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How to Create an Editorial Calendar

Editorial CalendarMost magazines (print and online) publish an editorial calendar – a detailed summary of the cover story, feature stories or overall focus of each issue. Weeklies, dailies and quarterlies all provide an incredible amount of detail as far as a year in advance about what they plan to cover in future issues.

The editorial calendar is primarily a vehicle to help the publishing staff of these publications to sell ad space for future issues, since brands are most likely to advertise in an issue that focuses on a topic its core audiences will be most interest in. Over the years, editorial calendars for magazines have also been useful resources for clever PR professionals – useful guides to targeting PR opportunities for clients around major coverage areas. Most major PR software vendors now incorporate publication editorial calendars into their products, further simplifying the process of targeting PR opportunities based on what publications are writing about.

While I could write an entire post on how to use editorial calendars to increase your PR opportunities (I probably will do a follow-up post on that topic if there’s interest), the focus of this post is how to create your own editorial calendar for your owned media and social channels.

In the past, you may have published a company newsletter on a regular basis, but there was little need to produce a formal editorial calendar for this single publication. Today, you most likely have email newsletters, white papers, a company blog, and a half dozen social media accounts that need content on a regular basis. If your organization has expanded its communication channels like most, an editorial calendar is a great way to plan all the content you will produce throughout the year – and to think through how to repurpose content across multiple channels to get more out of your efforts.

While your editorial calendar may include content for content marketing, real-time marketing, social media, inbound marketing, marketing communications, blogs and more, we’ll simply refer to it as your editorial calendar for the purpose of this post. Here are some suggestions for building your editorial calendar – to help you better manage all the content you need to produce throughout the year.

Find a Central Place to Host Your Calendar

If you work for a small organization, a simple shared spreadsheet (I recommend Google Docs) is a great option for where your editorial calendar should live. Evernote, your intranet or Google Calendar are other good options. If you’re fortunate enough to have a social media platform like Spredfast in-house, you can also plan your content through this type of tool. Regardless of the tool you use to manage your calendar, it should be in a shareable, updatable format where multiple team members can add/edit entries in real-time.

Decide on the Different Communications You Will Plan On The Calendar

Most organizations have a press release calendar, a schedule of marketing content to develop, a calendar of social media updates, and several other independent documents they share between different teams and agency resources. I’m not a big fan of multiple calendars. Do yourself a favor and have one calendar for all forms of communication your team manages. Even if your marketing, social media and PR teams operate independently, you should all have shared visibility into what the others are publishing (and vice-versa). You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen different departments working on the same topic without the others knowing – it’s an unnecessary duplication of effort.

Organize your calendar by each place you will ultimately publish the content to (e.g. website resources section, newsroom, blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.). If you publish a lot of content to these channels, consider creating a separate tab in your spreadsheet for each outlet (or a different color code if you’re using the Google Calendar option).

Determine Your Publishing Frequency

For each outlet managed via your calendar, determine your publishing frequency. For example, you might want to publish five tweets per day on Twitter, but only one video per month to YouTube. Similarly, you might distribute two press releases a month, but only publish one white paper per quarter. Organize your calendar based on your publishing frequency and begin the content planning process from there.

Determine Themes for Your Content

Rather than having 100 different topics you plan to write about across all your outlets, simplify the effort by picking five primary categories or topic groupings you need to be posting about on a regular basis. This might be each of the products and services you offer, or it might be for each of your authors, or it might be around specific issues or topics of importance to your core audience groups. Work to incorporate these categories across each of your channels to achieve balance and harmony across your outlets. You can vary the order of your categories across channel, so that you might be blogging about category A this week, while tweeting about category B and posting a video about category C. This approach is highly effective at spreading your content out and providing variety, while sticking to a long-term strategy. Of course, you could also decide that each month you will focus on a different category – it’s up to you to figure out what mix best suits your audience.

Assign the Work With Deadlines

I’ll assume you know who your authors will be for all the types of communications you will produce. Some authors may be a specific team (e.g. the PR team writes the press releases), while others may be specific individuals in the company. It’s incredibly helpful to assign content responsibilities in the calendar, so everyone can see the big picture for how their contributions effect the overall publishing effort of your company. This approach also uses peer collaboration (and peer pressure) to force action across your team. Nobody wants to be the team member that misses their deadline and leaves the blog without a post this week.

Determine Your Production Turnaround

Tweets may only take a few hours (or minutes) to write, while white papers will take a few weeks. You need to take lead times into consideration when planning the calendar. Consider putting “start work” dates on the calendar – or breaking the project down into individual assignments (e.g. outline of white paper is due week one, first draft week two, final draft week three, etc.).

Make It Easy On Your Team

Include any supporting information you can in the calendar, such as links to research that supports the topic, contact information for interview sources, or keywords or hashtags that should be used when writing each deliverable. The more information you can provide in the calendar, the easier it will be for your content production resources to finish the work on deadline (and you’ll foster an environment of collaboration – as other team members may pile on with additional resources and suggestions).

Don’t Forget Visuals

Most PDF documents will need some graphic design love before they’re published. Be sure to include this as a stage in the process (and be sure to include your creative team on the editorial calendar list). For blog posts, you may include a link or a reference to a preferred image or graphic to accompany the post. The more you can do to help your team find and leverage visuals for their content, the better your chances of having great-looking content.

Don’t Forget Promotion and Cross-Promotion

If you publish a blog post, you’ll want to tweet a link via Twitter or pin an image from the post to Pinterest. You might want to write a three-paragraph summary about your new white paper on the blog, to let people know you’ve published a new one and to help them find it. For each topic on your editorial calendar, think about ways your other team members can help to promote or cross-promote that content through your other channels (or through external channels).

Don’t Forget The Purpose of Your Content

If you’re using your content for lead generation, you’ll probably want to include your SEO or direct marketing team members in the calendar planning. These professionals can advise on content optimization and ensuring you have the right calls-to-action built into the content to produce greater conversion. Similarly, if your content is designed to generate brand awareness, you’ll want to loop in your PR team – who might be able to leverage other channels or tactics to drive more attention to your content (as mentioned above).

Use Magazine Editorial Calendars for Inspiration

Running low on topic ideas? Take a look at the editorial calendars for your industry trade publications. Better yet, look at the topics those publications have published over the course of the last six months. Take note of the categories the publication uses to organize its features and special sections – you should find more than enough inspiration to get you back on track with the planning process.

Conclusion

There are many different approaches to developing an editorial calendar. These tips should help you get started, but you’ll ultimately land on a format that works best for the way your teams work. Please feel free to share your tips and suggestions for building editorial calendars – and be sure to reference samples or templates that you’ve found helpful. As always, thanks for reading.

What do you think? What tips would you add regarding how to build an editorial calendar? Have you found an approach that works well for your organization or team? Please share in the comments below.

(Image Credit: Business Calendar & Schedule via photosteve101 / Flickr)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • Jason Ferster

    This is incredibly helpful. Thank you for the straightforward nuts-and-bolts guidance. Appreciate it!

  • http://lifetrac.ca Robyn

    Love this post. I’m interested to see a follow-up post about using editorial calendars to increase PR opportunities.

  • Melody Kurth

    There are some really great tips in here, I am interested in a follow-up post about an editorial calendar for PR. I really like the idea of having a centralized, all-access, calendar for everyone to refer too. Color coding social media efforts is another tactic that I am going to start doing. Thank you for writing these tips for editorial calendars. I do have some questions, how long does it take to create one of these calendars and how often do schedules change because company objectives change? Thanks!