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How to Create Big, Bold, Brave Content [Interview with Ann Handley]

Ann Handley was recognized by Forbes as the most influential woman in Social Media and listed by ForbesWomen as one of the top 20 women bloggers. The world’s first Chief Content Officer, Ann is the author of the Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content and co-author of the best-selling book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business. Currently, Ann is CCO at MarketingProfs, a website dedicated to making you a better marketer. Emma Bullen picked her brains on content marketing, writing routines, and social media.

Emma Bullen: What does a typical day look like for you?

Ann Handley: I am gently awakened in the morning by the sweet calls of the downy-throated songbirds, welcoming me into a new day. I arise and dine on a firm scramble of eggs laid at dawn by my cluck of heirloom chickens while sipping coffee from the rarest Kopi Luwak bean, harvested deep in the Sumatran jungle. By monkeys.

So after that… you can imagine that I flit to my desk, dip the nib of my fountain pen in its corner inkwell, and the Marketing insights spill out of me onto the page with the same intensity as the yolks of those heirloom eggs spread onto my breakfast plate.

Or: I wake up, sit down at my computer, and force myself awake by scrolling through Twitter.

At some point during the morning, I wander to my backyard Tiny House. It’s really a tiny office. But it’s a dedicated space that helps me focus and do the work I need to get done.

I actually have zero chickens and no songbirds. In case anyone is wondering.

EB: Tell me the story of how you became the world’s first Chief Content Officer

AH: Scene: The offices of ClickZ, my first company, circa 1997. The Internet was brand-new and fresh-faced. There were maybe 13 or 14 websites including ClickZ, which was one of the first sources of information for digital marketing and advertising. Everyone got only four emails a day. There was no Social Media, no email marketing. No chatbots or Snapchat or Fitbits. Life was simpler. And quieter.

Me (sporting the first of many pairs of stylish glasses): I need a job title that reflects the importance of our website editorial. “Editor in chief” doesn’t quite cut it — our content is more important than that!

Then business-partner: Like… a C-suite title. Chief something?

Me: Yes. Chief of Content! Chief Content Person! Chief Content Officer!

Then business-partner: Boom.

EB: If I could do just one thing to start improving my content marketing today, what would that be?

AH: There’s a lot I could say here… just one? Okay. It’s this: Before you publish or produce a single word or pixel, swap places with your reader or viewer.

Look at everything you create with a fresh pair of eyes: from the perspective of your audience.

A lot of bad content can be rehabbed in that one key way: swapping places with your reader before you publish.

EB: What does your writing process look like? Do you schedule time for writing, do you have any tips for getting you in the mood for writing? Any weird habits like Balzac or Edith Sitwell?

AH: I just had to google the habits of Balzac and Sitwell, which led me down a very long and very dark rabbit hole of the weird writing habits of authors, famous and not. Sooo… thank you?

Annnnd now I feel like I should have some weird writing habits of my own. But alas.

My own habit is just simply that: a habit. I try and write every day to keep that writing muscle toned and buff. Habits practiced once a week aren’t habits, they’re obligations, as my friend Jeff Goins says.

I believe that content marketing and storytelling offer a vast opportunity for all businesses. But too many of us aren’t embracing the opportunity.

Our own marketing seems puny and underdeveloped when it should be strong and buff and oiled-up and muscled.

EB: What tools do you use for your own content marketing and why do you like them?

AH: The spirit animal of a productive content marketer is the squirrel because he/she is consistently gathering and hoarding resources to use later. So my squirrel-inspired triple threat of tools are in three categories:

Gather ideas: Moleskine,, Evernote

Sort ideas: Trello

Commit to those ideas: CoSchedule calendaring

EB: You were cited by Forbes as the most influential woman in Social Media. How have your social media habits changed over the last decade?

AH: Social networks have become a bigger part of my life, as they have for a lot of people. But in 2017, I’ve made a concerted effort to spend less time on social media. Less screen time, more pages. Scroll less, read more.

(Thus far, I’m killin’ it.)

EB: In an age of fake news and click bait headlines, what do we do to shift content from ‘good enough’ to ‘great’?

AH: Focus relentlessly on the needs of your audience. Develop next-level empathy for what they need from us. I call this “pathological” empathy.

EB: Where are your sources of great content? Who do you have your eye on?

AH: It’s not one person. I am my most creative when I step away from the day-to-day morass and muddle and get some oxygen. So my personal source of great content is gifting myself that mental space every day.

EB: You’re going to be talking about content marketing at the Art Of Marketing, Toronto. What do you hope to cover?

AH: I’m going to talk about the Art of Big, Bold, Brave Content!

I believe that content marketing and storytelling offer a vast opportunity for all businesses. But too many of us aren’t embracing the opportunity.

Our own marketing seems puny and underdeveloped when it should be strong and buff and oiled-up and muscled.

So the question is: How do we inspire our teams to create more robust, effective marketing? How do we up the quality of what we are producing? (And how do you define “quality,” anyway?).

In Toronto, I’ll talk about how your organization can create marketing that’s bold and brave—because your audience demands it and your organization deserves it!

I can’t wait! It’s gonna be more fun than a basket of puppies. 

EB: Who are you most excited to hear speak at the Art Of Marketing?

AH: Oh wow. This is like asking me which is my favorite child. Well, almost.

I’m looking forward to the whole program in one of my favorite cities. But I’m especially looking forward to seeing Ron Tite (a great speaker, good friend, hilarious). I’m also looking forward to seeing Jonah Berger and Ryan Holiday — because I’ve admired them both from afar and it’ll be amazing to actually meet them in person.

For a deeper insight into how to improve your content game, visit, read Ann’s highly entertaining website or hear Ann Handley talk at The Art Of Marketing, Canada’s #1 marketing conference April 3, 2017, in Toronto. Register here to get $50 off tickets.

This post first appeared on Marketing & Creative Jobs In Canada, please read the originial post: here

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How to Create Big, Bold, Brave Content [Interview with Ann Handley]


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