of metadiscourse that we’re going to bring to the media ecosystem, because journalists care about different stuff than customers care about.

Anne Candido 5:33
Yeah, and I think that two things, if I was going to pinpoint what are such critical mechanisms for thought leadership, one is having that POV, whatever that happens to be. So whether it’s what makes your company special, what makes your people special? Is there a specific philosophy that you entertain, that may be different within the actual industry, like all of those things are really important to nail down because the POV is what starts to create some attribution to you, right, your business or yourself as an individual. And that’s what becomes the where you build your reputation around, I think. But I think, to your point that you were saying, there’s a such a big difference between what we think is important as ourselves, as are our own companies, versus what is externally a value, that POV needs to intersect with that value to so if you’re just spouting prophecies from your business, and nobody cares about that’s not really building thought leadership, that’s just kind of like speak into the ether, right? So it’s really important to link that POV of what you’re going to stand for, What’s your philosophy, to a value that’s important to your external customer or client? Yeah,

Joe Zappa 6:48
yeah, I completely agree. It’s also really important to make sure that you have something distinct to contribute to the industry conversation, right? Because I can’t tell you how many Bilanz when I was an ad tech editor, I read about, like the death of third party cookies on Chrome, right? There’s like privacy regulations, right. And so Google is going to make it harder to track you across sites. And basically, this is like been the biggest story in ad tech for like, three years. And like, even this year, again, this has been happening for three or four years. And this year, I’ve like onboard clients, and it’s like, what are we going to talk about? Well, let’s talk about how to prepare for the death of a third party cookie, it’s like, alright, well, we could, but do you have something to say about that? That’s different than the 100 pieces that have already been published about it this year? Because if not, even if you get it published, it’s not going to do anything for you, because no one’s going to remember you for that. So I think, yeah, those are the things it’s like, what do we have to say that’s unique? And does it resonate with our customers? And to ascertain that you have to talk to both the components and its executives and the customers themselves? Yeah.

Anne Candido 7:54
And I think that’s a really important distinction, because it also ladders up to the difference between being a curator or contributor and a thought leader, right? So we do this when we see this all the time, even on LinkedIn, when people are in their LinkedIn feeds whether or not you like something or if you just are giving some sort of emotive thumbs up or whatnot to a somebody else’s post whether or not you comment on it. So then Neff back to your contributor? Or do you link it more to how you comment on it and add your own philosophy on top of what everybody else is saying? Which then starts to drive the thought leadership? And a lot of times, it seems like people feel constrained by time, or they don’t really know what to say, or those sorts of things. So, Joe, how do businesses go about starting to kind of create that message track? Or that or what kind of content they should create? And what channels they should create it on?

Joe Zappa 8:46
Yeah, well, let’s acknowledge an important tension in, in particular in agency relationships. Because I think what I would really say is go do that strategic review I was talking about, right, take that six weeks develop that three page, Google Doc a really doesn’t have to be like a whole book. It’s just like, what do we stand for? How are we different? What do our customers like about us? And what are three to five industry topics related to all those things that we have a take on? And how is that tick different from the ticks of our competitors? That’s really it. But that does take like four to six weeks, usually to interview everyone and put all that together and get conversations lined up with customers. And if it were easy, everyone would do it. So why do people not do it? Well, because it takes four to six weeks. And if you’re paying 10k Plus for a PR agency or something, then the CFO or whoever is looking at that and or the head of marketing is like, Can I really go back to my CEO and say, we spent six weeks and that’s like $15,000 doing the strategy review. It’s tough. So I think you have to make the case either whether you’re the internal marketing person or the agents See, for we’re going to spend four to six weeks doing this. And everything we do over the next 12 months is going to be more impactful for it. If you want me to just roll in and we’ll start doing third party cookie by lines, then we can do that. But every piece of content we produce over the next 12 months will be weaker for this because we won’t know what really makes us different. What do our customers really care about? And therefore, what are we going to say? So I think it’s kind of like an internal comms challenge more than anything.

