An editorial calendar is one of the most effective tools you can use in content marketing. Or for any type of marketing campaign.
But like any good tool, you may only be using it with partial success.
All too often editorial calendars are used as a task list. An excruciating schedule of deliverables.
It’s a dream come true for micro-managing bosses and bad project managers.
But you get that deep despair in your gut again. Sitting in another soul-sucking weekly status meeting. Going line by line with no end in sight.
Prepare yourself for more running on that frustrating treadmill of producing against deadlines again and again… with the calendar constantly poking you.
What’s worse is when you get lackluster results with all your content marketing work.
And somehow you are made to feel bad about it. Or it actually shows up in your performance review.
Let’s put a stop to that. You know you can deliver.
Ditch the task list approach.
Start using your editorial calendar as a strategic plan to get breakthrough results.
Unlock the high impact campaigns that you love to create.
Here are 7 big content marketing hacks you can unlock by easily customizing a good editorial calendar template. And move away from the task list torture.
1. Build a rhythm with theme campaigns
If you can’t tell, my nerves are a little raw about this subject. I’ve been on several teams too many where the editorial calendar has been used as a task list.
Classic micromanagement always ensued. And so did blah performance.
The team spent a lot of time obsessing on the due dates. We didn’t have a strategic plan to execute the right activities at the right time to the right audience.
Moral of the story – we did produce on time, but we didn’t produce great results.
Yes. A good editorial calendar includes a schedule and provides at-a-glance deliverable status. However, the best way to use it is to employ a top down approach to build your campaign.
You can use your calendar to think in terms of themes for your content marketing and campaigns. Themes that your customers care about most. After all, having a customer-centric view is one of the reasons why you should use an editorial calendar in the first place.
An editorial calendar done right takes your audience engagement to the next level.
Your editorial calendar should help you:
- develop a regular hearbeat with your content
- create patterns of behavior in your audience
- generate emotion and anticipation
- build expectation and commitment
That leads to not just more traffic, but recurring enthusiastic fans. But the end result is what matters most… It drives more action and positive habits, namely more buying.
A close friend who is the social media marketing manager for another tech company found huge success with the way she used her editorial calendar. She uses the calendar to plan weekly or monthly themes.
She then develops a concentration of related content in different delivery formats for different channels. This builds critical mass along one major subject but allows readers to enter how and when they are most ready to engage.
For example, one month leading up to an upgrade to their product, she showcased their beta customers (customers who tested and used the new product before it was generally available to everyone). She told their stories and testimonials about the company and how it helped them. She got many more likes and shares for those posts.
And when launch time came she successfully intertwined the call to action to get the new upgrade.
Boom! A big spike in sales.
That’s just part of the success story. She has been able to nurture positive response habits on an ongoing basis by creating a regular heartbeat with her social posts, blog posts and newsletter.
All thanks to using her editorial calendar.
Armed with your editorial calendar can successfully map your campaign development to the buying funnel – awareness, learning, comparison, purchase decision, and post-purchase.
Planning regular weekly or monthly content theme builds a rhythm for your audience at each stage of the funnel. What this rhythm does is it develops patterns of behavior in your audience.
You generate anticipation, build expectations and create commitment.
You create recurring, enthusiastic fans who act. As a result, your sales conversions are much higher.
And you avoid the pains of low social sharing and likes, high opt outs for your emails, and tiny clickthroughs on your advertising.
Your action: Think in themes first. Plan weekly or monthly themes.
You likely have tons of good content and campaign ideas that your customers will love.
Put those ideas to work. Ask yourself:
- What are the big customer issues you are trying to solve?
- What big launches or events are you trying to go big?
- What seasonality drives your customers to act?
Place those themes into a month on the calendar. Then start identifying the individual campaign elements to place into your editorial calendar.
2. Anticipate Opportunities with a Roadmap
Speaking of themes, you have so many fantastic opportunities available to you.
You can win big when you capitalize on the mass waves of traffic that come from easily anticipated opportunities.
The good news is you probably already know well in advance what’s going to be hot for your audience.
Christmas, Black Friday, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, the World Cup, etc.
When these big holidays or events are happening, that’s what your audience is reading about, consuming, clicking and buying.
That’s why the very first thing on my editorial calendar template is what I call an Editorial Roadmap.
