We talked to Shannon Emmerson, founder of Forge & Spark Media, about content marketing and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shannon Emmerson: We’re doing well, and feeling grateful for where we are (Vancouver, BC, Canada) and for the provincial leadership around COVID in British Columbia, where we live. It’s important to remain grateful. We lost my grandmother to COVID-19, which was very hard. And I continue to worry about my parents, both in their seventies. But we are all taking it day by day.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Forge and Spark.
Shannon Emmerson: I founded Forge & Spark Media in 2013, at 42, shortly after the birth of my son. During my maternity leave, I realized that my values no longer aligned with the company I’d been working for and that I wasn’t looking forward to going back. This sparked the idea to found my own company: one where I could use my skills and talents in storytelling and communications to help business leaders trying to do something good in the world. And you know what? I now work with clients who inspire me — and that keeps me going.
How does Forge and Spark innovate?
Shannon Emmerson: We’re a collaborative and communicative crew. We review our projects in an effort to honestly and openly assess what worked and what didn’t — there’s no judgment for mistakes made, but rather an emphasis on how to make it better the next time. We call this owning our impact — and it guides and drives us all.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Shannon Emmerson: It was rough back in March and April! Many of our clients paused campaigns, and a few worked out ‘creative payment solutions’ with us, as they weren’t sure they could cover all their bills. We all came through it, though. We spent those slow months doing some serious work on our own SEO and content marketing (the work we usually do for others!) in order to shift from a referral/word of mouth model to one much more driven by inbound marketing — and that investment was amazing for us. Come the summer, we were and are busier than ever, with most of our leads now coming in from our content marketing.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Shannon Emmerson: I made the choice during those lean, slow months to focus on keeping my team working and to cut my own salary — something I have never regretted. I learned that I could make do on less and that my family was and is truly there for me, in the good times and bad.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Shannon Emmerson: Slack is our team’s watercooler, Zoom is our boardroom. We couldn’t do without our weekly Zoom Happy Hours, where no ‘work talk’ is permitted, and where all our kids and pets and assorted home co-workers are free to come and say hello. Management skills: it’s all about empathy, honesty, and clarity.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shannon Emmerson: Our competition is global now that everyone’s online! Content marketing agencies, PR agencies, digital marketing agencies are all competitors in our space — but we learn from them, too.
Your final thoughts?
Shannon Emmerson: I’m grateful to have lived through 2020 and to have learned the lessons I did. We’re all cautiously optimistic about our future, knowing that it’s no longer about getting ahead individually, but rather collective purpose, and helping and supporting others.
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