Content Marketing Institute VP Cathy McPhillips Shares Industry Insights

Cathy McPhillips As part of a series researching and interviewing influential women in marketing, we connected with Cathy McPhillips, Vice President of Marketing at the Content Marketing Institute.

McPhillips leads marketing for CMI, Content Marketing World, ContentTECH Summit, CMI University, CCO Magazine and other CMI properties.

Read on to find out more!

1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?

After growing up in Lakewood, Ohio, I went to Ohio University to study journalism. While at OU, I worked at The Post, the school newspaper, as an advertising manager. I also was part of the OU ad association and did PR and marketing for many clubs on campus. My first job out of college was at Liggett-Stashower, as part of the art studio team. I was the coordinator for the department and also supported internal communications.

Next, I went to Wyse Advertising as part of their media planning department, and that’s where I was able to use both my love of numbers AND creativity. About a year after my first child was born, I decided it was time to try something new, and I started my own consulting company. Former agency managers and clients hired me to work for them, and I picked up some other clients over the years.

After thirteen years of self-employment, I met Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing Institute, who was looking for someone to run marketing. I’ve been there over eight years!

2. What made you want to pursue marketing and communications?

I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. During my junior year of high school in my AP English class, we were assigned one of our most important term papers of the year. The topic? “What I Want to Do When I Grow Up.”

At the end of the school day I went to my teacher’s office and told her I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. She asked what I enjoyed or what I thought my talents were. I said art and math. She said, “You can’t be good at both of those things.” (Let’s just ignore the fact that this probably isn’t the best response coming from an educator.)

She sent me to the school library and told me to take a career assessment and aptitude test. Journalism and marketing came up, and that’s the direction I started, figuring I might change somewhere along the way, but I fell in love with it.

3. What do you consider to be the most interesting aspect of marketing?

I love the numbers, even when I don’t have all the answers or know how to get to the results I’m trying to find. We have so much data right now, so many ways to collect, and even more ways to dissect it to learn more about our customers. And because I also love the creative side, I like taking the analytics and turning it into something creative and engaging.

4. What changes have you seen in the course of your career so far?

Well, at my first job at Liggett-Stashower, I saw my first website, and was blown away by it. So we’ve come a long way!

Digital was a department at Wyse Advertising. Now marketing is digital. Back at Wyse when we were doing marketing plans and media plans, our plans for my B2C clients all revolved around broadcast TV and how many weeks we could be on a year. It all revolved around GRPs, and analytics were checking against Nielsen ratings. But we couldn’t always tie marketing to purchase because all we did was look at marketing spend to sales.

Digital offers us such an opportunity. From SEO to SEM to display ads, retargeting, email, website updates, and more, everything we’re doing is trackable if you’re doing it right. Also, as we get more hyper-personalized and more digital, and as A.I. takes its spot in the marketing world, I also see the resurgence of print and offline marketing experiences.

If COVID-19 and our stay-at-home orders have taught us anything it’s that we crave conversation, in-person interaction, and offline experiences. We need each other. The communities we build, the strong ones, require an offline presence – not because it helps marketing, but because those relationships and tribes want to keep growing. Except that those relationships and tribes, if nurtured properly and genuinely, really do help marketing and sales.

The sweet spot is finding where digital experiences can enhance being in person. This is something we’re constantly working on with our events and conferences. As humans, we’ve all reset a little over the past few months, and priorities are shifting. As marketers, we need to remember that.

5. What are the things you like about your position? What are the things you dislike?

I love that every day is something new. I love that I get to speak to our customers daily, and that social media has provided an incredible opportunity to learn, grow, act and pivot very quickly. I love that numbers can tell a story, so much more than they could when I started in this industry. I love that I work for a company that encourages creativity and growth, and I love that I have a team who technically report to me, but from whom I learn something every day.

What do I dislike? Not much. I’m a big believer in stopping something you don’t like doing. If anything, I’d say I wish I had more time to do everything we wanted to do, so I dislike how short we are on human resources sometimes. But on the flip side, our small but mighty team gets a lot done because we are so lean and nimble.

6. What do you wish you’d known about when starting your career in this industry?

Departments shouldn’t be silos, and good managers encourage cross-collaboration. And, just because you have a good idea doesn’t mean you’re the one that has to (or should) implement it. Some of the best ideas come from those folks in the company who aren’t in the weeds in a particular area who can bring fresh eyes to a situation. Listen to others, take their ideas and run with them, or graciously say thank you and tell them to keep ‘em coming. And offer thoughts to others.

7. What’s your favorite thing to do in Cleveland, or what do you like most about living/working in Cleveland?

Those that know me well know that I will say my favorite thing about Cleveland is Lake Erie! I love living by the water, walking to Huntington Beach every morning, paddleboarding, kayaking with my girlfriends, and, when we’re lucky, heading out boating with friends. But truly, just walking or biking by the water every day makes me happy.

When we do head out, we love Playhouse Square, Cleveland Indians games, and concerts – three things we look forward to doing again! Restaurant-wise, Ninja City in Gordon Square, Johnny Mango in Ohio City, Thyme Table in Bay Village, and Parker’s in Avon Lake are a few of our favorites.

Check Out Her Blog Posts

Be sure to check out some of Cathy McPhillips’s blog posts for some great marketing insights! Her latest includes:

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