So, you’ve decided to venture into ~*brand publishing*~, or you’re at the very least thinking about creating a blog for your organization. There are two kinds of people: Those who think, “How hard could it be?” and those who think, “Where the #$*^ do I even start?”
A little background: I have been managing a client’s brand publication for more than a year with a small team and a handful of freelance writers. Even if you’re low on resources, it’s entirely possible to create an in-house “newsroom,” but keep in mind your budget and deadlines for other projects.
In this article, I’ll go over some things to consider when creating an editorial calendar and mission, establishing an editorial guide, managing writers, and how to support your articles. In each section, I’ll include a list of questions that you should answer as you’re building your brand publication.
But first things first…
I am, of course, assuming that you already know who your audience is and what they’re interested in. Audience research is an essential first step to launching a brand publication because it informs who your content is for, and will dictate your editorial choices.
Editorial calendar & mission
The first thing your organization needs to ask is: “What do we want to get out of our publication?” Do you want your content to establish your business as an industry leader? Do you want your publication to convert and generate leads? Does your organization have another goal (brand awareness, drive traffic, establish trust, etc.) that can be met by starting a brand publication? Having these answers and your intentions in mind will help you to create a distinct editorial mission. Best practice is to start by setting SMART goals!
Once you’ve established your mission (and should you choose to accept it), create a list of categories, topics, and angles you want to cover. A team brainstorm is a great place to start. This allows you to collaborate with particular team members who may not necessarily be part of your daily process going forward (for example, CEOs or higher-ups), and hammer out all the important details. This is also when you can establish any necessary boundaries. If there are any topics or perspectives that your organization absolutely does not want to get into, now is the time to find out.
For my client’s publication, we kicked things off with a workshop day. Exercises included creating vision boards with words and images that would inspire the publication, and writing a bunch of headline ideas and organizing them based on topic. This told us what the client wanted to see from the publication.
Next, it’s time to research, research, research… and create your editorial calendar with a CMS (content management system) that works for you and your team. Will you be using a good ol’ spreadsheet? Or do you have money in your budget for a tool like Co-Schedule, which allows you to automate blog posts and social campaigns/posts? Having an organized system from the get-go is e-very-thing and will make managing a publication much easier.
With our client, I use a variety of different CMS, mainly due to the fact that we needed to adapt to our client’s organizational processes, too. I use Co-schedule to integrate with WordPress (our publishing platform), keep a calendar view of deadlines, and assign tasks. I also use a spreadsheet to manually keep track of ideas, themes, social posts, etc. If you are able to use a single system to assign tasks, track deadlines, and integrate into your publishing site, I would highly recommend it.
- What’s the reason for starting your brand publication, and what are your goals? (Brand awareness, leads, conversions)
- What is your organization comfortable with publishing, and are there any places they aren’t willing to go editorially?
- Are you open to pitches from writers, or will you be assigning all your content?
- How will you manage the publication? Will you be using a CMS? If so, does it offer integration with your social media platforms or publishing tools?
Publishing dates aren’t the only dates you’ll need to make a note of when creating your calendar. You’ll also need to factor in how long it will take for writers to complete articles, how long it will take for the editor to edit each piece, or rewrite it, etc. If your articles also need to go through an approval process by higher-ups (and other sorts of red tape), you’ll need to set reasonable deadlines for them too. Otherwise, you’ll be running in circles chasing people, slowing down your process. Finally, you’ll also need to consider the time it takes to source images, upload articles to your publishing platform, create custom graphics and social campaigns, etc.
As an example, I give writers at least one week to complete assignments and I’m flexible about deadlines, as long as I know about hurdles ahead of time. Then we need at least one week for the editor/client to review, for the writer to make additional edits, and for our design team to create graphics or source images. We try to get final approval for articles at least two days before it’s scheduled to be published. In all, we plan about three weeks ahead—from when an article is first assigned to its publication date.
For your notes:
- What will the editing, uploading, and publishing process look like, and how long will each step take?
