The Agency Interview: 31 Questions with Steve Rubel

November 8, 2016

Steve Rubel

LinkedIn Influencer Steve Rubel was one of the first people in the marketing world to identify the power of blogging for businesses. He’s now Chief Content Strategist at Edelman and has worked previously at CooperKatz, Schwartz PR, and CMP Media. We recently asked Rubel 31 questions. Here are his 31 answers. 

1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

My customary Starbucks Spinach Feta Wrap and an ice cold brew coffee. #client

2. What’s the last great thing you binge-watched and why?

NFL Films has a great series called “A Football Life” that basically are mini biographies of players, coaches and even owners. No one tells stories like NFL Films does so the series is not only great for football nuts but for all creatives.

3. What’s the industry buzzword that annoys you the most these days?

Content marketing. Feels spammy. Content should serve an audience first and have marketing be the outcome. This phrase inherently makes it seem like this step is irrelevant when it’s critical.

4. You identified blogs as a game changer long before others did. How did you explain blogs back in the early 2000s for people who didn’t get how important they’d be?

I described them as micro news sites written by citizen journalists vs. pros.

5. What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?

There's two: Deep Work by Cal Newport. He advocates how we are drowning in shallow work and urges a move toward higher value output. Another is The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holliday. It outlines a similar stoic approach to the challenges and opportunities that life and work present.

6. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

Anywhere in Florida when it’s Daylight Standard Time.

7. What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?

The obliteration of swim lanes – e.g. what different agencies do. These days, any agency can bid for any kind of work. That’s why we are in a golden age for communications-centric firms.

8. How have you (and your agency) adapted?

Our agency has adapted by embracing an approach that puts earned-centric communications strategies at the core but surrounds these with marketing services capabilities like media buying. We have also added all kinds of new talent that we never had at scale before. This makes us even more competitive.

I adapted by learning much more about marketing while staying deep in what I know most – media.

9. What’s your proudest moment in business?

When I joined Edelman 11 years ago. I feel like I had really made it. And that this could be a home for me. I was right and I never looked back. Joe DiMaggio once said “I thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.” And I treat this place the same way.

10. In life?

Surviving a brain tumor as a teenager — and fighting all the way back from that adversity at such a young age.

11. What’s the most important way the rise of social media, from YouTube to Facebook to LinkedIn, has changed the way companies tell stories?

The prophecy of the book The Cluetrain Manifesto came true. Institutions had to begin to tell stories in different way – a human voice that's consistent with web culture. Who could have imagined 15 years ago that the President of the United States would be trading insults between ferns? Or that the Pope would have his own emoji? The authors of this book did!

12. You’ve said that business paradigm shifts are coming every five to six years. What big shift do you see on the horizon for marketers?

The most important paradigm shift is that the individual is now mightier in influence than the institution. All the data says so. The feeds that consume all of our time really favor people, more so than products. This will require that marketers think feed first and people first to succeed and link employee engagement and marketing, leverage credible influencers more, etc.

13. Digital ad spending is poised to surpass TV ad spending. Is this a problem for agencies or an opportunity?

It’s a problem for any agency that adds friction vs. removing it.

14. Is content marketing an evolution or a revolution?

When done well it’s audience centric vs. brand centric. Therefore, it’s an evolution in B2B but a revolution in consumer marketing where this is sometimes a new ideal. In B2B they made this leap earlier.

15. Explain the difference between content marketing and native advertising.

One (content marketing) is a creatve strategy. The other (native advertising) is a delivery paradigm. Both are becoming the norm.

16. How do you use LinkedIn — for networking? For content marketing? Searching for talent? For sales prospecting? For staying abreast of news?

I largely use it to keep up with the endless revolving door and to prep for meetings. I use profile details to let people know I cared enough about our meeting to prep and find common ground.

17. What is your top secret superpower?

I am a super facial recognizer. I never forget a face. (But names elude me.)

18. What sports team has broken your heart most often?

The New York Jets. Almost 46 seasons and counting.

19. You spent part of your early career in media. What’s the biggest positive change you’ve seen in how digital has transformed media?

That you can outsource virtually everything but your core competency – storytelling. Ad sales, distribution, etc can now be handled by platforms.

20. And the biggest negative change?

That you no longer control your own destiny. The platforms are in the driver’s seat.

21. Who should play you in the movie version of your life?

Jason Alexander.

22. If you weren't at Edelman, what would you be doing?

I think I would be an analyst. I admire people like BTIG’s Rich Greenfield who are world class at this endeavor.

23. What is your favorite Disney character and why?

Mickey Mouse. He’s endlessly optimistic — just like his creator Walt Disney.

24. What do you have an irrational hatred for?

Times when groups of people walk slow and with locked arms in New York City and forget that there are other people behind them who want to get where they want to go. The sidewalk isn't wide enough. (Though maybe they'd be a good O-line for the Jets. Hmmm.)

25. Best movies ever. Go:

“Star Wars” — in order: episodes 5, 4, 7, 6, 3, 2, 1

26. What did you want to be when you grew up?

A doctor and then a lawyer. Didn't have the grades for either!

27. What's your most annoying habit?

Annoying to me or someone else? (Answering a question with a question.)

28. How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?

Not long. Post-election though I may be more ready for it.

29. What jobs did you have in high school and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?

I was a newspaper delivery boy. For years I read at least the front page and back page every day and saw what made a great story. I carried that with me into PR and, later, in helping clients tell their own story.

30. What’s not on your LinkedIn profile?

The week that I worked in data entry.

31. What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

This may sound silly – but disruption. The changes in the marketing and media landscape are never ending. This (hopefully) keeps me employed but it also makes work life exciting. It’s exciting to think what maybe next?

Also, I am looking forward to it not being an election year.

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