Like so many elder millennials, Tommy Walker hit a turning point during the 2008 recession. As he sat in a boarding house staring at a broken laptop screen, he decided to start his own business.
“I’d recently been fired from my retail job after a miscommunication,” he recalls. “I had the mentality at that point: If I don’t make my own money, then it’s my fault.”
His first business was in online marketing, offering consultations as Tommy taught himself feverishly behind the scenes. “I knew some stuff, but I didn’t have a ton of experience. Facebook had just opened its doors, and social media marketing was becoming a thing. I grew my client’s Facebook page to 54,000 fans when that actually mattered and the platform had organic reach.”
Tommy’s experience took off from there. He began writing blog posts for CXL and helped grow its traffic, which led to a full-time editor role. Then, Shopify Plus recruited him as the first marketing hire. He helped attract the first 1,500 customers as the company went into hyper-growth mode, scaling from 14 to 320-plus people in less than two years.
His next stop was at Quickbooks as the global editor in chief, overseeing content for 16 markets before being laid off and deciding to go back to working for himself.
These days, Tommy stays busy consulting as the founder of The Content Studio; he also hosts The Cutting Room, a livestream in which he interviews industry-leading marketers about their content marketing philosophy and process before editing an article live.
Read on to learn how Tommy’s background as a certified actor informs his storytelling approach, why he’s not all-in on repurposing, and more.
What Acting and Storytelling Have in Common
Tommy went to school to be an actor, and his years at the conservatory have served him well in marketing. He’s found a lot of parallels between the two professions. Below are two examples:
- Market Analysis -> Script Analysis: What are the things I see in the market? What content do I see on social media? How can I read between the lines? What do people mean when they say these things? How can I understand why certain things stand out to people?
- Customer service -> Improv: When someone throws something unexpected at you, you have to react quickly. What are people telling you, and what are they not telling you? How can you mirror someone to start to understand who they are and what they’re feeling, as well as build a fast connection?
Equivalencies like these helped Tommy as he began his career, even though he didn’t have formal training or experience in marketing. At this point, he’s sharing more about traditional storytelling and film techniques that are well beyond what people in the B2B space usually talk about: character’s needs and wants, the “lie” people believe to be true, the three- to six-act story structure, how beats work, opening and closing images — all of the things that go into developing characters and stories, both from script and actor standpoints.
“Basically, how can I build a character both on a piece-by-piece basis but also from a broader perspective? Because we become this reflection of the people we are trying to serve,” he says. “There’s so much structural work that goes into that, and I’m trying to bring those lessons to the community through my newsletter.”
The 3 Axioms of Content Marketing
Tommy’s clearly passionate about what he does, and he believes that content marketing, at its core, has three axioms:
- A good premise will get you 80% there. In other words, people will forgive some execution-related missteps if the idea is really good. (He points to the first seasons of The Office and Parks and Recreation as examples.) Show promise and plant a flag in someone’s brain to keep them tuning in.
- Content is a form of social currency. The content people share speaks to who they are. Think about your audience when you create content. What will it say about them to share this? Can you help make them look good? How can you create something people want to share and talk about? Can you create content that speaks to not only your main character but also supporting ones (i.e., marketing people, salespeople, etc.)?
- Decisions are made in Slack. Nothing matters if you aren’t in the middle of conversations in channels you don’t have access to. When you think about content, what channels on Slack can it get shared in? When it comes to decision-making time, the content discussed the most is the content people will remember.
Why Repurposing Doesn’t Always Make Sense
Unlike many marketers, Tommy doesn’t push repurposing across the board. While he does chop his long-form videos into shorter pieces to grab attention, he doesn’t believe in sharing the same thing across all of his platforms.
He points to the words of Brendan Hufford: “We’re repurposing things that didn’t have a purpose in the first place.”
Tommy believes that repurposing things in a blanket way doesn’t reward your superfans. It doesn’t encourage people to pay close attention or follow in more than one forum. “I have people who follow me across platforms. If you’re looking at different platforms, like my newsletter or social media, and you see the same thing — that bothers me. As a creator, I can’t do that because I get bored.”
Instead, he talks about different topics on different platforms. On LinkedIn, he might explain the eight universal plot types, while in his newsletter, he’ll teach folks how to write better story endings.
“So if you follow me cross-platform, things start to make sense and click together,” he says. “But I’m not sharing the same thing. I have a much more holistic view of what I’m trying to share, and I want to reward people for following cross-platform. We want people to care about the work, not just consume it.”