How can you improve your content marketing? How can you take advantage of an opportunity to entice people? Every company has the typical branding and collateral, but CoSchedule goes above and beyond with a tower of donuts!
Today, we’re talking to Ann Handley, award-winning content marketing expert and Chief Content Officer (CCO) for MarketingProfs. Ann shares how she organizes her team, what’s she focusing on for the company, and how she measures effectiveness and success.
Eric: For 117 episodes, the Actionable Marketing Podcast has explored every nook and cranny it seems of the marketing industry. We've delved into the intricacies of marketing tactics and we've run on gas to unpack the latest trends. Above all else, we made sure it was a priority to always provide actionable advice that you can go to implement at your business organization right away and I'm excited to announce we will continue to do so in 2019 and far beyond. But as CoSchedule, the product, has evolved from a social sharing and editorial calendar to a much more robust marketing project management platform. I want the content of the show to evolve. What I'm going to do is once a month, I'm going to bring on a marketing director or marketing manager or VP or even a CMO, to talk through how they're approaching marketing in 2019.
I'll ask them questions like how are they managing and providing focus for their team, or how are they choosing which marketing tactics to use, or which content to create and furthermore, and lastly, how are they measuring growth, like what does success look like for them, what are the KPIs they're really honing in on this year.
It's going to be great and to do this, to start this trend, I have an awesome guest. When I say Ann, you say Handley. That's right, Ann Handley the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs is our guest this week. She's fantastic and I'm not going to talk to her as Ann Handley, the award-winning keynote presenter. I'm not going to talk to her as Ann Handley, the Wall Street Journal best-selling author. I'm going to talk to her as Ann Handley the CCO of MarketingProfs and figure out how she's organizing her team, what is she focusing on for the company this year, and how is she measuring it all. It's a great conversation, I can't wait to do so and introduce you to her.
I'm Eric, I'm the brand of buzz manager at CoSchedule and I can't wait to get this episode rocking and rolling. All right let's get amped!
Well everyone, you are in for a treat. I cannot wait to introduce my guests on the Actionable Marketing Podcast, Ann Hanley, the one and only. Ann, say hello to our listeners.
Ann: How is it going, Eric, and all the listeners out there in Eric's listener land?
Eric: Eric's listener land, I like that, I'm going to rebrand that. Well, I'm so happy to have you on the show and this is just a great treat. I'm excited to dive into our conversation today. I don't know if you remember, but I had the pleasure of meeting you in Minneapolis at Confab and CoSchedule had a booth, it was our first whirl as an exhibitor in any conference ever, and we had this large tower of donuts. I remember I was able to lure you over with the tower of donuts and get a photo shot. I don't know if you remember that but it was kind of a fun opportunity.
Ann: I do remember that. Actually, it's funny to even bring that up because I was talking about that the other day. I noticed you and I both go to a lot of events and very often I noticed that vendors who are on the show floor at events don't always take advantage of that opportunity, to be around people, to entice people over. Everybody's got the typical branding, the collateral, the scanner that they can scan people's badges, but you guys had donuts.
If you remember, I think I Instagrammed it.
Eric: You did and we went above and beyond. We actually did some research on the best doughnuts in the Minneapolis area and it was glammed allover to give them a shout-out and they were fantastic. Anyway, it was a fun chance to meet you. We had an opportunity to connect a couple times, and now, boom, full circle, here you are on the Actionable Marketing Podcast, so thanks again.
Ann: Full circle, like a donut.
Eric: Just like a donut. I'll have to work that into the intro somehow. Well, Ann, not that you need tons of an introduction but I would love – I think everyone knows Ann Handley, the superstar, the award winner content marketing expert. How did you end there? What's the quick journey that landed you where you're at today?
