By Nettie Hartsock
For this edition, we turned to MarketingProf’s Chief Content Officer Ann Handley, co-founder and former editor of ClickZ.com. With almost 20 years experience as a business journalist, she has written and edited articles, newsletters and e-books on the subject of online marketing and advertising.
MarketingProfs.com is an online publishing company based in Los Angeles, California. MarketingProfs.com specializes in providing strategic marketing know-how to marketing professionals through articles and commentary.
During our interview, Ann shared her insight on writing and marketing white papers and the importance of keeping content fresh.
WhitePaperSource: Tell us about your background. You have a gamut of writing under your belt.
Handley: It’s true. I’ve written about everything from house fires to health club bathroom fixtures (high usage requires quality plumbing, you know), for everything from daily newspapers to B2B publications to the magazines placed in the pockets in front of your airplane seat. The advent of the Internet created a lot of opportunities for writers and editors. In 1997 I joined their ranks when I headed up content for ClickZ.com, and have never looked back.
WhitePaperSource: How does MarketingProfs help writers-specifically, white paper writers?
Handley: MarketingProfs is a marketing site that offers lots of how-to expertise for the marketing professional. We are a great resource for writers looking for advice on how to craft a white paper, how to structure it, what to include and how to use it as part of a marketing strategy.
Two recent examples are “Why White Papers Make for Great Marketing Collateral” and “Are White Papers Just for Technical Marketers?”
WhitePaperSource: What do you think are the most difficult things to juggle as a writer, and do you have tips for staying ahead of the competition?
Handley: In terms of staying ahead of the competition, there’s no magic formula. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, certainly.
WhitePaperSource: Can you expand on “keeping your eye” on the competition and specific ways to do that?
Handley: All I really mean is being aware of what other companies are up to, and in what direction they are growing. As for how-the usual: read the trade press, talk to people in the industry, attend conferences when time and budget allow.
WhitePaperSource: How can writers avoid getting dry and static in their content?
Handley: If it’s dry and static because you’re bored, find another way to put bread in your jar. If your writing style is dry and static, I’d suggest you think about the audience you are writing for. Best of all, picture one person in it. Create a persona, even. And then write directly to that person.
The goal of any piece of writing is to make it compelling and readable. Writing to a person-rather than a “market”-will make your writing more conversational and intimate, and therefore entirely more readable.
WhitePaperSource: What’s the biggest mistake white paper writers make?
Handley: Not investing enough time in producing a paper that’s informative and educational. It’s a big fat waste of time to produce something that no one wants to read.
WhitePaperSource: At WhitePaperSource we’re often talking about editing and over-editing. Do you have processes or advice in regard to editing? Do you feel it’s important for writers to have an editor or second pair of eyes for their pieces?
Handley: My mantra-which I repeat often-is this: Every writer needs an editor. That’s true for the best writers I know, as well as the worst. What’s more, there are people who make good writers, and then there are people who make good editors. You’ll often find people-take me, for example-working as both, and the two are often lumped together in job descriptions. But in my mind they are actually distinct trades that require specific skills.
A really good editor will improve the author’s copy without injecting his or her own style or “voice.” That’s not as easy to do as it might sound, because the temptation for anyone-especially a true writer working as an editor-is to “fix” any piece of writing to match his or her own voice. I get around that by hiring really good editors to back me up-smart people who are much better at what they do than I am. I have learned a lot from them.
WhitePaperSource: Do you have any tips for folks on interviewing? What processes have you used successfully to garner good content?
Handley: Google them to discover the wackiest thing you can about them, and throw in a question about it. At the very least, it always adds a little color.
WhitePaperSource: How do writers make certain to write marketing pieces that educate the reader? Is that important in your estimation?
Handley: Our goal is always to educate the reader. So yes-it’s critical. After all, if you aren’t writing to an audience, who are you writing to? What’s the point of writing at all?
A writer maintains far more credibility if he or she avoids puffery and self-promotion and simply educates the reader. Some writers have expressed concern that they are giving away their secrets, but as wisdom tells us, the generous are always repaid.
WhitePaperSource: How should writers or companies integrate their white papers as part of their marketing strategy?
Handley: As MarketingProfs author Manoj Aravindakshan points out in an article I ran this past July, white papers make excellent content. Really good white papers are an excellent platform from which to generate awareness about a product or service or a company itself. For example, think about posting white papers on your website, distributing them to potential or existing partners or customers, or partnering with other sites to distribute them as well. The ability to treat a subject with some depth, and the perception of objectivity, works in favor of a white paper.
As Manoj wrote, “A white paper is treated as content and not advertising. Editors are most likely to include quotes from white papers; you can bet they don’t write about ads.”
Of course, the key is in producing a white paper that’s worth reading-and not just full of fluff and jargon.
WhitePaperSource: And finally, if you could give three pieces of advice to a writer about writing, what would it be?
Handley: Know your audience, work with editors who are smarter than you are and finally, lighten up. Work with a sense of humor!
DISCUSSION: Discuss this topic at the WhitePaperSource forum.