Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Chief Content Officer?

Photo of journalist at typewriterWRITERS. As a trained journalist who currently provides freelance content-marketing support, I was pleased to see that “Training as a print or broadcast journalist” topped the list of the 11 key traits Ann Handley listed in her Marketing Profs article on “How to Hire a Chief Content Officer.” She notes that journalists are trained to tell a story, and their innate understanding of audiences gives them a more nuanced, outside perspective that marketers can sometimes lack.

Ann, who is chief content officer of Marketing Profs and co-author of the book “Content Rules,” says that finding a Chief Content Officer with the right combination of skills is important because “The person in charge of your content sets the tone for your site.”

If you think you might be interested in becoming a chief content officer, here are the 11 key traits Ann listed and described in her article:

1. Training as print or broadcast journalist

2. Nose for a story

3. Digital intuition (an understanding of how the Web works)

4. Business acumen

5. An amateur passion (e.g. you already produce content just for fun)

6. A community leader (connections with potential contributors)

7. Social DNA

8. An open mind

9. Knowledge of the industry (or not)

10. A winning personality

11. Editorial skills

Ann advises employers that “The key is to find people who understand and embrace the fundamental thesis of Content as Opportunity. Businesses now have both an imperative and the incentive to produce top-shelf content.”

A Wish List, Not a Checklist

In my opinion, the 11 traits Ann Handley describes in her article are right on the money. But these traits probably represent more of a wish list than a checklist. Realistically, it may be very difficult to find a single individual who excels in all 11 areas.

Ann acknowledges that some journalists aren’t interested in content-development work because they fear “selling out” or crossing over to the “dark side” (even if they might earn more money).

Frankly, I think there valid reasons why some journalists don’t regard content development as a viable choice, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

I have worked in a variety of settings: academia, non-profits, a NASA research center, an ad agency, an association, a publishing company, and privately held companies.

In terms of “content development,” working for a NASA Public Affairs Office was ideal. My mission was to find and write stories that would help assure taxpayers and Congressional budget-committee members that government funds were being used productively by the research center’s rocket scientists, aircraft-engine developers, and energy-technology engineers. I particularly loved writing stories about entrepreneurs who were using NASA technology to develop new products or start new businesses. (In fact, a NASA researcher first told me about an advanced networked-communications research project that has since evolved into the Internet.)

But truthfully, my most enjoyable jobs were at the ad agency and publishing company. That’s because in these jobs 1) I was working side-by-side with like-minded writers and creative pros; and 2) writing was part of the core business. The quality of the writing was part of what the publishing firm and ad agency were selling. Content development was never viewed as a questionable overhead expense that might easily get slashed whenever marketing gurus starting promoting the next big thing in marketing.

Why Journalists Might Not Jump at Content Jobs

In addition to feeling undervalued in a marketing-driven work culture, I can think of three other reasons journalists might shy away from seeking full-time content-development jobs:

Fear of repetitive work. In some companies, content development might simply involve writing and editing variations of the same story day after day. Journalists thrive on seeking stories that are fresh, unusual, or important.

Clashing motivations. Most writers don’t go into journalism for the money. In contrast to marketers who seek to make a difference on the company’s bottom line, journalists want to make a difference to our democracy, society, and understanding of a changing world. Working in a newsroom is comfortable because a journalist’s co-workers tend to share the same values and sense of purpose.

Bad experiences with marketers. In the pressroom at trade shows, journalists routinely share horror stories about less-than-positive experiences with marketers and PR representatives. While journalists were striving to earn credibility and the trust of their readers, some marketers have arrogantly tried to dictate how certain stories should be told. Threats to pull advertising from the journalist’s publication always made matters worse.

So, here’s my advice to journalists who might be considering a full-time career as a content developer:

Be selective about the opportunity. It won’t feel like you’re selling out if you genuinely believe in the company’s products, services, and core values. Plus, the company can’t benefit from your skills unless you are genuinely enthusiastic. Authenticity matters.

Understand how your content-development work will be reviewed, evaluated and measured. This will reveal a lot about the culture in which you will work.

Find out how your potential employer defines “quality content.” Ask for examples of the type of work they admire. This can tell you whether you would be a good fit for their organization and whether they are likely to be receptive to your ideas and recommendations.

So, yes, I agree with Ann Handley that corporate content-development positions can provide some terrific opportunities for trained journalists. And, I agree that the employer won’t get the full benefits of having a chief content officer unless they hire a person with the right traits and attitude.

In certain circumstances, an experienced journalist would make an excellent chief content officer. But it’s also important to understand why some journalists may choose not to embrace the thesis of Content as Opportunity.

