We interviewed David Germano, President and Chief Content Officer of Magnetic Content Studios, in Cincinnati, Ohio. David is a nationally known expert in data driven content marketing. He has worked in the CPG space on P&G brands such as Dawn, Duracell, and Gillette. His work has also included a wide range of industries and brands such as Rust-Oleum, LasikPlus, Valvoline and U.S Bank. David is the Co-Chair of the ANA Content Marketing Committee. He also gives back to the industry as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Missouri and University of Cincinnati as well as serving as a Content Marketing Institute judge and Content Marketing Institute content contributor.
1. How did Magnetic Content Studios come about?
Magnetic was created out of the need for a different business model in the agency arena to pursue some things that were happening in digital marketing at the time. At a prior agency, I was fortunate enough to experience something innovative. The agency I was with at the time did a lot of digital work which, as you know, includes creating a lot of digital content for various business and marketing reasons. We started thinking about a different model and, at the time, so many things were happening with digital. Social media was growing and becoming this thing that all marketers needed to do. People were spending so much more time online and Facebook hadn’t even hit yet and Google was turning into an indispensable resource for many consumers to find the kind of content they were looking for.
I was fortunate enough to be, I would say, kind of catapulted into this new arena of how digital marketers would operate. We actually partnered at the time with P&G Productions, which became P&G Entertainment inside of P&G. They actually created media companies that would manage direct engagement with audiences out there to benefit P&G. They had been doing this for years. They were doing it with the soap operas, The Guiding Light, As the World Turns, etc. and they started investing in digital properties. Based on the work that we were doing, we brought them an idea and I became the general manager of a new joint venture between the agency and P&G Entertainment. It was a moment in my career that represented a leapfrog in experience, pushing my limits, experiencing new things.
It challenged me quite a bit. It was sort of this point where I was fortunate enough, but I was also skilled enough, to be able to cultivate new capabilities and turn that into currency. I’ve got a new thing here. I can do something different with that. It drove me to have conversations with other organizations because I was looking to leave that agency and do some other things. I turned that into an opportunity to create something new and with the agency I went to go work for, I didn’t just say, “Hey, I bring these capabilities,” or, “I bring these agency skills to your existing business.” I said, “I can help your organization cultivate new revenue streams and new capabilities.” And I came to the table with that currency with the new organization negotiating and managing a stake in that. We ended up branding it Magnetic Content Studios, a division focused on pursuing content marketing, an emerging skill set and skill area in the industry. That’s how it came about. It was this confluence of being in the right place at the right time, embracing something that represented an opportunity for me, leveraging new skills and having the courage to say I’m sitting on top of something innovative here. I need to go leverage this. I need to create something better for myself.
2. What are the biggest marketing trends impacting the work you do?
From the context that was the early underpinnings and rational behind Magnetic Content Studios, we were observing disruption in the market. There were so many new channels, so many new technologies, and things were evolving so quickly. And, I think the big trend over the last 6 years that we continue to sound the alarm on and bring the voice of wisdom is the marginalization of the marketing department because of fragmentation. It’s just so much more complicated than it ever was. And marketers, particularly ones that have not had the luxury of experiencing enough of the innovation, need help in navigating the new territory. And that’s sort of the big challenge.
Audiences are in control. That is one of the things we talk about a lot. It’s like the golden age in advertising was when you had 3 networks and a bunch of print magazines and you could reach your audience pretty well with those finite choices. Not anymore. The audiences control the distribution of media. It’s been exacerbated even further in the last 18 months and we’re hearing even more of it this year, particularly with the launch of Disney + and their streaming services. It’s now forcing all the media companies and marketers to fight for what we call ‘subscription’.
“Customers, consumers and audiences out there are bombarded with choice. They’re pushing back to say I’m going to restrict my choices and those make decisions make it a heck of a lot harder for marketers and media companies to connect with those audiences.”
As an audience member, or as a brand or as a consumer, I’m subscribed to certain things. That means I am going to willfully ignore everything else around because I’ve made a decision that this is the thing I’m going to put most of my time and energy around. Customers, consumers and audiences out there are bombarded with choice. They’re pushing back to say I’m going to restrict my choices and those decisions make it a heck of a lot harder for marketers and media companies to connect with those audiences. So we talk in terms of being in the business of attention now. You gotta fight for subscribed customers and audiences and that’s the arena we live in anymore.
3. What are the biggest challenges you see content marketers facing?
There are a lot of industries that are, what we call, jumping the tracks. They’re going from an old way of doing things to a new way of doing things. And when you look back at the old way of doing things, you at least have proof that the old way of doing things delivered results. Even though they are delivering diminishing results, they are still delivering results. There’s proof. Content marketing is a new way and there’s not enough evidence yet to say that the new way is better than the old way. So the KPI’s or performance measurement is the ultimate challenge for content marketers. It’s the same situation from industry to industry, when you got to move to a new innovative space, right? The ROI is unknown; and therefore, maintaining or sustaining the investment in that area is tough to sustain as well. Content marketing’s biggest obstacle right now is the KPI and making sure it is delivering results for the organization.
