Software Sales Tips by Matt Wolach

Scale Your SaaS

Why Your Marketing and PR Campaigns Aren’t Working – with Joe Zappa


In this week’s episode of Scale Your SaaS, host and B2B SaaS Sales coach Matt Wolach sat down with Joe Zappa, the visionary founder and CEO behind Sharp Pen Media, to explore the intricate world of PR, content marketing, and the journey from journalism to running a successful marketing agency. Joe’s insights are profound and actionable, providing a roadmap for SaaS companies looking to elevate their marketing strategies.


Podcast: Scale Your SaaS with Matt Wolach

Episode: Episode No. 307, “Why Your Marketing and PR Campaigns Aren’t Working – with Joe Zappa”

Guest: Joe Zappa, Founder & CEO at Sharp Pen Media

Host: Matt Wolach, a B2B SaaS Sales Coach, Entrepreneur, and Investor

Sponsored by: Leadfeeder


From Journalism to Marketing Mastery

Joe’s journey is a testament to adaptability and leveraging skills in new domains. Transitioning from a seasoned journalist to the founder of Sharp Pen Media, Zappa brings a unique perspective to marketing. Now in its third year, his agency serves ad tech and MarTech companies, focusing on marketing strategy, content, and PR. This blend of journalism and marketing expertise enables Zappa to craft compelling narratives that resonate with audiences, driving interest and engagement.

The Evolving Role of PR in SaaS Marketing

Zappa challenges traditional notions of PR, advocating for a more integrated approach. He suggests that PR should not be an isolated effort but part of a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes content creation and distribution across multiple channels. This multi-channel approach is vital for building a company’s reputation and authority, ultimately leading to more meaningful relationships and pipeline growth.

Strategic Messaging and Audience Engagement

One of the core principles emphasized is the importance of strategic messaging. Understanding what to say, how, and where to say it forms the foundation of effective marketing. Joe advises companies to craft a “big tent” message that speaks to their overarching mission and targeted messages that address specific industry topics and concerns. This dual-layer messaging strategy ensures engagement across various platforms, where the audience’s presence and preferences dictate the distribution efforts.


The Power of Consistency and Value in Content Marketing

Zappa’s approach to content marketing centers on consistency and value. By continuously engaging with the audience through valuable insights and discussions, software companies can build a community of more receptive followers to their messages. This ongoing engagement paves the way for successful product launches and announcements, as the audience is already familiar with and trusts the company’s voice.

Overcoming Hesitancy Towards Marketing Investments

Addressing the tech industry’s penchant for measurable outcomes, Zappa acknowledges the challenges of investing in PR and content marketing. He argues that while not all aspects of these efforts are directly quantifiable, the indirect benefits—such as increased engagement, brand authority, and inbound inquiries—justify the investment. He encourages SaaS companies to embrace a mix of measurable tactics and trust-building strategies to achieve long-term success.

Key Takeaways for SaaS Leaders

Joe’s insights shed light on the importance of integrated marketing strategies that leverage PR, content marketing, and social media to build brand authority and engage with target audiences effectively. By focusing on strategic messaging, multi-channel distribution, and consistent value delivery, SaaS companies can cultivate a loyal community and drive business growth.

In conclusion, Joe’s expertise highlights the critical role of strategic messaging, audience engagement, and the integration of PR and content marketing in building successful brands. For SaaS companies aspiring to scale their businesses, adopting this approach could be the key to unlocking new levels of growth and market penetration.


Joe Zappa

[07:11] “You need to ask your customers where they’re hanging out, then experiment for yourself and figure out if you’re getting any traction on those platforms.”

[10:52] “The effective way to get attention is to be in the market, saying helpful things that people find interesting every week.”

Matt Wolach

[09:56] “I know a lot of software vendors, and they don’t go that deep on their marketing process”

[16:03] “The power of a personal brand is so strong.


To learn more about Sharp Pen Media, visit:

You can also find Joe Zappa on LinkedIn:

For more about how Matt Wolach helps software companies achieve maximum growth, visit

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Check out the whole transcript of the episode here:

Matt Wolach  00:00

Hi and welcome to Scale Your SaaS, thank you very much for being here. By the way, if this is your first time, our goal is to help you understand how to grow your software company, whether that’s generating new leads, whether that’s closing those leads, scaling your team, whatever it is, that’s what we’re here to do. So if you want those things, hit the subscribe button right there. That way, you’ll get all of the awesome updates from the channel. You’ll know the best people in the industry and how they can help you Scale Your SaaS and one of those best people is my guest today, Joe Zappa. Joe, how you doing?

