Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, a leading provider of content marketing strategy and weekly content marketing blog services. He has worked with over a hundred brands in building effective thought leadership, content marketing, and employee activation programs. Michael is also the best-selling author of Mean People Suck and The Content Formula.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up just outside of Reading, PA which was a famous town during the industrial age. The Reading Railroad is part of the game Monopoly. But like many industrial towns, it really struggled during the 70s and 80s when I was growing up. My parents were very blue-collar, non-college-educated. But they insisted on sending us to a private school they could hardly afford.
I remember the constant stress they felt about money. I think it motivated me to work hard in school, and in early jobs. But it also made me think about how to get ahead without losing yourself. And how to enjoy life and reduce stress as much as how to strive and work for more money, success, whatever.
One story I remember happened after our car broke down. I remember my parents talking about how to delay this bill, move money from their savings, maybe we wouldn’t have that one special meal my Dad liked for a few weeks. After that, my Dad asked me to join him on a ride to the auto repair shop. And after we dropped the car off, he said “All alright, let’ go.” I asked him where we were going. We didn’t have a car. He went into the trunk, pulled out a couple of fishing rods and a brown bag filled with sandwiches, and we walked to a lake not far away. I didn’t love to fish, but it relaxed my Dad and we had the best day. I don’t think we talked much either but it’s one of my favorite memories.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
The power of compounding! I started my first job when I was 12 years old. So I wish someone had told me that you can double your money every 7 years with the power of compounding interest, assuming average stock market returns.
I also wish I could go back and tell my younger self to eat more junk food while you still can!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Most people think marketing is all ads and that business executives should talk about how awesome their company is. No one wants to listen to that. And yet that’s what most executives ask marketers to do. And so that’s what most marketing is: ads no one wants and that don’t actually work.
We try and help our clients create content people actually want to read. Marketing that helps people and positions their business as a helper and a solver of problems. Not as a sleazy sales machine trying to convince people to buy stuff they don’t need.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
The main story of Mean People Suck is about this time I got fired while living with my in-laws while building a new house with a toddler.
I don’t want to give away the whole plot, but basically, I landed on my feet, the hero saved the day, the villain ended up retiring to Florida where he belongs, and all ended well.
The lesson I learned is that helping your colleagues, focusing on customer needs, and just being a decent human being can actually save you from life’s darkest moments. It’s like the Christmas movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” You’re never alone when you have friends who have your back.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I think it comes back to the same thing. When you strive to help people in everything you do in your career, that builds social equity, and that equity can be really valuable when you need it most. The people who step on others on their way to the top aren’t happy.
It’s the ones who create relationships in every situation who are truly successful!
What is your morning routine?
I am not a morning person, but I wake up at 6:45 am only because my son gets on the bus at 7:20 and I want to help him get ready or even just be up and smiling for him before he leaves.
Then 2 of my other kids leave for school, followed by the 4th at 8:35 am. So I get up and shower, make coffee and along with my wife, help them get off to school. I take the dog out, clean up the kitchen, read the news on my phone, walk the dog and I’m ready to tackle my workday around 8:45.
I usually skip breakfast but make up for it with lots of cream in a couple of cups of coffee. Then it’s off to the races.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I try to work out every day at noon. I make a protein green smoothie for lunch that contains all the nutrients I need. This helps me relieve stress, feel healthy, and stay focused.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I block 9-10 and 4-5 for email. That allows me to control my work and not let my work control me. I focus on being responsive, taking care of myself, and taking care of our amazing clients. I also block Friday from any calls. I typically work most of the day. But this allows me to catch up on everything and plan for the week ahead so I can focus on family time over the weekend.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Service Profit Chain by James L. Heskett was the very first business book I ever read. And it completely shaped my career in sales, marketing, leadership roles, and as CEO of my own firm. I’ve written and talked about it many times, and it inspired my latest book called Mean People Suck.
The concept is pretty simple and logical: happy employees create happy customers who spend more to create happy shareholders. Unfortunately, I have experienced too few managers, companies, and corporate cultures that actually put their employees first.
And so the book I wrote, the company I founded, and every keynote I give include this as the core message. We need to focus on the power of engaged employees to deliver the value and success we want to achieve.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Yes, I actually love to curate quotes. My favorite is probably Maya Angelou’s about how “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will remember how you make them feel.”
Here are 2 more:
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
“Deadlines are the greatest source of inspiration” ~ Mark Twain