Ann: Super quick, I always wanted to be a writer. When I was eight years old, I wrote in my diary that I wanted to be a "writter" because I spelled it with two Ts. Even then I needed an editor as every writer does. I really came out of the writing and communication field. I went to school for journalism, because in my brain, that was the only way that I would be able to work as a writer. I never really thought of myself as being able to make a career as a novelist. But it turns out that I was actually a really terrible news reporter. I went to school, graduated, got a job in newspapers. It really wasn't my thing because in my heart I'm really more of a storyteller.
The idea of really crafting a story to connect with an audience really was my sweet spot. Pretty quickly, my editors moved me into features where I lived pretty happily for a number of years. But then the internet happened and I thought I know how to tell stories to attract an audience which is really what the internet was all about. I launched my first company ClickZ.com in 1997. Now, here we are like a lifetime later and I've now gone on to be an owner of MarketingProfs.
I write books. I still love using my content now to connect with audiences, and that's really what I've always been about.
Eric: Yeah, it's been fun to watch some of that journey. I know, I've been in the space for a while and just sort of seeing the great insights, content, and expertise that you've contributed to the marketing community. Thank you for all that, on behalf of all of us out there.
Ann: That's so generous, thank you.
Eric: Absolutely. Well, now you're the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and I want to take a different spin than a traditional interview with the Ann Handley. Obviously, we see you on stage. We hear your keynotes, they are always riveting, interesting, and above all funny. Everybody writes, it's a killer book, everyone on our product marketing team who does a copywriting here has read it.
But I want to I want to take a different angle. I want to talk about, Ann Handley the CCO of MarketingProfs. I want to hear about – what does it mean – I know MarketingProfs is doing shifting in some of the way in which they think, consult, and train marketers. I just really want to understand, how do you manage the team? How do you keep them focused? How do you grow content? Maybe to start, can we talk about – what is the CCO, what does it mean to be the CCO of MarketingProfs?
Ann: Yeah, so just a quick back story, I invented the title Chief Content Officer when I was at ClickZ. Because, I was a shareholder at ClickZ, I co-own the company along with my business partner at the time. But yet giving me a title that would come out of the journalism world, like editor in chief, for example, or managing editor, the person who manages content, like, what's the title for that person when the content is so important to what we do. I came up with this title, Chief Content Officer to put that function really at the management level, in the C-Suite, but also to reflect the fact that, I was a co-owner of the company. I wasn't just somebody who was hired to manage the blog, for example.
When I came to MarketingProfs in 2002, again, a long time ago, I brought that title with me, because I wanted to highlight the fact that content is essentially what we sell – it's what we do, it's what we're all about. MarketingProfs was founded by Allen Weiss, who is a professor at the Marshall school at the University of Southern California. Our roots have always been in education. Since 2002, we've always been about educating marketers, helping them figure out how do we use digital tools and digital tactics and techniques in the modern world, how do we help marketers level up their game.
Increasingly, you know this better than anybody, Eric, because you guys have built a business around this, in a world where every brand is a content marketer, which, by the way, is something that I really helped champion in the modern sense or in the modern world, like in more recent history. I really believe that, than what happens to a brand like ours, that was always about education. Now, we have all these competitors, like CoSchedule, right?
You guys are all about educating your marketers as well. Where does a company like MarketingProfs fit in? What we realized is that we needed to take it to the next level. In late September of this year, we really pivoted the company, and consolidated all of the education courses that we've always been doing since 2002, but we made it much more into an accessible framework and something that marketers could follow, packaged it much more as training and education for marketers in a more holistic sense.
This is the path you need to follow if you want to know how to adequately manage, get the strategy around, and manage your campaigns. We developed courses, and then took all of our existing content and figured out which fit in with that framework in which didn't. We're still in publishing, just like any other brand is, if you're online, you're a publisher, right? But we're also much more solidly around training and education, and we've really tried to bring that to the forefront. Because we feel like that's always been who we are.
