AMA with Ross Simmonds on content promotion and distribution.

Jimmy Daly
July 26, 2021

Here by popular demand, Ross Simmonds the founder and CEO of Foundation Marketing joined us to talk all things content strategy, promotion and distribution. You may know him as @thecoolestcool on Twitter, or through his helpful YouTube channel.

My question is, if it's important to plan for your distribution/promotion of content before you create it, what are some ways to improve content briefs for internal and freelance writers to account for that?

Ross Simmonds: I think you start the distribution planning process prior to the creation process and then revisit it again once you create the asset. One of the best ways to prep for content distribution prior to the creation of an asset is to start the process by knowing your audience.

Let's start there and use "Marketers" as an example for ease of use. You start the process by understanding: (1) what channels they're spending time on, (2) what newsletters they're subscribed to, (3) the people they follow on Twitter, etc. SparkToro is great for this but so is good old fashioned research. You start with this fundamental understanding of where your audience is.

I like the framework attached as a starting point for knowing where your audience is. In the brief stage, the creation team can create the actual things that go out into the various niche channels. Example: The writer can answer the question on Quora (or at least write it) and they can suggest the 3-4 linkedin posts that should also be shared. They could even suggest a new /r/subreddit that the content could be shared in.

Generally what % of clients have their creation/distro priorities backwards? And how hard is it to convince them to switch gears?

Ross Simmonds: J-fuji! 85% haha... It's less difficult for us because at Foundation we've really started to establish ourselves as leaders in the distribution space. Our clients look at us for guidance on distribution so it's an easier sell but when it comes to selling distribution to brands already stuck in their ways. The key is education and actually showing them through delivery. We've created distribution playbooks for client engagements that start with just creation and after they go live with a Twitter thread and that Twitter thread sets the internet on fire. It changes their perspective entirely.

It seems you're building a dream team at Foundation. Can you share how you're thinking about growing the organization and what are the challenges you're facing with hiring talent?

Ross Simmonds: The growth has been awesome and quite rewarding. I can remember just a couple years ago debating whether or not I could afford to fly out to an event and speak or pay for repairs to my macbook after spilling coffee on it. The growth has been a whirlwind. Yet so rewarding.

Challenges today:

Internal education is so important to us both on industry topics and corporate culture. We believe strongly in communication and education. We want our team to learn a lot and act as resource for them to learn new things. We're constantly running internal sessions to educate on trends, etc... We bring in guest speakers. We have an internal podcast, etc..

Scale / not being so reactive with hiring. Our waitlist for clients is significant and we can't hire fast enough. This is a pipeline challenge that we're constantly trying to fix. We need good people every month and are having a hard time keeping up. If you're on the hunt for a gig, hit me up!

Building out an international team. I'm very big on my hypothesis that the best talent in the world can live anywhere. That's why we've always been remote. But with remote work comes different challenges (ie. bad internet in some regions) so operating in a global way with global foundationites is a priority but also a challenge.

Do you ever pitch clients on content that will build a distribution channel but perhaps not hit near-term performance metrics (e.g., going the "thought leadership" route to build an email list instead of putting those same resources into a keyword-targeted blog post)? what does that conversation look like? which messages have/haven't gotten buy-in?

Ross Simmonds: Definitely. We start it with a dialog that is beyond the short term. It all comes down to managing expectations from my perspective and letting them know that look, this might not work for 6-12 months, heck, this might not work EVER. We bring this dialog to the table in a way that reflects a stock portfolio. Your investment in Doge might go to the moon. But it might also go to $.00001 And we're going to offset that risk by creating 10 blog posts (which are low risk) and 5 white papers (which are medium risk) and this distribution channel (thought leadership / creative podcast effort let’s say). So we balance the risk of the flop with the pretty much guarantee of content that will rank, drive shares, etc.

If we don't hit the goals across the board. The conversation becomes more lesson oriented. Here's what we learned. Here's how we'd do this differently. But through all that, we will still distribute that thing (if we're proud of it) because you never know when a post that didn't resonate 2-3 months ago will take off just because the right influencer shared it. We've seen this before.

