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Q&A With Chris Maher: Marketing's Lost Souls

by Ann Handley  |  
August 23, 2005

What seems a lifetime ago—in a galaxy far, far away— debuted its first-ever email marketing conference, in Boston. For two days we packed the function hall at the Charles Hotel, turning away potential attendees because there was no more room. This was when I still owned part of ClickZ, before it was sold twice (as of this month, it is owned by UK-based Incisive Media).

As one of those managing the editorial content for that show, I put together an agenda that included... well, here's the thing: I can't remember a whole lot about who was on the agenda and what topics they were covering.

The email marketing industry has evolved a whole lot in the five or so years since that show. The issues we discussed then just aren't as pressing today, and much of the agenda, I would guess, has become irrelevant.

But what I do recall is the moment Chris Maher took the podium, just prior to lunch on day one, and unfurled a 17-page speech. In an industry dominated by showmanship, he had no PowerPoint and no graphics, just his words. He talked about connecting with real people in meaningful ways, not just "marketing" to them. In my mind, it was the best 45 minutes of the entire show.

Chris is now president of Fosforus (, a business-to-business marketing, media, and interactive design firm based in Austin, Texas. Those of you who have read his writing on MarketingProfs know that Chris is a little different from your average agency guy. He is still beating the drum about real connections (not just marketing) with real people (not just customers). Lately, he's also been worrying about the effect of all this marketing and advertising on the human soul, and thinking about the longer-term implications for our culture and society.

These dog days of summer offer a perfect time to pause for some perspective, and reflect on some of the larger issues inherent in marketing and advertising today.

Ann: It seems to me that much of your thinking over the past few years has focused on how the constant barrage of advertising increasingly whittles away at both the patience and the soul of the individual.

Chris: Yes. Absolutely. It seems that not a day passes, lately at least, that I don't think about these and related issues. I think about the effects our marketing "tools" and techniques have on others and the effects that they have on we who use them.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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