By Pamela Muldoon published December 9, 2014

Ann Handley Talks Writing Ridiculously Well

In this week’s episode of Content Marketing NEXT, I sit down with Ann Handley of MarketingProfs. A pioneer in content marketing, Ann was the first to take on the title of chief content officer. This entrepreneur, author, speaker, trainer, and dog lover is all about helping people write well. Her latest bestseller brings it all together: Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide To Creating Ridiculously Good Content.  

What’s new, what’s now, what’s next  

What’s new:

Frustration can be an excellent motivator. Based on her experience editing marketing content for more than 15 years, first with ClickZ and now with MarketingProfs, Ann realized that marketers really needed a writing handbook and Everybody Writes was born.

Ann believes writing is the heart of content marketing: If you can’t write well, you’re not a good content creator. Fortunately, because writing is a skill, not an art, people can improve their work over time, she says.

Her first book, Content Rules, co-authored with C.C. Chapman, debuted in 2010. At that time, companies were thinking about how to rewrite their websites and how to take on the idea of becoming a publisher. Today, content is a cornerstone of marketing. Brands are creating interesting content programs and organizations are empowering departments with resources to execute their content-related work. Writing, and content creation in general, is much more at the forefront of marketing conversations.

What’s now:

A big challenge for content marketers today is creating engaging content. Some content marketers are struggling to answer:

  • How do we tell stories?
  • What is our brand’s point of view?
  • How do we create a strong voice with our content creation?

Discussing the need for “storytelling” may seem frivolous in the B2B space because the word doesn’t connote seriousness. Ann reminds us that it’s not so much about storytelling as it is about telling a good story well. Tell the stories of your customers. Make the story all about them, and how your product improves their lives.

Tell the story to make the emotional connection. Take your stories outside of the boardroom and create interesting ways to deliver the brand point of view. Align the story with a longer-term business strategy. This allows interesting stories to evolve.

For more on what’s now, read CMI and MarketingProfs’ B2C Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America.

What’s next:

This next evolution of content marketing involves more education and training. MarketingProfs is making that its main focus and continues to offer both digital and in-person educational opportunities.

MarketingProfs is looking to expand its B2B Forum in Boston in 2015 to a new space to accommodate more people and equip marketers for what comes next. Ann sees the more intimate conference experience for B2B marketers as a way to provide high-quality content and give attendees the ability to connect directly with speakers and other professionals.

Blast the buzzword

Ann’s word: Too many to list

She really wants to blast clichés, such as “ready, aim, fire” and “open the kimono,” which make her skin peel (her words). However, she says using some buzzwords or phrases in funny and surprising ways can add value to content creation.

She also would blast the number of words. Why use so many when one or two will do? Learn to self-edit and lose the unnecessary words, she says.

In the hot seat

Here’s a recap of Ann’s hot-seat Q & A:

Q1: What innovation in the last five years has made your life as a content marketer better?

Ann credits Instagram with bringing out the visual content creator in her and forcing her brain to frame things differently.

Q2: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given, either personal or professionally?

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Take smart, informed risks. As content creators, we do have to take some risks with our writing. This is also the case in life. Ann has taken some risks, such as leaving journalism to go into online publishing, as well as selling ClickZ and joining MarketingProfs.

Q3: If you weren’t doing what you are doing today as a marketing professional, what other career would you have pursued?

A professional dog walker. At one point, she had five dogs and was a little envious of her dog walker. The work combined two of her favorite things: Walking in the woods and dogs.

Listen to Pamela’s full interview with Ann Handley here:

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Cover image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Pamela Muldoon

Pamela Muldoon is the Podcast Network Director for the CMI Podcast Network. In her role with CMI, she assists the podcast hosts with the development, production, distribution and promotion of their shows. Pamela is a veteran podcaster who can be heard on the CMI Podcast Network with her latest show "Content Marketing NEXT". To date, she has interviewed over 200 business and marketing professionals as part of her podcast formats. She is also a professional VoiceOver talent specializing in commercial, narration, eLearning, and promo projects. Learn more at or Follow her on Twitter @pamelamuldoon.

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  • James Meyers

    Ann’s point on writing well is absolutely critical and often overlooked by marketers who are just throwing their content or other low cost content into their channels. Content only has value if it’s well planned and carefully written so that it has true value to the audience.

    • Pamela Muldoon

      Yes, writing a good story well is so much more effective than simply churning out content. Not always easy, but as Ann indicates, it is a skill that can be improved. Thank goodness! Thanks for weighing in!

  • David Workman

    This is a great interview and I’m glad I listened. But I have a weird question: was there an open window behind you? I swear I can hear traffic noise in the background.