Content marketing makes up a large portion of the work we do here at Hothouse. Whether we’re writing blogs, creating social content, videos, and email campaigns or finding new ways to tell a brand story, we’re bringing content to life so we can make our clients shine. We all know that for content marketing to work, it has to be authentic—but “authentic” has been overused to the point of being a throwaway word with little meaning. So, what does authentic really mean?

That’s the question of the hour as we sent three staff members to different content marketing conferences. The answer? Telling the truth. Authenticity comes from taking a long, honest look at ourselves, overcoming the fear that it’s not going to be good enough, and then telling the true story about ourselves and our brands. Read on to hear their first-person account of how telling the truth has influenced their perspective on both their professional and personal growth as content marketers.

Barbara Tushbant, Senior Copywriter
The Inbound Conference in Boston this September featured world-renowned marketers, creators and spiritual leaders, all gathered together for a few days of inspiration and education. Color me serene, because I got to take part in a meditation guided by Depak Chopra, and then bore witness to the brilliance of Shonda Rhimes and Lena Waithe. Fangirling aside, the biggest lesson was to take the age-old advice to be ourselves—even though it’s easy to believe that it doesn’t work. (Spoiler alert: it does.)

When I write for clients, I want to know what makes them different. Sometimes the answer is “We’re just the best at what we do.” That’s probably true, but I want to know what makes them the best. Every company has a differentiator that comes from just being themselves, and those are the stories I want to write. So, clients, be prepared to do some company soul-searching next time we meet!

For my own creative development, I’ll be taking the advice of former Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles, and writing for myself—every day. That’s the writing that taps into my deepest layer of thought, the writing that helps me bring my most creative and honest self to work, which always leads to the best work for our clients.

Jordan Parnell, Marketing Manager
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the Content Marketing World conference had us reconsidering why we create content and what it means for those that we’re creating it for. We were also on the edge of our seats waiting for Tina Fey to bless us with her candid thoughts about how to write effective content that our audiences will truly connect with.

The sessions that had the greatest impact on me, and how I see myself as a writer and content developer, were those that challenged me to start writing and creating for people rather than things. In the B2B world, we often get caught up in talking to businesses, and brands and products, rather than the people behind them. I was reminded of the power that pure storytelling holds—stories that touch on emotion and truth, not write-ups that try to close a sale.

Keynote speaker, Ann Handley—author, marketer and CMO at MarektingProfs, reminded me of why I went to journalism school. Words and art bring stories to life. They evoke emotions within people that encourage them to react. I was also reminded of the fact that the reason people read stories are to find the truth. Who, what, when, where, why and how are still the key points that need to be made when sharing content with other people. My biggest takeaway was that I’m capable of developing content that provides my audience with the facts and the emotions that go along with them. In today’s world, content is everything but black and white. Writing for people, rather than things will allow me to write with purpose rather than checking the box.

Alex Cortina, Senior Account Manager
Approaching Content Marketing World from a client-focused standpoint, we were also able to gain insights into how we can better develop our content marketing skills when working with our clients. As an account manager, I am passionate about the work that we develop for our clients. I believe in the brands, the mission of those brands and more importantly, I believe in the people that I collaborate with on a day-to-day basis. As the person that is often closest to my clients within the agency, I was reminded of the fact that I am their spokesperson and their biggest fan. By putting in the extra time and research, I can better inform and uncover the key storylines that could inspire the rest of my team. I also learned that as a member of the account team, it’s my job to illustrate, translate and shape the truth of my clients back to my internal team.

Personally, this week challenged me to push my limits creatively. Keynote speaker, Dewitt Jones—former photographer for National Geographic, provided his insights around the idea that “mistakes are gifts.” Dewitt tugged at my heartstrings for a solid 45 minutes as he recounted the highs and lows of his career and what he learned as a young photographer. He emphasized that there’s no such thing as mistakes, only gifts that we can learn and grow from. I felt challenged to bring this way of thinking back to my personal life. By creating safe places where I and those around me have room to try and fail without criticism, I can help develop environments that encourage people to test, re-test, fail and learn without the negative criticism that is often associated with mistakes and failure.