Passionate People: Joe Pulizzi

Alan BelniakMarketing, passionLeave a Comment

If you’ve read past posts about my ‘Passion Profiles’, then you know how this goes.  If not, pick one and skim it to get the low-down.


In this session, I had the very fortunate opportunity to interview Joe “Junta Joe” Pulizzi, known by some as the ‘Godfather of Content Marketing’.  I know Joe as an incredibly down-to-earth guy who is friendly, approachable, smart, forward-thinking, and a guy I like to call a friend.  Joe is insanely passionate about content and content marketing, and if you ever met him and spent more than three minutes with him, you know what I mean.


Joe has been in the content marketing industry for over a dozen years now.  He founded Content Marketing Institute, which includes Chief Content Officer magazine, and the industry’s largest event, Content Marketing World (I attended CMW 2012, and it was great).  Joe has also written a few books and will do about 50 in-person keynotes in 2012.  When he’s not living in a hotel room as part of his keynotes, he lives in Cleveland with his wife and two boys (ages 9 and 11).  Oh, and Joe is overly-passionate about the color orange.  But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Junta Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing World 2012


Alan Belniak: Let’s start with some general background.  The basics – education, where you grew up, first job out of undergraduate school, that sort of thing…


Joe Pulizzi: I graduated with a BAC (Bachelor of Arts in Communication) from Bowling Green State University (just south of Toledo, Ohio). I was really interested in sports marketing at the time and was able to get a summer internship with the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball organization.  As a fall back, I applied to three schools to go on and get my master’s degree.  I made a deal that if I got a full-ride to one of them, I’d go on with my education.  I was accepted to all three schools but no scholarships were available, so I started looking for a job in communications.  Luckily (at least for me), with just a few weeks left in summer break, Penn State called and someone dropped out of the teaching assistantship program.  I took it and that weekend went to campus to look for a place to live.  One week later, I was teaching public speaking at Penn State.


After getting my master’s degree, I was heavily educated with little to no workplace experience.  I started temping for about six months, doing mostly administrative works for the Cleveland-area banks.  I fell into a job at an insurance company in their internal communications department and they hired my after the first day of temp work.  After a year, I was running operations for the department.



AB: That’s an interesting start!  So, presumably, somewhere along the way, you had an epiphany of sorts.  When did you have the “a-ha” moment with the concept of ‘content’?


Joe Pulizzi: It wasn’t just one…it was many little moments in meeting with senior marketing executives around the country.  They had too many marketing problems that simply couldn’t be fixed with traditional marketing and advertising.  It had to be a content solution.  As the barriers to entry for online publishing started to come down, I had a feeling that this industry was going to explode.



AB: I guess I should back up a bit.  To the layperson: what’s your definition of content marketing?


Joe Pulizzi: Instead of interrupting customers and prospects with ads, you create compelling and interesting information (like a publisher would) to attract and retain customers.  Basically, acting like a publisher, except that instead of getting paid directly off your content, you sell more products and services because your content is that good.



AB: Let me get this straight… Retail has been around as long as we’ve had goods and services and a monetary system to barter the two; Gutenberg paved the way for Sunday circulars; Timothy Berners-Lee made it possible for Groupon…  All these are ways to get a fool to part with money.  What’s broken, and how is content going to fix that?


Joe Pulizzi: I don’t think we, collectively, give buyers enough credit.  All the technology in the world is available so that consumers can connect directly to products and services, and vice-versa.  The consumer can pick and choose with exactly who and what they want to engage in.  They can buy products without ever (or almost ever) talking to anyone in sales.


That is happening, right now.  And since it is, I can either throw a ton of money at my buyers (that I probably don’t have) to get their attention from what they really want to be doing… or, I can develop content that makes their lives better or makes their jobs easier.  By doing that, I become an indispensable resource for them.  When they are ready to buy, they most likely will buy from me.


To your specific question, though: nothing is necessarily broken…what’s changed is that information is completely and readily available to almost all people at all moments.  Most marketing departments weren’t set up for that.



AB: This paves the way for an incredible amount of content to be made available to people.  At the Web 2.0 Expo in New York in 2008, Clay Shirky (now famously) said, in response to the notion of digesting all of this: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”  What’s your reaction to that?


Joe Pulizzi: I agree.  There is always room for more amazing content, but never any room for just average content.  Our customers don’t need any more stuff… but that is just what most brands create… stuff.  Buyers still use all the channels, but it’s harder to get into those channels.  The great brand publishers cut through the clutter and make it into the inner-circle [with quality content].



AB: Speaking of average content – give me an example of a piece of content, any type, that has been remarkable to you lately.  Bonus points if it wasn’t part of your work, for a client, or anything like that.  What made it remarkable?


Joe Pulizzi: Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 continues to make an impact on my career.  I share it often.  I call it their “Jerry McGuire” mission statement for brand storytelling.  Anyone in marketing should take the 17 minutes to view these two videos (Coca-Cola 2020, Part One ; Coca-Cola, Part Two).  Basically, in them, Coke is saying that they know their future of marketing needs to be focused less on creative excellence and more on content excellence.  When one of the largest spenders of traditional advertising in the world says this, marketers need to listen.