April Martini 10:29
Yeah, I mean, I think you said several good things there. And as I was listening, I was thinking about intentionality. And really the approach being different when you set out to do it for all the reasons we talked about, instead of just doing it to be there, and we fight that same battle with our clients, right, and it goes back to starting with the strategy. It’s hard, it costs money, it takes time. And people just want to press the go button. And I think when we look at things like you know, the LinkedIn example of how you’re interacting, I think people feel like, well, I just need to be there. But then they get nervous about how to be there. And so then it’s like, well, I’m gonna like, it’s almost like, oh, do I press a button to just close my eyes and like it? Or like, what comment Am I putting out there without putting too much of myself out there? And really, how do I go about really showing up there? And I think a lot of people just do that. And then sort of pat themselves on the back and say, I did it, instead of going forward with a plan that really works. And then like I said, appreciating the fact that it does take some sell in on the internal side, like you said, so it’s going and making the argument and then also the argument for the right thing. And I think that strategy piece, while it’s always the right thing, is the thing that people always take pause with, because there’s unsureness around, if that’s a word around how you’re going to use it, what are you going to get back, it’s not necessarily a hard and fast deliverable. And yet, it’s the fundamental, most important piece of all of this work, if you actually are going to be able to stand out as a thought leader.

Joe Zappa 12:06
Yeah, that’s the marketer, internal or external, you need to be able to stand behind that strategy, exercise and recapitulate its value, like I just did a few minutes ago, because you’re gonna get asked, not just in the sales process, like you’re gonna be five weeks into that strategy, review and have something ready to go. And someone on the executive team is going to be like, why are we doing this? Like, it feels like a waste of time, right? And you have to make that argument over and over again. So that’s the thing is that as marketers, unfortunately, with where we tend to sit within organizations, which is to say, kind of the bottom of the ladder, in terms of assumed importance, we constantly need to make the case for what we’re doing.

Anne Candido 12:49
Yeah. And I think that’s a really good point, I think it’s also begs the question, who actually is best poised to actually do the work, right? Because sometimes it’s very hard to be in your business and to come up with these strategies, because you’re so in it, and you’re like me, so you fall in love with your own products? So Joe, can you say a little bit about what’s the value of an agency? And it’s kind of a loaded question, since that’s kind of what you do. But

April Martini 13:16
we do, quite frankly.

Anne Candido 13:20
What’s the value of the agency in what what role do they play in helping clients and customers really develop the strategy, develop the type of content that they want to create, and then figure out what channels it makes sense to put that content on

Joe Zappa 13:35
to be perhaps a bit direct about it? I mean, I think generally, you hire an agency, because there is no one in house who is either as good at the very specific thing you need the agency to do, or simply who has time to do what the agency is going to do. Right. So if you have a an SVP of Marketing, she is managing a team, she’s dealing with internal stakeholders, she’s reviewing a lot of stuff. She’s got, you know, 200 emails every day, she might just not have the time to go interview five customers and the rest of the executive team and develop this synthetic messaging strategy, right? Or if you have three people on your marketing team, which is the size of a lot of my clients, and yeah, like you might not have anyone on that team, who was a journalist or understands journalism and can write an executive byline at the level where you’re leading industry trade publications are going to publish it, right. Like they might be able to write blog posts or LinkedIn content, but they don’t necessarily know that that form of executive byline writing. So I think it’s usually one of those things. I think the important thing for agency people to remember, especially in the economic environment, we’ve been in the CRN sadly we’ll probably be in next year is that you are always competing against the alternative of an in house. Hi err, and someone on that other side is thinking, all right, if I’m spending, you know, 10k a month for this agency, can I get more out of a full time person who’s fully focused on my business for like the same cost, which might be like, you know, a 90k, salary plus benefits and whatever. So I think the way to overcome that has to be that you’re offering some sort of rare expertise, like we just touched on that the other side doesn’t have or you’re sort of stacking value. Like, if you have an agency team of three people, like if you guys were working on something together, right? Like you’re both senior marketers. So then if they’re getting to senior marketers, and you have complementary strengths, and you’d like one of us working on strategy, and the other is on content, or PR or whatever, like this is the way you can sort of stack the value so that the other side understands, like, you can’t replace this by just going and hiring someone for 100k a year.

