Content Worth Sharing w/ Tom Fishburne
You can come on up, tom in tom is a really smart guy, and he does these really neat cartoons, and I was trying to think of somebody that, um, interacts with content in a different way, so I do mostly written word stuff. A lot of people do written words stuff, but what about if you're creating content that are images or photographs or something like that? And how does that change the dynamic? A little bit? And then how do you look at it? From a standpoint of this has got, you know, provide money for my family and everything. And so I was excited that tom was available and could come and so he's going to talk a little bit about that and tom, you're fantastic. Thank you, thank you. Tim is great to be here. Great to see all of you everything I needed to know about content I dry learned by drawing cartoons literally. I'm going to share a bit of my experience today, and a couple things I've learned along the path a little over ten years ago is working in a marketing role and started drawing ...
cartoons, nights and weekends kind of making fun of the world that I lived in and if it was. Living in fear of the time that I would be fired and fortunately it didn't happen, but it did allow me three years ago to launch a full time cartoon studio that put the two together cartoons and marketing, and along the way, I've learned quite a bit about what it could mean to create content, what it could mean to find an audience and connect with an audience over time, and a lot of it was somewhat haphazard and accidental, but it's taught me quite a bit that I think is applicable to anyone working with content, whether it's something visual like cartoons or it's with the written word, and so I thought, today, I'll just share a bit about my, a sort of circuitous journey serendipitous journey that led me to this spot and then share five highlights of things I learned along the way, and then we'll have time for questions definitely toe here what you guys are thinking about, so they're really has never been a better time in history. When you think about connecting your khan tent with an audience, you don't need an intermediary nowadays, you can have that direct connection for me cartooning was something in that that was getting off was far earlier pursuit than even when I started drawing cartoons a little over ten years ago, I was one of those kids who just love to draw and I think a lot of you when you're working on a passion project, particularly if it's related teo something you're willing to put in the heart and soul to writing a book about it, something that's deeply personal. And you probably started thinking along those lines when your when your kids. So I was constantly drawing, even if one I really wanted my drawing's, not just to be for me. I wanted to be out there. I thought my last name fishburne was too long, so even abbreviated it in my sketchbooks because I wanted my work to be out there. I I loved making flip book cartoons, really anything I could get my hands on to draw on, and my dad was a physician, and I realized that that his prescription pads made excellent flip books. And so my very first cartoons were on the back of these flip books, which my dad would then use to write prescriptions. So my first, my first syndication, was all throughout. The eastern part of virginia is all of these patients on the back of their internal medicine prescriptions. But I loved him drawing and creating content in that way. And my three greatest here is where these guys bill waterson, gary larson in berkeley. Breath. And I'm sure you know just their names per calvin and hobbes, far side and bloom county. I love those cartoons. I would read them religiously. I would take still up silly putty and copy it and then move it on to my drawings. I would trace them. I would I would change the dialog, tio, make fun of my brothers. I would do everything with this content and I love that world and what and what they worked. And I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was a kid, and of course, the world of cartooning was very different. Back then they had a syndicate, they had newspapers, and they had their very much of an arm's length relationship with their audience that they were connecting with. And there was a lot that was broken about that world, even when I was following them. It's particularly broken now, but in nineteen, ninety five all three of these guys retired from cartooning they gave up. They gave up because it no longer satisfy them the way they wanted to scratch that creative ich and why I think today there's never been a better time to work in content creation is because we can fundamentally change the dynamic of how we connect with your audience is and we don't need a syndicate anymore, and we don't need newspapers anymore. We can we can do it ourselves. But these guys quit and I kind of quit too, for a long time as an adult, like a lot of us, I convinced myself that I didn't know how to draw. I convinced myself that drawing was a waste of time. And ironically, I ended up picking up cartooning again and one of the most unlikely places imaginable harvard business school. So I found myself at harvard business school, surrounded by students in this world that we lived in that was actually quite funny. I had a friend, he ran the student paper, and he was constantly asking people to submit anything for the student newspaper. So I started drawing cartoons about the world around me, like how the public perceives the harvard business school curriculum. It's kind of hard to see if it is if there's seminars on sweatshops and child labour destroying the mom and pops had a profit from global warming. I started drawing thie world that we lived in a student's, which was very different from the professor's point of view