In my opinion, it can be beneficial to hire journalists to consult with and train marketing staff and then balance content-development projects with other types of work. Some marketing departments get so wrapped up in meeting month-to-month goals they lose sight of other trends occurring in the world around them. So, a good journalist could not only develop content, but also report on emerging trends that might require a company to adjust future goals. Journalists are not only good at content development; some also excel at market research and analysis.

So, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? If you are a journalist who has had experience working on both sides of the fence, I would love to hear from you!


Marketing Profs Article:
How to Hire a Chief Content Officer: 11 Key Traits by Ann Handley

Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks and Webinars that
Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

Content Marketing Institute:
Chief Content Officer Job Description Sample Template: by Joe Pulizzi


Editorial Excellence Can Help Marketers Escape Content Chaos


How The Transformation of Publishing Might Affect The Careers of Creatives

WRITERS. DESIGNERS. At the inaugural Publishing Xchange Conference held in Washington, DC this week, some of the best and brightest analysts of the printing and publishing industries discussed some of the technologies that are totally transforming how content is delivered and consumed.  Their advice was intended primarily to help owners of traditional printing and publishing companies figure out how to revamp their business models.

Publishing Xchange ConferenceA lot of the advice given at the conference can also apply to creative professionals who sell writing, design, or photography services to publishers. You may want to adjust your own career objectives and business plans once you consider what the publishing landscape might look like two or three years from now.

A Quick Overview
Here’s what I learned in three different sessions: The consumer is king. Content is king. Data is king.

So which is it? Publishing’s future will probably be ruled by all three. Feedback and data supplied by consumers will dictate the type and quality of content that gets produced and delivered.

Most speakers agreed that the iPad is a real game-changer. Its full effects on printing and publishing are only beginning to be understood. For one thing, media tablets such as the iPad open up whole new ways for publishers and advertisers to engage with readers, measure their behavior, and deliver targeted advertising. Here are some of the other themes that emerged from the discussions.

The publishing universe is expanding very rapidly and in unpredictable directions. Today, anyone and everyone can publish, distribute, and monetize content. New groups of publishers include corporations (who once supplied most of the advertising revenue to magazine publishers) and authors (who supply the content from which book publishers earn their revenues).

The demand for content is growing. Smartphones and iPads have made the Internet portable. Because we are connected all the time everywhere we go, we expect instant and constant access to entertainment, news, educational material, social networks, product information, and advice that can help us make more informed choices.

 Print is not dead, but it will be regarded differently in the future. Books and magazines will be printed in shorter runs, with more visual content and higher quality paper. Printed pieces will be viewed as more permanent, physical objects. In cross-media marketing, various forms of printed communications will be used in coordination with digital tools.

More businesses are adopting data-driven cross-media marketing. Every individual has their own preference about how and when they want to be reached.  Cross-media marketing helps ensure that the right message reaches the right person through the right medium at the right moment when they’re ready to make a buying decision.

Data is becoming increasingly important. The quality and freshness of the data collected and stored will determine the cost-effectiveness of cross-media marketing. With the right data, marketers can reduce the overall volume of marketing materials that must be produced and distributed.

Magazine publishers and advertisers will use more sophisticated data analytics. Instead of simply measuring how many people are reading content, they will want data that tells them more about each individual who clicks on the content.

Businesses now realize that people visit sites for different reasons. The key is to determine which 10 to 15% of site visitors can be converted into paying customers.

Publishers who use Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite to produce magazines for the iPad and other tablet computers will be able to get a real-time picture of how readers are interacting with each story or ad in the publication. Advertising can be delivered based on the demographics and interests of the reader.

How publishers sell advertising will change. Publishers will no longer sell ad space. Instead, they might sell advertising based on the type of content that will be published.

Currently, ads must be reformatted from standard PDFs into a multitude of formats for tablets and smartphones. This is a challenge that Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite also helps address.

Over the next few years, publishers will continue to derive less of their income from print advertising. So, they will need to find supplementary or alternative sources of income. For example, the National Geographic Society produces TV programs, educational resources, DVDs, games, maps, travel guides, museum exhibits and much more.

Branding matters. Consumers will turn to the brands they trust to consistently provide the type of content they want. It doesn’t matter if the brand originated as a newspaper, magazine, book, or TV show, because the distinctions between media types are disappearing.

One dilemma that digital-content producers face is determining where to reset the boundaries between editorial content and advertising. To what extent can they integrate advertising into their content without losing the brand trust and loyalty of their readers?

The rules of the game are still being written. Technology is changing so quickly that printing and publishing may be in a permanent state of transition. Constant innovation will be required in terms of products, services, workflow, and business models. Consider this: Three of the most disruptive influences in the communications field (Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad) were all introduced within the last five years. We can’t even predict what new technologies might arise over the next five years.