The roadmap organizes the major events for the whole year.
It provides an at-a-glance list of more than just the obvious big holidays too. You can fill in key activities like events, trade shows, promotions, product launches, key milestones, and anniversaries.
Situations that are important to you and your audience.
And what’s even better? You know way in advance when and where these big opportunities are taking place. Plan for it. And ride the wave.
For example, you can stand out from the crowd by being “on the scene” for big industry events or the hot news topics that are important.
Actually that’s exactly what another friend of mine did for his line of mobile phone accessories.
Cell phone cases are an incredibly crowded market. Most of his marketing campaigns did a little better than breakeven on their own.
But with the iPhone 5 launch there was a big opportunity.
Not only did he use an editorial calendar to plan his strategy and prime the sales funnel leading up to the launch, he identified a great opportunity to stand out from his competitors.
Now he’s not a big vendor. He makes really cool custom designed cell phone covers. But he’s not going to be a part of the plans for Apple’s PR juggernaut.
What he did was brilliant. He created his own “on the scene” coverage for the launch.
He interviewed people in line outside the Apple Store.
He designed banner ads featuring cool Apple fans with his designs.
He held a design contest on Pinterest for free cases.
He leveraged the massive buzz being created around the iPhone launch and his paid marketing campaigns produced fantastic ROI.
A huge win in a crowded field.
If you pay attention to what’s coming up, you can tailor you content plan to ride the extra attention these activities will attract.
Not to mention, by being on the scene with what’s hot, you’ll reinforce your perceived expertise and leadership with your audience. You can gain authority and trust.
Sure there’s excellent execution of a launch campaign. But it all comes back to having that editorial roadmap at the core of your editorial calendar.
Your Action: List out holidays, trade shows, product launches (yours or others in your industry), milestones, anniversaries and big promotions.
If you pay attention to what’s coming up, you can tailor you content plan to ride the extra attention these activities will attract.
3. Create Opportunities by Sharing Publicly
You rarely see corporations or blogging business sharing their editorial calendar publicly. The thinking is that your competition will see it and steal your thunder.
That risk completely overblown.
In fact, not sharing your editorial plans goes against a practice that professional publications have been doing forever.
Magazines, journals, and other big publishers promote their editorial calendar publicly in advance every quarter or even annually.
They do this to attract advertisers. Prospective advertisers are more likely to buy ad space if their product or service matches the editorial content of that month’s edition.
Wait. Your goal is not necessarily to generate advertising revenue with your content.
But stop and think about it.
You can use the public sharing approach to your advantage.
Create new relationships or partner opportunities by sharing your editorial roadmap with relevant businesses and key influencers.
Your success rate goes way up in developing more joint content activities, getting more reviews and testimonials, or amplifying with bigger social shares.
Only if those connections can build you into their plans in advance.
After all they have schedules too.
Your action: Post your high-level editorial calendar in your About Us or Public Relations section of your website.
Next, notify existing business partners and connections by sending them that information.
Then solicit relevant prospective or desired relationships to see if their objectives can be accelerated by what you have planned.
4. Map Your Call to Action to Buying Stages
As much as you or I don’t like being oppressed by a task list, the pain we really want to avoid is lack of sales.
Arguably the most powerful use of an editorial calendar is to map customer buying stages so that you can get the sale.
Another way to be successful is to funnel your audience through the buying stages – awareness, education, comparison, purchase decision, and post-purchase.
Your editorial calendar should reflect this process.
You can map the types of content to the timing or triggers in a way that maximizes your conversion rates. Your prospects will happily go through the funnel when you deliver what they need when they want it.
One of the key components of my editorial calendar template is listing the call to action.
The editorial calendar helps you easily visualize the funnel and where the prospect is on that buying journey. Then it becomes much clearer how to layer in what creative and call to action you should be delivering through each marketing channel and when.
Here are the steps:
- Create awareness with your advertising and drive leads with great social media.
- Educate and mold the purchase decisions in your favor with exceptional content.
- Then give those engaged leads an offer they can’t refuse with your direct marketing campaigns and retargeting ads.
Your entire acquisition lifecycle marketing program is all mapped out for you in a good editorial calendar.
It’s that simple.
5. Batch Process Resource Collection Activities
The first four content marketing hacks have been big strategic wins. The next three hacks are tactical shortcuts you can take.