on the left and on the right hand side, people playing tetris, etcetera, and I found it through cartooning onda student newspaper. Ah lot of the lessons that I really listened to today when I create content because in the student newspaper, you're directly connected with your audience. If you draw a cartoon about something, you're you're sitting next to your audience, and they're asking you about it. The first time I started publishing this cartoon, I made fun of a particular class, and the next day that I wanted to the class, the professor had it on the overhead projector and at two things happen. First of all, everybody in the room left, and second of all, she cold called me to start the class off and interrogated me and humiliated me, and the two things were talked me a lot. There was the connection with the audience. I was it was it was incredible to get that immediate response that I had created some think make people laugh. And secondly, with with the cold call, I realized that I need to be careful what I was putting out there. But as it turns out, some of my cartoons are now on that professor's professors wall and it's funny when you create something, you, you you put your ideas out into the world and people respond to them. But there was an immediacy to it, and there was something that that I really, really attracted me, and I knew that I wanted to find some way to continue doing it. I wasn't quite at the point of, you know, leave leaving school and my hefty student loans behind me to become a cartoonist. But I knew that I wanted to do something with us, and I graduated and and I thought, how can I continue this? I don't have a student newspaper anymore. How do I how do I how do I find some way to continue what I like like about this content and about connecting with this audience? And I looked at the traditional world of cartooning, which I hinted at it at the beginning with with my three heroes and at the time, and this is pretty much like this. A lot of people think that this is the case today. These are the two paths for a cartoonist there's, the posted stamp or the inbox the picture on the left is the postage stamp sized cartoon that's on the back of the wall street journal and every day it's, a different cartoonist it's shrunk down so small you can barely see the pent punch line, let alone the person the cartoonist who actually created the work. But they're one market that buys the cartoons and on the right is literally the inbox at the new yorker for submissions to the new yorker to become a cartoonist for the new yorker. They get over fifteen hundred submissions a week, and I've gone to the new yorker and I've met the editor, and I've seen that in box and on dh. What I've learned is that it's actually even harder than that for them to even take you seriously on the right hand side, you have to submit ten cartoons every week for a least a year before they know you're serious about it. That's a lot of content creation and the content that you're putting into that inbox is seen by two people. If you're lucky the intern and the editor, bob mankoff, very few of those get elected actually end up in the new yorker. So it's a lot of work focused in a legacy channel of getting content out to an audience and it's fundamentally broken and graduating from from business school. Looking at this, it was clear to me that that wasn't a path I wanted to take. Particularly with the city assist loans I had to pay off that wasn't going that wasn't going to cut it, and so I decided t really rethink what it was that I liked about cartooning and think about what ultimately was important into me, and it wasn't necessarily to be in those traditional publishing channels there's a quote that I love from the editor of the new yorker that it's not the ink it's the think and he says that it referring to the cartoons that cross his desk that it doesn't matter if it's the most beautifully illustrated cartoon if the joke isn't there, if I think isn't there it's not a great cartoon? It doesn't mean that you need to shirk on the artwork, but you really need to put the think into it and I took this quote to be something a little bit broader for me it wasn't enough that I was creating cartoons that I liked I had to think about what was the purpose of those cartoons and what ultimately did it achieve for me and my career and my life? What did the cartoons represent? Cartoons were a bit like a means to an end as I started to see them and it really framed afraid my whole point of view on cartooning, I have decided to take a step back and focus on it and allow allow this idea time to incubate and so I went into the world of marketing I went to general mills in minneapolis I later went to nestle I later after that went and spent five years at at a startup environment called method all in consumer products marketing and I love the cartoon so I kept that going I didn't have a student newspaper anymore so I set up a simple email list allowed people to sign up for it and once a week I committed to sending out a cartoon about the marketing world that I lived in I couldn't commit to sending ten cartoons a week to an inbox but I could commit to sending one cartoon a week for ten years and ultimately that's what happened and it's increased since then but one cartoon a week I could do that with my date and I could do it because I loved it so much I did at nights and weekends and it brought a lot of satisfaction to me I created this moniker market tunis putting these two words together and I just wanted to see what happened initially all I did was send it out to thirty five of my friends at general mills in my associate marketing manager class and those thirty five associate marketing managers started afford it around and that's the on ly outbound marketing I've ever done is