4. Your entire career has been in agencies. What keeps you on the agency side rather than moving to the client side?
I think, ultimately, it boils down to the ability to experience something new and something different, literally, on a day in and day out basis. You may be on the client side as opposed to the agency side and you may be in a dynamic environment and experiencing something different. But, the difference for me, and what gets me excited, is the digging into marketing programs and reverse engineering that and understanding how marketers arrived at those strategies, insights and conclusions.
“Things are definitely not boring on the agency side. I think that is what has kept me on the agency side.”
The beauty about working in an agency is you are working laterally and broadly across the industry to understand what is going on versus being on one brand and one consumer journey. While being on one brand can be pretty dynamic, it can get pretty boring after a while. Things are definitely not boring on the agency side. I think that is what has kept me on the agency side. There is more opportunity to solve a breadth and depth of problems than if I were on the client side. I’ve thought about it many times, to go to the client side, and I’ve thought, “Will I be happy in one environment solving one problem day in and day out?” I’m not sure about that.
5. Do you believe folks need previous agency experience to be hired at one? Why or why not?
It depends on how that individual is getting deployed by the agency. There are so many times when, as agencies, we talk in terms of, “Man we need fresh thinking on this”. We need someone to come in and bring a different perspective and depending on how the agency utilizes that thinking, that could be a benefit to the agency. But there are so many times when you are trying to put a square peg into a square hole as an agency and ,yeah, it is critical that that person, the square peg that is getting applied to the square hole, have agency experience because it’s a very unique kind of thing. In short, it depends.
I would want to make sure that the agency is truly looking to apply the experience and the skill set in a different way, in a different model. But even then, you may have the best of intentions, where agencies say, you know what, we’re going with a different model. We’re going to approach things a little differently over here. We need a different experience level and different skill set. The problem is, can the agency brand deliver on that? Can they sustain that new business venture or model? And many times, they cannot. That puts that kind of skill area and that person that made that commitment in a bit of a compromised situation. They say, “Okay, I tried it and it didn’t work very well”. I would probably be on the fence where, I hate to say it, more times than not, agency experience is going to benefit someone who is going to work for another agency.
6. What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your career?
Easily not leaving a position soon enough. I’ve only left organizations willingly or unwillingly three times in my career, which is pretty low, having been in the agency world for over 20 years now. I’ve always felt comfortable that I left every single one of those opportunities at the right time, in hindsight. But, there were opportunities that I could have pursued that could have accelerated my growth experience. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and I suppose I’ve gotten a 7 year itch where it felt kind of time to move on. But I think I may have stayed too long. And there’s an opportunity cost. I haven’t gone somewhere else and learned something new or broadened my relationship base and my network. Those are the things that are really valuable moving forward. That is the biggest mistake I ever made in my career.
7. What is your proudest career accomplishment?
Definitely the body of work I’ve been involved in from brand to brand and the different marketing programs I have been in involved in. The opportunity to move from an old agency model to the new content marketing model and to take that and make something of it, to be entrepreneurial with it, you know? Not only do I have a great case story to share with the industry, but I turned that into a monetizable business. And that was a game changer for me. The thing that I’m proudest of in all the things that I’ve done in my career and in the agency world is to be entrepreneurial with that opportunity.
If I was still trudging along in the same agency, you know, going in every morning and still trying to solve the same problem kind of thing, I probably would have lost my mind first of all. But I also would have been angry with myself internally. I think it’s just the fact that I am so satisfied with what I did there. I don’t know if it’s a pride thing but more that I’m at peace. You’re content. I did this. And I’m not boasting about it or bragging about it, but I’m just happy with myself about that. I suppose it’s a professional level of wisdom. Yeah, I did something and that was the right thing to do. I just feel more confident and assured of my capabilities.
8. Do you have any books or podcasts you highly recommend?
There are so many things that I subscribe to. I wanted to offer some thoughts for those that are trying to consume content. I’m giving you a content marketer’s inside scoop on sort of self-help and engagement.
I started using this tool years ago and I find it is one of the most important things that I do in staying attentive to helpful content. That is a tool called Pocket. Pocket is a curation engine and it’s something that you can bolt onto a browser. If you stumble upon an article, or you are subscribed to a newsletter and the newsletter links you out to content on someone’s website, you need to organize and manage all that content. If you just read it and dispose of it, it doesn’t really do you good unless you organize it and archive it in a way that you can come back to it and build on that discovery. I would recommend to anyone who is looking to subscribe to content, whether it’s listen to podcasts, reading articles, subscribing to newsletters to subscribe to some type of archiving and curation system that you subscribe to something like Pocket.
“… I’ve found that the consumption of content and the archiving of the content have made the process of consuming content more productive for me.”
Some of the thoughts, ideas and concepts that I have come up with have all been manifestations of a multitude of pieces that have influenced my thinking. Without being able to go back and reread some of those things and assemble some of those things, I don’t think I would have been as proficient. I’m still about the written article. It’s faster for me. I try to spend my mornings combing through the news.
And another aspect of Pocket is that it knows what I want. And then it starts to serve up information to me around stories and industries that are relevant to me. And I’ve found that the consumption of content and the archiving of that content have made the process of consuming content more productive for me. Content is important no matter the trade or industry you are in.