Unifying PR And Content Marketing, Influence & Co. Redefines Corporate Influence

08/11/2016 11:38 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2017

If you're like most people, you use the internet to learn more about anything and everything that pops into your brain. Whether that's entertainment news, current events, industry insights, and updates, or information about how you can build a better business, you're looking online for information -- and you're finding content.

But do you ever wonder how the content you find got in front of you? How people earn real influence, write bylines, and get their ideas validated and published by media outlets? If you know me, you know that I use a variety of tools that help me get better at content marketing and improve my effectiveness as a marketer.

In the past, a company's leaders and experts didn't have time to contribute content consistently, so publication editors needed to pull teeth to get their hands on high-quality, non-promotional content that meets their guidelines. It's here that Influence & Co. steps in to deliver a truly innovative solution to the problem.

Influence & Co. is a tech-enabled content marketing agency that companies hire to work with their leaders to create and distribute content that you read in online publications -- from big names such as Fast Company and Harvard Business Review to more niche sites such as MarketingProfs and Startups.co -- and company blogs.

I had the chance to connect with Kelsey Meyer, co-founder and president of Influence & Co. and one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 in Marketing and Advertising and a rising star in the media world, to learn more about her company, what makes the Influence & Co. approach so different, and what the future holds.

Chirag Kulkarni: Why was there such a need for Influence & Co.?

Kelsey Meyer: I remember one of my conversations with Brent Beshore, CEO of Adventur.es (our holding company), in 2011. We talked about how many companies were having bad experiences with PR firms. In that conversation, we identified content marketing as a solution to those bad experiences because it would help fill that void and help companies achieve their goals in ways that more traditional PR couldn't anymore.

We talked about how there are a lot of really intelligent, creative leaders and experts in all industries around the world, and sometimes, they need some help crafting and distributing their messages and communicating their ideas in a way that's valuable to them and, most importantly, their audiences.

When John Hall, my co-founder, and I started Influence & Co., we had no idea it would grow as quickly as it has. We initially thought it was a great way for entrepreneurs and VC-backed startups to engage and gain trust with a specific audience, but over time, we realized that this strategy was effective for virtually every size of company -- from startups to Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries. Simply put, every company needs to make an effort to build trust with its audience, and this was a great way to do it.

We all benefit from valuable content. Readers benefit because the content they're consuming is helpful, educational, or entertaining. The publications that publish this content benefit because they're able to deliver industry-leading ideas to their readers. Companies benefit because it helps them engage audiences and attractive prospective clients. Everybody is being rewarded for connecting valuable content to the right readers.

Kulkarni: What makes your approach different?

Meyer: I'll spare you the details of each step in our process (which you can find here on our site) and say that a lot of what makes our approach different is the fact that we use our clients' own ideas, thoughts, words, experiences, insights, etc., to help them create their content. We don't just hire ghostwriters to create the content for clients and make them "sound good." We strive to maintain authenticity in content, so it all comes directly from the client.

That said, though, the people we work with are busy, which means we have to do everything we can with our services and our technology to be efficient and help them create the best content.

For example, one component of our technology is a knowledge bank that allows us to store and organize all kinds of data, quotes, stories, etc., that we've collected from clients so it can all be easily accessed in the future to make that client's content creation easier.

We also approach distribution differently. Traditionally, a company would create a generic press release or a piece of content and farm it out to tons of media outlets. Every piece of content that we help a client create is tailored to a specific publication, which improves its chances of being published and engaging the audience.

We're always looking for what's next in content distribution, and we've worked on everything from helping LinkedIn test and develop its publishing platform to helping publications strategize and expand their contributor programs. We now work with more than 1,500 publications, figuring out exactly what types of content are most valuable to their readers and delivering that content from the industry experts themselves -- our clients.

Kulkarni : You recently launched new technology. Tell me more about your tech and what effects it's had so far.

Meyer: I'll be honest; it's not like we came out and said, "We're going to be a technology company." We developed it for our staff so everyone on our team could communicate better and more easily manage content for clients. But when we saw how well it worked to improve efficiency, we went to work to open it up to clients, too.

Now, we can communicate and collaborate with clients on their projects directly through our own platform. ICo Core not only streamlines our process for content creation, improves communication, and strengthens collaboration internally among team members and externally with clients, but it also has a few other features that make it valuable for clients' overall content marketing strategies.

ICo Core offers an analytics tool to track and compare the success of articles and a public profile option that allows clients to showcase all of their published content. Here's my public profile.

Since launching our technology, we've broken our record for the number of articles published in one month, hitting 222 articles published in February, the shortest month of the year. We've also seen an increase in Net Promoter Score, engagement, and happiness, which is obviously our No. 1 goal as a company.

Kulkarni: Your company is headquartered in mid-Missouri. Does your location in the Midwest limit your ability to work with clients on the coasts?

Meyer: We see our location as a huge benefit. Having our headquarters in Columbia, Missouri, gives us great access to an amazing talent pool out of the top journalism program in the country at the University of Missouri. Our offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, give us access to larger talent pools where we've found dozens of employees with experience working with some great agencies and publications.

We tried the whole "office in New York" thing when we were smaller for credibility purposes, but we realized it just didn't really make sense for us. We have access to so many tools that allow us to stay in contact and work collaboratively to help our clients and publishers, and we don't have to be in New York or San Francisco to do that work well. Most importantly, the costs of offices in those areas are extreme. With the money we save by having our headquarters in the Midwest, we can pass savings on to our clients.

Kulkarni: Where do you see your company in five years?

Meyer: Over the next five years, we're aiming to broaden our client base to continue working with more middle-market companies in addition to a lot of the VC-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies we've been working with. We'll also continue to test and add service lines such as email newsletters and potentially book publishing to ensure we're using our core competencies to bring the most value to our clients.

The way we look at it, the first five years of the company were about figuring out our value proposition, who our best clients are, and what combination of services and technology makes most sense for us to deliver value to those clients. The next five years should be about perfecting all of it.

We envision that this will mean substantial growth and continuing to grow our amazing company culture where people are truly happy -- a culture that has earned us accolades such as recognition by Entrepreneur on its "Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America" and "Best Medium-Sized Company Culture" lists in 2015 and has helped us attract the most talented, driven, and kind individuals you'll ever meet.

What do you think of what Influence and Co is doing? Tell us in the comments!