sending it to that thirty five people and my cartoons now reach over one hundred thousand people a week on ly by sending out one a week and trying to be as good as I can with the content and is responsible as I can be to the audience to whom I'm creating the content and it created a virtuous circle of good feeling but no business model at all had I tried to put a business model on the content find an r a y for each individual cartoon I was sending out I would've quit there wasn't anything there I literally had an email newsletter and I was doing this purely for the love of sending it out there and tacking up on my cubicle and the response when people thought if I pushed it a little bit too far that I would end up getting fired for it I did it because I loved him and I continued doing it andi I've sent off these cartoons kind of parrot in the world of marketing that you know quite often you feel this may have strike close to home in the world of content that you could put it like us on facebook I caught on something and it's going to spread but you can't take content that's not worth sharing and make it share a ble with social media and that's that's ah really lesson I think for anybody creating content the quality the content has to come first and once you have that then all those other things can act like an amplifier and so over time, my audience grew and it was pretty exciting. I built a platform and working with tim migrated from that the email newsletter, as blogging platforms took off, I added those as social media took off, I added those but in terribly the cartoons and to try to make social, even if social media were taken out of the equation because I was relying on forwards and open rates, which are pretty old school. But they're still the most valuable thing that I that I think about as a channel for how to get my work out into the world. I also decided to add a lot of editorial copy so there's, just a clip, a paragraph at the bottom and every cartoon I send out now has a fairly long article written not to unpack and explain the cartoon, but to use the cartoon is a leaping off point and it's a lesson there, I think, and how we think about packaging content in different ways. I realized early on as I was sending out these cartoons nhs, they all illustrated the problems of marketing and made fun of the problems of marketing, but I wasn't getting at some of the solutions, and I use the writing to find. Amazing case studies and interesting things that I came across where the problem would be illustrated in the cartoon and the article would unpack that and provide some solutions in some leaping off points and that that combination of the text and the image really started to work for me and it was only through experimentation over time that I realized what was clicking for people I also started to think about other ways that I could that I could actually make this into a business. I started doing quite a bit of keynote speaking all of this was moonlighting but I started I'm realizing as the content was spreading there was a possibility there and what surprised me overtime is my audience grew and the feedback came through and I was getting direct emails from people about what my cartoons have what they meant to them I realized that that there was that I was circumventing the inbox at the new yorker I started seeing my cartoons at the wall street journal not in the postage stamp but they were writing about it. And then the big breakthrough came a few years after I started doing this and the wall street journal called me they called me because the marketing team was a fan of the work and they wanted to know if I would create a sixteen page cartoon book for them about how to get the most out of the wall street journal they packaged it and included it to every subscriber to describe how to get the most out of the wall street journal. And I realized by doing this end run it was actually far more valuable than if I had been successful at the postage stamp or the inbox approach. And I wouldn't have done this on day one, and a lot of the content that we create. If we do that long enough, things start to happen. I have no idea what cartoon first piqued the interest of the marketing team at the wall street journal. It could have been the first one it could have been one hundred to one. I have no idea, but by doing that over time, good things started to happen. And for me, the light bulb went off that by having a marketing background and and having a passion for cartooning, putting those together could potentially be valuable, and I could help businesses communicate through cartoons. I can effectively do for them what I had started to do with my own platform and start creating more and more custom work. And ultimately, this lightbulb led to the idea that this could actually be more of a business and actually be a full time business. And so three years ago, I did just that. I started a fulltime cartoon studio that helps a lot of businesses with their content marketing, making custom cartoon siri's for these businesses not to shield their products, but to help them connect with the audience is with genuinely good content that they actually went forward around. It started with me, and I'm just starting to scale with other cartoonists from the new yorker and other places to match their storytelling talent with these businesses. But that's illustrated quite a bit for me, just like a quick example of ah flavored water brand in san francisco called hint, you know, making fun of the things that the audience will care about that so many drinks have filled with sugars and caffeine's, etcetera. Intense stands for something different. But that's where I pour the majority of my time now and this business would on ly been have been possible had I started