The Dirt on Editorial Calendars

Melissa Rach

The world loves a scandal. And there was never more satisfying scuttlebutt than that surrounding the gossip-mongers at News of the World. While the rest of the world is giggling over the guy who tried to “pie” Rupert Murdoch, I have been writing this blog and imagining what was on the News of the World’s editorial calendar. From the scenarios I’ve read, it might have looked something like this:

(click image to enlarge)

Of course, editorial calendars are not just for questionable news organizations. They can also be a valuable tool for perfectly reputable organizations who want to manage content-related activities effectively. So, here’s the skinny on making an ed cal that works for you.

Calendaring: It's Not as Easy As You Think

Editorial calendars seem easy enough. There are plenty of calendaring tools and templates online, free to anyone. You put some stuff into a spreadsheet or app and you’ve got a calendar (fancy color-coding optional). Easy-peasy, right?

Unfortunately, the chances of somebody else’s calendar template being exactly what you need are slim-to-none. So, before you go searching online, take a minute to focus your efforts.

Start by Defining a Purpose

It sounds like common sense, but the first step toward a successful editorial calendar is defining why you’re creating it. The purpose for your calendar may be a variation on one or more of these common themes (get as specific as possible):

  • Improve content quality or relevance
  • Integrate content across various channels/brands/business units
  • Fulfill user needs (by profile, lifecycle, or topics of interest)
  • Align content with business goals/campaigns/events
  • Measure/record content success or value
  • Allocate resources (human and budgetary) or justify resource needs
  • Manage all content creation/curation/maintenance activities

When identifying purpose, don’t forget to think about:

  • Who is going to use the calendar and why?
  • How will it be shared/used?
  • Who is going to maintain the calendar?
  • How often will it be updated/shared?
  • How will you know if the calendar is working?

Pick and Prioritize Calendar Variables

Once you know the purpose, you can start choosing what to include on your calendar. There are literally hundreds of content-related variables that could be tracked on an editorial calendar.

List all of the variables/data points you think are relevant to your calendar, then rank them in priority order. It’s tempting to include every tidbit of information you have, but in this case, less is usually more. Focus your calendar on the top priorities, and consider eliminating the bottom priorities to make your calendar easy to use and maintain.

For example, let’s say you work for an organization that provides services to elementary school teachers. You might consider including the following variables (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll only include 10):

  • Date (e.g., May 14)
  • Channel (e.g., website, print newsletter, Twitter)
  • Content element (e.g., home page article, newsletter sidebar, video)
  • Teacher profiles (e.g., new teacher, kindergarten teacher)
  • Teachers’ events (e.g., National Teachers Association Convention)
  • Holidays and seasons (e.g., Christmas, autumn)
  • Hot topics (e.g., student testing, school security)
  • Content creator (e.g., web editor, Sue in marketing, third-party provider)
  • Content workflow step (e.g., schedule interviews, get outline approved, create content)
  • Budget (e.g., $5000)

Depending on your priorities, your calendar will vary. If the purpose of your calendar was to integrate all channels around user hot topics, your calendar might look like this:

(click image to enlarge)

Alternatively, if your calendar was mostly intended to manage resources and budgets, it might look like this:

(click image to enlarge)

One Last Word of Advice

Editorial calendars do not have to be fancy or complicated. Whatever works for you, works. Once you identify the purpose and key information elements on your calendar, you can make your own simple spreadsheet or go online for more inspiration.

However, if you’re looking for something absolutely sensational, I hear there are several editors from News of the World looking for work that would be happy to help you.