Joe Zappa  00:37

Hey, Matt, thanks so much for having me on.

 Matt Wolach  00:39

Yeah, absolutely. I’m super glad to have you here. Let me know. Let me make sure everybody knows who you are, Joe, because you’ve got an awesome background, you’re doing some great things. So Joe is the founder and CEO at Sharp Pen Media. And really what that is, that’s an agency that helps ad tech and Mar tech companies with marketing strategy, content and PR. Joe was the editor of the martec media sites Street Fight before starting the agency, and he has worked with some companies such as Freewheel, AppLovin, and FatTail along with others. This guy knows his stuff knows how to help companies generate that interest in that desire. So Joe, thanks for being here.

Joe Zappa  01:14

Thanks for having me, Matt. Let’s get into it. Love it. So

Matt Wolach  01:17

tell me what have you been up to lately? And what’s coming up for you?

Joe Zappa  01:21

Yeah, running my agency, we have about a dozen clients is our third full year in business. So still figuring out a lot of things on that front. And then, you know, helping our clients, as you said, with strategy, content and PR. So part of that is figuring out the marketing fundamentals of what is the message? Where are we going to distributed? And how are we going to create value, and part of it is just executing on that stuff. So you know, creating content that’s abreast of what’s happening in the space and being in touch with journalists and having a finger on the pulse.

Matt Wolach  01:53

Yeah, I know you were a journalist yourself. How, how did that happen? Going from that to now posting an agency running an agency Sharp Pen Media? How did that come to be?

Joe Zappa  02:03

Yes, I actually got into adtech and martech. As a freelance journalist in college. David Hirshman, who founded the media side street fight, went to my college, so I was looking for an internship and he hooked me up. And I stuck with that for like, eight years. And so I was freelancing at street fight for years and became the editor while I was doing a PhD, wrapped up the PhD was like, alright, is journalism going to be the future? Oh, no, journalism has all the same problems that academia does, there are no jobs and they don’t pay a lot. And so then I got a freelance gig and marketing, and realized content, marketing and PR rely on a lot of the same skills as journalism, understanding an industry, what’s the story, it’s just you’re looking at it from the perspective of a specific company and figuring out how to insert them into that discussion, instead of sort of covering it in a neutral way. So I got into marketing through that angle, and then obviously, stacked up some clients. And before you know, it, you you have an agency on your hands.

Matt Wolach  02:56

funny how that happens. But good for you for doing that. One of the things you do and one thing you help with is something that not a lot of software companies think about and something that can actually accelerate. But it’s also hard to account for and understand, can you talk a little bit more about PR, and some of the some of the ways that companies are benefiting from PR in the help you give?

Joe Zappa  03:18

Yeah, it’s super interesting to think about the role of PR and contemporary SaaS marketing, because I think, at least in my industry, adtech and martech, the old school way to do to think about PR is your like, you get off the ground with networking and events and sales, all that like high touch person to person stuff. And then at a certain point, a founder usually says, Okay, well, now we need to go out there at scale, right, we need to get in front of more people, or we have the paid ads funnel running. And that’s working. But we want something that’s going to sort of compound and growth over time, right, that’s not going to lead to diminishing returns. And then the the old school way is just to say, Okay, we’re gonna go out and get a 10k per month PR agency, I actually think that for most software companies, you don’t need to spend 10k per month on PR, because there just isn’t enough media surrounding your company in your industry to justify that kind of spend. So that’s how you end up with companies in the space that PR practitioners always make fun of for journalists make fun of where you’re like, I just did a partnership with so and so. And I know no one cares about this, but please cover it. And that’s not really where you want to be from a PR on. So the way I look at it instead is that really like our job as like a PR and content in agency and anyone in this space, whether you’re in house or in an agency, your job is to figure out how do we grow the company by growing its reputation and authority to lead to more relationship, more relationships, which will drive pipeline like any other marketing activity, and so part of that yes is going to be PR it’s understanding who are the journalists and influencers in your industry? What are they covering and how can you provide value to them and in turn, they will provide you value by getting you in front of Your audience, but it’s also all the other ways that we consume content in 2024. So it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, Slack groups and your community WhatsApp groups. I think that PR is transforming into this more multi channel discipline. That’s it’s sort of an overlap of PR and what we tend to think of as content.

 Matt Wolach  05:21

I love it. And it’s also something where we don’t think of it in a silo, we shouldn’t be thinking of it all just do that. And hopefully that works. But it’s how does that relate to our content? How can we make sure that everything kind of intermingles together, right?

