Ann Handley on Content Marketing Tips, Tools & Editorial Quality

We interviewed the one and only Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs and best-selling author. Yeah, you don't want to miss this.

Ann Handley is a Very Big Deal in the content marketing world. For starters, she was the first person (we’re talking in the world) to be named chief content officer, over there at MarketingProfs. She’s written a Wall Street Journal best-selling book, “Everybody Writes,” and she’s co-author of another best-seller, “Content Rules.” But wait, there’s more: She’s a monthly columnist for Entrepreneur, a LinkedIn Influencer and a keynote speaker. Forbes dubbed her the most influential woman in social media and ForbesWoman named her one of the top 20 women bloggers.

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Told you she’s a big deal. We nabbed an interview with the first lady of content marketing. Here’s what she told us about how to be a good writer, the best piece of writing advice she ever received and more.

Ann Handley

How do you democratize good content production within MarketingProfs?

We find strong voices in marketing who have a unique point of view as our contributors. And by “contributors” I mean both seminar speakers and writers. Then we hire great editors/programmers to work with them to hone their message.

What are your favorite tools for facilitating great writing?

The key to great writing isn’t a tool — it’s a sensibility for an audience-centric point of view, as opposed to a corporate-centric message. Beyond that, the tools are pretty straightforward. I list eight of them here.

Specially, I like Pocket and Trello — Pocket as an alternative to Evernote (which I’m allergic to), and Trello as a project/editorial calendar organizer.

I also like Grammarly and the Hemingway App for first-pass editing.

And beyond those, I think tools like can help people write without “writing” — because it’ll transcribe a blog post that you dictated while, say, commuting to the office.

What are your favorite blogs, books or sources to teach people how to be a great writer?

Everybody Writes.” Because — of course. I talk about writing a lot at my own blog, too. A good example is my infographic on the “Writing GPS.”

And Jeff Goins, because his writing advice is practical and specific.

How do you set a foundation for your team in terms of editorial quality?


Stress the notion that everything you publish has to serve the needs of the audience first. The audience has to value it.

At MarketingProfs, that has meant hiring people who have a background in journalism, because journalists are the only people (in my mind) who put the needs of the audience first. They put it above the needs of the “publisher,” whether that publisher is a newspaper or a brand.

It’s a subtle shift, but a significant one.

What makes a good writer?

The ability to put the reader’s needs first and your own needs second. Creating value for the reader is your number one focus — however you define “value.”

Do you prefer working with in-house or contract writers? Why one over the other?

It doesn’t matter to me whether our writers are exclusive. What matters is that they think of our audience first.

What should someone look for when hiring a freelance writer?

A portfolio of work that’s engaging to read, no matter the subject. Subject matter expertise isn’t nearly as important as interviewing skills — the ability to pull great stuff out of an expert, and then convey it to an audience in a non-boring, engaging way.

What inspires you most about the content industry?

That it’s still just getting going. It feels like it’s been around forever, and in some respects it has. But its modern incarnation has been around for only a few years. And we’re only beginning to grasp its potential. How is that NOT awesome!?

What are five takeaways for content marketers about producing quality content on a consistent basis?

I’ve written about just this on my blog. To recap:

Know your customer. Tailor your content to your specific buyers. Look at their behavior, not just their demographics.

Perfect your tone of voice. It’s the content equivalent to a sandwich’s secret sauce.

Use an editor. Editors are not optional. Period.

Remember, “Done is better than perfect.” But don’t take this as a pass to produce poor quality work.

Don’t worry about going viral. Forget about popularity, Twitter followers and vanity metrics. Simply concern yourself with offering the best value to your audience.


What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

“No one will complain that you made something too simple to understand.” (My college Journalism 101 professor.)

Which writers inspire you?

Oh wow… good question. So many inspire me. But at the moment: Elizabeth Gilbert (because she’s “popular” and legit, which is a hard combination), David Sedaris (because he’s soulful AND funny), Seth Godin (because he brings it. Every. Day.)

In one sentence, what does writing mean to you?

Writing is an attempt to understand and create meaning in a crazy world.

Tags: content marketing, influencer marketing, Tips

Category: Distribution
Megan Krause

About Megan

Megan Krause is the managing editor at ClearVoice, where she helps brands create great content and manage the content creation process. She also writes a regular writing and grammar column titled Dear Megan – ask her your burning questions @ClearVoice using #DearMegan, and follow her on Twitter.

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  • Sophie Gersten

    Megan, great interview! It was really interesting for me to read Ann’s Headley thoughts as I’m sure that she’s a really strong influencer in the content marketing world and has succeed both with her own blog and external projects.

    Surprisingly, that I’m using all Ann’s Headley favorite tools for encouraging writing. Ann mentioned that “editors are not optional”. So she insists on the power of “external review”. Partially I support that point, because sometimes writers really need a professional editor. But at this time I prefer doing all editing on my own – using Hemingway App and professional plagiarism checker to make sure that my writing is original as I want.

    • Megan Krause

      Hi Sophie, Glad you liked it! The Hemingway app is a great tool, but I second Ann’s sentiment that ‘editors are not optional.’ (Full disclosure: I am an editor.) Thanks for commenting.

  • Very informative article. I follow her on social media and she’s very insightful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Megan Krause

      Thanks Nia! Yes, Ann’s wonderful. Glad you found it helpful.

  • What a fun Q&A! I love that Ann highlights creating value for the reader. Too many companies simply try to sell, sell, sell and forget to build up that loyal fan base by providing useful, quality information FIRST. Great read! Thanks!

    • Megan Krause

      Glad you liked it, Angela!