Asking for a Friend

Annotated marketing career advice (with the occasional pun)

November 27, 2019

Annotated marketing career advice (with the occasional pun)

Laid low with content creator withdrawal symptoms? Struggling to keep up with the supersonic schedule of blog posts you’ve committed to? Paranoid about putting your people in the spotlight? Fear not. There’s a space where content marketers can safely and anonymously unload their angst. It’s known as Asking for a Friend – and it’s the exclusive advice column that Ann Handley writes for The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly.  

Ann is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Everybody Writes, the Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs and one of the pioneers of content marketing as we know it today. All of which means there’s no shoulder more suitable for frustrated content marketers to cry, on now and then. In each issue of our quarterly magazine for B2B marketers, by B2B marketers, she fields the frustrations you’re feeling – and comes up with straight-talking solutions.

Ahead of each issue of the magazine, we invite marketers to submit their most pressing dilemmas to Ann via the LinkedIn Marketing Showcase Page – and to preserve their blushes, we encourage them to “ask for a friend.” Straight from the pages of our latest issue, here are Ann’s answers to the issues confronting those hypothetical, maybe ever-so-slightly fictitious marketing acquaintances. Sound advice whether you’re passing it on – or keeping it for yourself:

No Man’s Brand

Shine Bright Like a Diamond asks (for a friend): Should B2B brands create content that puts their employees in the spotlight?

Dear Shiny & Bright

Heck yes and heck yes! Shining a spotlight on the actual voices of your actual employees is important for a whole host of reasons.

We live in a post-perfectly-polished world: Your customers and would-be employees don’t believe your stock-photo’d, photoshopped, perfect content. It’s far more valuable that they see your company as real.

Only 3% of employees share content about their company, but those shares are responsible for driving a 30% increase in the total engagement a company sees. Collectively, employees’ networks are, on average, 10x larger than a company’s, and people are more likely to engage with content when it comes from someone they know: It’s seen as 3x more authentic, and the clickthrough rate is 2x higher.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, though: What happens when those content-creating, social-media-sharing employees move on to other jobs. in other companies... taking all that brand goodwill with them? That’s a terrifying thought.

Or is it? What’s the real risk to you or your brand? And isn’t the upside far greater...? To be known as a brand that generously, fearlessly trusts and celebrates its employees? As a business that’s happy to be the sum of its people?

Grow Shawty

Growing Pains asks (for a friend): What’s your advice for content marketers looking to grow their career

while still creating content?

Dear Painful

The further you go up the corporate ladder, the less time you spend touching things. So be more intentional: Keep creating anyway.

Guard some piece of content like a dog guards her dish: This is mine, mine mine... and no one can take it from me! Create for the fun of it. Create because you want to. Create even if it doesn’t have a clear business goal, because it’ll feed your soul.

“Fun” is exactly why I started my own newsletter. It’s exactly why I still maintain the MarketingProfs Twitter account. Writers, designers, or content creators need a way to actively refuel our creativity. Otherwise, our creative juices will seize up and atrophy.

Fast Tense

Speed Demon asks (for a friend): How can you manage your content team to work and publish at high speeds but keep the quality?

Dear Speedy

I’d challenge the idea that speed is your best approach. Throttle back to produce (near-)uncompromising quality. The world doesn’t need more content; we need better content.

That said, I’m realistic. You’re realistic. You can’t spend six months handcrafting an artisanal blog post. So here’s my two-part prescription:

·       Commit to quality. This is non-negotiable.

·       Slow down your story-telling. Conceive of and craft a leadership-backed content asset that is flexible enough to be released over time to various audiences. Slow down the way you tell its story so that it’s stretched out over time, rather than delivered all at once.

Let’s say you conduct some important research. Instead of releasing one report, that research becomes the basis for countless content marketing assets, making it feel more vibrant and tangible: a series of video posts or Instagram stories highlighting key findings, an eight-week podcast show, or voice-enabled Fact-of-the-Day flash briefings on Alexa or Google Home.

Give it a go. Revel in the high-fives. And let me know how high up you get promoted.

Let There Be Write

Write Sweats asks (for a friend): What tips do you have for finding and evaluating solid writing talent, either full-time or freelance?

Dear Sweaty

Finding writing talent can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Or finding a unicorn in a forest. Or finding Nemo.

There are roughly five places where writers congregate: freelancer job boards, agencies, freelancer marketplaces that match writers with jobs, content marketing platforms that sometimes provide a one-stop shop for editorial services, social media and publishing platforms like LinkedIn, and internally, in the shape of your own company’s subject matter experts.

The challenge is then ID-ing the best writers. Here’s what I do:

·       Stalk socially. What kind of things do they share online? And how do they frame them? Writing is thinking. Look for people who demonstrate higher-level thinking.

·       Solicit clips and bylines, but pay special attention to the ones a writer writes for their own blog or posts on LinkedIn. Those are the places where an editor likely isn’t polishing the writing.

·       Share clips with others internally to get feedback, especially with subject-matter experts. And speaking of internal experts...

·       Nurture internal contributors, because they might be your best source of expertise. The best writers aren’t those with the sharpest grammar skills; they’re the ones with the most knowledge.

Choose one or two internal subject-matter experts willing to share their ideas and expertise. Work with them to turn their writing from company-centric to audience-centric. (A good first step is to buy them a copy of Everybody Writes!)

Get more Ann-tastic B2B marketing advice in her must-read fortnightly newsletter, which you can sign up for at

You’ll find lots more irreverent, heartfelt insight in the latest issue of The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly, from which this column comes. Give yourself a different perspective on B2B marketing and read online now.