Eric: Yeah and it's been great. I remember seeing that launch, the six elements of campaign marketing – strategy, plan, create , communicate, analyze, and management. I thought it was a great iteration, I think for you guys. We're all we're all content creators, but how do we make that really relevant and make sense for the consumer, for the marketer out there, that that's trying to be proficient, or learn their craft, or continue to learn their crafts and get better, that was fun to see.
With this new framework in mind, how do you decide then, as you help run this marketing team, which content do you create? And then how do you decide further which content do we promote? Which one, do we promote more than the other? Are you waiting to see which content hits and does great? Do you treat all content equally? What's your stance on that?
That's like about a seven-hour conversation. Buckle up, man, here we go. No, I mean, at a really high level, a lot of what I do as the Chief Content Officer is not so much touch the content anymore, not necessarily creating the content myself, but, really helping the people on my team identify what's important to marketers today, what do they need to know about, what, what elements of a particular contents technique or strategy or effort, what elements do marketers really need to know and what don't they need to know.
For example, things like account-based marketing, content marketing, metrics and analytics demand gen – all of those things are so important for marketers to be aware of. Those are things that are automatically in our arsenal. You wouldn't see something like Snapchat for marketers as part of it. Because to me, that's not necessarily – at least at this point, what marketers really need to know. I mean, there's elements of it that I'm sure that some marketers are all-in on, but that's not really who our audience is. Ultimately, it comes down to the question we're always answering is, what does our audience need to know, to be successful in marketing.
That's really the lens that we look through to identify what it is that we need to either develop or to promote. That's really how we come up with our editorial calendar for the year and that's how we produce and publish courses.
Eric: Yeah, I like that because that's the big challenge for a lot of marketing directors, VPs, CCOs, CMOs – is trying to keep your, your team focus. I think as a marketer, there are so many different avenues you can go down to create content around and trying to help provide focus is really important. It sounds like there's some larger buckets, I think that you were talking about demand gen, and account-based marketing, that they're kind of finding. Are there any other things that you do to kind of help them stay, as you break down this quarter-by-quarter. Is there kind of a game plan? How far out are you planning your content, for example?
Ann: We have a sort of loose schedule for the next year, right. For 2019, we have a pretty solid idea of what we're going to do for the next six months and I would say, we have a sort of vague idea of what we're going to be doing for the next year, in the sense that, we absolutely know what we're going to be publishing. When I say publishing now, I'm talking mostly about our courses. We don't have our newsletter, we have a newsletter that publishes three times a week, we don't have that mapped out that far ahead. That's more like on a six-week schedule. We know six months from now, what courses we're going to be publishing, because we have to start working on those, right.
We work with subject matter experts to help develop the courses and then we publish it through a regular cadence there, that's the way it works. In terms of, how do we actually do it, I mean, any consultant who's ever worked with us is always blown away by sort of how organized we are, because we need to be, we are a virtual team, right? I'm here in Boston, but I work with team members who are all over the all over the country—all over the US.
Having some sort of way to essentially see at a glance, what everybody's working on and where things are in production is super helpful. To sort of get a sense from a calendaring standpoint where things stand – super helpful. The other thing is that we spend an enormous amount of time. We have this philosophy here – when in doubt, cc. People get copied on everything, which sometimes seems crazy, but it's the way that we keep in touch, it's sort of what we need to do to keep a virtual team kind of on the same page.
Of course, we do regular team meetings as well. We try to get together in person at least once a year, just stuff like that. But I do think that, especially when you're leading in a virtual team, you have to be much more intentional about your communication style, because you don't get any of the ambient communication that you get if we're all in an office—you don't get any of that stuff. You've got to be very intentional about letting people know what's going on at all times. And, and just being very clear on – all right, here are our plans for the next X number of weeks, months, or whatever the product roadmap is, and here's the campaign around the promotion of that thing and so on.