April Martini 16:02
Well, and I think part of that too, because I tend to agree with what you just said is it’s those two things, and it’s kind of shades of those two things, right? It’s kind of like if you put it on a continuum, but I think some of the beauty of the people that do well, is that you take the time to really get to know what are the challenges of these companies so that when you go in to make those arguments, you’re making exactly the right ones? Because I think, you know, you gave several different examples of what that could look like, right? SVPs, two strapped or where I thought you were going with the lean team is like maybe they’re too junior to know how to do this, or they don’t have the skill set or, you know, someone like me, and and we come in and we tout exactly what you said all the time, we have more experience than any one single person could have, and complementary skills within those experiences that make us that sort of ultimate team. But I think you’ve got to spend the time when you get into the relationship to get to know them and figure out what is it? And what are those pain points? I mean, one of the things we always ask people in very initial conversations are what keeps you up at night? And that really starts to get at all right, what is going to be our way in and not in a manipulative way, but in a way that is going to make the right case so that it’s heard in a way that people are like, ah, yeah, and it’s not just I need that it’s they get me which kind of starts to build that relationship from the very beginning.

Joe Zappa 17:23
Yeah, that’s really well said, I can tell you’ve been doing this for a while. Because, honestly, this was a, you know, this is my third year in business. And that was a huge lesson for me this year is like I like to think because I’m ruminating all the time on what do I think my value is, right? So I can tell you what I think I’m really good at and what value I can offer. But you’re exactly right, that the reality is an agency relationships, that’s not what matters, like what matters is, how does the client perceive your value? And what is most valuable to them? Like, what is their pain point? What are they need? And again, sometimes just like our customers can be surprised where they’re like, well, we love this thing about our technology. And the customers think that technology is a commodity. Sometimes we think, oh, like I’ve been through this where it’s like, oh, I need to figure out how to prove ROI. And then I’ll interview five of my customers. And like none of them will mention that and they’re all just like, save me time, do really good work that I’m not going to have to rewrite like, you know, so you’re completely right, that a good agency relationships hinge on that understanding, what does this customer very specifically need?

Anne Candido 18:30
Yeah, and I think it also gives you a little bit more of an unbiased per view of what that value can be and how to frame that value up. Because I think a lot of times, again, we speak to ourselves within our own business. And, and hope that it’s actually the reality without actually checking if it is indeed the reality. And that’s why I think having a third party to provide that feedback, to be able to call those insights to be able to really draw from your clients and customers in an unbiased way, what your value is, helps to frame that up in a way that it’s hard to argue with, right? And so I find that helps to drive a little bit more of the objective lens versus the subjective lens that starts to sound like, again, the prophesizing, about your business versus really connecting with your client, customer consumer in a way that drives relevancy and being able to draw them in. And I know a lot of our clients will ask, Well, what I mean, what does this even look like? So in there’s several levels of thought leadership, right? There’s the overarching like industry leadership, there’s actually thought leadership with regards to my piece of the pie or my business. So maybe you could speak a little bit about like, what are clients using to really drive thought leadership? Is there specific channels that they’re using? Is there specific content strategies that they’re using? Can you give a little bit more tangible specifics where people are kind of like, Where do I even start? Or where do I even look? Or where do I even play?

Joe Zappa 20:06
Yeah, I think with Thought Leadership once you do that exercise, and you know, what are the topics we want to expound on? And what do we have to say it’s different from what our competitors are saying. I think it’s mostly earned media and social. Like, when you have those three to five topics, then you’re going to look at your executive team, you say, Okay, who’s owning what, like, who has special expertise in each of these areas, or is really keen to weigh in on them? And then you’re going to write on their behalf, which could be an executive byline, that’s gonna go in industry trade publications, usually. Or it could be for LinkedIn. Right? I think the one thing that’s important is that, you know, we’re moving away from the era of PR, where it was like, Okay, it’s like executive buy lines. And it’s like, let’s get you in front of journalists and share your story, you know, in ways I like pined for that era, because it would be nice, it’s like there’s a simplicity to that. But there just aren’t enough journalists usually working in industry trade publications. So like PR firms, now, they are organic, social content firms to generally. So I do think you have to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the opportunities available to you to get that message out.

