The easiest way to learn how to do something is to model someone who is doing it successfully. When it comes to content, and improving your chamber’s content quality or frequency with which you share it, finding someone in the industry who is doing it well makes it much easier to do it on your own.
This week I had a chance to interview Brian Cleary, Chief Executive of County Tipperary Chamber of Commerce in Ireland. He’s also a director of Chambers Ireland. Brian writes for a number of online publications and is a regular co-presenter of the ‘Small Business Show’ a syndicated radio program broadcast on a number of stations throughout Ireland and available as a podcast. He’s a very smart guy who believes in the value and importance of content for chambers.
You can find him on Twitter @ChamberBrian or on email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the interview he shares with us:
- his chamber’s content calendar/planning schedule
- what content marketing has done for his chamber in just a little over a year
- how he makes time for content, and
- how he figured out the ROI with content marketing with a simple e-book, among a host of others tips.
I sound a little like a character from Seinfeld when I say:
This is gold. Take the time to read it, digest it, and mark it as a favorite. His tips below are worth returning to.
My only regret about this interview is that I wasn’t able to do it in person. Maybe next time. Sure would like to visit Ireland.
How do you use content in your chamber?
Brian: Our Chamber is at an interesting juncture in its history. The Clonmel Chamber has existed for 90 years. It has covered the largest town in County Tipperary since 1925. Earlier this year, after 4 years of planning and hard work, we launched the County Tipperary Chamber. This new all Tipperary Chamber will bring the services, products and membership offering of Clonmel Chamber to a wider audience. In time, the Clonmel Chamber brand will fade from view and we will operate as one brand. Until that time we have the situation where one brand has 90 years of history and the other brand has about 90 days of history!
As part of our work to create the County Tipperary Chamber we had to look at how we could best portray our message and inform people about what we do. Our Chamber is affiliated to the national body (Chambers Ireland) and is the largest in the county. However, there are about 9 small local Chambers that have very small memberships and we were keen to avoid being grouped in with them. These Chambers, despite the best efforts of their volunteer teams, are primarily groups to promote local shopping and to lobby on micro issues. Over the last 6 years we have set our Chambers (Clonmel and subsequently County Tipperary Chamber) up to be progressive and forward thinking groups that are focused on enabling members to grow their business. Content marketing was the solution that we chose.
We use content to inform and educate our audience of business people in Tipperary and surrounding areas.
- We highlight the work that we do through our news pieces.
- We educate our audience with brief blog posts that focus on business growth and management.
- We also use the website as a promotional tool for members. They can use it, and leverage our audience, to promote their businesses.
Since we implemented this strategy in late 2014 we have seen a marked increase in membership sign-ups. We, as a board and staff, attribute this to the fact that we are explaining what we do every day. We are highlighting our work, our challenges and our successes daily. Furthermore, we are consistently showing potential members that our Chamber is the ideal platform for any company seeking to grow their business.
Very early on in the process we put in place a schedule that has helped us to work efficiently and to get our message across. I have never met a Chamber executive who didn’t have a million things to do and we, just like everybody else, must seek to get that million things done. When we started our content marketing strategy I put in place a schedule. We have certain types of stories on certain days of the week. This enables us to pre-schedule almost all of our content a month in advance. Therefore, the only times that we need to create content outside of that time is when a big story breaks such as a large jobs announcement or the announcement of the national budget.
We work to the following schedule:
Monday – Policy related
Tuesday – Grow your business blog
Wednesday – News about an upcoming event
Thursday – Welcome New Member or Meet the Member Feature
All of these pieces are created on the last Friday afternoon of the month. It takes me about 3 and a half hours to create 16 pieces. Some of the pieces such as ‘Welcome New Member’ are very short (less than 200 words) and many of the policy pieces are created by our national body (Chambers Ireland) and we just chop them into easy to read pieces.
When all of the pieces are created I then schedule them through our social media channels for the appropriate time. I use Co-Schedule (low cost but the best social media tool I have ever used) to make sure that the social messages land when the story goes live and then on a number of occasions after that. Therefore, we are getting the best ‘return on investment’ for the piece that we have created. Typically we share a piece through Co-Schedule at least 5 times.
The written piece with accompanying image, the SEO (Yoast) and the social messages are all created and scheduled from within the same page on our WordPress based website. This saves significant time and makes us more effective. (We used a local company to build a very cost effective website and full blown CRM. The system has been so successful for us that the local company has now installed it at 8 or 9 Chambers in Ireland and the UK.)
Aside from the web aspect we take the content and repurpose it in a number of ways. We find that infographics also elicit a very positive response. We have also started repurposing our blog articles in to e-books. We then use the eBooks to bring people into our sales pipeline. I will go into more detail on that below.
Who is in charge of its creation? Is it a multi-level sign-off or does one person generate the idea, create, and post it?
Brian: I am ultimately in charge of content creation as the CEO of the organization. As referenced already, we do have a weekly chat about what we need to do for the web and elsewhere and I have final sign off on that. Our content strategy is part of the overall marketing of the Chamber and I keep the Chamber board updated on what we are doing so that they are aware of what is happening.
