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CMA Live 2017 write-up

CMA Live is the Content Marketing Academy’s annual event in Edinburgh.

Here’s what happened at #CMALive17 over a jam-packed couple of days in June:

A tiny preamble

I joined the Content Marketing Academy in summer 2016 after discovering head honcho Chris Marr through my editorial colleague Denise Cowle. She pointed me towards Chris’s podcast. Without that, I might never have found out about CMA. Isn’t it funny where little conversations can lead:

CMA Live 2017: Day 1

Session 1. Chris Ducker

Chris talked about burnout after working 16-hour days for 3 years to build a million-dollar business. After recovering from major spinal problems, he restarted his business with a new routine: a 6-hour day for 4 days per week #NoWorkFriday.

Chris recommends focusing on delegating the tasks you’re not so good at so you can focus on what’s most important – a great tip.

One of Chris’s key messages is something I totally agree with: video is the future. (I deal with words all day, but visuals and video are becoming important even in my line of work.)

Specifically, Chris talks about the power of live video, and shared some figures about his success with Periscope in promoting his Youpreneur community content.

Everyone in content marketing has heard the familiar trope of ‘Know, like and trust’. Chris takes it one stage further:

Here are Chris’s top 3 tips for delivering great live video:

Oh, there’s one terrible joke I’ve got to get out of the way before the conference goes any further:

Chris’s podcast is called Youpreneur.fm and receives 900,000 downloads per month.

Connect with Chris: @ChrisDucker

Session 2: Ross Coverdale and Col Gray

Designers Ross and Col have recently been working on new branding for the CMA:

The guys didn’t have much time to perform a complete brand consultancy, so they decided to reach out to the CMA members with two basic questions:

Here are some of the designs that were left on the cutting-room floor:

You can see the new branding on the CMA website.

After the event, I spoke with Ross about his experience of CMA Live:

The CMA conference in 2016 was the best conference ever, so the bar was set pretty high for me for CMA Live 2017. Holy crap! What a mind-blowing event. I took so much away from this year and am already putting things into action.

I’ve never felt so much love in a ‘business’ environment – from meeting people in real life I’ve spent so much time with on Slack, to the reception to my speaking on stage, to the encouragement and appreciation from the community, it really is something else. You’d expect this sort of thing to be business changing, but it’s so much more than that. CMA Live is a life changing experience.


Ross Coverdale
RAD Creatives

Connect with Ross and Col: ‪@radcoverdale @pixelscol

Session 3: Roger Edwards

Roger is a marketer with a background in financial services. He’s also a part-time body combat instructor. Roger’s key message is to keep your language simple – a man after my own heart!

Here was the most important part of the talk:

And here’s a case in point:

If you want to hear more from Roger, check out my chat with him on episode 114 of his Marketing & Finance podcast.

Connect with Roger: ‪@Roger_Edwards‬

Session 4. Yva Yorston

Yva talked bravely about the struggles and failures in her Virtual Assistant (VA) business:

Yva found a new and successful direction after connecting with Chris Ducker (see session 1). Now she runs Content Boost, a blog management agency.

Yva’s talk provided a wonderful example of the sense of community spirit in CMA. I think this is a fantastic thing that’s hard to explain to others – the value of community. You can’t put a price on having the right shoulders to lean on. If we could bottle this spirit, I’ve no doubt that CMA would have a membership of thousands.

‪Connect with Yva: @boostbizsupport‬

Session 5. Stefan Thomas

Over the past 10 years, Stefan has been to more than a thousand business networking events – wow!

When you put in effort like that, it’s no surprise that you get good at what you do. Practice makes perfect.

Stefan wrote the book Business Networking For Dummies, and he told us that all good business starts with small interactions. Quite right: no one is going to go from 0 to 60 just like that. Start small and go from there.

Stefan says that being in the right place at the right time is ridiculously easy, but it’s not simple. Why? Because it’s all about building rapport, which takes time – and most people just can’t be bothered with that.

Connect with Stefan: ‪@NoRedBraces

Session 6: Sharon Menzies

The first speaker after lunch was Sharon Menzies, owner of Influx Recruitment. Her business has had spectacular success in the last year:

Sharon shared a quite incredible stat about her website’s sucess:

At the end of Sharon’s presentation, Influx Recruitment were the first to receive a special recognition reward from the CMA.

Having written content for this business, I can see why Influx Recruitment is such a success. Sharon has built a committed, friendly and ethical team. Well done, guys and girls!

Here’s ‬Lauren Pratt with award in hand:

Connect with Sharon: ‪@InfluxRecruit

Session 7: Doug Kessler

Doug talked to us about swearing in your fucking marketing. What? Yes! You read that right.