New types of businesses will emerge from the chaos. Some publishers will continue to aggregate and distribute branded content. Others might set up systems that make it easier for individuals to publish and distribute their own content. Still other companies are making it easy for publishers in the U.S. to outsource routine digital-imaging and content-production tasks to companies in India or other nations.

Advice for Publishers and Print Providers
Here are some of the tips that were given to publishers and print-service providers. (And yes, some of it also applies to creative professionals who sell their services to publishers.)

  • Remain flexible.
  • Be willing to try new things.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail at some things.
  • Use data extensively (both for targeting your messaging and measuring what works).
  • If you find something that works, keep doing more of it.
  • Use your “artistic vision” to look for opportunities that others haven’t yet recognized.

Advice for Creatives
I’ll be following up with some of the outstanding, insightful analysts who spoke at the Publishing Xchange Conference to see if they have any tips to add to this list, but here are a few of my own thoughts:

Never stop learning. Printing and publishing companies will need staff employees and freelancers who are willing and able to continually learn new skills. Remain curious about the many different ways a new technology might be used.

Demonstrate your value to employers in a positive way. When creatives are perceived as being “difficult” or resistant to change, they risk being the first to be let go when a publisher decides to outsource more tasks to workers in other countries. The more you are viewed as a supportive and talented team player, the more likely it is that you will be reassigned to more challenging projects, or asked to help incorporate the next round of technological innovations.

Prepare to have your work more closely measured. If you don’t already publish a blog, start one. Blogging is a great way to learn the basics of analytics. You may experience an almost Pavlovian response after seeing those first encouraging spikes in traffic and favorable feedback to certain posts. Analytics can be weirdly motivating.

Devote chunks of your time to creating and marketing some personal projects. This can be a stress-relieving way to fulfill your need for self-expression and create work that reflects your vision and capabilities. But it can also make you appreciate some of the hard realities of developing a profitable business.

Where’s the Humanity?
At one point during an in-depth discussion of analytics, one brave soul stood up and asked: “Won’t all this emphasis on data inhibit creativity?”

Depending on the nature of your employer or client, an over-reliance on reader data might temporarily stifle some creativity (and limit the ability to reach out to new readers). But publishers and printers will constantly need to experiment with new ideas.

And, my well-honed editor’s “intuition” tells me that data analytics will only confirm what creatives already know: People want content that reflects and respects our humanity. Consumers will engage with content that inspires, surprises, delights, amuses, intrigues, tantalizes, entertains, persuades, clarifies, educates, or evokes joy or wonder.

If you can prove that you’re exceptionally good at storytelling, crafting powerful imagery, stirring emotional connections, or stimulating reader participation, then your talents will definitely be in demand.

Future posts on this blog will delve into these topics in more detail, calling attention to some of the remarkable speakers from organizations such as Outsell, InfoTrends, The Seybold Report, What They Think?, and the IDEAlliance + IPA.

Kudos to Publishing Xchange Chair David Zwang and Questex Media Group for pulling together such a thought-provoking conference.

Is Marketing Morphing Into Editorial?

WRITERS. Are the lines between marketing and editorial becoming increasingly blurred? That’s what PR Newswire suggests in this YouTube video:

Content: Marketing Morphing into Editorial

Marketing Is Content Cover
The YouTube video is based on a white paper that PR Newswire developed for clients and prospects.

The video was developed in conjunction with the PR Newswire white paper: “Marketing Is Content.” It features marketing experts who contend that content-marketing has become so important that many marketing departments are building their own “editorial departments.”

These departments are being staffed by editors, journalists, and writers who know how to tell good stories. (In fact: The video’s narrator even admits: “Editors, it turns out, have a long history of synthesizing what audiences really want, and fashioning content that informs, excites, or entertains them.” )

One expert interviewed in the video is Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Instittue, who observes that now that marketing departments are establishing editorial teams, “There is no difference between what a marketer does and what a publisher does. The only difference is how they make money.” 

Sure, there is some truth to that statement. But it seems to me that today’s most successful publishers are staying ahead of the curve by ramping up both the quantity and quality of the content they produce. They are then using this content to further build their own brands.

In the video, the marketing executives define compelling content as “storytelling with a purpose.” And while I would agree that everyone has a good story to tell, it’s important to remember that marketers and publishers have different purposes for developing good content.

For example: Publishers need to retain loyal readers while constantly pulling in new readers. They can do so by aggregating content and information from a richer variety of sources. Publishers can produce stories that offer a broader, more balanced perspective from which readers can make good decisions.  Plus, publishers earn credibility by addressing consumer concerns that a marketer might prefer not to publicly acknowledge.  Maintaining credibility will become more important than ever as publishers strive to get more revenue directly from communities of readers.  

Right now, the editorial goal of marketers is to replace “interruptive messaging” with engaging content that will open two-way communications between companies and their customers. The reason marketers want to develop high-quality content is to help them strengthen their brands and generate leads.  

