How to set up and use an editorial calendar

Content calendars form the backbone of any editorial organisation. Here we give you tips and tricks on how you can use one too.

Step #1: Ask the essential questions:

  • Who are you creating content for? Who is your audience? Narrow them down and don’t plan to cater for multiple audiences.
  • Where do they like to consume content? Find where you’re getting the most traffic and engagement and initially focus your content on one or two channels.
  • Why are you creating content? Is it for retention, attracting new business, becoming a thought leader or wanting new subscribers? Your content will vary depending on your answer.
  • What budget do you have? Can you dedicate content creation position within your team or will you have to share this task out with colleagues already doing another ‘day job’. Can you reallocate some of an existing advertising budget to content creation?
  • What will you say that’s different? Before you start any content, find out what’s already being said in your industry and change tact. Plan to tell a new story, find a new angle, inject a new personality into this discussion. Be bold. Be controversial.

Step #2: Select the best calendar / project management tool:

In addition to a traditional Excel document, there are hundreds of tools to choose from – many give new customers a free trial period or a substantial discount for small businesses.

Asana: We've used Asana to both run projects with our clients and prioritise our product development. Can be used with a small internal team or collaboratively with clients in multiple projects.

Basecamp: Originally built for product development management of tech companies, but can be used for any collaborative project. Simplicity is the key for everything 37Signals, the company behind Basecamp, is building and this tool makes no exception.

iMeetCentral: A project management tool best used for small scale projects. It incorporates media management and workflow tools.

DivvyHQ: Good for agencies working with clients. Editors are able to set up calendars for each workflow and assign tasks to writers.

Trello: Essentially a task management tool that helps you to prioritise your workflow in a list format.

Step #3: Populate your calendar

The simpler you can make your calendar the easier it will be use. Some must dos include:

  • Inserting a date, topic, author/content creator, personal responsible for reviewing and a status update.
  • Working out the content type according to each channel you’re planning on using.
  • Thinking about your key SEO words and metadata.
  • Aligning your content to your mission – i.e what are your calls to action/what do you want your audience to do after they have read, watched or listened to your content.
  • Working in content themes – use one theme and split it up into bite sized chunks of content.
  • Not duplicating existing content. Each year conduct a content audit and work out what you’ve already got, what you can reposition, what you can build new content around.

Step #4: Follow an existing publisher’s calendar

These are readily available for people to see. You can align your own content around key announcements from industry leaders, governments as well as big events, award ceremonies and research project results. Check with your industry’s key publication for their editorial calendar. Here are some examples:

Forbes: Forbes publishes an annual yearly editorial calendar highlighting key themes and topics that it will tackle month to month such as Best 30 under 30 feature or Top Women in business.

New York Times: Its annual international editorial plan breaks topics down by sector and says whether they’ll be having a special report on that topic.

Time: Also publishes an annual editorial calendar – it gives advertising deadlines and key conventions as well as political issues it will be covering.

UK Parliament: Every democratic country will have a similar site – that says what’s going on in government, what’s being debated and when.

Step #5: Take notes

Ideas can come to you in the middle of the night, on your daily commute and in some of the strangest of places. Have a tool to collect and collate everything that inspires you.

Evernote: is a tool you can use on desktop or on a mobile device (its app syncs with all devices). You can drag & drop articles from the net to store here as well as use it like a traditional notepad.

MindJet: Great for brainstorming, mind mapping and concept ideation, it helps to turn your ideas into something visual.

Pen & paper: An oldie but a goodie to be kept right by your bedside so you can jot down ideas just as you’re drifting off.

Wunderlist: A very simple and shareable to-do-list application. You can use on desktop or on a mobile device (its app syncs with all devices)

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