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Perfect Publishing: The Essential Guide to Creating an Editorial Calendar That Works

By Fergal Glynn
Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Today, every brand is a publisher, and that means managing a complex editorial process. Make it simpler with an editorial calendar.

Editorial calendar, content planner, content publishing schedule, whatever you want to call it, having a bird’s-eye view of your company’s content production and publishing plans, progress, and status is essential for maintaining sanity.

There are hundreds of guides with tips and strategies for developing an editorial calendar or content marketing planner, as well as dozens of editorial calendar templates that you can use, customize, and fill in the blanks to quickly get up and running with a clear plan of attack. 

Of course, all of that information is time-consuming to sift through if you’re not up to speed on the essential elements your editorial calendar should include or where to begin.

Done right, your editorial calendar will help you manage ideas, streamline content production and promotion, align content with key touch points along the buyer’s journey, and craft content that addresses key customer pain points while providing the fuel for marketing and sales to nurture prospects and turn leads into customers.

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Essential Editorial Calendar Elements

The most functional editorial calendars include only the information and metrics essential for your business, and no more. If you download several editorial calendar templates, you’ll find that they contain a few common elements along with other elements that are specific to each template.

If you choose to utilize an existing template, eliminate extraneous fields that you won’t use; they’re only a distraction.

Here’s a look at a few essential elements most businesses will use for an effective editorial calendar:

  • Title or topic: You may not have a finalized title for every piece of content that goes into production, but you should have a general topic or working title.
  • Format: If your company produces multiple content formats (as most do), defining the format for each content asset is a necessary field in your editorial calendar. Formats may range from blog posts to infographics, videos, white papers, ebooks, and more.
  • Product or service offering: If your company sells multiple products or services, aligning each content asset with the related offering in your editorial calendar results in more relevant content.
  • Purpose: Every content asset should have an underlying purpose, whether it’s to improve your website’s rank for specified keywords, address a key prospect pain point, provide sales with content that fills a gap, fuel a promotion, or achieve some other goal. Defining the purpose for every asset you put into production will guide your content creators to produce targeted content that achieves your objectives.
  • Channel: Where will each content asset live? While the purpose field covers this to some extent, it can be useful to specify which channel each content asset is intended for. A blog post that will live on your company’s blog may have a different tone, voice, or style than a blog post intended as a guest post.
  • Touch point: Similar to the purpose of your content assets, aligning an asset with a particular touch point along the buyer’s journey can provide key insights into the direction a content writer will go with a given topic. A white paper designed for the top of the funnel, for instance, will likely lean toward the more informational and unbiased, while a white paper targeting a touch point just prior to the close may be more persuasive and emphasize the key advantages of your product or service.
  • Word count: While a specific word count isn’t always necessary, it’s a good idea to provide a range, such as 500 to 700 words for short blog posts or 1,500 to 2,500 words for long-form posts, white papers, or other assets.

Other elements you might want to include in your editorial calendar:

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  • Keywords: If your objective is to improve website rankings or attract inbound links, specify target keywords or keyword groups in your editorial calendar. This enables you to reference target keywords and tie results to your content marketing initiatives.
  • Assigned to: Some companies use an editorial calendar to plan content but rely on an alternate tool to manage the content production process. In either case, it’s helpful to document writers and editors responsible for each content asset for historical analysis over time.
  • Due dates: For content in production, due dates for drafts, edits, revisions, and approvals are helpful for coordinated planning.
  • Status: Another helpful field for an editorial calendar is the asset’s current status. This is especially useful if you use the same calendar or tool to brainstorm ideas as well as plan content, as ideas that have not yet been approved can be labeled “idea,” assets in production labeled “in progress,” assets already produced and promoted labeled “promoted,” and so on. This field allows for quick reference and filtering when you’re looking for ideas or assets relevant to an upcoming promotion or event and also helps you get more traction out of ideas – rather than disappearing into the black hole of a months-old email thread, you can rediscover ideas you can use today that would have gone unutilized otherwise.
  • Promotion: For a fully integrated editorial management process, including promotion information in your editorial calendar brings everything together for a cohesive view of your content strategy as it evolves. At your fingertips, you’ll have all the information you need to create social media posts, forum messages, outreach campaigns, and everything required to carry out your promotion strategies for every content asset.

Related Article: Making the Invisible Visible: Content Marketing Amplification Tips

Strategies for Editorial Calendar Management 

Depending on the volume of content that your company produces, you might choose to have an editorial calendar dedicated to each distribution channel.

For instance, some companies manage separate editorial calendars for the company newsletter, another for social media, the company blog, website, and other content used for outreach purposes, guest posting, and the like. 

While this approach is functional for some, it poses some interesting challenges.

For example, determining what content exists presently that could be reformatted and repurposed as a sales pitch deck or a white paper proves cumbersome when you have to reference several spreadsheets (or even tabs within the same spreadsheet) and cross-reference several times to make connections between existing content and your goals, a single view of all content for not just your content and marketing teams, but for sales, as well, is one of the most effective workarounds for this common visibility issue.

For this reason, many editors and content managers prefer a system that provides a bird’s-eye view of the content library, upcoming marketing promotions, and content production schedule.

You can achieve this with Excel, using a series of tabs or spreadsheets, or with any number of content production or workflow tools, even standard project management tools prove useful for editorial planning for some companies.

It’s also helpful to establish a consistent workflow and align your editorial calendar with that workflow.

If you have a team of content creators who write drafts and editors who fact-check and fine-tune the final product, an approval checkpoint (such as clients or production managers, or other key stakeholders), designers who format and beautify your content with compelling graphics, content marketers who will carry out the promotion end, and other roles, build these roles into your editorial calendar with check points.

In other words, you’ll have fields indicating which writer and editor is assigned to a content asset, as well as an established workflow that requires writers to change the status on drafts as submitted, editors to finalized, etc.

This ensures that your entire content team is on the same page and anyone can quickly reference your editorial calendar to find out precisely where an asset is within the production process.

Finally, don’t neglect style guidelines. You might have several style guides for each content format, but providing content creators with an outline of all factors that should be consistent for all content assets in a particular format will save your content team hours of editing time later.

Once you find an editorial calendar system that works, a style guide field where you can link directly to the relevant style guide can reduce bottlenecks in your workflow.

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