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By: Molly Donovan on September 26th, 2019

Best in Show: ProfitWell on Wistia’s “Brandwagon”

In Best in Show, the MSR team breaks down what worked (and what didn’t work as well) in marketers’ shows. First up: Episode 7 of Wistia’s Brandwagon, featuring ProfitWell CEO Patrick Campbell. In this episode, Patrick explains why his company has focused all (and we do mean all) of its marketing efforts on creating a network of shows. Plus, show host Chris Savage learns what it really means to host a talk show. 

1. What’s your tweet-long summary of the Brandwagon episode?

Jay Acunzo: Wistia CEO Chris Savage has his Letterman moment before ProfitWell CEO Patrick Campbell casually blew my mind about investing in shows.

Molly Donovan: We laugh at Wistia CEO Chris Savage’s (…and PETA’s) expense; ProfitWell CEO Patrick Campbell makes creating shows about financial analytics products for SaaS companies sound as exciting as Game of Thrones.

2. What’s your tweet-long summary of Patrick Campbell’s insights on marketing shows?

Acunzo: Creating shows is shockingly cost-effective and even more so when you consider how efficient it makes your entire marketing funnel. Also the data-obsessed, uber-rational Patrick is the exact opposite type of CEO you’d think would do this (which probably makes them better at it).

Donovan: In a marketing ecosystem saturated with written content, ProfitWell has emulated media companies and doubled down on creating a true network of video shows. So far, the bet has paid off (to the tune of millions of revenue dollars). 

3. What’s the one thing Patrick said that marketers need written across their desks?

Acunzo: “This is a multi-move game.” So many marketers treat their work like they’re playing checkers. They think in single moves at a time. They do X, and they get Y leads or sales. Most marketing teams are playing checkers. ProfitWell is playing chess. And that’s why they’re thriving and growing so much.

Donovan: “You’re putting the onus of conversion on them [the customer].” Patrick nailed it when he said we are starting to reach a really interesting power equilibrium between brands and customers. Increasingly, marketing tactics don’t make sales — value does. The companies that understand that, pump the brakes on micromanaging prospects, and shift gears (not sure where all these auto references are coming from) so they hit the gas (I can’t stop) on demonstrating value are the ones that will succeed.

4. What’s something ProfitWell does that most marketers don’t? 

Acunzo: They look for strategic and tactical ideas from the best in the world at what they’re trying to do: the media. It’s always blown me away that, at all these marketing conferences and on all these blogs and podcasts, we say we learn from “the best” at creating and distributing content and growing audience. But we’re really learning from the late entrants into this space who happened to be early compared to their peers: great marketing teams.

In an interview lasting — what? Thirty minutes? — I think I heard Patrick mention one or two other brands. The rest of the companies they studied to understand how to become masters at running shows and, now, an entire network of shows? Bloomberg, Netflix, CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, Cheddar, and The Skimm. He points out that audiences interact with favorite media companies 4-6 times per week. That shrinks to 1-2 times for favorite brands. He says, “These are the best in the world at building audience. But they’re the worst in the world at monetizing that audience.” (I love that shot at the woeful advertising business model, by the way). Then he says, “Software companies are the best at monetization with their products. So why not put the two together and do both?” 

Best of all, Patrick studied them for the various constructs of their shows. There are so many various concepts and episode formats we can mine for inspiration aside from what we usually assume exists as marketers: an interview show, a co-hosted chat show, or the highly produced docu-style of your Chef’s Tables or This American Lifes. (By the way, that last one was awkward to write as a plural…)

Oh, and as an aside: Yes, I’m aware that one of those “media” companies Patrick cites is Bloomberg, which sells a technology product for investors, their terminals. I’m also aware that 75% of people reading this had no idea and just assume they’re a traditional and digital media company. Because they are. They’re ALSO a product company. They put the two together. So should we all.

Donovan: They put their money where their mouth is (mouths are?) when they talk about valuing content. 

Every single brand I’ve worked for, with, or near in my career has indicated an interest in content (and, more specifically, in thought leadership). Every single one! Content is as trendy as oat milk. 

Sadly, however, I’ve found that many companies do not make a commensurate investment in content resources. Product marketing or sales teams might get the staffing and budget a truly powerful content team would need. 

