Interview with Geoff Mason, award-winning Content Director at Project One
It’s a big change, turning a business around to market itself this way, but with the right thinking, research and planning it can be done. The benefits reach a long way.
Here’s the story of one very special B2B consultancy business – brilliant UK change experts Project One – on how they’ve made the change happen and what they’ve learned along the way.
NB: Project One is a much-loved Valuable Content client. We’ve worked with them for the last 2 years. The team is doing amazing things with their content, and the business is benefitting as a result. And whilst we’ve encouraged, advised and helped them with their content, we have also learned a huge amount about what it takes to make real change happen and stick.
Content Director Geoff Mason tells their story so far, and shares how the experience has transformed the way they do business. Enjoy!
Q: What was your business challenge at the start?
Geoff: “We’ve been in business since 1998, growing steadily over the years, mainly through word of mouth recommendation. This was all good to a point but we’ve become more ambitious, with big plans for further expansion.
In 2013 our CEO Ian Hellens had tasked me with improving brand awareness for Project One. We were well known amongst clients, but far less so in the wider community. We’re in a very competitive space – vying for projects amongst much bigger firms like Accenture and PWC.
We’d recently built and created a website and brand but we weren’t happy with the results and hadn’t seen any benefit – the ‘build it and they will come’ approach simply wasn’t working. I knew there must be a better way to get the word out and attract new business.
We had a database of 4000+ names (contacts, clients, past clients). I wanted to engage with them as a community, and I wanted to publish our points of view. My original idea was to mass mail our ideas to that database – just send stuff out.
Then I became aware of the content marketing approach.
“At the start of 2014 the only thing I knew about content was, as Mr Kellogg would say on the side of his box of Corn Flakes – that it would ‘settle during transit’.” Geoff Mason
The idea of content marketing immediately appealed to me. I loved the idea of sharing our knowledge with a community of people who were asking for this input. I realised I had to approach the marketing challenge very differently.
The more I learned the more I became interested. I had a light bulb moment – in today’s world, content marketing IS marketing – it’s the focus of all we must do to get people to know, like, trust and remember us.
“Content marketing IS marketing.”
I had no idea how to go about shaping up this content marketing thing for Project One so I reached out to Valuable Content for help.”
Qu: How have you put content marketing to work for Project One?
Geoff: “So far we have got clear on our purpose and messaging, redesigned the website, launched a newsletter, and created a series of valuable guides, brochures, animations, a survey and infographics.
The wider team is contributing to ongoing content creation, and together we’re building a library of resources – on the website and in print – that everyone can share.
All this content is raising our profile, and helping us have better conversations with potential new clients, deepen relationships with existing clients, and also proving incredibly valuable for recruitment.
There’s a way to go, but it’s a really solid start and we’re seeing results already.”
[Read details of the steps Geoff and the team went through in our Project One customer story.]
Qu: What are the results so far and how do you track performance?
Geoff: “We’ve gone from being relatively unknown outside the customers we’re working with at the time to being known about more widely – with our customers, past customers and in the wider market.
Importantly, we’re now staying in touch with people too. We have 4000 people in our database. About 2500 people we’d done business with in the UK – but we’d never really stayed in touch with them before. We have over 850 people signed up to the Real Change Club – 850 members, all of whom have given us permission to contact them. We’ve sent 10 newsletter and c. 6000 emails sent out to date. Even if they don’t open it (and many do) at least they know we’re here, that we have an interesting point of view and are doing good stuff.
We communicate in a totally different way now – outside in rather than inside out.”
“We look at things differently now. So instead of coming at things from Project One’s perspective we’re really trying to trying to get inside our clients’ heads, really trying to see what’s giving them grief and only taking to them the messages that respond to that. Our tone – the way we talk and write – has changed. We think and act differently to how we did 2 years ago.”–Glynis Ward, Business Development, Project One
“From a recruitment perspective it’s working extremely well. We’re in a very competitive marketplace when it comes to good, experienced candidates. People are coming to us because of the Project One Values animation we created – they’re joining us on the back of one piece of great content!
I have three markers to track our content marketing performance and I monitor these carefully:
- To what degree is our content hitting the mark with people? To what extent is it valuable? I track engagement scores each month for content I send out via the Real Change Club newsletter. Using Mailchimp’s scoring system (from 0 – 5) I can see we’re improving. We scored 2.5 at the start, now it’s 3.1. The engagement score is going up across our community. I think we’ll be 3.5 or 4 by the end of the year, so we’re moving in the right direction.
- As a team, are we using this information to help us create business? We can do better here. Some of our people are using it, some not. We have to engage our own people as well as our clients. We have a way to go here but we have a range of initiatives to help our consultants see the benefit and to inspire them to get involved.