Doug’s key idea is that real people swear and so it’s natural that swearing should appear in marketing content. He said that some research suggests that as much as 3.4% of writing contains swearing. Apparently, a programme called Deadwood is the worst offender, with 1.8 Fucks Per Minute (FPM).

The most interesting part of the presentation was that swearing is processed in a different part of the brain to the rest of language. People can’t avoid processing swearing when they see it, and that means it can be a powerful marketing tool.

Here are Doug’s 6 reasons why swearing might have a place in your marketing:

And even if swearing isn’t right for you, don’t forget these 6 things:

I think swearing in your marketing is OK so long as it’s right for your intended audience. If they’re likely to respond positively to swearing, a bit of potty mouth could strike the right note. None of my clients has asked for such an extreme tone of voice to date, but who knows?

Connect with Doug: ‪@dougkessler

Session 8: Cara Mackay

Cara talked to us about her experience dealing with trolls:

Cara’s viral article How to fucking work from home attracted a lot of positive and negative attention, and she showed us plenty of the negative responses and the brilliantly funny way with which she dealt with them. The message was clear: take back control from the troll.

Connect with Cara: ‪@NattyShedGirl

Session 9: Erika Napoletano

Erika talked about finding your voice and brand. But not in the normal boring way. She’s from the Doug Kessler school of swearing:

Erika shared her experiences of struggling with acting classes. She was being mediocre until she realised that she needed to be honest and stop caring about whether people liked her.

Erika shared 3 tips for finding your true voice and the right clients:

  1. Stop hunting elephants: Don’t waste your time trying to do work you don’t love.
  2. Be vulnerable: Let your human side show.
  3. Reframe fear: Accept that fear is a part of life and do it anyway.

Erika’s talked about an alternative to the classic elevator pitch, based on asking people this question: ‘Have you ever felt stuck?’ This gives her the ability to find out about the people she speaks to and understand where they are and where they want to be. That’s her way to take control of the conversation.

She told us all to take the same approach by finding our Big Universal Question (BUQ) – the question that each of us should ask the people we’re talking to so that we can take control of our conversations.

And this wasn’t just theory: Erika went through a live coaching session with Ross Coverdale to help him find his BUQ for his video marketing clients.

My BUQ would be to help business owner’s written content suck less, and make it more readable and engaging. I look at a lot of blogs and websites – most of them are terrible. And I know I can help people get away from that. The key here is to sell the feeling rather than the product or service.

Erika encouraged us to be human and compassionate. Her take on compassionate is not to be a ‘yes man or woman’, but to be honest.

Finally, Erika told us to make fear our ally. We shouldn’t shrink away just because we’re afraid of something, but instead reframe the way we think about it. This takes guts and gumption.

After her session, Erika talked to me to about giving my customers the feeling they want. In my case, it’s helping business owners get their content to work as hard as they do. It was great to be able to have these one-to-one conversations with the speakers – one of the key things that sets CMA Live apart from other conferences.

Connect with Erika: ‪@ErikaNapo

CMA Live 2017: Day 2

Day 2 started with a warm welcome from the sparkly Chris Marr:

Session 10: Mark Schaefer

The first session was keynote speaker and my personal content-marketing mentor, Mark Schaefer.

Mark started with some of the basics from his previous book, The Content Code. You start by building weak relational links (followers on social media), which follows to engagement and trust (subscribing to videos and email newsletters). Finally, you move on to loyalty, where people love your product and encourage their friends and other contacts to use it.

But there’s a problem:

We need to move to a new world where customers really love us. But customers don’t love brands (on the whole, anyway) – they prefer people.

The big question is: How can businesses put their personality in front of potential customers?

Mark explained how he was ‘hugged by a brand’ – the Hyatt hotel and its great personalised service. He became Facebook friends with Teri, the person who served him so well at the hotel and who literally hugged him when he was checking out – how often does that sort of thing happen?

Mark’s answer to the question was this: Connect the hearts of your people with the hearts of your customers.

Organisations will succeed when they help their people to build their personal brand:

The big idea here is that personal branding can be part of a positive move towards corporate branding.

Mark gave some of the great examples of success from his book KNOWN. I highly recommend you read this one (and not just because I’m in it). It’s an excellent read full of inspiring case studies.

I just hope I can feature in Mark’s next book …

Mark reminded us about the value of consistency. He said that switching costs are so low that we have to keep fighting to be relevant and superior with our content.