- Does it need to be compliance-approved by others within your organization, set deadlines and processes for this too?
Managing freelance writers
If you need to source freelancers, start by looking through publications you admire or publish articles on similar topics. Leverage your network. Scour Twitter and LinkedIn. LinkedIn, in particular, can be helpful because many professionals post their thoughts and insights as articles through LinkedIn Publishing, which will give you a great idea of their knowledge and ability to communicate. The great thing about writers is they tend to know other writers—so don’t be surprised if one of them can recommend a whole crew of content creators.
The next step is to establish regular communication, whether by email, through Slack, or with regular editorial meetings (in-person or online). Ask for their schedules and availability. Chances are, those freelancers are writing for multiple outlets, and you’ll have a much easier time setting expectations and deadlines when you know what their workload is.
Back to my client. Since my own crew of writers is scattered across North America and Europe, email is the best way for me to communicate with them. If most of your writers are in the same region or time zone, you might find that in-person meetings or video conferencing are a better option.
As mentioned above, it’s essential to establish a budget for writers and make that very clear from the get-go. If your budget is limited, you may need to rely on articles from internal members of your organization. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! But as we all know, bandwidth is an issue for everyone. If you’re not paying external writers, you’ll need to make sure your teammates have enough time in their schedules to contribute regularly to your publication. Once you’ve got your process finalized, write that sh*t down!
Here are some pointers:
- How often will you be publishing?
- How many freelance writers do you need?
- How many writers can you afford?
- How will you be communicating with writers? How often?
- What is their availability like?
- Are you paying per word or per article?
- How much experience and expertise are you looking for from your writers? This will affect your budget.
Creating your editorial style guide
An editorial guide will be incredibly useful as your brand publication grows. The editorial guide should establish your tone of voice, your audience, use of humor/language, length of articles, as well as other style and visual guidelines.
Many publications publicly post their editorial guidelines, which is great because you now have examples to work from! As a public broadcaster, the BBC has extensive guides, but smaller, more niche publications may choose to do something simpler, such as this one from EatFarmNow.
When working on my client’s brand publication, I was able to put together a detailed editorial outline based on examples I found from other publications. (It was my first time creating editorial guidelines from scratch.) I was even complimented by some of my writers for being so thorough! Not bad, for a first-timer.
Some more things to consider:
- Which style guide will you use across your publication? (AP style, Chicago style, etc.) – Don’t know what those are? Get learnin’!
- What tone of voice do you want your publication to have? (Formal, informal, etc.)
- Will you be using humor? What kind of humor, and how will it fit into your articles?
- Will you be using any specific technical language like legalese or academese?
- What will be your visual style? (Photography, graphics, illustrations)
Articles (and videos and podcasts, if you wish) should only be a part of your brand publication. Once your content is available, how will you get people to actually read it?
There’s a concept in marketing called “Big Rock content,” also known as “turkey” content (because it’s repurposed like a leftover turkey dinner). “Big Rock” refers to one large piece of content, such as a white paper, research study, or a long-form article. The idea is to create a ton of smaller, more shareable content around the Big Rock.
For example, a company releases a white paper that they’ve been working on for months. Instead of merely promoting the white paper, the company takes parts of the Big Rock and makes smaller content that is shareable and supports their work: slideshows, infographics, short explainer videos, GIFs, and blog articles are all great examples.
Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll also have to think about:
- Is your audience on social media? Twitter? LinkedIn? Instagram?
- Is your audience engaged in smaller sub-communities like forums and subreddits?
- What does your audience tend to share online and how?
- Is your content evergreen? i.e., can you reshare it throughout the year for more visibility?
In all honesty, the most important things to keep in mind when creating your in-house brand publication are communication and organization. Make sure you’re working ahead (aim for two to three weeks, and even longer depending on how slow processes are) and communicating with your writers, editors, and any higher-ups regularly. Keep a detailed content calendar for both your planned content and content ideas to track deadlines.