In this contributor Q&A, Curtis Sparrer, principal at Bospar Public Relations, discusses his recent column, “Navigating Your Content Strategies Through Turbulent Marketing Skies,” and how marketers are dealing with the current uncertainty.

Sparrer notes that marketers are trying to get ahead of everything that’s happening, but it’s challenging due to the high level of uncertainty caused by multiple events — the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, among others. He points out that marketers are exploring how to create campaigns that will resonate with their prospects and achieve business objectives such as sales.  

Sparrer also dives into the efforts that marketers need to make to create meaningful communications programs that lead to sales and what the best metrics are to track success. He discusses content marketing and the role it plays in times of turbulence and how it relates to sales and leads. Sparrer believes that content marketing is key and emphasizes the importance of tracking leads and setting up a consultative approach. He explains that PR can be used to generate interest in the content before it is released.

The Takeaways: 

  • Marketers are trying to stay ahead of the rapidly changing world and economic conditions.
  • Marketers should focus on creating campaigns that will resonate with their target audiences and lead to sales and other desired business outcomes.
  • Marketers should use metrics to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns.
  • Traditional press releases alone are not enough to drive meaningful results, and marketers need to do the groundwork before releasing a press release.
  • To make a content marketing plan work, it is important to first generate interest in the content through PR and other means, and to include a strong, tangible call-to-action in order to track leads.

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity

Dom Nicastro: Dom Nicastro here, CMSWire managing editor, with our new contributor Curtis Sparrer, but I like to call him Curtis Spaaahrer in my Boston accent, principal of Bospar — Bospaaahr, another Boston accent moment, Bospar PR, Curtis, how are you doing?

Curtis Sparrer: I'm doing fine. I'm also impressed. I can't really do a Boston accent. I can sometimes wing a Texas accent since I grew up there. But it's been many years. And I kind of need my mother and father to talk to me, so I could just get in the spirit of things.

Nicastro: All right, well, then I guess you have to answer the first question in your best Texas accent. And what do you say?

Sparrer: Stumped and slow.

Aliens, Marketing and Content Marketing

Nicastro: Okay, there you go. You got it. You got it out of your system, we're good. But the first question is, you're new to us, you know, you're not new in our business relationship. We've talked many times throughout the years, you've served me up some great sources of great data. So thank you for that. 

But now you're the source. So you're getting out there and you you just came to me, Curtis, let's be honest, and said, like I got a passion about this topic of content marketing and marketing turbulence and what marketers are going through. And it's an awesome column. But before we get into that, I just want to know a little bit about the man behind the column. So what's going on in your world? And how did you get in your role? And tell us all about yourself and toss in a little fun fact at the end? Why don't you? 

Sparrer: Wow, tall order. So I think the short version is that I was a TV producer, who worked his way up to San Francisco executive producer, and had a moment where I had to decide, do I stick with TV or do I do something else. And the TV options were a little bleak. One was working for a national cable news source, if you want to say, and they wanted me to do weekend mornings, weekends, what fun. 

And the other option was undefined. And I picked that one. And it became public relations. And I've been working with clients like Tetris and PayPal. And I really had a good time with it. I think one of my favorite experiences was when I got to work with the folks at Tetris. And see I have visuals here. 

Dom: I can see it.

Sparrer: Yes, that's super handy. Yeah, also got to work with George Takei of Star Trek fame. And, you know, as someone who has a huge love of all things science fiction, that was really, really exciting.

And then I also worked with Jill Tarter, who is the head alien hunter for the SETI Institute. And I asked her, what would it be like to communicate with aliens? And she thought about it. And she said, you know, it would be like communicating with the ancient Romans. And I nodded as if I understood what she said. And I said, ahhh, and she said, it's not AOL Instant Messenger. It's not texting. It's something that someone says thousands of years ago, and we finally get it, and then we decode it, and then maybe we'll send a response that will get to them thousands of years later.

And that's what it would be like, and so I don't know if that qualifies as a fun fact, I certainly thought about that long and hard. And I asked her about our alien movies. And she said, you know, anytime I see an alien movie, I think it says a lot more about us than it says about whatever an alien could be. And I said, well, will aliens come and eat us. And she said if aliens had the power to come to us, they could have done so many things to us already that it wouldn't even matter. I don't think that's what would happen. And I think if aliens did visit, it would be robots, not organic life, because that would be so very, very hard. So hmm.

