From a teacher of at-risk kids to a big dog in the content marketing world, Jerod Morris plays his role as Copyblogger’s director of content with the attitude of an artist. We grabbed a cup of virtual coffee with him (black coffee, that’s all he drinks) and chatted about how he got started, his thoughts on storytelling and his hardboiled advice on creating viral content.
What’s your professional story? How did you end up working at Copyblogger as director of content?
I took a long and winding road to Copyblogger. Immediately after graduating from Indiana University, I moved to South Florida and taught at an alternative school for troubled next-step-is-incarceration youths. Then I moved on to a position in face-to-face event and restaurant promotion, which is really just a nice way of saying that I sold coupons door-to-door. I could only do it for so long, but for the most part I absolutely loved it, and I may have learned more—about myself, sales and people—during that year than any other year of my life. Then over a few years I worked in a restaurant, at a printing company, as an administrative assistant for a sports agent … all the while trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life.
I’m still trying to figure that out, but a serendipitous meeting with Derick Schaefer (who runs the Synthesis business unit at Copyblogger) some five years ago at least gave me some stability, a plan, and a new passion I never new existed: creating and marketing content online. He ran a consulting business that helped small business owners use the Web, I was his right-hand man, and over time we developed a decent little list of clients, and a side project I started—MidwestSportsFans.com—experienced a mini-explosion and became a big revenue driver for us. Its hosting demands are what led us to create Synthesis, which is what led us to join forces with Copyblogger, which is what led me to become director of content.
Also: I’ve always loved to write. And to edit what other people write. That helped.
What does your day-to-day life look like as director of content at Copyblogger?
My day-to-day life involves coffee, reading other online writers and managing a host of social media accounts and trying to be useful in the Authority forums, coffee, planning-recording-editing podcasts, coffee, walking my dog and listening to other podcasts, coffee, managing the editorial calendar and getting the next day’s post primped and ready for publishing, coffee, and whatever else needs doing. Documentation? Interviews? Planning presentations? Testing? There is always something to do and someone to help, which is one reason why I love my job.
But my most important role is making sure there is a badass piece of content—that is useful and devoid of all typos—published at 7:00 ET every Monday through Friday. So long as I do that, no one comes looking for me.
What are the major themes you’ve seen covered editorially at Copyblogger this year? How can marketers and writers put these themes into practice?
Copywriting will always be a major theme. No surprise there. And we resumed publishing regular podcasts again, which I’m having a ton of fun hosting and putting together. And you’ve seen bits and pieces of New Rainmaker on Copyblogger—with its mantra of “media, not marketing”—so that, too, has been a major theme. And now Demian Farnworth is knee-deep in a series about native advertising, which has already included an insightful survey to gauge what people know about native advertising (not much) and several educational pieces in which Demian tries to correct that.
Your content at Copyblogger often goes viral. What are some tips for in-house content marketers to make their content go viral even if the theme of the product or service is inherently boring?
I don’t think topics are inherently boring. I think writers can be inherently boring. Any topic can be made interesting—at least for the 10 seconds to 3-4 minutes something has to be interesting online to catch a wave of virility—with good writing. That’s the job of the writer: to find the unique angle, recount or even make up a compelling story (so long as you’re not passing a fake story off as true), and explain it in a way no one else has. Think about TV and movies. Some great ideas have been ruined by mediocre writing. (I’m looking at you, Blacklist). And some silly, even stupid ideas—A schoolteacher who quits to cook meth? Huh?—have become epic successes because of amazing writing. It’s all about the writing. The tip: invest in good writers. They’re worth their weight in gold (even the chubby ones who weigh more, which is most of us … it’s all the sitting).
What advice can you give brand publishers in terms of writing compelling content?
Tell a story. Simple as a that. Wait, no, tell a GOOD story. And that means it has to have these five elements.
Make your customer the hero and take them on a thrilling journey they won’t ever want to stop.
Your organization publishes multiple forms of content (eBooks, webinars, blog and article content). What’s the highest performing type of content and what metrics do you use to gauge this?
Nothing beats premium themes for sales. Our StudioPress team features a bunch of wizards that consistently churn out amazing designs that sell like lemonade in summer. And yes, that’s the metric: sales. Granted, there are other metrics to look at, pay attention to, work to improve, etc. But all that work is done in support of sales, otherwise you have more of a hobby than a business. The beauty of it is that you have to be people-focused and customer-driven to move the sales needle. So a ruthless pursuit of higher sales means an unyielding focus on delivering value and being useful to your audience and customers. That’s what we strive to do.
Where do you go for content inspiration? What about your colleagues?
Content inspiration comes from everywhere. Reading. Watching. Talking. But most of all listening, especially to our audience and customers. Most of the best ideas come straight from them.
What’s the internal structure at Copyblogger? How do you guys work together to provide rock-solid content?
We have an editorial team, a development team, and a support team that all, for the most part, work really well together and communicate well together, despite being so spread out across the world. I have really enjoyed getting to work closely with the editorial folks—Sonia, Robert, Demian, and of course Brian—and I think there is a lot of chemistry and mutual respect that allows us to be productive while having fun doing it. And I’d be a fool not to try and learn as much from Brian as I can. He’s a master at writing, building audiences and communicating with clarity and confidence—all disciplines I want to get better at myself. And Robert, Sonia, and Demian are all experts in these and other areas too. Ever since I got into online writing I’ve wanted a mentor who has a proven track record in these areas AND the ability to actually transfer their knowledge. Now I have four. I’m truly fortunate to be in the spot I’m in, and I punch myself in my own face any time I take it for granted (or at least I would, if I was ever so foolish).
Any last thoughts?
I’ll just add one little piece of advice to any of the writers out there. It popped into my head last night while walking my dog, and I can’t get it out, which I’m not at all complaining about. Thank you, muse.
“Stop waiting patiently for the perfect first draft. Write impatiently right now instead.”
Writing is so important to so many elements of online success, and the only way to get better at it is to … do it.