This is not the case with ProfitWell. As Patrick noted, content production and dissemination represent 100% of ProfitWell’s current marketing activities. That didn’t happen overnight — the team began, as Patrick said, by “hedg[ing] the hell out of it.” They started creating video content slowly — but as they found that it worked, they focused their full attention on it. 

That single-mindedness has paid off. It blew my mind (in a good way) when Patrick said “no person becomes a customer without seeing a piece of content.” That is the content marketer’s dream. And it’s resulted in millions of dollars of attributable revenue, as well as a huge increase in qualitative data that reflects a positive impact on the ProfitWell brand. 

That success story could not have happened without support — both qualitative and quantitative — for video content. 

5. Can we just talk about the animal handler quick?

Acunzo: I knew you’d bring this up. 🙂 My take on that segment (where Brandwagon host and Wistia CEO Chris Savage interacts with five wild animals) is rather meta. Because I am a marketer marketing to marketers, and everything I do is meta. Here’s my meta-take: Wistia finally “let it breathe.” 

A lot of what Wistia does is take a topic which is important and teachable and create a delightful experience from that by adding gags and editing touches in post. In this case, merely capturing the moment on camera was delicious enough: Dan Mills, their creative director, invited Savage into the office on a Saturday for a surprise. He primed him about it on camera. Savage’s reaction to learning he’d be interacting with some wild animals in classic late-night show style fashion was classic. He was genuinely shocked, genuinely laughing, and noticeably scared about what was coming. 

So that’s my take: Wistia’s team is the best in the world at lacing important things with entertainment value, often created in post. This was gripping video, too, but it gripped you because the moment captured was so compelling. We might need both in our video shows, but damn if more brands shouldn’t aim for the latter more frequently.

Donovan: Hats off to the Wistia team for surprising their boss and injecting some genuine humor and shock into an otherwise interesting but consummately professional B2B video. I found Ed the animal handler to be a truly compelling character in this zany segment. I would watch a 20-minute interview with just him.

The animal meet-and-greet went on a little long for my taste, but I’m not mad about it. In a world where marketers have a tendency to take themselves too seriously, I loved that Wistia was being emphatically, unequivocally irreverent. 

6. Are we ignoring the importance of having an executive be so deeply involved in the shows? Patrick Campbell hosts and oversees a few of ProfitWell’s, and Chris Savage hosts Brandwagon. They’re both CEOs.

Acunzo: No, I don’t think every company needs an executive on camera or on the air. I do think that the host should have a few traits though: subject matter experts, self-assured presenters of material, opinionated but measured in where they interject their thoughts, and let’s throw in that pesky word “coachable” that some executives are loathe to become. Superseding all of that, however, is muscle memory. Reps. The show host has to do a ton of on-camera or on-mic work to get good at it. Watch early versions of Patrick’s Pricing Page Teardown, or tune into Brandwagon a year from now and watch these first episodes (Patrick’s was #7), and you’ll see a noticeable difference.

There’s a humility in that. An executive — or anyone hosting a show — needs to understand that just because they’re smart and charming in-person (or think they are) doesn’t mean they understand the craft of interviewing or hosting a show. Those are discrete skills taught in schools and media companies the world over, and the masters in podcasting, radio, TV, and web video all work their entire lives to practice at it. It takes a ton of reps.

Donovan: This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I started at MSR (so, for a full two weeks!). I can envision a world in which many CEOs would want to be the face (or voice) of a show, as a way to simultaneously build their own personal brands. This is great if you have a CEO like Patrick or Chris, but less great if you have a CEO who 1) doesn’t have experience with the show medium or 2) doesn’t have the time to commit to creating a sustainably great show. In that case, I’d much rather introduce a show host who doesn’t sit in the C-suite, but who is passionate and knowledgeable about the medium and the subject matter, and who can dedicate the time and energy required to make the show a thing of value for the audience. 

I think companies like ProfitWell and like Wistia, which have CEOs who advocate for shows, are well-positioned far ahead of the curve. They’ve already harnessed one all-important criterion in creating a show: gaining executive buy-in.

7. Play Devil’s advocate to this: Committing 100% of your marketing to showrunning. 

Acunzo: Look, I started Marketing Showrunners to grow the size of the pie: more marketers making more and better shows. I believe it matters for their brands and the ability to improve the affinity others feel towards them. I believe it’s a safe haven for great creative. I believe that the audience feels better served, the brands straighten their funnels, and the world gets just a bit better if MSR’s mission succeeds. 