Anne Candido 21:21
Well, I happen to like the industry journal route. And I think that’s one that we recommended a lot because you get a general a big bang for your buck, if you know what questions to ask in order to package it appropriately. Because a lot of times it does come with some level of what’s called a story, some sort of narrative in the way that they publish it, which you get to help shape them and you get to help control versus in the traditional world of PR, you did your message track and you hold the journalist shaped the story in the way that you wanted it to be shaped. And I can speak from both sides of that, that sometimes it showed up in a way that you didn’t quite intend for it to be published. So I liked that aspect of it. There’s a lot of times there’s a lot of there’s a paid media aspect to it, which is really nice, so that you can advertise along with your story. Sometimes there’s influencer abilities to be able to expound that message through their influencers. And so you get that third party credentials, trade show opportunities a lot, you can sometimes roll those in. So I feel like there’s a lot of like, different levers that you can push and pull depending on what makes sense for your business. Especially if you decide to go this route, because now there’s these industry pubs are starting to become more media based giants, if you will, and having all these different opportunities within that one media property where it used to just be just by an ad in my publication, and sometimes it’s in a printed form. And sometimes now it’s in a digital form. Right? So I feel like that’s been a really good one for people to start to consider. Yeah,

Joe Zappa 22:57
yeah, something you said that struck me was influencers, because I think if you’re going to leverage social for thought leadership, the biggest mistake that companies make is they treat it like a one way conversation, right? Where they’re like, Okay, so that means, you know, you’re gonna write some content for me on LinkedIn, and I’m gonna post it three times a week, social is way more impactful. And it’s way easier to build an audience, if you pick like 10 to 20 influencers in your industry, who are active on a social platform, and you’re commenting on their stuff and reaching their audiences, because they’ve already done the work of building that audience. So it’s much harder to build an audience from scratch, especially if you’re not interacting with others than it is to just go directly to where your audience already is. And I find like, earlier on in my marketing career, like, I didn’t really get and I think a lot of people probably don’t fully understand this concept of like going where your customer is, it’s like, oh, well, I’m a b2b tech company. So my customer is on LinkedIn. It’s like, Yeah, I mean, I guess like, they’re, they have a LinkedIn profile. But it’s like, A, they’re not on your LinkedIn page. So you can’t just post on your page and expect them to come there and be what sort of people in your industry or on LinkedIn, because like, I’ll tell you an ad tech, there’s a very clear distinction, where like, I’m active on LinkedIn, and Twitter and LinkedIn is much more than like, freelancer and agency and like marketing director type people, but then all of the C-suite people are on Twitter. So, you know, you also need to figure that out for your own industry,

April Martini 24:35
as they say, which I think then that goes back to the strategy, right, which, you know, we’re gonna beat this one. I feel like On this episode, because it is so important, and we’re always having to sell it. But this idea that you have to not only ask for the messaging or you know, ask the right questions in order to get that but then also part of those early conversations are figuring out where people are showing up because what you just said is you could have the exact right message But if you’re on the wrong platform, then it doesn’t matter that you created the right message. And so I think that’s another lens. You know, you said earlier that the strategy builds on itself. And I think you’ve got to get all of those pieces, right in order to hit the right person at the right place at the right time. And a lot of that is the channel strategy, in addition to what are you talking about to be a thought leader?

Joe Zappa 25:22
Yeah, exactly. It’s messaging. And then it’s channels, right? Like, alright, you know, the message where you’re going to distribute it. And then who’s there. So for example, for me, and I’ve certainly made this mistake, it would be an error to focus my executive messaging, because sometimes I am selling to the CEO, too much on LinkedIn, because like, in my experience, the ad tech CEOs, they’re on there, obviously, but they’re not really like looking at content and commenting. So you have to segment that message based on the platform for sure. Yeah. And

