It’s time to rethink content marketing.

That’s the philosophy Libby Romano preaches, and it’s become the hallmark of her success. Romano, Director of Digital Content and Strategy at Big Communications, has been tapped to receive The Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 award honoring young professionals in metro Birmingham.

Romano, who celebrated her 10-year anniversary at Big this month, began her marketing career in-house in the banking industry before coming agency side. She began at Big with a focus on PR and with love for social and digital, which eventually led to content marketing. That winding road has given her a unique perspective on an ever-changing industry.

“The thing about content marketing is that it is constantly evolving,” Romano said. “Most of the time, the actual term is overused, or even misused.”

“As marketers, almost everything we create can be viewed as some form of content; it’s not an isolated department, and that’s why the term drives me a little crazy,” she said. “We fail when we create one asset and share it across all platforms without customization or strategy. Those tailored, platform-specific strategies will be even more critical in the next few years.”

“We’re at another marketing precipice,” Romano added. “New hardware is being introduced while more robust features are being rolled out on social channels, which is strangely both fragmenting and connecting audiences. Whoever can make sure their content is in the right place at the right time, they will win. That’s why the intersection of media, PR, and content is so critical.”

We sat down with Romano to delve into her role at Big, her love of all things content, and what it means to be recognized as one of Birmingham’s emerging leaders.

What’s your specific role in regards to content creation at Big?

Content is such a fluid term and can encompass so many different things, and so can my role at Big. I like to play in everything from ideation to operations, really depending on what the team needs that day. Overall though, I’d say my role is to make sure we are pushing ourselves to explore what’s next and not rely on our old tricks. What makes our shop unique is the amount of learnings we have in a relatively new strategy within the advertising and marketing industry. But we’ll only retain that edge if we keep trying new things and staking out new digital territories. That and producing content is really everyone’s job in the agency to some degree – PR, analytics, interactive, social, creative. Everyone can play a role. While that can get messy, a lot of Big’s brilliance lies in multi-discipline collaboration.  

Who else out there is putting a different spin on content marketing?

What really inspires me right now are agencies, brands, and publishers who are doing a great job of executing real time where their audiences are and telling stories that matter, not just pushing an agenda. More specifically Wendy’s social has amazing response time, which is hard for a brand that large. I admire that nimbleness.  

Being that swift to engage audiences is not easy. What are some other growing pains the industry is currently trying to overcome?

For a while, agencies and brands had to focus on how to create meaningful content that wasn’t overly produced or branded. While that is still important, I think it was an easier transition from where the industry had been. Now I think the struggle is adapting that content for the different mediums, and feeling confident in tossing out or lowering investment and focus on what platforms don’t really work for your brand.

When we talk about content and platforms evolving, there are a few good examples from the past week, like what SNL did this past weekend with their first Snapchat story. They are one to watch for sure. Our digital community manager Karla Khodanian gave a great presentation this week for PRSA about Snapchat Spectacles, the future of live-sharing, and the importance of video that was really inspiring.

In that same vein is the news that Facebook is developing a streaming video app for TVs. The higher adoption of smart TVs and the devolution of cable is an interesting opportunity.  We are only going to hear more about the discussion around the “connected home,” and the development of hardware, better voice-recognition software, and how brands plug in there.

Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about how content shapes stories — in this case, the story of our city of Birmingham. Where do you think Birmingham is headed as a city, and how does Big play a part in that narrative?

Birmingham has had its share of haters over the years. I even had my moments where I thought about leaving, but the positive momentum we are a part of right now is more than inspiring. The funny thing is that current has been working underground for the last decade or so, but thanks to content and an active, young, vocal community, this story is gaining traction.

In the past decade, we started getting great culinary press in trades, and then The New York Times and a few other well-respected publications started to tell the story of our food-forward revitalization. That only fueled locals who were preaching the message of Birmingham. Then came the evolution of social media and content platforms, and the democratization of content. Now Birmingham’s cheerleaders can tell the stories of their city directly, bolstered by the continued attention of national press.

Today our city has a lot of ambassadors, including its locals and national and regional media. The more voices the better. I think we are still in the beginning stages of seeing where the city could go, and I’m thrilled to see the creative class is sticking around and giving back.

Big has definitely been part of that.

[Big Founder and President] John [Montgomery] has long held a torch for this city, and it was actually one of the things that drove me to work here. A lot of companies will financially back events, cut a check and be title sponsors here and there. But for us, it’s a passion. We find causes who truly need help, things we believe will make the city and state better, and then we put everything we have behind it. It’s a mix of sweat equity, creatives putting hours into nonprofit projects, account executives volunteering on weekends for causes they believe in, and then heralding these change agents through our content.

With the honor you’ve received from the Birmingham Business Journal, you’re now placed in a class of leaders who are pushing Birmingham forward. Collectively, how can you all make the city stronger?

I’ve already gotten a few nice notes from Top 40 Under 40 alums, and I didn’t realize how many of the honorees still network together afterward. I also have the good fortune of working with three Top 40 alums here at Big — our partners John Montgomery, Mark Ervin, and Ford Wiles.

The good news is that the city has been on a positive trajectory for years now. One part of continuing that spirit is encouraging the talent who has ties to this town to stay and reinvest here. If Frank Stitt hadn’t come back, or if Chris Hastings hadn’t made a home here, would we have evolved into the culinary destination we are now? The legacy of people who studied under them is part of what is reinvigorating downtown, and making us an attractive place to visit, live, and start a business.

I spoke on a panel about Birmingham to students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham five years ago, and that was my main message: “Be the change you want to see in this city. If we are missing something, build it.” My hope is that the other Top 40 recipients stay local and keep trying to make the city better through our professional and community service efforts, as much in order to inspire younger people to do the same. The hope for this city is constant reinvestment and an evolution of the school systems – but that’s a different content piece. 

Want to Talk?

Niki Lim Roden

Director of Business Development