How Chief Content Officers Can Resurrect Marketing Communications

The modern-day Holy Grail for marketing communications—relevant, powerful content—requires a new way of thinking about marketing as a media outlet.

The Holy Grail has inspired ancient Celtic folklore as well as many Hollywood adventure films. During last week's annual VOCUS User's Conference, I discovered that the modern-day Holy Grail for marketing communications — relevant, powerful content — also inspires marketing professionals during times of turmoil.

First, let me provide some grail folklore for context. Some claim that St. Joseph of Arimathea used the grail to collect Christ's blood and sweat while Joseph tended him on the Cross. According to Brittania, "After Christ's death, Joseph was apparently imprisoned in a rock tomb...Left to starve, he was sustained for several years by the power of the grail which provided him with fresh food and drink every morning."

Stories like these abound. But don't let your quest for the truth get in the way of this good story. In this case, it's the metaphor, not the story details that matter: the Holy Grail represents divine power.

Mark Ragan, CEO of Chicago-based Ragan Communications, carried the content chalice to the VOCUS masses. During his breakout session, he reminded us that "when you are developing such great, compelling and brief content, the holy grail is that your prospects and customers see you as someone they want in your world."

In doing so, marketing and PR professionals hold the power to captivate and capture people's attention.


But what if the C-suite doesn't care about generating relevant, compelling content and prefers staying on the "boring content" hamster wheel? How do you survive one more press release about your awards and team promotions? Fear not, damsels and daring marketers. Says Ragan, "You have got to convince them this is the way the world is going. Follow the principles of general circulation news sites, then measure the traffic results. Then compare those results against your "boring content" pages. This simple comparison will speak volumes."

Ragan provided some excellent examples of content curators across many traditional industries, as well as those under tremendous transformation, such as health care. Mayo Clinic,, and Cleveland Clinic showcase patients and expert video clips. American Express OPEN publishes pithy articles and is void of any invitations to sign up for their card. Nuts about Southwest is run by 30 employees who produce content. They include flight attendants and luggage handlers.

Becoming a communications superstar, or "chief content officer," requires a new way of thinking. Here are five qualities Ragan recommends you can embrace that role:

  1. Be the inside "go to" person for all things social media. Watch for new patterns emerging, such as Pinterest, and revenue performance management solutions.
  2. Become a leading content creator and curator for your organization. VOCUS customer Ed Adams, Public Affairs Manager at DuPont, suggests you develop multiple types of news releases. These include releases that showcase external recognition, new innovations, and customer success. If your company is more mature, include legal or reputation management related topics in the mix.
  3. Practice "refrigerator journalism." That is, build content that is so brief and controversial that people clip it and put on their refrigerator.
  4. Produce an online newsroom site. Shy away from using this site to promote your products and services. Make the primary goal to share wisdom and insights that your community really needs to succeed.
  5. Build relationships with both traditional and new media sources. Jay Kenny, VP of Marketing at, recently told me that "Instead of running 10-20 marketing strategies (across online and offline outlets), we run 50-70." As a result of their disruptive interactive security solutions and creative marketing messages, they now boast over 850,000 users.

Mark Ragan, in my opinion, stole the VOCUS show. He truly believes that most marketers don't think of themselves as a media outlet—but we should. As senior marketing leaders yearn for their seat at the strategy table, the place card that says "chief content officer" will ensure they are not preparing for the Last Supper.

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[Image: marcovarro via ShutterStock]

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  • Jill Konrath

    Excellent article & interview, Lisa! Thanks for capturing the key strategies that companies must embrace these days. I love Ragan's advice for people who work for boss's who just don't get it. 

  • Lisa Nirell

    Hello Jill,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Mark has his finger on the pulse of today's marketing communications professionals.We both chuckled at how many executives are self-appointed marketing experts (even though they may be finance, sales, or operations professionals by trade), and offer unsolicited advice to marketers in this realm.

    Thankfully, companies such as Vocus, Google, Eloqua and Marketo provide powerful analytics tools to help marketers demonstrate content reach and impact to their fellow "experts."

  • Clare

    I love to see the title, Chief Content Officer, gaining more and more traction (and you'll see why in a moment). I'd like to point out, however, that advice #2 above, "Become a leading content creator and curator for your organization" is so very complex and tough to do well. Many companies say just that: "Let's create content!" There's so much enthusiasm to blog or tweet that a company loses sight of the big picture: how does content support my company's strategy? How does it help tell our story? And how will it lead to more sales? Dashing off more and different types of content will surely disappoint if not coupled with some rigorous planning and methodology.

    Mr. Ragan is right, companies must think like media companies. They must also develop new skills to make that transition. There's great educational content about how to do this on the Content Marketing Institute blog as well as from Chief Content Officer magazine. (Full disclosure: I'm the editor of the magazine.)

    Thanks for bringing attention to the role of the CCO!

    Clare McDermott
    Editor, Chief Content Officer magazine

  • Lisa Nirell

    Hi Clare,
    Thank you for the shameless promotion. All is forgiven ;-)

    I liked Ed Adam's perspective on the importance of creating a balance within your content strategy. (see my post again). He ensures that Dupont categorizes content and does not over-stimulate their community in one topic/area (such as bragging about their awards).

    Companies seldom have ample content creators in-house. (Southwest Airlines, Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic are certainly exceptions!) In my experience leading CMO gatherings, I am learning that they are more comfortable hiring external content experts and authorities to expand and further legitimize their brand message. I enjoy contributing to 8 different publications for that reason.

    Keep sharing!