Everyone said that going to CMALive17 was actually an investment, not a cost.

Everyone said that going to CMALive17 would transform how I run my business.

Everyone said that going to CMALive17 would allow me to hear truly world class speakers up close and personal.

Yeah right!

Blah,blah,blah…heard it all before etc etc etc.

Well how can I break it to you dear reader? THEY WERE RIGHT AFTER ALL.


So…off I toddled to Edinburgh to see what all the fuss was about. I’d followed the online noise stirred up by the 2016 event, and in particular the rave reviews of my long time buddy Stefan ThomasHead honcho of the Content Marketing Academy Chris Marr looked a bit of a ‘character’. ‘Let’s give it a whirl’ I thought.

What first struck me was the venue slap bang in the middle of Edinburgh, The Hub. What a place! A converted church with huge high ceilings and bags of both room and character meant that just under 170 of us fitted in perfectly.

The Hub, Edinburgh

After a welcome from the aforementioned Chris Marr off we went with a multitude of speakers and er…content.

First up was Chris Drucker who spoke about the need to become someone’s favourite ‘go to’ resource. I loved his thought that to be known, liked and trusted is not enough these days. Instead we need to be LOVED by our customers…. by consistently providing value to them.

Chris Drucker

Staggeringly Chris also shared with us the forecast that by 2020 90% of all content consumed online will be in a video format. Note to self…get more videos done!

Chris was followed by Col Gray and Ross Coverdale who took us through the thinking behind the re-branding of the CMA from a fairly nondescript logo ( I think the technical phrase they used was ‘a shitty logo’) through to the more distinctive baseball type logo used at the conference.

Next up was Roger Edwards who ran a great session on er…..Business Bollocks’ and the importance of avoiding mumbo jumbo. Working with Roger we managed to totally complicate the initially simple proposition of ‘Your Cat Sat on Our Mat’ and turn it into something full of jargon, business speak and meaningless. A great session from Roger on making sure your communication is clear and easily understood.

Session 4 featured Yva Vorston, who explained how she had completely re-engineered her business moving from being a virtual PA into developing a blog management agency using the the principles of ‘They Ask…You Answer’

Stefan Thomas then followed Yva with a great session on networking. In particular on the importance of networking consistently over time and with the objective of establishing connections and relationships rather than overtly ‘selling’ and expecting immediate results. Simply being there (and that in itself, isn’t simple…it involves hours and hours of travel and hundreds of hours of networking meetings) and being genuinely interested in in people led Stefan to a book deal with a major publisher. As he says ‘Every big opportunity starts with a small conversation’

Stefan Thomas

Following lunch we were introduced to Sharon Menzies of Influx Recruitment. Sharon shared with us that her business is up a remarkable 722% year-on-year following a website redesign and more consistent content marketing.

Next up was Doug Kessler, who delivered a hilarious session on swearing in your marketing and how, if it’s right for your intended audience, it can:

  • Surprise
  • Signal confidence
  • Resonate with the like-minded
  • Signal authenticity
  • Be funny
  • Add mojo to your voice

This is because, apparently, swearing is processed by a different part of the brain to the rest of language patterns (who knew?) and, as such, can be arresting and powerful as a marketing tool.

Doug Kessler

The final segment of day one was kicked off by Cara Mackay, who offered advice on how to deal with online haters and trolls. Cara’s main message was ‘take back control from the trolls’

Following Cara came Erika Napoletano, who, whilst adding to the swear count, shared with us her moving story of trying to break through in acting classes. She confessed she was bobbing along in mediocrity until she realised she needed to be more honest with herself and less worried about whether people would like her.

Erika Napoletano

Erika’s three tips for finding your true voice and attracting the right clients were:

  • Stop hunting elephants. In other words, stop wasting time on work you don’t love to do.
  • Be vulnerable. Let your human side show and release the need to always be right. Erika felt that doing this gives your brand heart.
  • Re-frame fear. Accept that fear will always be part of life and still do it anyway.

I got a lot out of Erika’s thoughts on an alternative to the hackneyed old ‘elevator pitch’. She introduced us to the merits of asking the client ‘Have you ever felt stuck?‘ whereby we find out where they currently are and where they want to be. This enables us to tell people how they’ll feel once they used our product or service. In particular Erika spoke about the Big Universal Question and, in asking it of our clients, taking control of the conversation.

Day 2

The second day kicked off with Mark Schaefer, author of the book ‘Known’. Mark spoke about the need to move to a new world where customers really love us (liking is not enough) and the challenge is how can business put its personality in front of potential customers? Mark told us a great story about ‘being hugged by a brand’ and in particular a hotel receptionist called Teri of the Hyatt Hotel chain.

Mark spoke about the need to connect the hearts of your people with the hearts of your customers. He also suggested that personal branding can strengthen rather than weaken corporate branding. Teri actually becomes Hyatt, in other words.

