Laying the Groundwork: How to Build an Editorial Calendar
A new client had a confession.
They had tried — oh, how they had tried — to create their own content marketing effort. They built a blog on their website, brainstormed content ideas, assigned authors to topics, and made a schedule. Things seemed to be going nicely. But then, well…
“We just couldn’t stay on schedule,” they told us.
We get it. In fact, many companies that launch their own content marketing effort fail for this very reason.
Like your morning workout, creating and keeping an editorial calendar is tempting to blow off, but you’ll pay for it if you do. You’ll fall hopelessly behind. You'll rush to publish and distribute things half-done, undermining the very purpose of your efforts. Some planned content will simply never be completed. Your publishing schedule will become erratic - and, eventually, as other priorities beckon, you’ll start publishing unplanned, random content, those ideas that come up as the brainchild of the CEO or some executive in a meeting that you just don’t bother saying no to because you don’t even remember that you have an editorial calendar.
And then you’ll get the last thing you want: a “blog” with a handful of randomly scattered posts (and none in the last six months); a “resource” section with one case study and nothing else; or worst of all, the dreaded empty web page that just says “Content Coming Soon.” (Yeah, right.)
And that’s a big problem, because evidence of halting (and ultimately halted) content efforts reflects poorly upon your ability to follow through on your own priorities. And who wants to do business with a company like that?
So how do you create a good editorial calendar?
First, don’t even attempt a calendar until your content planning process is complete (or at least nearly so), you’ve decided on your messages, themes, and topics, and you’ve identified the resources (in-house or outside) who will help you get things done.
But if you are ready, a calendar is actually easier to build than you might think. Follow these steps:
1. Decide how often you will publish
Every situation is different, but most businesses find that for a blog, a weekly or twice-monthly publishing schedule is sufficient. More ambitious types of content, like an eBook or white paper, might be best suited for quarterly or biannual publication. Frequency and content type will depend on your company, audience, goals, and your budget.
2. Assign an author to each piece
It’s important to do this before you start assigning deadlines to your authors and SMEs, so you can spread the workload evenly throughout the months. Remember that your colleagues are already busy with their regular jobs; your content marketing effort, from their point of view, is just one more thing on their to-do lists. A solid freelancer or a reputable content marketing firm can be a lifesaver in the area of content creation (and marketing). Have them ghostwrite for your overtaxed staffers to create solid content and establish your company as a thought leader at the same time.
3. Assign publication dates to your content
Publish regularly, and be mindful of holidays (but resist the temptation to just go dark during busy times, vacation season, or the weeks between the holidays).
Now you have the basic framework of an editorial calendar. The harder part, however, comes next. Content doesn’t just leap from your subject matter expert’s (SME) brain to your website. So…
4. Make a list
Note down all the things that need to happen to get that piece of content published after you’ve assigned it to an author or SME. If you’re writing it in-house, those steps include research, writing time, editing/review, proofreading, and publishing. You’ll need to make room in your calendar for all those things to happen.
5. Work backward from your publication date
Assign deadlines for each step along the way. Have a look at the blog schedule below, taken from one of our own clients. The SME names have been changed but the dates are real.
There are a couple of important things to take note of here: research and outline. Both are critical and shouldn’t be overlooked. First, we don’t include research in the calendar because it happens before the outline is due from your SME. But you’ll want to make sure that your SME has enough time to do that research (or just to do some hard thinking) before the outline is due. If you’re planning to hire a writer to conduct research independently, without SME input, then the outline should come from the writer. If the SME is doing the writing, an outline should be mandatory because writing is not likely his or her day job, and you may want to offer feedback. The outline is crucial if your SME will be interviewed by a ghostwriter because it serves as the basis for that interview and for the writer’s first draft.
Next, note the length of time it takes to get a good blog post completed and published. Two months, as in this case, may surprise you, but it’s really not unusual, given all the steps involved in creating a high-quality piece.
However, that means that things will be happening for more than one post simultaneously. In this case, I’ll be getting drafts from writers weekly through March. One reason schedules are hard to stick to is because things start stacking on top of one another quickly. It’s vital to stay on top of your schedule.
How to keep track of it all
Keep your calendar somewhere that’s easy to update and available for all parties to see. A dedicated Google calendar that you can share with your colleagues might work just fine. Other options include DivvyHQ, Basecamp, and Asana, all of which have pretty sophisticated project management tools as well as simple calendar functions. There are plenty more.
Whatever you use, use something. Don’t try to keep it all in your head or in some spreadsheet sitting on your hard drive. You’ll need to update the calendar regularly - and when you do, everyone will need to see those updates.
The table above reflects a blog schedule. You’ll follow similar steps for lengthier pieces like eBooks or white papers, but those bigger items require more time for research, writing, and editing, and you’ll probably want to have such items professionally designed, adding still more time.
What other types of pieces go into your editorial calendar? As many as possible, if you don’t want to lose track of anything. Consider including social media updates, videos, case studies, infographics, company news or press releases, product launches, checklists, and even your next content marketing plan.
As noted, creating a schedule is not very hard. You’re just putting steps into a calendar. The hard part is knowing what those steps are, knowing how much time to allow for each one, and then following it.
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