Nicastro: Curtis, I'm, I'm partial to ET because I was about, oh, maybe 6, 7-years-old when ET came out. So that's my alien encounter, OK, televisionwise, and that's what I think is happening in the outer world here. So but there was also that scary movie. I don't know what it's called. But the aliens kidnapped a dude. And he was on a table and they were examining his eye or something with like a needle. And it was scary. I don't know if you've seen that was from like the probably the late 80s, early 90s.

Sparrer: I think that was really about marketers looking at a PR plan. I think they were digging around to see what they could find.

Related Article: How to Use Content Marketing to Your Advantage

How Marketers Are Adapting to Turbulence

Nicastro: Here comes the needle. No, no. Well, speaking of market, thank you for that catchup, by the way. Very nice. Very nicely done. Speaking of marketers, that's the topic of the column like, you know, the CMSWire debut column for you. And it's about dealing with all this turbulence is such a great amount of turbulence going on in the world. How are marketers dealing with this? I mean, you're probably kind of like a therapist to them, I would imagine.

Sparrer: Well, I think marketers are trying to be ahead of everything that's happening. And that's really a challenging position because we are looking for leading factors, not lagging ones. And the levels of uncertainty have never been more uncertain. 

At first it was, well, we're really focused on the Ukraine war, and how that's going. But this week, things have changed dramatically. That might change the calculus about how we deal with things. 

They've also been looking at the economics, they've been looking at inflation. And again, these all have been changing very rapidly. And so keeping ahead of things has never been harder because things will change on a dime, it seems.

I think the most important thing that marketers are looking at is they're looking at how they can create campaigns that are going to land with their prospects and are going to achieve the business objectives of sales, investment going up, you know, employees feeling good about this, people buying the product and people thinking in the company in meaningful ways. 

And I probably just outlined it in the order of priority. I think sales is the big, big, big thing that most marketers are looking at today. And I think the thing that they're asking is, how does a meaningful communications program lead to sales? What are the best metrics that we can use to find that? How can we create a program that we can see meaningful call to actions come to fruition on the other end? And what is the timeline for that fruition? All really good questions. And it really depends on the program and how you structure it and how you make it come alive to others. 

And some people think, well, you know, just put out a press release, and put it out there. And we know, that's a one way ticket to the witness protection program. Do not put a press release out there and think you put it out there, and maybe they'll come. You really have to do a lot of the groundwork before the press release even appears on the wires if you're going to expect the sort of transformational media coverage that's going to deliver results for you.

Related Article: How to Develop a Content Creation Strategy

Learning Opportunities

Measuring Leads and Justifying the Value of Content Marketing

Nicastro: Yeah, and you're thinking the answer is content marketing, especially in these times. And, you know, I agree with you in many ways. But going back to sales, I wonder if you know, sales is almost thinking, OK, great, you put out a great educational piece of content, and 1,600 people read it. What does that do for me? Like, you know, how do you sort of justify, you know, we know, marketers know, editorial knows that this is a good comp piece of content that's resonating. Our advisory board is saying this topic is resonating. Let's get out there and write about it. Let's put it on social. Let's make a discussion, a forum, but then sales asks you where are my leads?

Sparrer: Absolutely. And it's a good question. And I think that any marketing program that’s super serious about tracking leads, and how things are going to work out, we'll want to make sure that they're looking at the Google Analytics for any campaign to see how that's working. 

I think it also means that you have to have a very strong tangible call-to-action. That's why for example, white paper and other gated content is so useful. So you have a sense of, hey, this came out, where's it coming, you know, who's looking at this, and have they been so kindly their information. 

You need to set up a consultative approach in all of this. But the thing that everyone has to know is that if you're going to make a content marketing plan work, you have to get people interested in that content first. 

