I Never Planned to Be a PowerPoint Savant

I’m quite judgmental of marketing content.  Well, all content, to be honest, I’m judgmental of all content. I want content to communicate and serve a purpose, and I judge all content I encounter with a critical eye. 

I’ve been involved with persuasive content my entire professional life.  Heart and soul, I’m a practicing B2B marketing and content strategist that has watched the need for more human-centered, intelligent, content design explode. As B2B buyers become more digital, content becomes ever-more important to buyers and sellers.  I saw this trend early and became focused on content and message strategy because of it.

But many of the clients I work with in sales know me only as their presentation secret weapon.   

The truth is, I’m no PPT savant. I am a daily power-user, but competency is expected, and no one cares about my technical chops.  What they care about is winning the deal, and winning and losing is determined by how well you communicate business value.

It’s a bit ironic, because I’ve never promoted myself as a PowerPoint expert, in fact, I avoided it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy creating presentations, I do, but it was not a B2B niche I expected to serve when I began consulting. I also did not want to be pigeonholed and commoditized.

It found me anyways. It’s surprising in some ways, and not so surprising in others. After all, a PPT presentation is content, and content is one of the things I do best.  


PowerPoint didn’t even exist when I entered the workforce.  As a designer in the commercial production industry, I enjoyed the work and learned a lot about simplifying messages into 0:30 second commercials. I also had a deep interest in being involved in the strategy and creative developed by the agencies.  I not only had my own opinions on the creative, but I wanted to understand the bigger ideas driving the strategies.

My first exposure to Microsoft was circa 1990 on early Macintosh desktops in a small design and marketing agency in which I was a partner. At the time, business software and hardware were emerging markets and start-ups were everywhere, fueling our own growth. I was now helping shape and execute brand and marketing strategies. It was also my entry into B2B technology.

Fast forward a few years, and much to my surprise, I’m managing marketing teams in a global technology enterprise.  By now, PowerPoint has become a ubiquitous tool. Unfortunately, too many presentations were hopelessly boring energy bludgeons.  Corporate life quickly taught me the meaning of “death by PowerPoint” and I swore then I would never inflict such suffering upon anyone subjected to a slide deck I was associated with.

During my years in corporate marketing, I wore many hats, from content to strategy.  I also became the go-to guy for executive keynotes. I was good at them, not only from a design perspective, but also because of my instinct for persistent audience focus complimented my ability to simplify complex messages and create continuity.  Keynotes were an omen, I just didn’t recognize it at the time.

Hurricane Maria’s lasting impact

I left the corporate marketing world for consulting in 2017 and creating keynote presentations and sales decks was not my target market. Then Hurricane Maria came barging through Houston one Friday night and turned it into a lake. The following Monday morning, an unexpected phone call modified my trajectory.

John Heimann, who at the time, was director of commercial marketing at Anthem of California, was calling.  John and I worked together at Alcatel many years prior. He started the call by saying “I don’t know if you can help me, but I’m in a jam.”

He explained that he received a call from the account manager at the Houston agency he was working with and was told “our studio is underwater. Literally, underwater.” They were not going to be able to meet several deliverables because of the hurricane and flooding.

On that Monday, the most critical deliverable to Anthem was an RFP finalist presentation required for a key account within the next 10 days. The ask was a PowerPoint presentation of approximately 60 slides, and the content had yet to be created. Though I felt a bit rusty as a designer, I knew we could make it work. 

Anthem won the account and I’ve been working with healthcare sales leaders to pitch key accounts consistently ever since.  It’s a role I never saw coming.

While I also help these same organizations define and produce various strategic programs and content, those contributions are invisible to most.  For many salespeople I work with, the finalist decks for key accounts are the only work they know me for, so they just see me as the PowerPoint guy.  Commoditized by assumption.

But, while many just see a slick presentation, I see an engaging, clear, and relevant message designed for the only people that matter – the decision makers in the room. This is what it takes to keep an audience engaged.  This is how I help sales win. This is why I have become their presentation secret weapon, even though I’ve never promoted myself as a PowerPoint expert.

It happened because I met a need, and that need is to help salespeople be successful, especially in front of an audience. And, while many salespeople just see a slick communication tool, I see a lot more.  Strong messaging and positioning are a byproduct of understanding what your audience cares about.  As with all content, when coupled with well-choreographed creative design and delivery, a good presentation helps presenters be more persuasive. 

Most importantly, my experience helps me, help them, win key accounts. And because I help them win, I’ve become a top gun for key account pitch decks and executive keynotes.  

I guess I have become a PowerPoint savant.  Bring it on. 

This article was originally published on Medium.

Old Habits are Hard to Break

Change is hard.  “An A+ for stating the obvious” you are thinking to yourself?

B2B marketing is stuck in “old ways”.   Like any generalization, there are exceptions, but they remain the minority.   I’ll explain.