- Are people reaching out to us? They’ve seen content we produce and want to talk. We’ve seen some evidence of this but it’s early days. We are in it for the long haul. We’re seeing some results now but it’ll be 2 years before we see the full effect. It’s the right thing to do, but you have to be patient. Nirvana for me is where our content drives part of our business, where a reasonable percentage of our business comes to us via our marketing activities.
Of course, I can’t track the knock on effect of our content in all areas. I don’t yet know how all this great stuff affects people’s overall perception. The bid team tells me the work we’ve done is making the bid process easier, and we’re winning some very large bids at present which is great news.
Marketing with valuable content will have a knock on effect to the long-term success of Project One. It’s not rocket science – it is just good business practice, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Qu: What can other B2B firms learn from your experience?
1. Purpose first – start with the why. Sonja and Sharon introduced us to Simon Sinek’s inspiring TED talk Start with the Why and this really hit home with us. It launched a far-reaching piece of work within the business, nailing down Project One’s ‘why’ and sharing it with the whole team. Its impact has been deeply felt. We’re now crystal clear on our purpose – it’s reflected in our new purpose-led strapline ‘Real Change. Real Difference‘. And that clarity is reflected in everything we say, from bids to tweets. You can’t skip this stage. It underpins everything else.
“We now have a clearer, more confident, bolder and more distinctive expression and message. It has become the golden thread that runs through the whole brand. We have a way of describing Project One in a way we’ve never had before – one that feels comfortable and confident and also distinctive.” –Glynis Ward, Business Development, Project One
“We now have a clearer, more confident, bolder and more distinctive expression and message. It has become the golden thread that runs through the whole brand.”
2. Don’t be afraid. There’s loads of information out there about content marketing – articles and articles on it. But there’s nothing to be frightened of. It’s just common sense with technology applied.
With digital marketing you get feedback. Technology enables this. When I send out the Real Change Club newsletter each month I can see what people are clicking on. I know what they like, what they respond to and what they don’t. This is really helpful, and helps us continually improve what we do.
Content marketing is simple really. It’s common sense and good business practice.
3. Prepare for the long haul. We’re seeing some results now but it’ll take time before we see the full effect. It’s the right thing to do, but you have to be patient.
4. Create the capacity to create the right content. With any programme of change, this is key. I want as many people across the business to contribute content. To do this I have to make it dead easy for them.
We have over 100 deeply experienced consultants across our business and I need their expert ideas to turn into content. When they ask me what they should write, I say – write to answer the questions your customers are asking you and what you’re really passionate about – that’s the sweet spot.
They don’t need to write finished articles (although some of our consultants are really good at this so they do) – just give me their ideas and I turn these into valuable content
I tell them we have 3 content partners: Valuable Content will help you get the words right, Ultimate will get the visuals right and make the content look good, and Craig Freeston turns it into good print. I’ll get it up on the website for you.
They just need to come up with an experienced point of view that will be helpful to our customers, and share it with their networks. My team will do the rest.
And I try and make it fun. I’m planning beer and pizza sessions where people can get together, talk through points of view and come up with ideas for valuable content.
As Content Director I do whatever I can to facilitate the continuous delivery of really valuable content.
5. Get design and written content working together in harmony. This is where you’ll see the best content – when Ultimate, Valuable Content and I work together on a piece that’s where the magic happens. Design has a huge place to play in the success of any content marketing programme.
6. You’re never too old! I’m so excited about valuable content. It gives me a huge sense of pride. I have a bit of a stationery fetish – I love good quality printed material. So when I see the quality of some of the content we’ve created it just feels so good.
We created a Charter for Real Change setting out our beliefs about change – it’s beautifully presented. Our clients are printing this out and sticking it on the wall of their offices. That’s just a dream for any marketer isn’t it?
Here at Project One we’ll never go back in terms of quality. We’ll drive to keep improving our content and we’re getting better and better.
My aim with our content is always to produce something of quality that somebody values. I want to drive business, but I want it to be valued. I want people to love what we produce – to cherish and value it. This gives me immense pride.”
Real change takes a very different kind of leadership
Thanks Geoff. There’s much that other businesses to take away from your experience. We’ve learned so much about change from you and your team, and enjoyed every minute.
What does it take to make real change happen? You say:
“Delivering real change is part art, part science and part having the vision and guts to steer change through towards your goal. It takes thinking and planning to create the conditions for success. It takes commitment, drive and a very different kind of leadership.”
We say: that’s a very apt description of the inspirational type of leadership you’ve shown in driving sustainable business change for Project One with this new content-led business development approach.
>> Definitely deserving of our latest Valuable Content Award – here’s why.
Geoff Mason is Content Director at Project One UK. Sign up for the Real Change Club here if you want to learn more about delivering change that makes a difference.