Sarah Mitchell on business writing and podcasting for measure
Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Co-founder of Typeset
Consumption: Flat White
Sarah smiles when I ask her about moving to other countries. She came from Detroit originally and we met 15 years ago in Perth, Australia. We often explain to people that over many years we took turns in being each other's customer advising each other on several projects. Sarah founded Typeset, an editorial services and content marketing firm together with business partner Dan Hatch.
‘When I left the US I didn’t expect to launch an international career. It was never my plan. I was working on a project in our [Compuware] Detroit office for IBM and they sent me to the UK.
‘I started out as a computer programmer which is very structured. There are a lot of rules around how you develop a program, but ultimately it is a creative endeavour. No two pieces of software are the same. There are different ways within the structure of logic to arrive at the end goal.
‘I feel writing is like that, too. I do consider myself part of the business community as I had spent a lot of time in big corporate. That’s where I got the really structured approach from but ultimately what I do is creative.
‘We Americans are told to ‘go for it’ and we’re often accused of being brash. But for me, it worked well to be different from everybody else.
“When I came to Australia, it was difficult. I was used to picking up the phone, asking for a meeting. In the US, it is considered part of a job to see service providers. Here, people seem to often be bothered by meeting requests. Now, once I got over the hurdle, I’m referred on and get work I didn’t compete for.
‘My writing style is direct and it's not that I have more talent than others but the words I choose and the language I use are basically helping me here to stand out.
‘The same is true when I write for US publications because my viewpoint has changed now, living in Australia for so long. To the US it sounds very fresh how I write because I’m now grounded in Australia.
‘I think there is a muscle to creative writing and you need to continually exercise it. If I take a break or get too involved in running the business it's harder for me to come back to it. When I write every day, I’m more efficient and a better writer.
‘I look at creativity through the eyes of the structure. There's always a beginning, middle and an end and for me, its always attached to a business goal that solves a problem or serves a purpose. I love strategy and figuring out how it will work for the customer.
‘I also love a blank piece of paper. Some people have a blank page syndrome and can’t write. A blank page, to me, is full of possibility.
‘Dan and I self-funded Typeset. Taking on a business partner is an immense responsibility for me. Making sure people get paid and looked after is challenging. It’s a kind of uncertainty but at the same time, customers who work with us before usually continue with us.
‘It’s all about relationships and building trust so you can add value to them. If we see something our customers can do better, we are in positions to make suggestions.’
In 2018 Sarah made the big decision to sell her share of a marketing agency, where she was the successful co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast.
‘I loved Brand Newsroom and was part of the podcast team there for more than four years. I resisted doing it for a long time because I see myself as a writer, not a broadcaster.
‘I hadn’t even listened to podcasts before I started. I had two very experienced co-hosts and they really helped me. It was easy for me to be interviewed, but it was nerve-wracking having the microphone in my hand asking questions.
‘My producer at the time, Dan Hatch, who is now my business partner in Typeset, really taught me the form and structure of podcasting. Even for spontaneous and natural-sounding material you still need a roadmap and know how to open and close the show and recognise an opportunity for interesting material along the way.
‘On average it takes three to four hours to write a piece but I love how quick a podcast can come together in less than an hour. I spend 45 minutes researching and then 15-20 minutes of recording.
‘Dan and I are working on a new podcast called Marketing Breakout. The new season will begin in 2020.
When we started Brand Newsroom, it was novel but now everybody’s got a podcast. It’s a medium I continue to pursue with a purpose so that audiences continue to show up.
‘With Typeset we started a quarterly event for the local marketing professional community which is quite popular with mid-career marketers. I think it is because often there are only one or two marketers in an organisation so it can be quite isolating, almost like working by yourself. There is no hard sell from anyone at our PICABAR event. It's funny, my sister owned a bar and restaurant but I never thought of myself as the party organiser.
‘At our gathering, marketers can chat about their professional problems across sectors or simply make new connections. I made a point of making sure women with busy mom schedules and can attend easily.
‘I have a lot of empathy for women who juggle commitments. There was a time in my career where I would get up at 4.30 am, write for 2 hours, tend to the family, write again, pick up my son from school, then getting dinner ready, and writing again until bedtime.
‘I think back to 2012, and content marketing was pretty much defined as having a presence on all social channels with different kinds of formats. Those really were the days when I was working from 4 am to midnight.
‘But now we're seeing a rationalisation and realisation that if you let it, content marketing will take all your time and budget. It’s like having children and they wreck all your stuff if you let it.’
‘Early content marketing was all experimentation and the channels were treated like toys. How could Twitter be a business tool? Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. All that frenzy up to 2014 died down and people realised it didn’t convert too much without a strategy.
‘Every September I try to attend the Content Marketing World conference in the US. I’ve been on the judging panel since the beginning. For the first time this year, Dan and I were together on the judging panel for their awards. There is definitely a trend to doing less content but utilising it instead of being in all places at once.
‘Joe Pulizzi tweeted the other day a recommendation to promote content rather than just producing more of it. Realistic stories of content marketing success are not about making millions with monetised blogs but instead having a great way to connect with audiences and growing one thing instead of trying to be all things to all people.
My tip to marketers is whatever you’re measuring needs to tie in with business goals; otherwise, you're not moving the business forward.’
The Common Ground
Being different and being foreign can be an advantage when you understand the local rules
Old and new roots combined can make for a win-win in both stomping grounds
The pressure to succeed can be mitigated by adding value over time so you can actually become a trusted advisor to customers
Content marketing is maturing and as marketers better understand its business purpose, linking it to your goals is the way to measure success
Running a business is a huge responsibility but it gives the opportunity to fully live your values and share them with the people of your choice.