Anne Candido 25:53
I like what you said too. And just to build on what you said about influencers, because I think that’s an important one, because people see that as like a little bit of a short cut to thought leadership, which it can be if you do it, right. And I just want to get on the soapbox for just a second to say that selection of influencers is a really, really important part of the strategy. And as well as figuring out how to authentically weave your messaging into their already built social profile, in order for it to sound organic. And so that’s I think, a big miss too, is again, it comes from a lot of times people pushing their own messaging from there about their own business, how we talk to about ourselves, and what we love about ourselves, and try to force that through the mouths and the voices of the influencers, which doesn’t work because it contradicts why you’re using them to begin with, which is for their following, like you said, so if you need to massage that you need to work with the influencer in the right way, in order to be able to have that channel work in a way that’s going to help you build your thought leadership, but it’s totally okay to borrow somebody else’s credibility to be part of the cool kids or you know, it to be seen in that way. And in the big start getting yourselves into circles. But you have to honor the process by which that whole thought leadership grows through that channel. It’s

Joe Zappa 27:17
funny that you say cool kids, because my collaborator, Paul connectedness is a multi time cmo in my industry. He’ll tell clients, that part of the goal of marketing is to be part of the cool kids table. It’s funny like because I think some people would find that derisive Right? Like you could, you could say, oh, marketing, it’s just about like being cool, or whatever. Like it’s not, you know, it could be a way to derive marketing as being a serious business function. But you know, Paul has been has steered multiple companies to mid eight and nine figure acquisitions. And he’ll be the first to tell you that it matters like you want you want the attention of investors in your industry, there are like 10 to 20 people whom everyone’s paying attention to. And you better be one of those people, or at least be in conversation with them. Yeah,

Anne Candido 28:08
I think that’s a really good point. And it also kind of leads to the question that I promote in the intro, but I’d love to get your thoughts on it, which is how do you strategize between building thought leadership of individuals, because you mentioned some of the times like the C suite, byline, or the executive byline, versus the thought leadership of the business overall, like, how do you think about those two things?

Joe Zappa 28:31
Yeah, I think you need to have the foundational understanding of here’s what we stand for, as a business in here’s our sort of house take on three to five key topics. But then it’s up to individuals. And it’s up to the marketing team to tease out of individuals, what they think about each of those topics. And hopefully each if you appoint like three or four companies, folks, people, meaning not like a comms director, but you know, the CEO, the CMO, etc. Hopefully, they have one or two issues that they’re happy to weigh in on. And you can amplify them because it does ultimately have to come from people. I mean, there are very rare cases of companies social accounts that are like super popular, right. But for the most part, it is going to come from individuals, if you have a founder, that’s great, because that’s sort of a natural role for the founder. But no matter what you need to get individuals bought in.

Anne Candido 29:24
Well, I think that’s interesting, because a lot of times businesses will balk at that, because they’re like, We don’t want it to be about one single person. We’re a company of multiple people. And if we start to associate a face with the business, then the two become too intrinsically tied. So what do you have to say about that? And how do people get over that fear of that intrinsic tie?

Joe Zappa 29:47
Yeah, there’s risk for sure. Like you can build you could put a lot of resources toward building up a CMO’s profile and then they go somewhere else. Yeah. But I to them, I would to that question I would kind of be like, you don’t really have other options. Like, you can’t do this exclusively via like the brand social account because people want to interact with people. So I think the way out of it is to diversify, to not have it be like one person is carrying all the weight. Like if you have three or four carrying the weight, you know, all of those people going away within like a three or six month period is pretty unlikely. And if they are all going away in that period, you probably have bigger problems than so yeah, I think that’s the way around it.

