One Big, Happy Sandbox: Why Content Marketing Institute Fell in Love with Intelligent Content (And You Will, Too)

IC_Sandbox-01By Marcia Riefer Johnston

Why the heck was Joe Pulizzi, renowned as a marketing guy, delivering the keynote presentation at last year’s Intelligent Content Conference? Some attendees surely asked themselves this question as the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) walked across the stage and took the microphone.

I could see some logic in the choice. I had heard Joe speak at a recent Meetup in Portland and had read his book, Epic Content Marketing, so I knew how broad his thinking was on the subject of content. And many people have been talking for years about the convergence of technical communication and marketing. Still, I didn’t know what to expect as Joe stood in front of this group of content strategists, technical communicators, and others. As diverse as we were, we had, for the most part, one main thing in common: We did not come from marketing.

Joe knew, of course, that he had a gap to bridge: the gap between his world and ours; between content marketers and content strategists. (The audience included people with other titles, but, given that the conference has always focused on content strategy, most of us identified with the “content strategist” label.) Joe described the difference between the two disciplines—and the ways that they interweave.

I had to snap a photo of his slide that sums up this relationship (you can also view the full presentation). It says,

“Content marketers are in charge of the why … content strategists are in charge of the how … together they collaborate on the who, what and where.”

ICC2013 keynote slide

Photo by Marcia Riefer Johnston from Joe Pulizzi’s keynote presentation at the 2014 Intelligent Content Conference

Any attendee who walked into the room thinking, “I play over here in the post-sales sandbox, and content marketers play over therein the pre-sales sandbox,” walked out with that boundary at least blurred and possibly eradicated. Joe had challenged the notion of content marketing as an isolated effort belonging to marketing.

Conference organizers Ann Rockley and Scott Abel had chosen Joe to kick things off because they, too, knew the importance of challenging this notion. For content to serve as an asset, all of us must work together to manage all kinds of content from the enterprise point of view.

I came away from Joe’s talk convinced, more than ever, that we content professionals share one big sandbox, and the sooner we act like it, the better.

(I could speak in terms of silos, as so many have, but I prefer sandboxes. For one thing, a sandbox evokes an important aspect of work: creative, cooperative play. Besides, silos are full of all that … silage. Even in the ideal scenario when the silos finally break down, as everyone insists they must, who wants to navigate around that wreckage? Give me a big, happy—or at least unified—sandbox any day.)

After hearing Joe, I felt energized. Inspired. Fired up. (I wasn’t alone. Joe finished to thunderous applause.) I had spent several decades creating mostly post-sales content: product instructions, specifications, and other deliverables that we technical writers had come to think of as ours. I had worked in a comfortable, well-defined sandbox—but as the demand for that kind of work shrank, that sandbox was becoming smaller and less comfortable.

I later walked past Joe and Scott. They were deep in what Joe now calls a “life-changing” conversation in one of the Hilton’s sumptuous seating areas. As it turns out, they were about to take this blurring of boundaries to a new level. They were about to blur the conference’s own boundaries in a big way, as I would find out four months later when CMI announced that it had acquired and would now run the Intelligent Content Conference.

And the tech-comm community said, Wha???

And the content strategy community said, Wha???

And the content marketing community said, Wha???

Or maybe they didn’t. By then lots of people had heard the message.

Joe, who talks in terms of CMI “falling in love” with intelligent content, recently chronicled his journey to this decision in an article entitled, “The Evolution of Content Marketing Will Include Intelligent Content.” Even if you don’t think of yourself as a content marketer—and especially if you do—sneak a look at Joe’s post.

You may also want to take a peek at Ann Rockley’s own answer to the question, What are intelligent content and content marketing doing in the same sentence?

Finally, consider attending this year’s Intelligent Content Conference. There’s no better place to discover that the content sandbox contains more toys—and more bright, creative playmates—than you ever imagined.

Want to get more intelligent about intelligent content? However big your sandbox, here are three things you can do right now: 

About the author

marcia riefer johnston
Marcia Riefer Johnston (@marciarjohnston), managing editor of Intelligent Content for the Content Marketing Institute, has attended several Intelligent Content Conferences and looks forward to the next one. She is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build From Them). See Writing.Rocks.

Title image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute