“The corporate marketing group overall matured into becoming a trusted partner to customers,” says Denise Dubie of her time at CA. “Everything moved toward being customer-centric.”
Denise Dubie spent more than 14 years working for IT trade publications, including 12 at the industry newsweekly Network World, before jumping to the vendor side of the equation with CA Technologies, where she worked for more than 8 years. There, she turned her writing talents to managing a twice-daily blog and social media strategy for 2 years before becoming Senior Principal of Strategic Content in CA’s Content Marketing Group. In that role, she served as Editorial Director of the Modern Software Factory Hub and Security.com, and managed content across an array of CA blogs and websites. CA’s content strategy flourished during her time there, with avenues such as the Blueprint newsletter garnering 10,000 subscribers, resulting in a 500% increase in year-over-year unique visitors to CA.com.
CA, of course, was recently acquired by Broadcom, which sadly eliminated many CA marketing positions, including Denise’s. We talked shortly after that, just before she landed at PureB2B as the new Director of Content. Not coincidentally, PureB2B’s President and CEO is Melissa Chang, who worked at Network World early on in her illustrious career.
I was fortunate enough to work with Denise (and Melissa) at Network World and have kept in touch ever since. Fresh off her stint at CA, I thought she’d make a great contributor to the Saratoga B2B interview series, as she’s able to offer perspective from both the trade press and vendor sides of the marketing equation. In this interview, she expounds on what IT marketers can learn from the trade press, the role of agencies and events in content marketing, the power of video and the need for marketers to talk to customers.
Paul Desmond: First things first – any parting thoughts as you leave CA? How was the experience overall?
Denise Dubie: It’s all positive for me at the moment. Leaving CA is much different than leaving Network World was for me. For one, I didn’t make the decision to leave CA on my own, yet both exits presented an opportunity to broaden my experiences and keep my career flourishing in an ever-changing industry. I learned about demand gen and content marketing at CA, something I knew little about as a journalist. As a journalist, I knew my audience, I knew my beat and I knew how to communicate the most important information through engaging content. At CA, I needed to know all that, but I also learned to apply marketing to attract more readers in today’s crowded digital content environment. And I learned about navigating a large enterprise software company.
Having produced “pure” editorial content for many years at Network World, how did you find the transition to the vendor side?
My initial role at CA was to maintain an objective blog on industry trends and socialize the content. Other than all my analyst and end-user contacts no longer being quoted in my pieces, I was creating similar content on industry trends as I had at Network World. When I was moved to the thought leadership content group after 2 years, I started to really knit the type of content I created with campaigns driven by product marketing groups. I thoroughly enjoyed finding the tone and type of content to which this audience would respond. And then we launched a branded journalism site called Rewrite (later evolved into The Modern Software Factory Hub), which enabled me to put longer term editorial strategy to work. I planned the industry trend content designed to attract readers unknown to CA and bring them into the CA ecosystem. We worked with external writers and agencies to strike a balance between trend content with subject matter expertise and really showcase our internal knowledge of key technologies such as AIOps, Cybersecurity, Agile and more.
What can vendors learn from the way the trade press operates?
One thing that surprised me a bit when I first joined CA was the content wasn’t always customer-focused. It would cover technologies and trends, but more so from a vendor perspective. Content creators working at or with vendor companies should also be learning to serve an audience. If their ideal reader is external to the company, they need to shake off the jargon, dig in to the issues customers are facing and provide insights and actionable guidance. Vendors as large as CA have the advantage of working with many customers across varying industries. They can use that experience to fuel their content and reach more customers interested in hearing how peers are using technology to address the same business issues.
The trade press has obviously seen better days, as many publications have suffered numerous layoffs and are a shell of what they used to be. What’s your take on the trade press today? What role can or should it play, especially with so many vendors producing quality content of their own?
The trade press needs to keep challenging the vendors in terms of marketing-speak. Many experienced reporters continue to raise the bar, forcing content marketing organizations within vendors to meet a certain standard of content—not just repurposing press releases. At CA I worked with an external agency on a few industry trend stories. I sent the stories back asking for more sources, and ideally not vendor sources. They pushed back, saying readers don’t care who the sources are, and I agree with that in a sense. Readers may not be tracking the domain name in the URL, but if they are reading an article on, say, identity and access management, and the only sources in the article are vendors selling that type of technology, then the readers are less likely to trust the information. Also the trade press finds and shares stories that vendors might not want to see published, and that role remains critical for IT and business decision makers.
From my own experience, it’s often challenging to convince IT vendors to tone down the marketing messages in blog posts and other content marketing materials, and instead focus on making the content useful to IT folks. To what extent did you face that issue at CA and what did you do about it?
CA featured multiple content hubs, and each had its own type of content. The corporate blog site was often where the most marketing messages could be found. News about product launches or how the company supported a technology similar to competitors would land there. My responsibilities with content resided at the “top of the funnel” or at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. Our content team was tasked with drawing people to CA without really discussing CA. Often my journalism background would lead me to rewrite blogs to invert the focus from what CA is doing to why it matters to existing or potential customers.
What kind of messages would you say got the best response from IT buyers? Did any particular topics or approaches work better than others?