April Martini 30:31
Well, and I think it’s interesting, too, because my question is going to be kind of more on the content creation side, which is, how do you get over the hump of people putting their necks out to create the content? Because I think that’s one of the things too, is, so Ann’s point well taken on like, what if they go away, but on the other side, I think we see people being hesitant to put their neck out on behalf of I mean, quote, unquote, their company, but you know, their opinion against those topics. So what kind of coaching or advice do you offer when people are sort of like, hey, like, get it, but not sure that I’m ready to go and put my face out there. And my opinion against whatever those three to five pillars are,

Joe Zappa 31:12
I think, as marketers, part of our job is to make that as easy as possible for the person, which means first helping them understand the value of it, right, like helping them understand we’re in a category with a lot of similar competitors in the customers lives. There’s commoditization problem, which is true in most categories, and marketing and having different perspectives on our customers problems is going to be how we differentiate and win and get more revenue. Once you have that buy in, then it’s about process. And you do have to figure out how do I make this as easy as possible for this person, everyone’s different. Some people I meet with them, and I write a byline and I send it to them the next morning, they have no comments, we’re good to go. Other people, it’s a much more laborious process, some people want to see an outline, you know, they have a lot of notes, you’re gonna go through a few rounds of revisions, but sort of to your point earlier about figuring out what makes each customer tick, and delivering that the byline process is very similar, where it’s figuring out, or it doesn’t have to be violence, it could be LinkedIn content, too. It’s like, you have a regular process, and then you customize it a little bit for each client, and you have to get their buy in.

Anne Candido 32:23
Yeah, I think that’s really important. And I can tell you that it was a process, when I lead our PR efforts at P&G for several of our businesses. I mean, rarely does these individuals actually write their own content to begin with. So most of the time to content written into some sort of form of a content strategy, and it’s approved in order to share the risk. And if somebody is asking you to post your own point of view, without going through those, I would be pushing back and saying, oh, no, no, no, no, we’re all gonna agree that this is the direction we want to take that’s in line with whatever the business is principles are. Because that way, that’s how you can save your your own butt in the process. One question about this, before I move on to talk about what success looks like is, what if people don’t feel like they have a spokesperson at all? What if they don’t feel like they have somebody who can speak on behalf of the company? What do you suggest there?

Joe Zappa 33:14
I mean, I think in that case, we’ve got to find one, right. And there it is a thing that happens, especially in smaller, like relatively young companies. But again, it’s just part of our job as the marketing team to well, let’s say two things. One, if you do embark on a marketing program involving PR and our content to facilitate that, and make it as easy as possible, and say, like, Hey, I’m an expert in this industry, like I can give you some guidelines on like, what are the things people are talking about? We can bounce ideas back and forth. All that, too, though, to be fair, is that that’s something you do have to sort of identify in the sales process. Because if you don’t have a single wheeling executive on the other side, then and you’re trying to do you know, an executive byline program, or you’re trying to get them in front of media outlets, and it’s not going to work, right. So I think there does need to be a level of honesty about like, Hey, this is driven by individual people. I think often that happens in orgs, where you have like a marketing director who’s hiring you. And then like, the CEO doesn’t believe in marketing, which is unfortunately a thing that happens, because then the CEO is like, why should I spend my time doing this? You know, so I think with especially in those cases where you’re being hired by a mid level person, but you’re successful depend on the CEO, I think you need to like ask like, how does your CEO feel about marketing, not just how you feel about it?

Anne Candido 34:46
Yeah, I think that’s really important. I’d love to two strategies. I think developing people which I did a lot internally as well, in music, making sure their message train making sure they understand that the principles of communications I think is really key because it’s not just having a conversation, which is what a lot of people think. But then I also think it’s to your point is to manage the channels by which they’re on. So a lot of times you can control the message a whole lot more written. But you wouldn’t necessarily put the person in front of a journalist cold or to speak in an industry event cold, right? So I think it can be smart and strategic about what channels you leverage based on that. But then this is also an opportunity to maybe have a paid spokesperson that could speak on behalf of the brand or the business, again, you do run a little bit of a risk of them becoming intrinsically tied. But I think if you’re you face it in a way that’s appropriate. And you have maybe you send multiple people or you kind of phase in phase out of people, you don’t have that association as much. And you can have that expectation. There’s going to be different peoples kind of like having all the people who did KFC like they, there wasn’t one person, right, they all kind of came in and played a Colonel Sanders, but just a little like, thank you. So yeah, so I mean, this moving on to like one of the final questions here, I love to understand how you help the client really define what success looks like? Because like what we said PR sometimes I mean, it’s can be a black box, building thought leadership can feel like it’s a strategy with no end. So how do you help people really assess and understand, hey, we’re creating good content here, we are getting good results. This is working.