Joe Zappa  05:35

Yeah, I think PR and content are of a piece with one another? Because it all starts with that marketing strategy question I raised earlier, which is, what is the message? Right? That’s where you’re starting? It’s like, how are we going to differentiate from competitors? What are we doing for whom? How are we going to get our customers excited? You ask those three questions, you come up with the message, and then you say, Where are we going to distribute it, and PR is going to be one means to distribute it. But the thing is, when you’re doing PR, you’re relying on third parties to distribute the message. So 50 years ago, that was basically all we had, right? It was like advertising and then relying on the media, that those channels are still important. But nowadays, you can be reaching your audience every day, on social channels, and again, slacks, WhatsApp, forums like that. So often, in my industry, what I need to sell founders on is like, yeah, PR is great, let’s do that. But don’t hire a PR firm, and then expect to get like 30 placements, which is a literal metric. I’ve heard people say they expect them to be getting them. And I’m like, Guys, we have five trade publications in our industry. Do you think they’re covering us six times in one month? We’d be lucky if they covered us once a quarter, right. So it’s like, that’s a small piece of it. But then expect that resource, again, whether you’re hiring a PR manager, or you’re hiring an agency, expect that resource to be getting the message out in more ways than just reaching out to the media.

Matt Wolach  07:00

Yeah, that’s, that’s brilliant insights, for sure. So what are some of the effective marketing strategies and tactics that SaaS companies should be implementing to help scale their business?

Joe Zappa  07:11

So I think if you’re thinking about PR and content, again, it starts with that strategic step that a lot of people don’t take, because they want to just get right into like doing stuff, right? It’s like, let’s just do marketing, or we just need to get the word out. That’s something you hear a lot in sales calls, when you’re in my position, I bet you hear the same thing. And what I say is like, Okay, well, the first thing we need to figure out is, what are we going to be saying to these people? So we we want to craft sort of two tiers of messages. The first message is, like our crusade, like, what is the big tent thing that we’re trying to accomplish? So like, if you’re an add up software, that saves publisher ad ops, people time, right, because they’re compliant, they’re manually compiling data from like, 20 different systems. And you’re like, I’ll get it all in one place for you automatically with software. Like one of my clients does this. And the slogan we came up with for them was take back Monday, right? So the idea is like, you’re we interviewed their customers, and we’re hearing from their customers, I’m spending all day or before I use the software, I was spending all day manually aggregating this data, and it used to like half my Monday was just that, that’s how my week would start. So then that’s the sort of overarching message that’s supposed to activate them on a visceral level and help them understand how we can assist them. Then you have another tier of messages, which we do for every client, we’ll create a doc called like house topics and POVs. And it’s like three to five hot button topics in their industry, and then what their house position is on that topic. reason this is important is because like your overarching message, you can’t just run around all the time, like saying your slogan, right? Like people are going to, then you’re not going to be participating in organic discussions. So the house topics and POVs is a way of saying, Okay, everyone in ad tech is talking about privacy changes, or they’re talking about supply path optimization, like making software more efficient and between brands and publishers. So we’re going to create a stance on that topic that supports our business position. But that also engages people where they are where the conversation is already happening. Once you’ve done that, the what is our message part, you got to the distribute the message. And this is really just a question of where is your audience? So for some people, that’s going to be LinkedIn, for some it’s going to be Twitter, combination of them other platforms. You just need to ask your customers where they’re hanging out. And then also experiment for yourself and figure out am I getting any traction on these platforms? And eventually you’re going to hone in on where do our customers live? And where are we actually connecting with them and getting a response and then you double down on that and people like to make it complicated, but really, that’s what content marketing and PR are all about.

Matt Wolach  09:56

I love it and it definitely resonates with me. I’ve talked with hundreds of different experts on this show. And it often comes down to if you want to be successful, have conversations with your target audience and you related the same thing. Exactly. Joe, we need to be talking to those people. So we understand where do they live? And what are they trying to accomplish? And what are their struggles? I think that’s fantastic. And the the other thing that I took away from what you just said, to unpack it further is, instead of just hey, let’s do this, you’ve got a set process, let’s make sure we understand if this is what people are talking about, what’s our perspective? And what do we want to make sure the market understands? And how can we show them? How can we make sure they get where we’re coming from? I know a lot of software vendors, and they don’t go that deep on their marketing process. And I think that’s a huge example of working with an expert like yourself, how you can get that next level of understanding of how to get, you know, structure and process in the right place, isn’t that right?