Eric: Hello, I hope you're enjoying the conversation with, Ann Handley, the CCO of MarketingProfs, I'm just taking a quick pause because I have a favor to ask of all of you. It's 2019 and I want to know who you think I should bring on the show this year. I know you're out there working with a bunch of wicked smart marketers who have tons to share with this community and want to know who they are. If you can send me an email, it's simply email@example.com, let me know who they are, maybe it's you. I love to have you in the show. I hope to hear from you. All right, let's get back to Ann Handley.
The biggest challenge then becomes – how do I have visibility into what everyone's working on? How do I keep everyone organized in timelines, especially with a remote team? How do you find the best way to do that?
Ann: Yeah, it's mostly through a calendaring system – is how we do it through project management system that includes a calendaring function. It's not rocket science, but it does require dedication to maintaining that. I think that's where a lot of teams tend to fall down. A lot of teams, in my experience, and this isn't this isn't about MarketingProfs but it's more broad, I've noticed. A lot of teams will buy tools, they're so excited about it when they first have it. And then, it's like, when a family gets a new puppy and they're not ready for it. They're all excited about it like, "Oh, my God, we're getting a dog!" And then, six months later it's like, "What happened to the dog?" It's that kind of thing, where it's like "What happened to that software that was supposed to be so useful and helpful for us?"
We really are dedicated to making sure that that we really check all the boxes like in a literal sense, whenever we're – right up front, when we're vetting software, when we're buying it, and then we make sure that we use it because otherwise, it just falls apart. We've been this way for so long. We have never had an office since 2002. We've been 100% virtual and so it does take some dedication to having that kind of that communication at this point, I think it's just so embedded in me and everybody who's been here for so long. The other piece of it is that, we hire really well.
Eric: That helps, doesn't it?
Ann: Well, you've got to hire people who are autonomous enough to be able to work in this kind of environment. But secondly, who are sort of weirdly introverted enough, that they don't require being in an office and they're okay working on their own. We hire people who sort of value that autonomy but also kind of crave it. We have had some experiences in the past of hiring extroverts who kind of go crazy at MarketingProfs.
Eric: Trapped in their house with no one to talk to.
Ann: Yeah, it is true and to some degree, we've had people who have been successful in terms of working at coffee shops, you know, finding a work to work out of, but that only goes so far. I mean, I think there is a personality that really loves to be in an office environment and that's not the kind of person that's going to be successful at MarketingProfs, probably.
Eric: Good. Well, one of the things that I that I wanted to kind of maybe pivot from was, I think some great conversation around choosing content, keeping the team focused, keeping them organized – obviously, one thing is, we're all held to metrics, measurements, and goal setting, right. How at MarketingProfs are you measuring success, whether it be individual pieces of content. Is it the number of trainings or members? How do you go about measuring that and does that help indicate what type of additional content you should produce?
Ann: It's kind of tricky a question, because the metrics that we use for various training product is going to be very different than the metrics that we use for our three-times-a-week newsletter, right?
Eric: Let's talk about the newsletter. When you're sending that out, obviously, you're evaluating click-throughs. Are there any indicators – I was talking with Andy Crestodina and the reason I brought this up is – I was talking with Andy, and we were nerding out on metrics. We're talking about how – we had this really interesting philosophy around the inverse relationship between how easy a metric is to get and its value. The metrics that are really easy to find, don't really typically mean much, and the ones that are hard to get are the ones that mean the most. I'm always just curious about how CMOs, CCOs – how do you measure the success of certain pieces of content? What do success air quotes here, mean for you?
Ann: It's a really good question. I mean, first of all, it really cracks me up that you think of—I could just imagine you and Andy Crestodina have a geek-out conversation about metrics and analytics, that's really just the best.
I mean, there's a lot of ways that we are looking at the success of content products. Take the newsletter, for example, right? Things that I look at are open rates. I'm seeing what people are clicking on within a newsletter, like, click-through rates, and what seems to be driving the most interest. I'll tell you, Eric, I look at things that aggregate. It's much more valuable to me to look at the performance of a newsletter, which we also just re-launched at the end of September, for example.
It's much more valuable for me to look at the performance of that revised newsletter for six months than it is for me to look at it for six weeks. I don't get super granular with any individual piece of content. I really look at trends, because that's really my job. My job is to think more broadly about—are we really doing what we need to do? Are we serving our community the best that we possibly can? What are the indicators for me that we are doing that?
I look at things like—I don't necessarily look at open rates of individual newsletters, instead I'm looking at the overall trending topics that people are interested in. The way that I look at it—because I have one foot in content, and I have one foot in marketing. I co-lead marketing with one of my colleagues here, and I lead content 100% at MarketingProfs.
What are the trends that I'm seeing in content development through both the newsletter side of things? How does that inform along with what I'm saying in social? How does that inform the courses that we're putting together? How does that actually play out in terms of how we're marketing it? Who should we be talking to? Who are we serving?
I know that's kind of a vague answer, but because I look at trends over time, I don't have a great answer for a specific metric, that means the world to me. Because it's not, for me, it's not about one particular metric, it's really getting a sense of, the metrics that matter more holistically and more broadly, I guess that I would say.
Eric: No, that makes sense. I think you're right. I think sometimes you have to step back and look at things – how're things trending, instead of getting laser focused. I think there are different roles and responsibilities for everyone on a marketing team, and I think it's figuring how they all play together and orchestrate.
Ann: We have a director of marketing, so the reason I can't answer that question that way is because he's not looking at things that way. He's looking at the campaign performance, like, right down to a particular email and the time of day that we sent it. In a way, I have the luxury of having that 30,000 foot view, because I don't need to look at the individual metrics now. I could get him on this call right now and he would say, "Ann, you're totally, like, full of it," right, because this is how we need to think about the success of our marketing campaigns. These are the metrics that are most important to me. But that's why, so he gives me a report every month and we're good, right.
Eric: It's interesting, I think there's this natural – there are marketing artists and there are marketing scientists, and I think we kind of lean to one side or the other, right. I think it's interesting, that things that I think fascinate us and things that we particularly—attention and like you said, in this position you have, you know, someone is analyzing every single one of those
Speaking of newsletters, we talked about this, you mentioned that you just kind of re-launched one and I hope I'm not wrong here. But I've got a couple in my inbox, anarchy, is that right?
Ann: Total Anarchy, yes.
Eric: Total Anarchy, and I love it. You've taken a total fresh new look. I think I've always been – you have this really unique perspective, I think, first and foremost. But then also, you have, Ann Handley, the person, kind of your own brand and you also have, Anne Handley, CCO of MarketingProfs. And I think those worlds have kind of collided, you are almost are the brand, almost inseparable, which is I think a really unique thing. Would you mind just kind of sharing how that came about? How does that work on an everyday basis?
Ann: Well, first of all, thank you. I re-launched my personal website now annhanley.com in January of this year and re-launched my newsletter shortly thereafter. The newsletter that you described. The reason why I did that, in part was because I wanted to bring those two worlds closer together, a lot of people who have seen me on stage, speaking about content marketing, or just about marketing more broadly, or people who have read my books don't necessarily know the MarketingProfs side of me – right of my world. And yet, the same is true for the MarketingProfs folks. If you know me, through MarketingProfs, you may not have a sense of the other side.
The reason that I re-launched annhadley.com was again, to sort of bring that relationship more into focus and to align the two. The reason it wasn't into focus before is because –my own personal site just sort of grew up organically. Ten years ago or maybe 12 years ago, I guess at this point, blogging was new, and people were just launching blogs, just for fun. My own site was more or less like an afterthought. It was just a place that I sort of played around, I read about my kids and my family and my dogs, just stuff that I was doing, thoughts I had—they're more like personal essays. It was a lot of fun.