Joe Zappa 36:24
Yeah, I mean, I think marketing success can be understood on two levels. The first is leading indicators. And this is what we tend to talk about, which is like if it’s PR, it’s like, are we getting a lot of placements? Are the industry publications that we want to pay attention to us paying attention? If it’s social, it’s like, are we growing our follower count and engagement are the right people following and engaging with us this kind of thing, essay, SEO is relatively easy. And own content is the easiest to measure, because you can measure downloads, and you can even like connect downloads to sales opportunities, which I’ve seen some clients build little custom dashboards, where they’ll they’ll connect downloads to pipeline, you know, so there’s that. And then it’s important to remember that, like, all the CEO ultimately cares about its like, its marketing having an impact on sales opportunities, and therefore revenue. So it’s also important as marketing leaders to keep that in mind. You know, let me give, though, like a less sort of PR, safe answer to that, which I do. All right, right. I do think a lot of marketing, measurement is bullshit. And I think when you actually get marketers like over drinks, like, they’ll tell you, like, oh, yeah, a lot of this is like smoke and mirrors. And like, the truth is, it’s just not that easy to measure your credibility and to measure the touches that marketing has on like most sales opportunities, especially if you’re in like, high consideration b2b sales, like, there’s a very high chance that everyone coming through the door, like heard of you at some point, and that’s marketing, in all likelihood. And it’s very hard to gauge how many times they heard about you, where they heard about you, and so on. And so I think like, I’ve sort of gotten more confidence on this myself, I don’t know what your experiences have been, but from like, working with multi-time CMOs, who they just like, they just level with clients about that, like, oh, because I’ve, you know, one on my team, and he and I, when we’re talking about the stuff, he’s just like, you know, I could give them a whole, you know, the whole rigmarole about, you know, measurement and use these SaaS platforms and whatever. But the truth is, like in my industry, where like, cold email and direct response are like, not really a thing. It’s like PR events and content, and it’s like human to human networking. And a lot of it is hard to measure, and you sort of need to figure out, like, what is an amount that I feel will have an impact and that I’m comfortable with, even if I can never, even if it’s never going to be a Facebook Ad, and I’m never going to be able to point to a dashboard and be like, I put an X and got out why?

April Martini 39:07
Well, I’m glad that you gave us the non PR answer, because I think that’s where we tend to live as well give us some wine. And we’ll be even more forthcoming about that. But no, I think there’s a level of sophistication with finding the right types of clients and and I talk about that all the time where they understand or are open to understanding more about the opportunities with marketing, and then I think it goes back to getting to know them and what the pain points are, and then building the approach based on that with a storyline on why that’s going to work. I mean, I think your example is right. You could call the events just networking, right? You could there is an argument to be made that like well, I showed up and and I showed up enough times and that worked. But if you have more of the marketing ecosystem working around that and again, And I’ll bring up intentionality again and strategy. And you’re going back to doing it with a concerted effort and making sure that you’re getting enough touchpoints within whatever those chosen channels are that work for you. That’s how you start to build your momentum. But we also talked about the fact that there are certain opportunities where if the level of openness or sophistication or experience isn’t there, there’s not a lot we’re going to be able to do to convince that person, that’s where we’ll walk away as well. Because it’s not worth it’s not worth the time, the frustration, our potential reputation, and doing this knocking heads the entire time. With that person. We’re looking for those CEOs and CMOs that believe in it and get it and want to have the relationship and partnership of Listen, I know what works for my business. And I’ll tell you, you know those case studies of how did we get from A to B to C and those relationships? And how did that work? And how did that sales cycle go? I’m looking to you marketing team as the experts in the space to come back and say I heard you. And here’s what we can layer on to really put that on steroids. So that that fill in the blank, the sales happen faster, or you get more of them, or whatever that success criteria becomes. But because it is so gray, you’re never going to have a oh, I ran that Facebook ad for six months. And I can point to X dollars associated with it, because it Well, that won’t work anyway. But also, that’s just not the realm of marketing. And I think where we lose audiences is where people don’t have the patience, or they want the black and white science. And that’s just not the world we’re in.