Joe Zappa  10:52

Yeah, I really liked that point about process for two reasons. I tend to find that software companies fall down on this in two regards. One is that there isn’t message discipline. So they don’t have that sort of foundational dock, where it’s like, we know what we stand for. We know what our messages are, we know the topics we want to comment on. And the reason that’s problematic is that your what happens on the ground, and CEOs might not always see this, but I’m in the marketing meetings. So I do is your marketing team ends up in a position where they’re like, What are we going to say this month, and it’s like you’re sort of solving the same problem over and over again, and you’re also not doing it in a way that best supports the business strategy, because it hasn’t been thought through in this very deliberate way. And then the other thing, so that’s about message, but the other thing is about distribution, I tend to find that a lot of CEOs who don’t come from a marketing background, they think about marketing in a very like event ties way where it’s like, oh, we have our series coming up. And we want people to to hear about that, or we’re going to launch this product. And we want people to hear about that. Unfortunately, that’s not really the most effective way to get your series A covered or to get your product launch covered. The effective way to get attention for those things is to be in the market saying helpful things that people find interesting every week, because people are just like normal social animals. And they’re way more likely to interact with your ego centric news, you’re like we did a cool thing announcement, if they see you every week, and they like associate you as someone who has helpful things to say and who’s worth paying attention to. So if you have a process to do these things, week, in week out, you’re way more likely to get that series uncovered by journalists or to have people in your industry pay attention to your product arms, than if you’re just thinking about marketing once a quarter when you have a big thing happening.

Matt Wolach  12:48

I think that’s so true. I see people do that same mistake where they push this stuff out once in a while and like How come nobody really cared about that. And you’re right, just because you haven’t done the the ground effort to go out there share value help people all along the way. And by doing that, you kind of build this community and you have people who are pulling for you people who are on your side and want you to succeed. And and then when you say, Oh, we just did this thing. Now you’ve got those people in your corner helping you out and they care about you. And it becomes really, really awesome. It is a lot of work, though. So why do you feel like tech companies are often hesitant to invest in marketing support? And and what are some of the concerns that they have around that?

 Joe Zappa  13:30

I think the main reason is that we work in the tech industry, people like data, they like things that can be measured, they like sure things, all very understandable biases. But if you’re really going to invest in PR and content, if you’re going to invest in the parts of marketing, that aren’t downloadable assets, where you’re going to get it, we’re essentially not just lead gen. And it’s not just paid ads, you’re going to have to be comfortable with a portion of your marketing budget, going to something that’s not going to be easily measurable. Now you can measure it to a degree, there are two ways there are leading indicators. So people will sometimes call like engagement on social media vanity metrics. I mean, I think that’s kind of a dumb way to look at it. Again, it’s a leading indicator, it’s showing, okay, people in our target audience are engaging with our content that seems meaningful, right there. We’re building a community around our product, or around what we have to say. And then the other thing is that you should see pipeline generated by content marketing and PR, but it’s probably going to be more through like a survey where someone’s us, where did you hear from us and they can check you know, five boxes and one of the boxes is like I follow you on LinkedIn, right? Or I see your content, or they’re going to tell you in the sales call. You know, I love the stuff you guys are sharing on on Twitter. That’s how you’re going to find out but it’s going to be more qualitative and you need to have a process set up to ascertain that. I mean, there are parts of content marketing and PR that are more Legion oriented. And again, that’s going to be like the classic a webinar or a white paper that they have to download. But people are also really leery of those tactics because like, everyone knows what you’re doing at this point. They know if they put in the white paper that they’re gonna get a call from an SDR in two days, and they might not want that. So that’s what I think it is. I think, like I was on, funnily enough, I was on the phone yesterday with an ad tech CEO. And he asked me the same question. He was like, okay, so how am I going to understand the ROI of this? And I gave the answer, I just gave you the leading indicators. And then you should see people coming in asking, you should see inbound links, and they should raise their hand. And they should say, you know, I saw your content on Twitter or whatever. And he had found me and was coming to me, because he had seen my social content. And so he himself was like, I guess it’s kind of funny that I’m asking you about whether this stuff works, because we’re literally on the phone, because they worked on me. And now it’s like, ding, ding, ding. Yeah,

Matt Wolach  16:03

I think that’s fantastic. The power of a personal brand is so strong. And it’s something that took me far too long to realize, but you’re right, probably 80% of the stuff that comes to us, comes through my personal brand. And it’s something that we work really hard on as a team to make sure that my name my face, and all that is out there enough. So people follow that they know that they come to know you, they come to know what you’re about. And when it’s time when they’re ready. They come to you they reach out. And so I think that that’s something that even as a as a company, as a brand, people within your company can work on that personal brand, the sharing the value, and and and create this powerful kind of community when you agree.