To help relate the stories in KNOWN, Mark invited Pete Matthew and me to the stage to talk about our case studies. Here’s a quick clip:

This was a proud moment for me, as I was able to share the stage with someone who has been my mentor since late summer 2016. Until the day before our presentation, I hadn’t met the man in person. Perhaps you can see how happy I was here:

As I was answering Mark’s questions onstage, I came out with something that I believe is going to be the cornerstone of my brand from now on: I am relentlessly helpful. I guess that shows me why I love content marketing so much – because it’s about helping rather than selling.

For this moment of clarity alone, it was worth my going to CMA Live 2017.

Part of Mark’s presentation is set out in this excellent follow-up post on his blog: Sometimes your dreams follow you.

Connect with Mark: ‪@markwschaefer

Session 11: Andrew and Pete

The most fun session of the day was presented by Andrew and Pete, the creators of the incredible Atomic membership community.

Andrew and Pete can’t put on a session without being their natural fun selves, and they came up with an innovative way to get people to pay attention to their slides. The audience had to look for pictures of Chris Marr dressed in aerobic gear throughout the presentation, then tweet #CMALycra with a count of how many Chris Marrs they saw. Brilliant!

The boys’ talk was about creating stand-out content, to stop being boring with your content.

They gave some examples of Atomic members who are doing great things with their content. I was really happy to see that my editorial buddy Louise Harnby got an honourable mention:

Andrew and Pete want us to get rid of boring brand values.

Common terms such as ‘professional’ and ‘friendly’ aren’t going to help business owners stand out. Why? Because they’re just too basic.

Everyone should be professional.

Everyone should be friendly.

These things are taken for granted – even though the reality of customer service (especially in the UK) means consumers don’t often experience this.

But you need to go beyond the basics. You need to find less obvious properties and use those as the cornerstone of your brand.

As well as understanding who your ideal customers are and what problems keep them up at night, it’s important to define your arch enemy, to make sure you don’t sound like one of your boring competitors.

Great lesson: put way more effort into producing your own content rather than guest blogging.

I’ve been a member of Andrew and Pete’s Atomic community since December 2016, and this was my first chance to meet the guys. A handful of other Atomic members attended, so it ended up being like a mini-conference inside the main conference. Here are some of the Atomic family:

Andrew and Pete have written an excellent book about stand-out marketing, called The Hippo Campus:

I can’t wait for Andrew and Pete’s next book, which is coming out soon. They’ve also created Remarkable Content: The Movie. These guys are constantly coming up with fun ideas for effective marketing.

If you’re willing to be adventurous with your business, Andrew and Pete are definitely the team to help you. I can see the Atomic group going from strength to strength.

Connect with Andrew and Pete: @AndrewAndPete

Session 12: Pam Laird

Pam Laird talked to us about starting her content marketing journey to build her hair salon business:

Pam’s content was based around understanding your ideal client. It’s a topic I talk about a lot because I think it’s really important to finding out what’s the right content for your audience. (Check out my pen portraits post for more on this.)

Connect with Pam: ‪@finandcohair

Session 13: Janet Murray

Janet talked to us about the power of PR in your business:

Janet’s top tips:

Janet ended with an exercise called ‘the 10-word top line’: a way to provide a journalists with a simple summary of your story. She shared a helpful sample email template and encouraged us to think visually when pitching to journalists.

Connect with Janet: ‪@jan_murray

Session 14: Karen Reyburn

Accountancy expert Karen talks about finding your niche – the targeted area that you can serve well. She calls it ‘seeking less’.

How do you find a niche? And what if it doesn’t work?

Karen’s advice was that everyone has a niche – but finding it is not easy. A former wedding photographer, Karen now uses her accountancy qualifications to run a creative agency that works exclusively with accountants.

Karen asked us to answer these questions to find our niche:

  1. What’s the one thing you keep coming back to?
  2. Who or what do you understand the best?
  3. Where do you get great results for people?
  4. Where are you or could you be really profitable?

Karen displayed a beautifully creative way of taking notes during the event:

On being known, by @karenlreyburn

On complexity, by @karenlreyburn

On being kind, by @karenlreyburn

For more of these great visual notes, see Karen’s CMA Live sketch notes.

At the end of the conference, I spoke with Karen about her thoughts on the value of CMA Live:

I’ve been educating accountants for years on content marketing. If they came to this event they would get the ROI they dream of on a massively accelerated scale. Plus, it’s the most human business event I’ve ever attended.

Speakers, attendees, coffee servers, and organisers are all treated as equals. I was invited to speak this year, and it gave me the final clarity I needed on the topic of my book. Can’t wait to write it.

Karen Reyburn
Owner and managing director
The Profitable Firm

Connect with Karen: @karenlreyburn

Session 15: George Thomas

George talked to us about how to produce a content-marketing machine through the intelligent use of tools.