AB: So, Coke is making a concerted effort to change.  It’s nice to see ocean liner-size brands executing a right-turn.  On a smaller scale, though, do you or does your family catch yourself or you commenting audibly about how something could be done just a bit better to achieve better results?


Joe Pulizzi: If you are a human being and you don’t do this, I think that’s a problem.  I talk to my two boys all the time about never being satisfied with anything and always striving for more.  I truly hope it sticks.



AB: OK.  Rorschach test: Finish this sentence: “Content marketing and social media _____.”


Joe Pulizzi: I’m stealing this from Jay Baer, but ‘content marketing is fire and social media is gasoline.’  You can have all the gas in the world, but if you don’t have the fire to start and spread, nothing productive will happen.



AB: With some of the media options today, it’s almost like they are blending, though.  We’re awash in a sea of text (long form, short form, medium form, instant, delayed), images (mobile, DSLR, Flickr, Instagram), video (YouTube, Vimeo, variable speed, stop-motion, xtranormal), audio (original/Indie music, SoundCloud, podcasts)…  The mix has never been better.  The medium and the network (the distribution mechanism), in some cases, are converging.  What’s the landscape five years from now?


Joe Pulizzi: Honestly, I don’t know.  It’s hard to see even a few months out.  Look at Instagram.  No one saw that coming.  Pinterest?  These channels are coming out of nowhere and word-of-mouth on new channels spreads faster every day.  So, the channels will both remain the same (audio like radio, video like TV, text like blog and book) and more new channels will be added.  What hasn’t changed?  People engage with content that inspires them.  That has always been the same…from Twain to Rowland.  Focus on the information that goes into the channels first and you will probably be okay.



AB: New media convergence and proliferation is a hearty conversation for people that are in the space and drink this every day.  But what about a stereotypical CMO?  Let’s say you and one of these guys are in a room.  He says, “Yeah, content seems great, but I need results. It seems like that stuff takes too long to pay off.  An ad in the paper or a TV spot is more immediate.”  Your rebuttal?


Joe Pulizzi: It would depend on how his or her buyers buy.  You don’t need a video strategy for a blind person.  I would simply ask, ‘How do your buyers buy?’.  I haven’t found a group of buyers that don’t consume mass amounts of content on their own to make or influence buying decisions.  That CMO can make a decision… do they want the stories to come from their competitors?


Consumers are in complete control.  We can’t control the message and interrupt them with our ads and expect that to do all the work.  Don’t get me wrong, though… advertising is still important, but it serves a very distinct purpose.  Different than advertising, content marketing is extremely flexible… it can drive attraction, leads, will nurture your customers, assist sales in conversion, give customers something to share (word-of-mouth and social media), keep customers loyal and turn customers into brand evangelists.  So, hopefully, at the end of the day, your customers start doing the marketing for you.



AB: Taking a time out from content for a sec… when you’re not living and breathing content on your own, or helping others do so, what do you do for fun?  To relax?


Joe Pulizzi: I enjoy hanging out with the family and my two boys.  Running, golf, watching sports, going to musicals and reading are in there.  To relax, I run, about three times a week.  I also really enjoy speaking.  I told someone the other day that I created a big event so I could get on stage and perform (because I lack the musical talent that my brother and sister have).



AB: You’ve told me when we caught up at Content Marketing World, but share with the readers here: what’s with the obsession fascination with the color orange?


Joe Pulizzi: When I launched the company in 2007, I started wearing orange because it was the company color.  One time a few months after I started on the speaking tour, I wore black, instead of orange.  And it was noticed by a number of people in the audience, who commented “where is the orange?”.  From that moment on, I started to believe that the infatuation with orange could be business advantage… and it has been.  Today, I always wear plenty of orange in public… most of my wardrobe is orange.  Every couple weeks someone sends me something in the mail that’s orange.  When I go to events, people look for me in a crowd by trying to identify the orange.  Even though it was never deliberate to be obsessed with the color, it’s one of those top things that have helped drive awareness for the company.

Joe's shoes (source:



AB: We covered a lot of ground here.  We talked about B.O. (“before orange”) and I.T.Y.O.O. (“in the year of orange”)… You’ve started your own company.  You run a consultancy.  You’ve been published (in dead-tree form).  You’ve run a successful event (twice).  What’s next for Joe Pulizzi?  What’s “P.O.”? (or is there a P.O.?)


Joe Pulizzi: Content marketing is still at early adoption stage and there is still so much left to do.  Right now, the mission is not complete yet – where content marketing is as important in marketing as anything else a marketer does.  When that day comes, then I’ll think of something else to do.



If you haven’t figured it out by now, Joe is a great guy who pours himself into his work.  He’s peerless in the industry, and a tremendous guy.  To follow Joe and this space more, you can do so over at Content Marketing Institute, or attend a Content Marketing World event.  Online, you can find Joe on Twitter (@juntajoe) or on the web at  Joe’s latest book is Managing Content Marketing and is available at


image sources: Content Marketing Institute ; 


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