Business thrives on process.  From process comes efficiency, which is a critical element of success.  Consider FedEx and the UPS.  Process is their competitive advantage and they have embraced new techniques, structures and core processes to capitalize on fundamental shifts in technology, audience needs and service models. They are winning big because of it.

Process is key to efficiency but a process based on an old set of rules is disaster.  In many ways this is the status of B2B marketing.

Marketing is about message, content and audience reach.  B2B is adapting to the audience reach part of the model.  But it needs deeper analysis.  Marketing has not adapted to the message and content processes required to truly capitalize on new distribution models and audience consumption preferences.

The Internet and “digital” has forever changed how buyers evaluate and make purchase decisions.  In response, Marketing no longer prints collateral but publishes PDF’s on their websites. Many have adopted “marketing automation” tools to leverage their database.  Some discovered video, audio podcasts, eBooks.   The list goes on.

Communications teams are blogging and tweeting all day long to capitalize on the power of social media.  Many new tools, formats and media are being used, all powerful and with tremendous reach.

But here’s the thing.  Few marketing and communications teams are working together to consider the synergy of each effort, or the content required to support each channel.  The  activities are related and inter-dependent upon each other, though they are often not executed as such.

Engagement is the new buzzword in marketing. Engage with customers, prospects, and partners.  “We need to engage online.  Establish a conversation.”  But for many organizations the teams responsible for customer engagement are not truly engaged with each other.  They talk, have meetings and conference calls, but they are not engaged.  Why?

Old habits. The approach to content creation, communication, and the structure of organizations has not evolved. B2B has historically undervalued creative, message and content, and they have not yet recognized the need to adapt the process of creating content.  One team creates collateral, another press and media communications, and a third owns marketing automation. Other teams own the web, video, and training.  Each is focused set of deliverables but not the coordination or relationships of the messages they are delivering.

Unless co-developed, creating a PDF whitepaper to publish on the web and writing a blog post for LinkedIn, without a strategy to leverage their inter-dependencies is not a new approach, just a new distribution method.

Would love to hear your own opinions on this.

Who should own Social Media – Communications or Marketing?

What is the impact of digital and social media?
How has digital communications and social media changed your approach to content and marketing?

Remember this early debate when social media first emerged as a B2B marketing channel?  Since appearing on marketing’s radar, the question of who should ‘own’ social media within the business has echoed across small and large enterprises everywhere.  Here is my take – It is the wrong question.

The correct question is this.  How should enterprise marketing structures, strategies and processes adapt to the content demands of social media and new rules for audience engagement, enabled by ubiquitous information and all things digital – the web, social media, search engines, etc?

Traditional marketing structures of most enterprises today are outdated. They evolved to meet traditional marketing media.  Now they must evolve again to address the new rules of inbound and outbound marketing, press and analyst behaviors, customer expectations and most of all, shifting buy cycle trends.  Here’s why.

Let’s explore the traditional B2B model, formed around collateral and interruption-based media of the 20th century.  The typical structure was defined as:

  • Marketing (brand, collateral, advertising, direct mail, promotions) and
  • Communications (PR, Analyst relations, media relations).

The term mar-com took root and the web didn’t exist. 

Customer awareness was delivered in the form of advertising; information was the role of collateral, trade press and particularly sales, touching customers early in the buying cycle. 

Communications handled press and analyst activities by phone, snail mail, PR newswires, and in person. Personal relationships were as important to press and media people as they were to sales. Content was important, dominated by collateral and press releases, perhaps an occasional advertorial.  Deeper content produced separately by product management came in the form of manuals and user guides, training educated sales and supported customer product knowledge, all often developed outside of marketing’s view.

Compare that to the digital world we live in today. The web provides people with access to ubiquitous information in almost any form.  Customers expect it. It’s no longer about finding customers but making sure customers find you. Customers are now controlling the conversation via the web and social media, and sales touches the customer much later in the buying cycle. Why? Because buyers don’t need to rely on a salesperson for information as they once did. In fact most buyers don’t even want to talk to sales until they’ve already researched and made numerous decisions about what solution provider is likely to meet their needs.

So what does this mean for today’s marketing teams?

It is now the customer’s expectation (and marketing’s responsibility) to produce much greater volumes of content.  Content to address a wider audience, in many additional forms and optimized for search to compete with hundreds of thousands of competing information resources. This is the evolution of what is known today as “Content Marketing”.  And, we haven’t even begun yet the discussion of social media and how that can be executed by the business, except by inference as it is directly connected.

Call it the perfect storm. On one hand we have much greater demand for content and information enabled by the web and expected by customers. On the other hand, few marketing organizations have seen a corresponding increase in resources to satisfy the insatiable demand. In fact, the recession has reduced most marketing budgets and resources.

Why is the debate about who should own Social Media the wrong question?  Because without re-evaluating what we consider to be content, how we produce it, manage it, and scale it, enterprise marketing and communications cannot meet the demands social media and other digital channels present to create a successful marketing engagement, and still fulfill the current definitions of their day jobs.

The answer to the original question?  We all must own it. So how does business organize to support it strategically and tactically?