We have a very involved President (in Ireland and the UK Chamber Presidents are the board Chairs and are voluntary roles) and he also inputs into what we do on a regular basis.
Overall, we work to a plan and add to that as issues arise.
Do you have a blog, news or other section on your website that you update on a regular basis (not including events)?
Brian: The company that developed our website created a custom plugin for WordPress that turned our website into a news site. Part of our content strategy is focused on ‘feeding the news machine’ on our website. As a result our front page is constantly changing and it shows that we are a dynamic fast-moving organization. The change to this look, from a slider on the front page, has also helped us to win new members as people are now checking in everyday to see the latest stories on the front page.
As referenced above, we update from Monday to Thursday with specific stories and then as needs arise.
This may seem like an arduous process but it is actually not that time consuming at all, once it is planned effectively.
How large is your chamber (number of members and staff)?
Brian: Our Chamber now has 300 members. This is quite a large Chamber in an Irish context. Ireland has a population of 4.5 million people and 45 affiliated Chambers. Manchester in the UK has a similar population but only 1 affiliated Chamber! We have grown our membership significantly in recent years. When I joined in October 2009 there were only 88 business as fully subscribed members. We have radically overhauled the organization and the membership offering in that time. Furthermore, in 2009 we had an annual turnover of less that €100,000. Now, our combined annual turnover is approaching €1,000,000 per annum. We have grown since 2009 from 2 staff (including myself) to 6 full timers. We operate 2 training companies as part of the Chambers. These companies concentrate on providing training to companies across Ireland.
How much time do you, or your chamber staff, spend on content each week?
Brian: We set aside one half day a month to create the majority of the web content. Invariably, we will end up having a 5 or 10 minute conversation daily about what has worked and what hasn’t worked. It is possible to let content creation take over your life and that of your Chamber. We regard it as a tool to help us grow our business and while we are always thinking about it, it doesn’t take that much of our overall time.
What does content do for your chamber?
Brian: Content marketing has allowed us to tell our story and to accurately describe who we really are. We are a different type of Chamber of Commerce. We are focused on business development and helping member companies to grow. Part of the purpose of our content strategy is to dispel the myths that the Chamber is an adjunct of the local Council or that it is an ‘old boys network’ or that the Chamber is there to sort out all problems for all businesses. We market ourselves as being for our members and ‘if you want to grow/if you want our help then you have to join.’
Content Marketing also enables us to better control our message in the media. We choose one story each week from our content marketing pipeline and send that as a press release. Therefore the Chamber is setting the agenda. Previously, the
Chamber featured in local newspapers and on local radio when it was responding to a story. Now, we take the lead.
The options open to us in content marketing enable us to tell our story in so many different ways. We use infographics, video, audio, images, text based articles, e-books, tweets, Facebook posts, Linkedin updates, newsletters and much more.
Our content strategy has also helped us save time creating our weekly newsletter. We now take the week’s stories and put them into the newsletter. Previously when I sat down to write the weekly newsletter I had to come up with 5, 7 or 9 new stories. Now, we take the opening text from each online article and drop it into Mailchimp.
Finally, content marketing has enabled us to grow. More people know what the Chamber is about and as a result they want to be part of it. My only regret with content marketing is that we didn’t start sooner.
What advice do you have for chambers who want to get into more valuable content creation and curation?
Brian: Plan. I have worked in many industries but I have never come across a sector with people as busy as those in Chambers of Commerce. Content marketing will definitely help you to grow your Chamber. It will bring in new members and strengthen your ties with existing companies. However, you must have a plan and it must be realistic. We started creating content 6 weeks before we went ‘live’ with our content marketing. We did this because we knew that there would be times that we would be too swamped to create content. As a result, when we got swamped in our day to day work we still had fresh content hitting the web, social media and local media on a daily basis.
I am more than happy to have a chat with any Chamber anywhere in the world about what works for us and how we did it. I recently presented to the CEO’s of all of the Irish Chambers on this subject and I have created a ‘cheat sheet’ on the tools that we use. The only tool that we use for content creation is Co-Schedule. Everything else that we use is free. Our website and CRM, which is completely customized for a Chamber of Commerce only costs us €100 per month (that’s about $110) (this includes dedicated hosting).
Brian: Our first e-book was really the best example of our success thus far. I took 6 of the articles that we had posted on our blog and put them into an e-book template. I then turned this into a PDF. I created a landing page on our CRM to capture contact information of those downloading the book.
The 6 articles turned into a 21 page e-book that we made available online. We spent €40 (about $45) on Facebook ads and promoted it online. Over the course of a few weeks we earned almost $6,000 in new membership fees from people who had downloaded the book, read the articles and realized that the Chamber was an organization that they could partner with for business growth.
The e-book took 90 minutes to create. That is a significant return on investment.
Brian has invited chamber professionals to contact him with questions or feel free to take a look at what his chamber is doing here.