In November 2013, Sam Slaughter, Contently’s vice president of content, pulled me into the conference room affectionately known as “Grizzly.”1 I was a freelance editor and writer for Contently at the time, which had helped me cover rent and costs for my threadbare editorial startups. Unlike most Contently freelancers, I had taken to hanging around the office, mostly because my Chinatown shack of an apartment was as insulated as the mesh tanktops sold down at the Jersey Shore.
When Sam called me over, my initial thought was that he was going to tell me to go home or reprimand me for getting a little too crazy at karaoke the previous week. (As many will tell you, Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” is my vice.) Instead, he offered me a job as Contently’s editor-in-chief.
Two years later, almost to the day, The Drum just named The Content Strategist the Best B2B Content Marketing of 2015. It’s an honor: The Drum is one of the most influential marketing pubs in the U.K., and we were nominated alongside powerhouses like Think With Google. Naturally, I felt nostalgic. I thought back to the day I got the offer and how we became an award-winning publication with over 250,000 loyal monthly readers, up from just 20,000 two years ago.
Ultimately, I accepted Sam’s offer because of Contently’s mission. I was excited to work for a startup dedicated to helping talented, creative people get paid to do what they love. And I wanted to run a magazine that would show brands how to tell great stories so they wouldn’t have to flood the web with crappy, interruptive ads.
From the start, Sam instructed me to focus 100 percent on building and serving our audience, and he gave me the editorial independence necessary to do that—something that was incredibly important to me as a journalist. We began publishing twice a day, and we didn’t post anything even remotely self-promotional for the first six months. Even when we did, it was a brilliant 2,000-word essay from Contently co-founder Shane Snow about how marketers needed to rethink content metrics, which announced the launch of Contently Analytics.
That audience-first approach was crucial. Our readership quickly grew to 100,000 readers in those first seven months and kept growing. Every other meaningful engagement metric skyrocketed as well. As a result, our inbound marketing machine was supercharged just off of all the interest we were generating. A few of our readers even reached out to us and became our finest editors and writers.
It wasn’t really until this year that we even started talking much about the work Contently does. And after we had spent so much time building trust with our audience, they really wanted to hear about it.
Seriously, our product updates get hundreds of shares; our case stories, which describe the work Contently has done with clients like Marriott, Xerox, and Chase, get thousands. We’re still incredibly deliberate about when and how we talk about ourselves, but we’ve grown more comfortable with it since our audience seems to value learning about our progress. This has a profound impact on our business, and it never would have happened if we hadn’t approached TCS with an audience-first ethos.
I sat down this morning to write a simple announcement, but instead, I’d like to end with a message for the marketing community: Don’t take shortcuts. Craft an editorial mission that you believe in—one that fully serves your readers. Build trust; build relationships. If you take pride in that, the success will follow.