Joe Zappa  16:44

Yes, we should also stipulate that it varies based on the company and what you’re selling, right. So if you are selling like a $10 a month, SAS product, you’re probably going to get very far with paid ads and stuff that’s more like direct response, because it’s just not that big a decision. Right? They don’t need to, they don’t need to be persuaded, they don’t need to trust you that much. They can just say, I’m gonna sign up for it and see how it goes. And if I don’t like it, I’ll just stop paying the $10 every month. But so like everything I just said, I think it applies to those kinds of SaaS companies, but it’s a little less relevant. But a lot of companies call themselves SAS, and they’re actually like, it’s like a six figure deal, right? Like it’s a quite a bit of budget. And it’s it might require a lengthy implementation. And there is a heavy service component again, even though it’s called SaaS. And so for those companies, I think those are the companies where PR and content are really relevant and where you’re really cutting, selling yourself short, if you’re not participating in some of that trust, building oriented marketing tactics that, again, are harder to measure, but are really how you build a reputation and authority and get people through the door for those higher value deals.

 Matt Wolach  17:58

I love it speaking to my soul, Joe, I love all this stuff. So tell me, what are some mistakes? If you’re a software leader, you’re out there, you’re trying to do these things? What are some of the mistakes you see these leaders making when they go to market and use PR?

Joe Zappa  18:12

So I think one big thing is you’re talking about yourself too much. We’ve sort of touched on this from various angles. But very often, when I see CEOs posting on LinkedIn, it’s I’m so pleased to announce that this good thing happened to me. And that’s fine. You can have those posts. But that should be like 5% of your posts, right? Because every for every one of those posts you do, there should be 10 to 20 that are just helping your target market, just like you would do in a sales call, right? Like in in a good sales call. Like it’s consultative, right? You’re not just like jumping down someone’s throat at from the very first minute being like, let me tell you all the reasons were amazing. And all the awards we’ve won and the cool things we do. You’re like, what are your problems like tell me about your business, you’re that’s essentially that that consultative. I’m not going to be didactic. But I want to help and I want to listen and understand is the persona that most companies should be cultivating with content. And so that’s the content angle, from the PR angle. I think we’re most people go wrong is similar, but it manifests in a slightly different way. It’s like your, your cadence, the what’s the way you’re reaching out to journalists in your industry is determined by your product roadmap and your partnerships and all of the things that you have going on, which journalists are always going to be less interested in unless you’re such a big deal, like an ad tech, right? If you’re Google, or you’re the trade desk, which is like the biggest independent and tech company, then journalists might be interested in something you’re doing just because it’s your product and your product is so important. But for nine percent of the companies in the industry, the better way to go about it is to be super plugged in to what all of those journalists are covering. And when they do a story where you’re like, hey, this is a really cool story. But I think this angle is something you haven’t explored yet. And I could see another story about this that is called best. And here’s the here are the insights or the data I can provide to you about that. That’s really how you want to be going about it. So in both cases, it’s about being less company centric, or less egocentric and thinking about what does the audience be it your customers on social or journalists in the case of PR need from you? And how can you provide value though? I

Matt Wolach  20:39

love it. Yeah, that’s exactly something that has taken me quite a long time to learn. And fortunately, I have been able to learn that but sharing that value is, is fantastic. Now, I want to make sure that other people don’t share or don’t take quite as long to learn as I did. So they need to talk to you, Joe. So what is the best way for our audience to learn more about what you’re doing at Sharp Pen Media and yourself? Yeah,

Joe Zappa  21:03

Yeah, you can find me at Joe underscore Zappa on Twitter, Joe Zappa, LinkedIn, you’ll find me pretty quickly, or just at

Matt Wolach  21:12

Okay, perfect. So we’ll put all that into the show notes. So if you’re listening or watching, go ahead and grab that there. Go see Joe, and he can help you out. He’s got a lot of great stuff. Joe, thanks so much for coming on. I really appreciate you sharing all this with us.

Joe Zappa  21:24

Matt, thanks so much for having me on. It was great.

Matt Wolach  21:27

Absolutely. And everybody out there. Thanks for being here. By the way, we are looking for reviews. If you think that this is helpful, what Joe just shared, which I think it’s amazing. Please review the software, please review the program, I should say, and this episode in particular and show people that this is something that they need to be listening to. So thank you very much for being here. We’ll see you next time. Take care. Bye.