Some marketers understand the concept of content marketing better than others. Some companies just can’t seem to take their sales hat off no matter what. So they end up producing content that is just slightly less annoying than an infomercial.

The companies that “get it” seem to have figured out something that editors and journalists have been trying to tell pushy advertisers and PR people for years: “Back off! Readers get sick of being constantly sold to everywhere they look. Many people would actually love your company more if you would simply help them find answers to questions that aren’t being clearly explained anywhere else.”  

As professional writers and editors, we should be encouraged that marketers are starting to understand that deeloping quality content is not easy. First it involves listening to customers/readers to find out the type of information audiences really want, then committing the time, talent and resources needed to effectively deliver that information.  

We shouldn’t regard writing for traditional publishers as our only option for building an economically viable career. Sure, writing for magazines and publishing companies can be fun. But not if you find yourself working for a stuck-in-the-past publisher that believes the only way they can succeed is to compromise their editorial integrity by submitting to the ill-conceived whims of some advertisers.

In my opinion: the key to building a satisfying writing career is to pursue opportunities with those enlightened companies (publishers or marketers) who genuinely respect the brand value that talented journalists can help them create.

It’s not difficult to see which companies really get it, and which ones don’t. Just look at the type of content they publish!


VIDEO: Content: Marketing Morphing Into Editorial

PR Newswire


Editorial Excellence Can Help Marketers Escape Content Chaos

Editorial Excellence Can Help Marketers Escape Content Chaos

Content Rules Book CoverWRITERS. A new book entitled “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business” could ultimately open up some fresh opportunities for freelance writers and other creative professionals.

The book was written by two experts in content marketing:  Ann Handley, chief content officer of and C.C. Handley, founder of

The basic premise of “Content Rules” is that publishing useful content is a good way for companies to build relationships with their customers.  As the book’s promo copy explains, “Today, you have an unprecedented opportunity to create a treasury of free, easy-to-use, almost infinitely customizable content that tells the story of your product and your business, and positions you as an expert people will want to do business with.”

However, because so many companies are jumping on the content-publishing bandwagon, content is rapidly becoming a commodity.

As consumers, we can all see some of the “content chaos” arising from the wider adoption of content marketing. Sure, some of this content can be very helpful. But so much of it seems semi-coherent, superficial, and self-serving. Few companies seem to take the time to consider what type of content their customers would find most enlightening.

In a webinar introducing their book, Handley and Chapman describe the phenomenon this way: “Content marketing is like sex in high school: Everyone claims they are doing it, but few are doing it well.”

They believe content marketing is worth the commitment, noting that “Killer content can earn attention, create trust, establish credibility and authority, and convert visitors and browsers into buyers.”

The book reinforces a fact that many stressed-out, overworked marketing pros have just begun to fully recognize:  Producing a steady stream of consistently good content can be more difficult and time-consuming than it looks.

According to a recent survey cited by Handley and Chapman in Content Rules, the biggest content marketing challenges are:

  • Producing engaging content (36%)
  • Producing enough content (21%)
  • Budget to produce content (20%)
  • Lack of C-level buy-in (11%)
  • Producing a variety of content (9%)

Thus, experienced writers and other creative professionals can offer to alleviate some of the burden. But this tactic will only work if you can suggest how you can help advance the most commonly identified organizational goals for content marketing:

  • Brand awareness (78%)
  • Consumer retention/awareness (69%)
  • Lead generation (63%)
  • Website traffic (55%)
  • Thought leadership (52%)
  • Sales (51%)
  • Lead nurturing (37%)

You might want to read the book, so you can see the type of advice Handley and Chapman are giving to marketing pros.  For example, they discuss the art of storytelling and science to journalism to develop content that people will care about. They also talk about the need to find an authentic voice and create the type of bold content that prospects and customers will want to share with others.   Readers of Content Rules can learn how to:

  • Define content-strategy goals.
  • Get to the meat of the message by using practical, common-sense language.
  • Integrate searchable words without sounding contrived.
  • Create a publishing schedule for creating different kinds and types of content at once.

To see content-marketing at its best, check out and subscribe to their Marketing Profs Today daily newletters. Even if you’re not a marketing pro yourself, you can get some practical tips that can either help you market yourself as a creative pro, or better understand what marketing professionals are trying to accomplish with various forms of communications.

In the online Marketing Profs University, you can listen to the free webinar that Handley and Chapman presented on Dec. 3, 2010.

Content Rules: How to Create the Right Kind of Content

You can replay the broadcast, listen to a podcast, or download the webinar slides and a list of answers to questions raised after the webinar.

The book is available for $11.99 as a Google eBook. Or, you can order a 242-page hardcopy version from,, or


“Content Rules”: Google e-book format

Hardcopy book