Social channels bring in very little $ for our enterprise SaaS company (probably because we don't invest in it a lot). As the content marketer, I own our social channels and know they have potential but content redistribution is daunting to get started on. I'm also very busy owning all of our content strategy so social isn't my biggest priority, What's your advice for this kind of scenario?

Ross Simmonds: I think in SaaS, definitely enterprise, brand is just plain underrated. Social can play a massive role in building brand which ultimately makes everything easier in marketing and can actually convert well if you do it right.

I would I would go back to a approach that I saw many years ago from Coca-Cola where they had I believe it was called the 70-20-10 rule and with that 70% of the things that they had done were pretty low risk and if that's the standard blog post, white papers, essay, then say 20% was a little bit more risky.

For your situation this would be things that are a little bit more out there maybe it's creating a Twitter thread on a subject you already covered, maybe it's sponsoring a substack, maybe it's sponsoring a podcast or something of that nature. But then 10% of your average is going to be high risk in that bucket you're talking but things like doing an AMA in a subreddit or submitting a handful of content to a subreddit. Or partnering with an influencer on Instagram to do a giveaway of some sort of. These are things that are very risky and might not necessarily drive return in the short term.

If budget exists, my reco would probably be to outsource it to a firm. You probably already have your hands in enough pots and don't have time to focus on distro / social.

Question about free content vs. paid content. As a content business (training program), our primary revenue source is through people paying for gated content. To acquire those customers, we publish a lot of free content. My question is: How do you think a content team should be thinking about the distinction between marketing content and gated (revenue generating) content?

Ross Simmonds: Marketing Content - this is the content that you want to spread through an organizations Slack channel + Microsoft Teams account. You want people to FWD this content to other professionals. You want people to share this content on Twitter.

Gated Content - this is the content that is going to solve someone's specific problem at a specific time and they're willing to swipe their credit card to get access to it. Now, some gated content you want to give away for free, you just want to capture their emails in this case. That is content that falls into both categories and is what you'd fine on Product Hunt.

When a client wants to branch into a new keyword domain how do you go about strategizing keyword clusters? (I'm talking: how to decide what will be the pillar, the spokes, balancing ToF --> BoF type content, etc. I'm curious how Ross Simmonds would approach this start.

Ross Simmonds: It all starts with research. I'd learn what the clients hypothesis is first and foremost and why they want to do this. From there, I'd get a better understanding of the Total Addressable Market for the keyword and variations associated with it, conduct a bit of competitor analysis to determine what we're up against, review the search intent behind some of the phrases, use that to gauge / bucket content into different categories (funnel + pillar + etc) and then decide from there how to prioritize the content creation efforts using research that brings to life both SEO data and business data.

What content strategy worked well for you, when you started building Foundation? And if you were to start a new content marketing agency today, what would you focus on to grow it in the first 12 months?

Ross Simmonds: Create. Create. Create. Create. I have blog posts that I wrote in 2016 that still drive leads today. I have YouTube videos from 2019 that still drive leads today. If I was to focus on one thing It would be getting 3-4 clients (email to get them) and then knock it out of the park. Once I knocked it out of the park for them I'd know I could retain them as clients and pay my bills. So then I'd start creating the best content I could on a very niche subject and sharing that content with people who work in that niche.

I've been doing content/SEO for a little over a year and one day I'd like to manage content. I like this field and would like to grow in it. Do you have advice for a newbie content marketer who's hungry to grow but doesn't know how to actively grow his career?

Ross Simmonds: Let's give Loom a go for this one:

For an average SaaS with a few rounds of funding under their belt, what’s the ideal roster of people to do content promo well, including in-house roles and freelancers? (e.g., head of content, SEO person, email marketer, the freelancer who wrote the piece, a landing page copywriter, social specialist, etc.) And if you had to prioritize 3-4 roles what would they be?

Ross Simmonds: Three roles for the modern marketing team:

Content Creator: This is the person who writes new blog posts, essays, white papers, landing pages and any other content with written word. But they're not silo'd into writing.Depending on your niche and the opportunities in your space → This individual could be a podcaster. This individual could be a script writer and TikTok video maker. This individual could interview customers and create case studies. This individual could be the storytelling and video editor. This individual could be the writer and designer. At the end of the day:The content creator is the person who knows how to develop content worth seeing.