Joe Zappa 41:35
Yeah, exactly. We can’t let marketing and in particular, as is the case of my industry is like high consistent high consideration, b2b marketing, the dictated by the logic of DTC marketing, or, like hyper casual game marketing, like, you know, we’re not like selling a 99 cent download here. And the rules, and the metrics are completely different. I tweeted today, something about how, you know, I’ve interviewed a dozen ad tekota market leaders over the last couple months, for a newsletter I do. And really what comes up is like, look, there’s a sort of playbook that works in this industry, its content, its events, its PR, it’s consultative selling, like those two things are different sides of the same coin. And some someone commented and was like, Oh, they’re just figuring this out now. And I was like, look like, the thing about marketing. In my industry, at least I think this holds for a lot of b2b marketing is like, it’s simpler and harder than you would think. Like, it’s simpler in the sense that there is sort of a basic playbook of channels, that makes sense. And there are ones that probably are not going to work, like cold email in my industry is probably not going to work. At the same time. It’s harder, because like, everyone knows that playbook. And so your challenge becomes, okay, everyone’s going to these same five PR firms and pumping out this content, how are you going to be different? How are you actually going to stand out in this like sea of noise? And then from the like, human to human level? From a human to human perspective? How are you going to get everyone on board and bought in on this, and however, we’re going to understand the value of this and stick to it. Because it’s one thing to say that events content and PR and consultative selling are what works and you know, ad tech go to market. It’s another thing to get everyone to buy into that and not like do the the merry go round approach that is most common, where it’s like, oh, we’re gonna hire someone. And six months later, they can’t point to a number on a dashboard, justifying what they did. So we’re gonna fire them and then hire someone else next. I mean, there’s so many companies that hire a new agency every year, right? So Oh, yeah, yeah, I

Anne Candido 43:56
love the the connection that you made between content and relationships, because that’s really what it’s all about in the b2b in a service oriented industry is that content, whether you’re you’re generating it virtually or live is the way that you drive to those relationships, which I also think in because you need those two humans why AI? Because that’s another question we always get asked is what the role of AI plays role of AI is not as prevalent here why AI is not going to take over the world in this kind of an arena, because it is so relationship oriented. Do you agree with that? Or do you see AI playing a solid role here?

Joe Zappa 44:36
Yeah, to reprise my casual terminology AI is also mostly bullshit. Yeah, I think it has a really large role to play in the industry. I cover actually like programmatic advertising, like, you know, optimizing algorithms in real time. That’s where AI is going is already happening and will have a huge impact like, high light highly specific expert long form content, no, like if AI is doing as good a job as your marketing team, either you’re a bad you’re bad at interpreting the quality of writing, which many people are, or your team isn’t doing a good enough job. So like AI might suffice for, like, basic creative optimization. But again, that’s sort of long form stuff like writing a talk, you’re going to give that an event figuring out your position and why it’s different from your competitors positions. Writing a byline. This is all stuff that you still need smart humans to do.

Anne Candido 45:37
Amen. Yeah. Yeah. For sure. The differentiation piece, because it’s kind of counter to AI basically. aggregates. Yeah. Yeah. And then yeah, so I think this was extremely helpful conversation. We went through a lot about building thought leadership that I think is gonna be very, very helpful for folks. Joe, is there anything else you want to say to gotta wrap this up, and please tell people where they can find you?

Joe Zappa 46:02
Yeah, thanks so much for the conversation. This is great. You can find me Joe Zappa on LinkedIn. Just shoot me a DM or go to our website, which is Thanks so much, guys.

Anne Candido 46:12
Awesome. And thank you for being with us. And with that, we’ll say go and exercise your Marketing Smarts!

April Martini 46:18
Still need help in growing your Marketing Smarts? Contact us through our website: We can help you become a savvier marketer through coaching or training you and your team or doing the work on your behalf. Please also help us grow the podcast by rating and reviewing on your player of choice and sharing with at least one person. Now, go show off your Marketing Smarts!