drawing cartoons for free, literally for free, for for almost ten years before I got to the point where I was ready to leap off and start a business around this, and I left three years ago, and I haven't looked back. It's been growing continuously since then, but again it took time for this idea to incubate, and I think that there's something relevant for anyone working in content, whether it's photography or the written word, that if you put enough good stuff out into the world, it'll it'll turn into a good thing. Your fans will become yours, customers and that's the best sort of scenario I can think about what with with content marketing so I wanted to share, sir. Five highlights five lessons that came to me sort of on this journey and the hope that it's relevant for you and I'd love to answer any questions. The first big one is that technology is an amplifier it's, not a crutch ah lot of times it's easy with every shining you think that comes along to think, if only I'm on instagram or snapchat or whatever the next shiny new thing is suddenly my content marketing problems will be solved. But it's not about it's, not about the technology this happened for brands too, by the way, what's the big campaign idea we're going digital facebook, youtube a mobile app interest what are we going to do in all those channels? I don't know we'll figure it out later that's the philosophy that happens a lot in marketing circles there's always a shining new thing that comes along and it's, tempting to think that all you need is the shiny new thing, but once you, if if if you if you boil it down to its simplest roots, if you the on ly tool at your disposal was an email newsletter, what would you do with that? And if you boil it down to that, then you add on these other things and they worked as an amplifier, as tim was saying earlier, you can start to re imagine you're content and repackage you're content, push it in all sorts of different ways with my cartoons. I have the cartoons at the core, but adding the article added a different element to it. If I package a slide share presentation with a siri's of cartoons on the theme and some dialogue that f adds a different element to it. If I take a block post that did particularly well and rewind it, rewrite it and expand it, and then syndicate that out as a as a quarterly column for widely read marketing, uh, magazine and website that's. Another way to repackage and think about the content all these technology tools they sometimes get in the way they particularly get in the way, if you listen to the feedback that you have to be on a twenty four seven. I've tried to stay true to the once a week publishing cycle and there's sometimes temptation people say you have to be, you have to block every day you have teo be on twitter, continuously and there those who do that and do that well, I've elected to pour my focus into one thing that I could do really well and not push myself too far and there's a that's a really a really challenging thing, I think cruising content of any kind. The second big thing is preaching to the choir it's also very tempting that if you wantto launch a book, if you want to launch a platform, you want to appeal to a lot of the largest possible audience, but there's a trap in that, and marketers do this to thinking about their target audience. Who all should we target? You think that in order become big, you have to target the main stream, but if you're not meaningful e unique to anyone in particular, you're not going to be that important to any of any group. If you try to, if you try to be a meeting, if you try to appeal to everyone, you're not could be meaningful, unique to any one group in particular, and so there's a real important focus on staying true that the core of who you want to talk to and it's fine if that shifts overtime for me I started initially doing cartoons predominantly about food marketing because I was at general mills I've started to expand that toe look at different sides of marketing but I haven't gone all the way to accounting I've tried to stay focused on the core because I know that's where my audience lives and that's where where where I know the material I'm not chart trying to chase the big prize of the big audience because having a core loyal group of followers is the most important thing a cz one author put it it's about the thousand true fans if you have a thousand true fans you can make a business and make a living on a thousand true fans so that's that's the most important thing I think is staying focused so I do a lot of analytics on on the list my email list etcetera etcetera and a lot of people use their company email addresses which gives me a a data input to know what cos my cartoons are resonating with and they're quite a large number that's outside of that core but by talking to that core in such a deep and meaningful way that's when it spread had I tried to reach the whole pie every time I would have diluted my message if I stay focused on cartoons for a fare fairly core audience those people respond to it and and my many of the cartoons that I send out there my parents don't get other people who sometimes people who do not work in the world of marketing know get and that's fine there's the simpsons rule that with every simpsons episode they try toe have ninety percent of the jokes are jokes that everyone will get ten percent of the jokes are jokes that only a tiny percentage of people would get and if you always leave room for the ten percent loyalist to dig into the content and find some meat to it those are the ones we're going to run with the content and rake make it really successful the third big thing I touched on earlier continuity trumps fire ality there's such a push to try to make your content go viral and what that results in is every every