IT buyers respond well to real talk from peers but also vendors. For instance, I wasn’t involved with it, but our team created a series of CA+ videos that were wildly successful with viewers. These videos featured a CA expert discussing a topic in a straight-forward manner. They still do very well, even older videos. Content that talks to the IT buyer on their level without the BS seemed to resonate the most for our group. Interactive infographics were also popular. I mean, who doesn’t like an online quiz?
What single piece of content stands out as a resounding success?
One piece of content that I was directly involved in creating was a white paper from years ago about DevOps that continues to get downloads. I wrote it in 2014 and it kept showing up in our metrics. DevOps was an up-and-coming topic at the time and it was new for CA. I think the headline helped, too, as it was a bit more fun and less academic: “DevOps: The Worst-Kept Secret to Winning in the Application Economy.”
Aside from that I considered The Blueprint newsletter an obvious success. It had great open rates every week, I think because it was focused on industry trends, issues and people, not product. And it was fresh every week; we didn’t repeat content ever. I know because I authored every single edition of it, from when it was first the Rewrite newsletter and then rebranded as The Blueprint, also beginning back in 2014. It was great to see it grow as much as it did.
Any spectacular failures?
I can’t name one particular failure, but I can name one area in which frustrations ran high and content suffered. Often we couldn’t implement the appropriate technologies to make our content work the way it was intended to work. For instance, there was an API infographic that my colleague Jason Meserve worked on with The New York Times. It lived on their site, but we wanted to repurpose it on our sites and we simply couldn’t get it to operate correctly. The infographic itself was a huge success; our ability to feature it on our pages, not so much.
You were at CA for about 8 1/2 years. What sort of changes in content marketing did you see in that time? Any practices that fell out of favor, or others that increased in importance?
We transitioned between creating content that was separate from CA or clearly identified with CA. For instance, Rewrite resided on its own site, off of the ca.com domain. We then brought The Modern Software Factory Hub back into the ca.com environment. We oscillated between wanting to be known as a CA entity and wanting to mask that a bit. We evolved into understanding that our content had to tie directly to CA products, but the content could still be objective and apply across industries. The corporate marketing group overall matured into becoming a trusted partner to customers, even if customers considered acquiring and integrating technologies elsewhere. Everything moved toward being customer-centric while I was there.
How much content was your group producing week to week – and did you have any favorite content management tools for keeping it all straight, including scheduling, getting sign-offs, etc.
On the sites I managed, I would post three to four new pieces of content per week, sometimes more depending on if there was a research launch from my team or if CA World was happening. I updated the landing pages a couple of times per week, to keep the content above the fold fresh for returning visitors. There are a few editorial calendaring tools that also offered the opportunity for ideation and idea sharing on the platform, but I mostly used the drag-and-drop calendar and I loved it. The most recent one I was using was Kapost, and it was a dream compared to the spreadsheet I manually updated and shared. The Kapost platform let any interested parties, internal or external to CA, see what was planned across the company and made the job of me sending bits of information to various parties in email obsolete. I could say, “Check Kapost.”
You mentioned CA used some agencies to help produce content, and I know first-hand they also use freelance writers. Can you talk about the trade-offs between the two approaches? When does each make sense?
Agencies make sense when you need skills you don’t have in house, for instance, design skills in many cases. We worked with design agencies on the overall look-and-feel of our content hub sites. Agencies are also ideal when you don’t have the bandwidth to create three to four pieces of content per week. The trade-offs can be that the agency is not well-versed in technology or the most current messaging from your company, but if you find the right team they can learn the latter.
That’s where freelancers have an edge. I could go after someone I knew to be an experienced writer on a particular topic, such as security or DevOps. Usually I’d contract for three to six blogs; very rarely just one. And I wouldn’t use newer freelancers, only those who were really established.
I used internal experts for the nitty-gritty technical content specific to CA. I was lucky to have a couple of technology experts at CA—George Watt and Peter Waterhouse— who were also prolific and good writers.
What role did events play in your content marketing efforts, including both those hosted by CA and others where CA was a sponsor? Any tips for how to make the most of events in your content marketing efforts?
There were many events to which we aligned our content, some expected and others less so. For instance, we would work with the CA World team to ensure we had content coverage of the key topic areas at the show. I would often travel to the company show and report it as I would have when I was at Network World. And the corporate communications team would have our CEO speak at the World Economic Forum and then with the help of corporate marketing, we could create derivative content from the events by way of videos, blogs or articles.
In terms of tips, I would just say understand the theme of the show and if there is a role for content marketing to play there. Our group focused mostly on thought leadership content and we would feature our sites at the show, but CA World was a customer show, with attendees there to learn about specific products and the latest and greatest features, so often our role was secondary to product teams, which made sense.
If you had to give just one piece of advice to IT marketers, what would it be?
Look away from the PowerPoint, get out of the conference room and speak directly to customers. Talk to the people using your company’s and others’ technologies to solve business problems. To create content for these critical IT buyers, you have to understand what their role is and what they are tasked to do. Some of the conversations will seem mundane perhaps, but most of them will uncover the big challenges they face and the opportunities your company has to help customers solve real business problems. The single biggest thing I missed in my role at CA was speaking with IT professionals. And yes, I did from time to time get to speak with a CA customer, but it was nothing compared to my many years at Network World talking to the technologists in the trenches sharing the secrets of their jobs, what works and what doesn’t, and why they are so excited about technology. [Ed note: This answer was remarkably similar to the one former Network World editor-in-chief and IDG chief content officer John Gallant gave to the same question.]