This month marks a major milestone for my B2B content marketing firm, Spark Media Solutions.


Except for maintaining a full functioning circulatory system, there’s very little in my life I’ve been doing consistently for ten years straight. Though to tell you the truth, the business has hardly remained consistent over the past ten years. In order to survive the business has been forced to evolve many times. What follows is a look back at why I started the business, the dips we’ve had (we’ve had plenty), how we’ve overcome them, the current issues we’re dealing with, and what we’re looking forward to in the future.

Spark Media Solutions past and current clients

Read on, especially if you’re looking to start a content marketing agency yourself. It would have been awesome if I had read someone else’s 10-year journey.

STEP 1: Frustration

Eleven years ago, I was working at the now defunct ad agency, Publicis Dialog. It was one of those good news/bad news stories. I got to work at a cool San Francisco ad agency, but their main service was direct mail. Outside of supermarket circulars, it was probably the least glamorous form of advertising.

David Spark in the radio studioLuckily, I got a cool job. I launched the firm’s new media division. Unfortunately though, since direct mail was always the primary sell, any “new” media offering was sold only as an “add on.” It seemed an unwise sales strategy given that direct mail was dying and digital was growing dramatically. While the agency kept pushing direct mail solutions, I witnessed the rise of corporate blogging, podcasting, and video. Any attempt I made to sell these digital services ended up in a very long sales cycle. Our clients kept talking about wanting to be “innovative,” yet kept dragging their heals unless they could first see validation, often in the Wall Street Journal, of another company being successful with our strategy. For example, in the time it took for a hole in the ground in my neighborhood to turn into a three-story building (one year), we negotiated, debated, and eventually convinced Sprint to let us produce and publish their first podcast, which was abandoned after less than a dozen episodes.

What I learned: If no one’s listening, you’re not going to win with “I told you so.” Just get out.

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Trade shows are miniature cities of compressed space and time that have very little variability. Producer or participant, we’ve all come to an acceptance, whether we like them or not, of the standard building blocks of a conference.

In the blog post, “A Letter to the Board,” Don Neal noted that association events haven’t changed since their inception, often 50+ years ago. Incremental improvements are made on what is a redundant format, or as Neal explained, “better sameness.”

“We get a little better every year, but still, we offer almost the identical educational format, trade show, keynote speakers and the handful of networking opportunities as we have for the past 30 years,” said Neal.

Trade shows don’t necessarily have to fall into that format. We can eliminate certain elements. Here’s where I suggest we start.

1: The default one-hour session

Just because our day is cleanly divided into one-hour increments, that doesn’t necessarily mean all presentations deserve the same amount of time to disseminate necessary information. Speakers often find themselves creating filler material to stretch 20-minutes of content into a one-hour presentation.

Trade Show Behavior that Needs to Stop

New solution: While it’s going to triple your editorial and booking effort, aim for much shorter 20, or even 17 or 18 minute sessions. By providing a unique and short time frame you’re communicating to the speakers to not half-ass their presentations. Get it down, and get it done on time. Most people don’t script a 60-minute presentation. Limit the time frame below 20 minutes, and all of a sudden there’s more editing and rehearsing, which results ina better presentations.

2: The unproduced self-indulgent panel session

Trade Show Behavior that needs to stopFar too many panelists arrive with zero plan, no inside stories, and think the audience is eager to hear the sound of their voice. If each conference panelist knew they could easily be replaced with almost anyone in the audience, they might not act like such a pompous ass.

Sadly, the production part of most panel sessions ends after booking the moderator and panelists. Don’t count on a great performance if your production plan is to just show up and hope for the best.

New solution: Like anything else you’d expect to see on stage, produce the performance. At bare minimum get all the panelists on a 30-minute call before the event to discuss the topics, what needs to be assumed, and what you expect to deliver to the audience.

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A No-Nonsense Approach to Building Trust for Security Vendors

October 31, 2016
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For years IT and security vendors have been frustrated with building trust with their audience. With all the advertising and trade show money spent, many core issues around relationships are missed.

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The Hacker Way of Creating Great Content

October 3, 2016
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“The Hacker Way” philosophy of “move fast and break stuff” should apply to content creation as well. Many are fighting for your customers’ attention.

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The Future Value of Rejection

September 29, 2016
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Shouldn’t you know how a contractor you’re working with handles rejection?

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Can You Protect Your Perfect Business from a Brad and Angelina Divorce?

September 20, 2016
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How to prevent something that appears so perfect from ending? Big companies such as Eastman Kodak and Sears seemed perfect at one time, just like Brangelina.

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20 Ideas for Your Next Piece of Great Content

September 19, 2016
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Even if you’ve produced 1000 blog posts, we’re all still struggling to create content that others what to consume, share, and talk about. Here are 20 ideas that will hopefully entice your readers, listeners, or viewers to do just that.

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How to Hire 1M InfoSec Pros When None Are Available

August 18, 2016
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You can’t just HIRE another 1M InfoSec professionals. It’s not like they’re sitting there waiting for you in the wings. You have to use a strategy to grow them, or maybe you have to lessen the problem. These InfoSec pros offer some sage advice.

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Our 19 Secrets to Producing Content as Fast as Possible

June 8, 2016
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In February, I wrote an article Tricks We Use to Produce Content Quickly. Looking back, I realized that there were a lot more tips I should have included, so I’ve rewritten that article with tons of bonus material. Here goes… Events are a beehive of potential content. If you want to capture and produce it, […]

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View Counts Are for Amateurs. Determining the Real Value of Your Video.

May 19, 2016
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We all rally around a video’s view count to determine its success. But how often can you determine the ROI for your business solely from a video’s view count? Video for business has so many other benefits that can directly impact your bottom line.

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