So PR, for example, sets up the, hey, this is an interesting company talking about the issues that you want. But journalists are not going to get into the details that are going to matter to you. They're going to do it in a much broader way. So you need to be thoughtful and think, OK, if this is the top of the funnel here with journalists, then you know, as they're getting into the consideration phase, what are the nitty-gritty questions that my prospects are going to ask? And how can I bridge from what's being talked about here to here so that if someone is interested in my company through PR, they're going to come down the funnel here and look at questions on implementation, about best practices, about case studies, about what they could do for me. 

And that's the area that content marketing really serves well. And the problem we find is a lot of people will treat it as ships passing through the night. And that's the biggest issue because someone might get excited about an article they'll see and Fortune but they won't be able to connect the dots to what you might have put on your website or the microsite you developed or the social media campaign and white paper you put out. You really need to think all of this as an integrated approach in order for you to deliver the results you're expecting.

Related Article: How to Find Content Marketing Success Through Any Budget

The Importance of Meaningful Follow-Up and Predictions

Nicastro: Yeah, it's tough. It really is tough. I mean, I get excited as a reporter — I’m an editor now — but you know, as a reporter, I mean when I get excited when wow, look at my tweet, it's skyrocketing. And then I look at the analytics on the article, like, come on people, you're not even reading the article. You're just tweeting it. I mean, so you just read the headline, you know, exposure is one thing. But yeah, it's a tough world out there, especially with the turbulence that's going on, like you mentioned in the column. So I like it. I think it's a good approach. And I'm looking forward to many more columns from you. You're on the spot now. So last question. What are we going to see next? What do you following for the rest of 2022 out there?

Sparrer: There's a couple of things that are on my radar. One is to actually the point you mentioned about, hey, you had a great tweet, you got a lot of engagements — now what? And it kind of goes to our whole philosophy at Bospar as far about being politely pushy, that's a plug. But the plug is that …

Nicastro: Politely pushy. I like that. 

Sparrer: People are so easily distracted. And so you might get a lot of engagements with your tweet. But how do you follow up on that? How do you codify that? How do you take perhaps some of the engagements you get from that tweet and make it more meaningful so you can follow up. So it's not to quote PR guru Whitney Houston, a moment in time, but it's actually something that people could go back to, and back to again. 

And so the point I ring is that we need to talk about meaningful follow-up so that when you have a great eureka moment, it doesn't doesn't just stand there, and it's forgotten. And that's especially true if you have a great eureka moment on like Thursday, or Friday or Saturday, everyone seems have amnesia by time Monday rolls around, how do you go back to that and get that going? 

And so that's, I think one of the most important things to talk about. The other thing that's important to talk about, is the whole sort of predictions for the next year because while everyone's kind of talking about this, they're all looking at it thinking OK, 2023 what that what's that going to be like? I mean, there's Covid. Now there's not, maybe there is, you know, there's a whole thought about inflation, but maybe not. I think we have a whole kind of Schrodinger’s cat moment with the economy, with Covid, that we all have to kind of figure out to see how things are going to play out in the next year. And what that's going to mean for everyone.

Nicastro: It's a changing world in business, isn't it? I mean, I tried to go to a fast food place to get coffee the other day, and they didn't even have it. I mean, you know, no one wants to work. The staff is short. Everyone's stressed about that. With the world opening up, there's no one to do the work, it seems in many levels. So that's another factor too. But that's just me complaining I needed a coffee so bad the other day, Curtis, I was out and they didn't have it, and I had to go across the street. My life is so hard.

Sparrer: It is hard. I guess my question is Dunkin or Starbucks? I feel like you’re going to say Dunkin.

Nicastro: Listen, neither. But I went to Dunkin after the first one didn't have it. And I'm not embarrassed to say I went to Taco Bell for coffee because they have some good breakfast burritos, Curtis, don't judge. All right.

Sparrer: Like, I’m from Texas, you say don't judge. Where do I begin with that?

Nicastro: Where do you begin? That's a whole 'nother Zoom with us. Curtis Sparrer from Bospar PR. Good to have you in the CMSWire contributor family. Looking forward to topics of marketing and customer experience. I know you play in that space. So thank you. Good to see you and good to join CMSWire thank you so much.

Sparrer: Hey, thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to crashing this party.

Nicastro: All right, me too. Have a good one.