Content Optimizer: Once the content is created, the Optimizer is the person who comes in and makes sure that the content is set up to succeed. This is the person who adds transcriptions to videos. This is the person that ensures that the written word is optimized with keywords and appropriate headlines. This is the person who makes sure that the YouTube description is optimized for search and tags are being used. This is the person who ensures that interlinking is happening. At the end of the day:The content optimizer is the person who knows how to ensure that your content is ready to go live.

Content Distributor: The final step in the content marketing process is what happens after pressing publish. It's the part of the process when you take the asset created by the creator and optimized by the optimizer and ensure it's spread across the appropriate channels.This person takes your blog post and shares in on social media. This person takes your YouTube video and plugs it in that Facebook Group. This person takes your podcast and pitches it to a newsletter. This is the person that takes your blog post and turns it into a Twitter thread. This person takes your essay and shares it with that Subreddit.

At the end of the day: The content distributor is the person who takes what you created and distributes it forever.

I'm working with a very technical product that offers the greatest benefit to very large websites. Getting organic traffic with quality content works great for us, so do referrals, but we want to grow faster and I'm looking for other, preferably more quantifiable channels.We have several projects in the works to test different channels - we never really gave anything besides organic traffic a proper try. It's difficult for me to decide on priorities, because the buyer persona is super complex and hard to pinpoint. What's the #1 channel & content format you would focus on to reach & convince decision makers within large orgs that make money with a website? For the sake of simplicity, non-anonymous case studies are a no-go

Ross Simmonds: My focus would probably be trying to get more data with small initiatives up front and use those to make the case for a bigger investment. In terms of prioritization Try to understand which channels have the highest potential ROI. Can you find an example of a competitor (direct or indirect) who reached your audience on a specific channel and had amazing ROI? If so, that's a signal that you can use to say. Let's prioritize this channel over something else.

Foundation co has labels that say free content? I can't find the paid content on your site! I love your content strategy tear-downs and would love to see what else you have (even if I have to pay!)

Ross Simmonds: Yeah that's an easter egg (kind of) into what's to come. We're rolling out an entire subscription section of the site in the next couple of months. It's hopefully going to add a ton of value to marketers and SaaS founders. If you're not already subscribed to the newsletter, definitely get in there:

If a content marketer hypothetically had a trip booked for early August to Halifax could you be convinced to give him an hour to say thank you and pepper you with even more Qs than you go today?

Ross Simmonds: Ha! Definitely. As long as the timing works out. I'd be more than happy to link up and grab a bite.

Access to content is our personal lives is limitless (e.g. Netflix, Spotify, Apple News, etc.). Most B2B content comes with some sort of friction. How do you see this shift playing out long term? Consumer habits are changing, but CMO's might not be ready to ditch the B2B playbook that got them to the dance. Thoughts?

Ross Simmonds: Here's another Loom:

What do you think about companies like Coinbase launching a “media arm?” Is this just a publicity thing, or do you hear/see other companies starting to jump on this trend? If so, is this just for companies in emerging industries like crypto, or do you see “every company is a media company” as the future of content marketing?

Ross Simmonds: It's a brilliant strategy. The decentralization of everything is real and it's also happening to media (whether that's good or not is a topic for an entirely different day).

Distribution!! What are the typical steps you take to get distribution buried into your content production workflow, and how do you execute to ensure maximum amplification once produced?

We have a distribution process that every single asset we publish goes through. We apply that same thinking with clients and do up front research surrounding distribution to ensure that we're equipped with a solid set of distribution efforts to be executed after pressing publish on a piece of content.

For example, we would say a piece follows this kind of cadence:

Day 1: Two Tweets, One LinkedIn Posts, Submit to /r/Subreddit, Include In Email, Add To {Slack Group}

Day 2: Upload to GrowthHackers, Share On IG Story, Share On HN, Answer Question {1, 2, 3} on Quora

Day 3: Publish Twitter Thread, Republish On Medium

Day 4: So on and so forth...And then our distribution experts execute that.How to maximize amplification?We never stop promoting it.Create once. Distribute forever.

This should help too:

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