But I don’t think every brand should invest 100% in making shows. ProfitWell doesn’t. Patrick says so, then walks it back ever so slightly when he points to the one demand-gen person on staff. I know his intention wasn’t to proclaim to all marketers that they should invest so heavily into showrunning. But I’ll state the unspoken out loud: Marketers love to straight-up copy what successful people appear to be doing. But finding the “best practice” isn’t the goal. Finding the best approach for you is. Let’s focus more on that, shall we? Don’t invest 100% of your budget into shows … unless, of course, it makes sense for you.

Donovan: For some companies, committing 100% of marketing to showrunning might make all kinds of sense. For others, it might be a crippling mistake. Divvying up marketing budgets isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a one-size-fits-all exercise. 

A good exercise, though, is to do what Patrick did: identify an issue or problem (in his case: market saturation of written content), then attempt to rectify that issue (in his case: by augmenting written content with video shows). Hedge, test, de-risk, and test some more — then (and only then) make decisions about how best to allocate your marketing budget.

8. Where did you want to go deeper?

Acunzo: How Patrick attributes millions of annual revenue to their shows. When they finished the segment and cut back to Chris Savage for the episode tail, he mentions that ProfitWell has found a way to measure their audience’s interactions with their shows. I’d love to dig into that more. What does that look like? What can we learn? How do they track an existing tumbling between episodes vs. net-new audience arriving mid-series? What about the movement between shows, or between a given show and other content or touchpoints? If only we had the time to investigate this critical detail. 

(What’s that? I literally run an organization focused on that? What’s that? I’m not actually talking to another human right now? What’s that? Stop doing this lame bit?)

Donovan: At one point in the episode, Chris asked Patrick what advice he would give to someone just getting started with showrunning. Patrick advised creating either a persona-driven show or a show based on a very specific topic. He advised against creating an interview-driven show, then moved on. 

But why?! So many of the shows I love, both podcast and video alike — The Daily, Skimmed from the Couch, Between Two Ferns, Unthinkable (’sup, Jay), the very Brandwagon episode on which Patrick was featured — heavily feature an interview component. Why is that a no-no for a beginning showrunner? Tell me, Patrick! 

9. What one missable detail should marketers think about a bit more deeply?

Acunzo: Patrick rushed past this because the interview wasn’t about this, so he did the right thing … BUT! ProfitWell spent years creating a widely beloved blog in the SaaS industry. Their longform articles and subsequent ebooks helped generate significant traffic, some of which converted to email subscribers. That enabled them to launch one show, then another, and then another, en route to the Recur Network. It’s dangerous to launch a show without having a pre-existing audience to tap to buoy the launch. 

Shows are inherently slow-growth vehicles or, if not, they’re at least heavily driven by word-of-mouth. Without established success blogging, sending newsletters, or growing an audience for our brands away from podcasting and video series, we’d better find a co-marketing partner to help us launch if our first foray into publishing is a show. Other content is great for reach. Shows are world-class for resonance. Other stuff helps people arrive. Shows help them to stay.

It’s really hard to build a VIP section of the club if there’s nobody coming to the club in the first place. Says a guy who refuses to step foot inside a club because #old #dadlife #whiteguydancemoves.

Donovan: Patrick spent much of the interview indicating just how much research he and his team have done and continue to do by consuming content themselves. He focuses on media networks, both traditional and nontraditional, for their unmatched ability to gain followers and drive engagement. 

He spent slightly less time on something really important: the fact that he constantly catalogues media formats while consuming media. 

The format of your show is almost as (or maybe just as?) important as the content contained therein. When deciding to create a show, emulate Patrick and look to companies that have successfully created binge-ability for their content. But also ascertain the format best-suited for your particular audience. ProfitWell is experimenting with this as they create a true network that comprises multiple shows in multiple formats, geared toward multiple audiences. 

Much like a marketing budget, there is no one-size-fits-all format for a “good” show. Aspiring showrunners should take the time to determine what will resonate best with their audiences — not just copy a format that 1) seems easiest or 2) another brand (or competitor!) does well.

Disclosure: Wistia is a presenting sponsor of Marketing Showrunners. They had no say in this nor any editorial on MSR.

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A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.

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