Mark Schaefer

When it comes to content marketing, Mark spoke about the importance of PLACE (an area where there is sustainable interest), SPACE (a currently unoccupied niche where there are enough people to matter), CONTENT (developing an emotional connection and have a 30 month mindset) and AUDIENCE (staying relevant and superior having an attitude of ‘I will never let you down’)

To illustrate these principles Mark invited two guests to the stage: Pete Matthew of Meaningful Money and John Espirian. Pete has developed a comprehensive series of podcasts aimed at helping people with their finances, broadened his client reach and gained a book deal with a publisher. Not bad for a ‘fat fella down in Cornwall’ (his words not mine!). John also shared his story and drew applause from the audience when he said his aim in developing his business is to provide ‘relentlessly helpful content’ .. I loved that phrase.

Mark Schaefer, Pete Matthew and John Espirian

Next up was something very different from the creators of the Atomic membership community, Andrew and Pete. I’d briefly met Pete on the first evening social event which took place at The Hard Rock Cafe, and I sensed that this session would be quirky and fun. I wasn’t disappointed. The guys presentation was all about creating stand out content and banishing the boring.

We started off by exploring what would make a brand unique. Not professional, everyone should be that. Not friendly either, since everyone should also be that. Some businesses aren’t professional or friendly but maybe that’s another story. Andrew and Pete’s message was to think hard about what three things are truly unique about your brand.

Equally importantly, it’s crucial to know your ‘Arch Enemy’, in other words know what you’re not and know who you don’t want to work with. Doing this would help to make sure that we and our marketing do not just become the same as our ‘boring competitor’

It was a great session from Andrew and Pete, I enjoyed it immensely. I just need to think of some lingo and a catch phrase now. ‘Don’t forget to be awesome’ maybe? (Only kidding Chris).

We then had a Lightning Talk from Pamela Laird, who took us through how content marketing had transformed her hair salon business. By working on understanding who her ideal client is, she distanced the business from those that she didn’t want to work with. Her pride in her team of hair stylists was obvious for all of us to see.

Session 13 (hope you’re counting) featured Public Relations expert Janet Murray of Soulful PR.

Janet gave us some really practical tips on getting PR:

  • #journorequest on Twitter is where journalists place requests for stories and features.
  • The ‘newsjacking’ technique of latching onto a current story and relating it to something on our business.
  • ‘Develop your own pitch’ and tell a story of how parts of your life intersect with your business. As Janet says ‘Tell the stories people want to hear’.

Janet left us with a really useful handout of a sample email pitch to journalists and this is something that I’ll definitely use to develop the PR for my own business.

The next session was from Karen Rayburn, who runs a creative agency that niches down to working exclusively with accountants. And, as Karen pointed out, everyone can find a niche.

Karen suggested that the following four questions would help anyone discover their niche:

  • What’s the one thing you keep coming back to?
  • Who or what do you understand the best?
  • Where do you get great results for people?
  • Where are you or could you be really profitable?

Next up for session 15 was the human whirlwind that is George B Thomas. In just 45 minutes George rattled off tons of low or no cost tools we could all use to produce a ‘content marketing machine’

George B Thomas

These tools ranged from Visual Builder, to Google Analytics, to Yoast, to Inbound Now and through to Social Warfare. This session was so fast paced and full of humour that it was tricky to keep up with all the terrific insights George had so maybe check him out in your own time at twitter.com/GeorgeBThomas

Our secret guest speaker turned out to be Danielle Sheridan, the 16 year old daughter of Marcus ‘The Sales Lion’ Sheridan. I couldn’t believe how composed Danielle was for someone so young. She spoke with great passion and emotion about her interest in making jewelry, and about making her first sale at 15 and taking on her first employee at 16.

Her main message was to consistently get out of your comfort zone in order to expand your horizons, Remember the name folks, Danielle Sheridan, as you’re going to hear a lot more about her in the future I’m sure.

Then it was the turn of her ‘old man’ Marcus Sheridan to end the CMALive17 event in style. Marcus is a content marketing ‘big hitter’ and I was so looking forward to seeing him live. He didn’t disappoint.

Marcus started off by showing us his first ever blog post cheesily entitled ‘To Shake Or Not To Shake: That Is The Question’. The point he was making was that we have to ’embrace the mess’ and start somewhere with our content marketing, because the more we do of it the better we’ll get.

Marcus Sheridan

Marcus had some great and powerful guiding principles to share with us:

  • Cling only to the metrics that matter
  • Let go of the haters. Don’t change you.
  • Seek opportunities to be kind
  • Let trust be your compass and become the most trusted voice in your industry.
  • Own your own story

Marcus was truly magnetic and inspirational, thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation he received.

The only thing that remained was to thank a few people and have a group photo (shown above). In particular, Chris thanked Vicky Gunn who helped to organise everything meticuolously. Well done Vicky!

Lastly, everyone thanked the man himself, Chris Marr, who had delivered a quite wonderful couple of days of thought provoking content in a fun and engaging way.

I went to CMALive17 with an open mind not quite knowing what to expect. I was blown away! I took at least one..and often, many more… practical and implementable (is that a word?…it is now) idea from every session and from every speaker. I just need to get on and do them now. The timetable was superbly planned with lots of time for networking and getting to know each other. I’ve since connected up with several people online and no doubt I’ll bump into them again at a future Content Marketing Academy Live. It was worth every penny and I’ll definitely be back.