Any mention of ‘tools’ sounds scary to some people but George reassured us that it doesn’t have to be this way.

We saw an example of high-budget analysis software and consultancy that could cost up to £100,000 per year. But who has that sort of budget? Almost no one.

Thankfully, there’s a much cheaper way, but it involves an investment of time.

George recommended a number of free and cheap tools. I wanted to capture all of the suggestions, but his rate of delivery was so quick that I couldn’t get them all down (note to self: learn to type even faster!).

One of my favourite tools for WordPress got a mention: Yoast SEO. I use the premium version of this plug-in, which helps me when I produce my blog posts. Anyone using WordPress but not using Yoast is missing out.

One great resource for learning that George recommended is the HubSpot Academy. The software is expensive, but this learning hub is free.

Connect with George: ‪@GeorgeBThomas

Session 16: Danielle Sheridan

Danielle was our secret lightning speaker. She’s Marcus Sheridan’s daughter and is therefore automatically content-marketing royalty:

Danielle followed her passion for making jewellery, scoring her first sale at the age of 15. And before hitting 16, she’d already taken on an employee – that’s a serious businessperson!

Her message was that getting out of your comfort zone is great for expanding your horizons.

Connect with Danielle: ‬‪@TheSalesLion

Session 17: Marcus Sheridan

The final keynote session was content-marketing superstar, Marcus Sheridan.

Marcus talked about setting 10-year goals. He wrote a short message as a plan for himself for 10 years’ time. He found his purpose in embracing the one thing he was really good at.

Marcus gave confidence to people who need to start their blogs. You have to start somewhere.

His talk was an inspiring end to the event, summed up by some great quotes:

Marcus’s approach is the cornerstone of good practice promoted by the Content Marketing Academy. His first book, They Ask You Answer, sets out much of what you need to know, so if you’re at all interested in using content marketing to help your business get noticed, this book is essential reading.

After witnessing his electric closing performance, I just wish I could have had more time with Marcus. Before the main event got underway, he ran a separate video workshop with Sales Lion partner George Thomas. I couldn’t get to Edinburgh on Wednesday, so I had to skip it. Looks like it was fun, though:

Can’t wait for another chance to meet this great guy. What an inspiration!

Connect with Marcus: ‪@TheSalesLion

Meeting ActionLab, my accountability group

CMA Live was my opportunity to meet my accountability group, ActionLab, in person. The CMA community is full of these small groups of like-minded people who meet regularly to ensure their content-marketing plans stay on track. This arrangement means that you’ve always got someone to lean on whenever you need to ask questions. (If you haven’t already investigated being part of an accountability group, I’d highly recommend it – for me, it’s one of the key benefits of the CMA setup.)

Here’s the Actionlab crew:

CMA Live 2017 was a successful event for ActionLab: Ross and I spoke separately onstage, Martin’s incredible results on a recent web-design project were mentioned during another talk, and Denise picked up a special CMA award for her commitment to creating great content. She’s joined here by fellow award-winner Anne Johnston:

To show our appreciation for Chris Marr’s efforts in running the CMA, the ActionLab team pulled together to get him a little surprise:

Audio interviews with attendees

Podcast host ‬Colin Gray was the roving reporter over the 2 days, and has published several audio interviews with attendees:

Listen to CMA Live 2017 audio

I have been to so many different types of conferences over the years, but CMA Live 17 was different.

The moment you are in it, you already feel the warmth, the comfort and joy of being in each other’s presence. Never before have I had access to speak to so many different attendees and even had the opportunity to speak to the speakers at ease. I have learnt a lot, being inspired, got shaken about to make me take action and made beautiful connections.

What more do you want?

Ahmed Khalifa
Digital marketer
Ignite Rock

Let’s wrap up

CMA Live 2017 was a great event full of enthusiastic, intelligent people who were looking to stand out with their marketing. I’ve made lots of new friends and can’t wait to go back next year.

On the face of it, the event is expensive, especially when you add in the cost of hotels and travel. But the couple of key takeaways I had from the event – Erika’s talk about giving the right feelings to our customers, plus my self-discovery of being ‘relentlessly helpful’ – made the money well worth it.

If you’re already excited about next year, you’ll be interested to know that a couple of keynote speakers for 2018 have already been announced: Brian Fanzo and Ann Handley.

Roll on CMA Live 2018!

See you all next time

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Who wrote this?

John Espirian – the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter

I write B2B web content, blogs, user guides and case studies – all aimed at explaining how your products, services and processes work. I also offer LinkedIn profile critiquing and rewriting.

I work from home in Newport, South Wales and support the (formerly) mighty Liverpool FC 🔴⚽️