content market or wanting to be the next flock of seagulls you become a one hit wonder and you don't want to be a one hit wonder when you're creating content marketing that that's so often it is the approach I just need to have a youtube video that goes viral I just need to create this piece of content that's infographic that goes viral you put all your resource is on that one thing and then you're stuck what if it what if our video doesn't go viral you have your projection line purely banking on this thing that may or may not happen their conditions that you khun set to make your content likely to be shared, but you can't control everything every week, even after getting the analytics, everytime I send out a cartoon, I immediately see and meet me, see how successful it wass by a number of different criteria, and I'm still unpacking it sometimes retweets or high and facebook lights are low. Sometimes I get a lot of comments and some of some of the actual impressions on the page or low it's hard to say and and and I never engage it. I never know which ones are going to be a runaway hit cartoons the on ly way I've been successful. Having some of those actually go viral is by putting out a lot of stuff you can't control it, and if you put all your eggs in one basket it's going to drive you crazy, you're going to be too precious with it, you're not going to take any risks with it, you're gonna let it time to breathe and flow and it's that continuity that creates that relationship with your audience over time that ultimately is the most is the most meaningful thing. You know, the other thing that happens to is when you create something that doesn't go viral, you end up with a social media ghost town. You end up and franz again do this to the web is littered with social media goes towns and they usually have a twitter page that starts at the bottom hey, I'm on twitter nobody signed up, I'm on twitter and then over time you know and then they get to promotions, etcetera, etcetera and then finally you realize the last update was eighteen months ago you don't want a social media ghost town and people end up with that because they go into it with false expectations it takes time to build a platform and you want to invest the time and not and not set up all the impressions that if the results don't happen right away, you're going to be frustrated and you're gonna give up you need a little time to incubate and there's a lot of power in the continuity, the continuity of thinking about what can you do every week with some consistency that people look forward to cartoons or natural for continuity because people are used to looking in the paper every day there's a new cartoon they want to see what happens they get used to that window of time when they interact with this piece of content and and and and it has that ongoing cycle which is really powerful ah the there's a cartoonist who said once that cartooning is like a public utility people complain when it's not there and that's, a really good benchmark if people are going to complain when you're content is not there, and I find that happens to me if I ever miss a cartoon because it's a holiday or because I've been busy and I skip skip a week, I get a lot of emails about it and that's a good thing, because people are noticing that cycle that having you have that moment when you're in somebody's inbox and I hear from people that they first thing to do on a monday morning is look at that cartoon, and I love that, and I think there's possible for any type of content that we create is to create that that schedule that anticipations of people create a moment to engage with your content, got a fourth big thing is control freaks miss out? I know that there are a lot of people who are watching this who are photographers, and I want to talk from the point of view from visual images because I understand all the sense city sensitivities around copyright I also understand all the sensitivities around, not wanting to give your work away for free. What I want to talk about really is about mindset, we'll talk about the mindset of being free and open with your with your work while still being thoughtful about how you're going teo to, to create value with that work. And there's a this is a firestorm of debate but what I'll start with an example world new tell a day so new tele it's a pretty beloved brand ah lot of people love nutella nutella marketers are constantly trying to get people to engage with new teller as a brand so there was a there was a super fan a woman named sarah rose oh who loved new tell us so much on her own she started world new tell a day he started this institution a few years ago she grew up a facebook likes on a world new tell a day facebook page to forty thousand she solicited pictures of people kissing big new tele bottles and creating recipes with all sorts of things you could you wouldn't expect with new tele she was a lunatic for new tele right and create all of this stuff on her spare time without receiving any sort of push or guidance from you telling so new tele finds out that she's done this and they send her a cease and desist letter because she's used the trademark without approval and she's talked about the brand in ways they don't follow the brand style guide it was a knee jerk reaction from new tele they eventually backed it down somewhat they didn't embrace it but they backed down and the message there I think is that the mindset is often that we have to tightly control everything that we create and that tightly controlled model will ultimately leave you missing out on people really engaging with your content because people engage with your content they want to take some ownership of it and and add themselves to the conversation and so you want to reduce the friction on that