One excellent time-saving use of an editorial calendar is helping you batch process otherwise time-consuming resource collection tasks.
The template I use includes a section for Images/Assets and Reference/Source items for each piece of content.
So your calendar has a complete list of all the assets and resources you’ll need to find in one place.
Searching for the ideal stock imagery, vector art for an infographic, or video and audio clips can be a suck up a lot of time.
Doing those searches as a single step during content development of each deliverable can be inefficient.
For example, you know you are going to go live with a Black Friday sale, a Small Business Saturday article, and then a Cyber Monday sale all around the same time. You’re going to need different vector art for a banner for each of those.
Don’t search for the artwork for just the Black Friday sale. Then finish the rest of the content development for that campaign, only to go back to do another vector art search for the next campaign.
Find all your vector art for all three campaigns at one time. Batch process those searches to save a ton of time.
Similarly, you are probably wasting critical creative time and focus when you are checking and crediting references in the middle of your writing and production time.
Your inspiration and swipe files should be gathered well before you start. Then you can accelerate your creative development.
And the master list of all those asset and reference needs is right there in your editorial calendar.
Your action: Pick a slow Friday afternoon or a big block of time when you don’t have any meetings. Look at your editorial calendar for the month ahead to identify all the possible assets and reference sources you’ll need for all the deliverables you’ll be producing.
Then start researching. Collect and document all the relevant sources and creative assets.
6. Don’t Get Buried in the Avalanche of New Ideas
The good news is that you’ve got a lot of great ideas for high impact content marketing campaigns.
The bad news is you have more ideas popping into your head than you can actually produce.
So do your colleagues, your boss, her boss, the sales team, your agencies, your top customers, your network, etc. Yikes! Seemingly everyone is piling on with great content ideas.
It’s easy to have an idea. It’s hard to execute it.
There is no possible way to execute all the valid ideas coming at you, let alone the many well-intentioned, but so-so ideas.
And all those idea generators are surprised and disappointed when they don’t see you working on their idea. Bosses especially get disappointed (which is not good).
So what can you do? Add a section to your editorial calendar and simply capture all the ideas as they come in.
I recommend creating a separate tab to your calendar spreadsheet. Label it “Idea Tracker”.
Then as each new idea is presented to you, add it to the tracker list along with any supporting info and notes.
Alas, the editorial calendar cannot help you actually complete all those ideas. But at least you won’t forget that a-ha epiphany you had while driving into work.
Plus, you now have a repository of some pretty good ideas in case you ever are lacking in inspiration for your next campaign.
And lastly, you can confidently tell you colleagues, “Great idea. I’ve jotted it down. Just need to find the right time to fit it into the busy schedule.”
Your action: Add an Idea Tracker tab to your editorial calendar (or use the one already included in my template).
Capture the subject of the idea, any reference or source material that spurred the idea, and any timeframe requirements. Plus you should leave a big section for notes.
It’s all helpful information when you come back later and are ready to start work on the idea.
7. Record Your History
At some point every marketer has been asked by a manager, “Can you give me a list of what we’ve done this past quarter?”
You end up spending hours digging through your folders and email archives to build a nice summary.
That’s valuable time taken away your upcoming projects.
Annual or semi-annual performance reviews are another time you need quick access to a history of past campaigns and the results you achieved.
Performance reports are no time to be modest. But you don’t want to stay up all night pulling together your brilliant self-assessment and listing all of your accomplishments and results.
How do you save all that time reporting your history?
Simple. Add a “Completed” or “History” tab to your editorial calendar.
Then cut and paste any completed deliverables into the tab for safe keeping.
You will have everything you need at your fingertips so that you can report your activities in minutes, not hours.
Your action: Download the Excel version of the editorial calendar template I use. It already has a “Completed Content” tab set up for you.
Now just keep following your editorial plan and save your great work.
Your editorial calendar is a powerful content marketing tool. Make sure to leverage it to its full extent.
Avoid using it just as a task list.
Think strategically and capture as many opportunities as possible.
Doing so can definitely have a huge positive impact on your content marketing campaigns. And save you a ton of time in the process.
- Ariana Prestes
- No Single Road to Mecca by Scott Zhang
- Derwent Overflow by Dom Crossley
- Haier Share Your Ideas by Nan Palmero
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