As I published books and I became much more sort of in the public eye, from a marketing standpoint, I realized that that site was basically under serving me. I redesigned it and re-launched it just as a way to again, to align my MarketingProfs world with the speaking and the writing that I do just more generally. It was a really interesting exercise because figuring out how do I fit into MarketingProfs and how does MarketingProfs fit into my life? If in a Venn diagram, like what's that conjoined area in the center there – it's an interesting exercise. I think what I came down to was that, MarketingProfs is all about marketing training and education. You can go there to learn about anything from, account-based marketing to email marketing to pretty much anything like, more broadly, anything under the marketing sun as a marketer. If you need to know it, it's probably on MarketingProfs. Whereas, that's not my expertise, I'm not an account based marketing guru, I don't even speak about that.
What am I all about? I'm all about content, I'm all about, especially writing is huge for me, that's sort of the place, and also marketing leadership. I talk to a lot of younger marketers, and I sort of mentor them, sort of, unofficially, just to really give that side of my personality, I guess, a home and at a place that anything that I put up my own site or anything that I publish in my newsletter probably would not go into MarketingProfs and vice-versa.
I mean, there's some overlap. There are some things that we publish on MarketingProfs that I do either promote or I link to in my own personal newsletter, because it makes sense for my audience. My audience there is a lot smaller, I mean, I've got like, 12,000 people on that list MarketingProfs has, I don't know, I think last time I checked, it was close to 600,000 people on that list. It's a vastly different sized universe as well.
Eric: Sure. Well, thanks for sharing on that, I think this is really interesting. I've been enjoying it, by the way. Feedback live here. Really, fun takes, I've always loved your style. Maybe to wrap up the interview, I cannot ask you a content related question. My viewers would kill me if I didn't. Maybe just, if you can, I know you've done a lot of keynotes and a lot of fresh thoughts and ideas around content. If there's just one, just one single piece of advice that you could give content creators out there to help their content stand out to be just ridiculously good as, as you like to say, what would that one piece of advice be?
Ann: Something that I've just been thinking about lately, a lot of this is based on my own personal experience, is to focus on your distribution strategy through your newsletter, which I know sounds like so old school. But so many brands are completely missing the boat when it comes to distributing really good content via email, which I think is a shame because, an email newsletter ultimately has an opportunity to connect directly with an individual. It arrives in their inbox, like you just said—I love your email newsletter. I get that a lot from people, I publish every other Sunday on my own my own personal newsletter.
I get, a ton of people who write back to me and directly just respond to the email and tell me a story, or they say, this really resonated with me. The reason that they do that is because my newsletter doesn't feel like a newsletter, it feels like a letter. It feels like it feels like me writing to you, Eric, or to somebody else who's on my list. That's exactly how I write it. You know, I think of one person who I sort of hold that person in my mind as I'm putting together that newsletter and that's the person who I write to. The reason I do that is because it keeps the newsletter conversational, it keeps it helpful, it keeps it focused on the person, and not on me, so it never becomes indulgent.
I think that's why that newsletter has been growing so steadily and it's done so well. That said, there's a lesson in that I think, for all companies, for all brands, like just look in your own inbox and once you start to notice this, it's just it's kind of outrageous to me in a way because I can count on one hand the number of newsletters that I think do the same thing from a brand perspective. This isn't rocket science but I don't understand why more companies aren't taking advantage of that opportunity to connect with people. It doesn't always have to be the newsletter, it's even sometimes just in a regular nurture campaign. I think the same is the same is true. There's a couple of brands that do it really well but for the most part not so much.
Eric: Fantastic advice and a great way I think to close the show. Ann, thank you so much for coming on and I think laying down a lot of knowledge bombs, which are always great from you, so many things that all the listeners can take away and put into practice. I appreciate the unique perspective and sharing a little bit about Marketing Props and your role there. I just find it really fascinating and I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
Ann: Thank you for giving me the opportunity, Eric. It's been nice to chat with you.