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Cisco’s Heather Meza on Becoming a Content Evangelist

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By Vanessa Martinez Mar 20, 2012 3 comments

Heather Meza for The Content MarketeerLeading the charge to transform digital content for a multinational corporation like Cisco is no small feat. As one of the globe’s most recognized network providers, Cisco maintains a vast ecosystem of content, externally as well as internally. But Heather Meza is more than up to the challenge. As Cisco’s head of digital media solutions for services marketing and communications, Meza is overseeing the transformation with plenty of enthusiasm.

That’s not to say it’s a simple task. From making a business case for content strategy to evangelizing the concept throughout Cisco’s marketing and communications teams, Meza perseveres where others often tend to give up.

We recently spoke with Meza about her experiences on the path to gaining influence inside an enterprise company. She credits timing as a significant factor, but her initiative and passion are impossible to overlook. Just like her bright-red hair.

The baby step: About two years ago, Meza went on maternity leave and began voraciously reading some of today’s most high-profile sources on content strategy and content marketing. The ideas and messages clicked immediately for the new mom, who has a deep communications background in digital and web marketing.

The material reinforced a lot of what she already knew and had been thinking about before her leave. After all, she had experience, and with Cisco in particular, where she’d worked on a print publication dedicated to original content about broadband for service providers, a gig she took on as a consultant in 2000. “A lot of this reading on content strategy took me back to my publication days,” she says.

Cisco, we have a problem: Armed with fresh support for her marketing mantra to “help, not sell,” Meza returned from maternity leave to find big changes afoot in the leadership of her organization. “We also had a problem with content,” she says, “and our new leader recognized it. There was too much content, too much money being spent on it, and it wasn’t getting read.”

Reporting directly to the vice president of marketing, Meza was given a golden opportunity to push for more customer-driven content. Her boss was receptive, but the job of overhauling Cisco’s content strategy wouldn’t fall exclusively to Meza’s team. As with many global enterprises offering so many products and services, Cisco is home to various departments, each with its own area of expertise.

Timing isn’t everything—but it really helps: A concept that is familiar and clear to Meza—an early digital adopter with a brand publishing background—customer-driven content marketing represents a major shift in mindset for many traditional communications professionals, even the most accomplished and successful, and all the way up to the executive level. Fortunately, Cisco was abound with change, and minds were more open to the possibilities Meza was advocating. “So much of what is enabling me is timing,” she admits, graciously.

Taking social cues: Another timely coincidence helped Meza make her case: the increasing importance of social media, where Meza shines. Aside from her own activity, she avidly follows Twitter and blogs like Marketing Profs, Content Marketing Institute, and Junta42 using the Flipboard app, sharing her favorite finds internally at Cisco.

“Perceptions and the ability to influence are critical,” Meza says, and so she began evangelizing broadly. She was effectively persuasive and now officially leads Cisco’s “Content Transformation” initiative surrounded by a team of stakeholders working together on the project.

Culture crush: On most days Meza forgoes a business suit and embraces her self-described “alternative” style. And, of course, there are those flaming red locks. She doesn’t exactly fit the image most of us conjure when stereotyping an employee of a Fortune 500 company. “It makes me love Cisco even more that I can be myself,” she says.

Do It Yourself

Persuading your organization to embrace content as a marketing strategy won’t perfectly mirror Heather Meza’s experience at Cisco. Besides, if we’ve learned anything from Meza, it’s that blazing your own path is the best way to lead. But that doesn’t mean we won’t take her advice when she offers it. Here, more outtakes from our interview:

You can only make the soup that you have the ingredients to make. The reality is that the team has to evolve with the needs of the business. You have to use the people you have at your fingertips. The key thing is focusing on understanding people’s strengths—not just what they’re skilled at. What are their natural talents, what do they have passion for and enjoy doing? I change people’s roles and the scope of their jobs quite a bit.”

“I have a very transparent style. We’re all human beings in this world; we’re still people with needs and commonalities. It’s important for us to be true to ourselves. I am the same person in my business life as my personal life. It’s liberating that I don’t have to have dual personas. Social media is throwing that out the window. And I look for like-minded people who are themselves.”

This work happens at all kinds of different levels. It’s not an easy, fast process. Implementing a new strategy is like saying, ‘We’re going to be vegan. We are adopting this lifestyle and these principles.’ Help your team understand the ‘why’ so they fully embrace it and don’t miss key points. It becomes very easy to get out of touch, so everyone needs to understand at the philosophical level—until it’s in their bones.”

Tie team success to the personal successes of the employees in the company. Half of my team is employees, and the other half is vendors. But everyone has to say, ‘This is our publication. We’re going to take accountability of its success and its failures.’ Choose vendors and partners who are strong and understand the core principles of your strategy to help evangelize.”

When you’re stuck in the victim mentality, you’re afraid of escalation. But your opinion has weight and merit, even if you’re not a VP. Get empowered. If you don’t have some level of support in terms of being valued, then bring other people in and ask, ‘How can I influence this?’ If you can’t, then let go and move on to something you can.”

iconAbout the author Vanessa Martinez

Vanessa Martinez is an editorial strategist and journalist. Since 2000, she's held top digital and print editing positions with nationally award-winning media outlets based in Colorado, two of which she launched. She also co-produces a weekly podcast with a strongly opinionated cast of writers and journalists in Denver.

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