happening you know I support word of mouth marketing justus long as we tightly control exactly what they say that's the friction that can often happen for big brands and for individuals is trying to tightly control the conversation and how all of your content is going to be used will ultimately restrict the people's appreciation of it and people wanting to run with it. I decided I decided I think everyone needs to find their own point on the continuum of what they're comfortable with. Obviously I wouldn't be comfortable if somebody took one of my cartoons and turned it into a pro smoking at for instance, you know that's things that can happen people can take things at photo shop and put it into a world so there is a continuum you need to find out where you're comfortable with but I think there's value and airing on the side of sharing and then deciding where the linus this morning somebody forwarded this to me there's a a a business school that translated my cartoon into portuguese and obviously it's it's not my my writing I don't know specifically what that said but I love this and I embraced this that somebody would take my work and try on their own to adapt it so they can reach a wider audience that I'll never reach on my own that's great there's some people who might find that too far because obviously I wouldn't write it that way I don't quite know the nuances of the type, but I try to air on the side of being open and free with the content and what I've what I've elected to do is to think not about the r a y of anyone piece of content, but to think of the r a y of the ecosystem of content and that's ultimately gets to my last point is that for me content is a means to an end that may sound like I'm dismissing the cartoons and what I care about them I'm not but what there's a role for me in the broader picture, particularly when it comes to ultimately making money out of what I what I do I don't care if I make money on any each end of any individual cartoon. The return for me is that satisfaction of sending something out of the world and getting a positive response on it, but I do ultimately need to feed a family I'm in the sitcom demographic single income to kids oppressive mortgage, which means ultimately this can't be a hobby for me me, I have to turn, I have to have it as a real business, and so I think a lot of people struggle with us can't figure out how to monetize my content. It's tricky for me, I I do a lot of things with my content that are counter to the r a y I set up a mechanism a couple of years ago, I started working with a great, uh, printer in san francisco that makes these beautiful prince of my cartoons, and every week I give one cartoon away for free tow one selected comment to my block, I realize that in addition to my cartoon and the article I was writing, the commentary that people would weigh in with was actually some of the best content on my site, the most insightful I would get in in point of view and impact from readers that I never could have written my own because I'm not working in those countries or those companies or whatever, and ultimately that the content ecosystem for me is much broader than I create. What I create its it includes the conversation of all the readers that that are inspired by something I've said, and they want to contribute to it and that's a really powerful ecosystem, and I want to reward that. Even paying to have a print ship to people and I don't have a limitation if they're outside the u s it's really expensive to ship a print all the way to india? But I do that, and I do it consistently because this audience and this interaction is ultimately the most important asked that I asked that I have and I don't want to mess that up, and I don't want to mess it up by putting pay walls or putting any sort of friction in the process of my cartoon getting out there. So here's, how I thought about the monetization question and hopefully this is useful to you a friend of mine friend of mine suggested that I think about the question and my fishing for minimum, zoran, my fishing for whales and what he meant by that is that there's a continuum of ways that you could make money doing what you do. I make I've elected to make a fair amount of my income on the whale end of it, going to speaking engagements or working with large companies to create marketing campaigns for them, and all those people on the whale end of the spectrum have started out as fans, every kickoff call that I have on a project usually starts with I've been reading your cartoons for years I'm so glad to be able to talk to you and have a chance to connect with you and this is somebody ultimately I'm trying to sell something, teo, but it doesn't start with me as a zakes multi sales guy, it starts with somebody, it starts with it with the relationship that has existed for years because I've invested upfront in creating this content over time, and the return comes often through that route, so the whale into the strategy is often overlooked. But it's really important on ly by investing in a lot of stuff for free, do you get the whale relationships? The middle relationships are equally important finding relationships with people that may not have a big marketing campaign but would be willing to buy your book, buy a print. I support you in some other way, and so is you think about the monetization strategy. It really is an ecosystem it's not the r a y on anyone cartoon or block poster youtube video, whatever it is it's thinking about the ecosystem and the relationship that you have with this audience, you're connecting with and fueling that ecosystem with really great content. And then over time, the insights come on howto leverage that and make that a cz effective as possible so that those are the five main inside, so I wanted to share.