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Q&A with Sarah Mitchell: the writing effectiveness trailblazer

Meet Sarah, the brains behind an insightful report dissecting writing effectiveness. She “rants” about thought leaders and explains how a Perth brewery changed her life.

As a person, Sarah is a ripper. By her admission, she’s a writer at heart and an editor by nature, and she’s a gun at both. 

 

One of my favourite things about Sarah is the fact she’s like a dog with a bone  when it comes to developing content strategies that intersect business goals and consumer expectations. To say she’s passionate about strategy is an understatement – she once mentioned it 36 times in a half-hour podcast! 

 

Most recently, Sarah launched a global survey into writing effectiveness to uncover where businesses are winning, falling down, and can improve. It’s worth a read. (As an aside, I was staggered by how few people value search.)

 

In addition to running her business Typeset, she’s the Australian Consulting Editor for the Content Marketing Institute and a judge at the Content Marketing Awards (and a past winner, too).

What do you do?

Sarah - no doubt - espousing the importance of strategy.

In a nutshell, I’m a writer and an editor. I’m the co-founder of Typeset, an editorial services company based in Perth. My business partner, Dan Hatch, works in London and our proofreader works in Kansas City, USA. It’s a fabulous time to own a business because location is no longer a barrier to developing a great team.

 

I’ve worked in content marketing since 1996 and focus on content marketing strategy. I love how content marketing gives you so many avenues for creativity and I enjoy blogging, podcasting and, most recently, research.

Tell us about the ‘State of Writing 2020’ report

I’d been looking for data on writing effectiveness and hadn’t had much luck. As a business owner, I’m interested in what’s necessary to provide a return on my writing investment. I wanted some sort of evidence that if I do certain things, I’m going to get a better result – for me and for my customers.

 

I couldn’t find what I was looking for so I decided to do my own research. When Michele Linn from Mantis Research suggested we could partner on the project, I was super excited because I wanted to make sure the whole thing was done in a credible, professional way.

 

We released the research findings in February. The report compares the differences between business communicators who say their writing is extremely/very effective and those who are experiencing moderate effectiveness.

 

I was surprised to learn that 76% of communicators know what successful writing looks like, but less than half say they’re successful. Here are three other findings that stopped us in our tracks:

State of writing 2020 survey

What mantra are you living by this year?

Make the world a better place for readers everywhere.

 

If you write, it’s with the assumption someone will read your work, right? It’s crucial to keep the audience in mind with anything we’re writing. I’m doing as much as I can to help other business communicators do the same through creating strategies, facilitating writing workshops, providing editorial services and producing research.

What’s the most important thing marketers can do to drive commercial outcomes?

Align marketing objectives with business goals! It’s the first part of any strategy and the thing most often missed when marketers go straight to tactics.

 

The second part of this is to measure and report success based on achieving those business goals. It’s easy for marketers to get focused on activity metrics like website traffic and social engagement. If you want a commercial outcome, you have to measure how marketing impacts business goals and that’s a lot harder to show.

Everybody writes book by Anna Handley

What’s a cracking book you’d recommend or podcast you swear by?

I love Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. I was given a copy when I attended the MarketingProfs B2B Forum and had no intention of reading it.

 

The flight entertainment system went down on my return from the USA and it was the only book I had with me. I devoured it. It’s a wonderful read whether you’re a novice writer or someone like me who writes every day.

Who are your go-to thought leaders, and why?

Okay, now you’re making me grumpy. I have a problem with the term because everyone and their second cousin claims to be a thought leader. When everyone is a thought leader, no one is a thought leader. [Rant over.]

I know what you’re getting at though. We live in an amazing era when so many people willingly make themselves available and provide so much free insight. For content marketing, I’m always interested in what Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute is saying and doing, especially as it relates to strategy. Doug Kessler from Velocity Partners is an amazingly talented B2B marketer. I love his newsletter. And Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media Studios is my go-to person for anything to do with search and SEO.

The start of an Australian love story. And without doubt, the best chips in Perth.

Our favourite qu: What’s your top beer or wine recommendation?

I live in Fremantle, so the only answer is Little Creatures Pale Ale. The first time I ever drank it was in 2002 when my husband and I were here on holiday. We didn’t know it at the time, but the decisions we made at the brewery that night would change our whole life.

 

We canceled our holiday and three weeks later we were resident in Australia. In 2007 we became Australian citizens. How good is that beer?