Ann Handley - in person! - on keynote stage at Content Marketing World 2021
PHOTO: Content Marketing World

I flew from San Francisco to Cleveland on a Monday night. Upon landing, I pulled up the Uber app and requested a ride to my hotel. Leaving Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, I knew I was "home" when I saw the sign:

“Welcome to Cleveland. Content Marketing World 2021.”

Content Marketing World 2021 took place Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. The in-person experience was at Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. The conference also provided a virtual option.

Back Together Again: How Do We Engage?

Walking into the convention center on Tuesday morning, I knew I’d bump into friends from the Content Marketing World community. My quandary was whether to say hello with a hug, handshake, elbow bump or wave.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Connections,” and really, after more than a year physically separated, how could we not reconnect?

When I saw a good friend, I decided to raise both arms in a hugging motion, then ask, “Is a hug OK?” I’d pause for the answer, and if affirmative, continue with a gentle hug. If a hug was not preferred, I’d stick out my right elbow for a bump.

Related Article: How Do We Network in the Era of Remote Work?

What Attendees Thought of the In-Person Experience at CM World

The Content Marketing World team enforced necessary safety guidelines. In-person attendees needed to bring a hard copy or photo of their vaccination proof or show a negative COVID-19 test result.

According to Amy Fair, senior manager, Content Marketing at Mavenir, “The Content Marketing World team went out of their way to ensure a safe environment and I applaud everyone for a successful event. There is nothing like connecting face-to-face, in real life and the CM World community and experience are second to none.”

For others, the experience of going room to room (instead of Zoom to Zoom) was welcome. “I really appreciated the simple things, like physically changing rooms between sessions and walking to and from my hotel. I think my brain and body have been craving that sort of variety,” said Ashley Guttuso, first-time attendee and director of marketing at and Audience Ops.

Andi Robinson, global digital content leader at Corteva Agriscience, was named the 2021 Content Marketing World Community Champion at the conference. According to Robinson, “Those face-to-face relationships can't be replicated over a video conference. It was good just to be around my peers who all speak the same language (i.e., content marketing).”

First-time attendee Meisha Bochicchio traveled to Cleveland from Boston. Bochicchio is content marketing manager at Wistia and plans to make Content Marketing World an annual tradition. According to Bochicchio, “Everyone was so friendly and genuinely enthusiastic to connect with other marketers. It was unlike any other conference I’ve ever been to.”

Related Article: Joe Pulizzi Shares His 7 Laws of Content Marketing at CMWorld 2019

Takeaways From Content Marketing World

In addition to meeting and networking with wonderful people, the sign of a good conference is the lessons you bring back to the office to implement.

According to Shane Shaps, president and founder of social media marketing agency 520 East Brands, “My takeaway is that repurposing content continues to be an important method and that storytelling is key to what we do. Tying a brand into a cause gives purpose and a story to tell. So keep doing what we’re doing, keep learning, keep connecting and keep going.”

Wistia’s Bochicchio also attended sessions that focused on storytelling. “I want to start telling more stories throughout all of our content — whether that’s the story of our brand, customer stories on how we’ve made an impact, or external voices telling bigger stories around our industry. I want our readers and community to feel like they’re communicating with a friend, not engaging with a business,” said Bochicchio.

Andi Robinson enjoyed a keynote presentation by Melanie Deziel titled “Prove It: Using Content as Evidence of Your Most Important Claims.” According to Robinson, “Our content needs to serve as proof of our most important claims. Our content is the lens that our audience views us through. Melanie Deziel did a great job laying out why our audiences don't trust us and how we can fix that.”

Related Article: The Power of Storytelling

Meaningful Connections, Meaningful Impact

Amy Fair took the conference theme of “Connections” to heart. “I plan to implement making better connections in every avenue of my role: connecting with customers to share their successes, connecting with colleagues to help raise brand awareness, and connecting with my content marketing community to continue learning and growing my skills,” said Fair.

One theme that Ashley Guttuso picked up at the conference was the need to stop creating content for creation’s sake. When you do that, you can take a step back to create better content that has a larger impact. According to Guttuso, “We should create content that connects prospects and customers to our brands’ missions and has meaningful impact on their lives. I’m thinking of it as a chance to plan projects that have a positive impact on the world in addition to business ROI.”

Related Article: 5 Ways to Stand Out in a Sea of Content

Until Next Year, Content Marketing World!

I’d like to thank the Content Marketing World team for a wonderful conference. As I landed back home in San Francisco after a fun-filled week, my thoughts turned to 2022, when we’ll return to Cleveland. Put the dates on your calendar: Sept. 13- Sept. 16, 2022.