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Ann Handley: Great Content is the Soul of Your Brand

Connecting with Bill Sobel

Ann Handley knows content is the secret to a successful website. In fact, she maintains, great content can be the soul of your brand. Her advice: show rather than tell, share insight or solve problems, reimagine rather than recycle.

As she explains, "Good writing and (more broadly) good content strives to explain, to make things a little bit clearer, to make sense of our world… even if it’s just a product description or a blog post or a video or a graphic novel."

Handley is Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, a company that likes to boast it provides real-world education for modern marketers. She's the author of the forthcoming book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content and co-author of the best-selling Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business.

Write On


Handley has a passion for building community, particularly in using new media tools to broaden and build value. In fact, she was the co-founder of, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Before that, she spent 12 years as a business editor and writer for both local and national trade and consumer publications, including the Boston Globe.

Beyond her current role at MarketingProfs, Handley is a columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker and a mom — and she still made time to share her insights with CMSWire.

Sobel:  You're known as one of the best marketing consultants and authors in the business. How and where did you get your start? 

Handley: Well first, thank you. And second, I started my career as a journalist and editor. Then the Internet happened, and I never looked back. I co-founded ClickZ in 1997, back when “Internet marketing” essentially meant banner ads and brochure-ware websites. Listservs were cutting edge. Funny, but true.

There was no Google, no Facebook, no blogs, no YouTube or Vine or Pinterest or Twitter. There was zero social media and zero mobile marketing, of course. In other words, life was simpler then.

We sold ClickZ in 2000 and in 2002 I joined MarketingProfs co-founder Allen Weiss as the Chief Content Officer.

Sobel: Have you accomplished the goals you intended at MarketingProfs? Where is the company now and where do you see it going over the next few years?

Handley: We originally envisioned MarketingProfs as a place where professors and professionals could learn from one another. Allen Weiss is a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. I shared an early masthead on Twitter the other day.

See that tagline? That pretty much says it all. Fourteen years after that masthead, our business has shifted somewhat.

We still emphasize marketing know-how, but in a way we’ve returned to our education roots by leaning more into the training space. We still publish lots of great content for our subscribers. But increasingly we also are creating in-house training and education programs for corporate marketing teams.

Training and education is the future of MarketingProfs because of our reputation, abilities, longevity, history and brand. We’ve been educating marketers for longer than most, and we’re uniquely positioned to give teams what they need to succeed in an ever-changing world.

I know that sounds like it’s merely marketing copy, but it’s not. It’s simply true.

Sobel: What are the qualities great content marketers should have?

Handley: Training as a journalist. Nose for a story. Digital intuition. Business acumen. Social DNA. A storytelling sensibility. Ridiculously good writing skills.

Sobel: Do your books help promote your business or visa versa? And can you tell us about your current publications (both online and offline?)

Handley: I don’t write books because I’m looking to promote my business. I write books because I can’t not write books. In other words, I have something to say – and I can’t keep mum about it.

Writing a book is terrible and painful and hard. It’s like birthing a Volkswagen. The process is about as pretty as you’d imagine it to be: it’s long and arduous and you sweat a lot, and most of the work is done while crying. No sane person would put himself through it, unless he couldn’t not put himself through it!


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