What does a winning editorial calendar look like?

You can use Google sheets. You can use fancy bespoke software. But for the love of Joe Pulizzi, if you’re a content marketer, you’ve just got to have an editorial calendar. Without one, you are needlessly entering into a wilderness of your own creation, stumbling about in the quicksands of time. With one? Your purpose is clear. Your mission is true. Your milestones: measurable.

The most valuable player of all content marketers’ organisational tools, an editorial calendar assists marketers to manage a significant chunk of the most-cited challenges they daily confront. Think of it as the travel guide and compass to your purpose-built content machine. With it, suddenly you’re able to plan, organise, leverage, distribute and track what you publish with a strategic mindset, rather than a ‘fingers-crossed’ or ‘hope this works!’ mentality.

But there’s also a marked difference between semi-decent editorial calendars and excellent ones. And who’s interested in semi-decent? Nobody. Here, we give one example of a real-life current template, and run through the reasons it’s a content marketing killer.

A real-life editorial calendar example

The editorial calendar is a regular ‘go-to’ for Mahlab. We offer versions of it to our clients – whether they be universities, finance corporations or insurance companies or associations. While it will always be tweaked to score the most points for each organisations’ unique goalposts, many will contain the following categories as columns:

  • Publish date
  • Content format (e.g. video, blog post, podcast)
  • Content details (i.e. a description)
  • Where it ‘sits’ in the funnel (e.g. a ‘hero/hub/help’)
  • Content pillars
  • Audience personas targeted
  • Call to action/s (e.g. ‘Read more,’ ‘Subscribe here,’ ‘Find out more’)
  • Paid promotion details (e.g. Facebook promotion, native advertising)
  • Distribution channels (e.g. enewsletter, social media)
  • Author/s
  • Editor/s or approver/s
  • Progress status

Want a free editorial calendar template? Download yours at the end of this article.

It allows for quality content that is proactive, not reactive

The grounding raison d’être of an editorial calendar is that it helps you plan better. It’s like a map you can sketch out, plot and revise to guide your content journey as you go along – exploring the best topics and most relevant areas for your audience, in the least amount of time, without wasting resources.

By giving you a long-sighted yet granular overview of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re heading, you can scheme out strategies and build content backlogs in advance for key events and key campaigns, rather than hurriedly whacking something together on the fly. It comes down to preparedness and quality control.

Here’s an example: say you’re a university with an enrolment period beginning in February. Aligning your calendar with your buyer personas, you slot in a few ‘hero pieces’ well before enrolment opens, which are designed to raise awareness and showcase your offerings and prestige. The ‘end of funnel’ content you plan to publish just before the enrolment window opens.

It avoids audience neglect

Every segment of your audience deserves its own particular nurturing. If you’re a company with a complex set of verticals, it can be easy to fall into the ‘favourites’ trap – like a devoted parent who mistakenly ladles out three scoops of deluxe triple chocolate fudge with a caramel swirl ice-cream to one child, yet serves up just a single vanilla scoop to another.

Whether you’re forsaking one segment entirely, or privileging them far less than another for no good reason, addressing all your audience is important. After all: if you forget about a certain group, chances are, they’ll forget about you – and when you try to win them back, they’ll be far cooler towards your brand and less responsive towards your messaging. Editorial calendars enable you to keep on top of who you’re speaking to, better facilitating a balanced, equitable and holistic content plan.

It prevents wastage

Picture this: you’ve made a big, meaty and delicious piece of content. If content was food, it’d be your epic sausage sizzle of content. Perhaps it’s an ebook, or a longform video, or a white paper. A great deal of manpower, brainpower and capital has gone into this thing. Then you publish it – it resonates for a moment, then is never seen again. You’re so focused on what comes next, that you don’t let your audiences savour it as they could’ve. And they have every right to.

Sound familiar? We wouldn’t be surprised – it happens to be an incredibly common example of content wastage. According to Curata, only 29% of leading marketers systematically reuse and repurpose content. When this happens, ROT – or redundant, out-of-date and trivial content – can fester.

As the Vice President of Content at CMI Michele Linn explains, “ROT occurs when you fail to plan what happens to your content after you hit publish and do the initial promotion. This one-and-done approach is costly to businesses – and, as your content library grows, it often makes the readers’ experience less than ideal.”

With an editorial calendar, you can easily and effectively split up chunky content and logically slot it in the publishing timetable. Distributing and targeting ‘teasers’ on various channels, you can speak to a wide spectrum of your audience, keeping them circling back to the main content piece.

It helps you track progress, and win organisation-wide credibility

As part of a broader documented marketing strategy, editorial calendars can give you a better, evidence-backed idea of what works – and what doesn’t. It also means you have something to refer to when you’re talking to the c-suite.

With an editorial calendar in hand, content marketers are more likely to be viewed as capable and clear-sighted drivers of the company’s business objectives – giving your content a better chance of being viewed as a business asset. With 70% of marketers lacking a consistent or integrated content strategy, and the struggle for organisation-wide credibility continuing, the need for an editorial calendar to support this ‘buy-in’ aspect is strong.

It has built-in flexibility

So, editorial calendars are amazing. No one should ever feel enslaved by them though. Rather than bestow it with the rigid inflexibility of a bureaucratic overlord, think of your calendar more as an incredibly useful guide, or perhaps a road that you can sometimes diverge from to harvest opportunities in more interesting terrain. After all, situations change, resources ebb and flow, new objectives and contingencies arise. When this happens – and we can guarantee it will – you will need to pivot, and adapt your content strategy accordingly.

Say, for instance, you take on a new client and they are hungry for a certain piece of content to answer a niggling concern. Or perhaps something unexpected happens in the wider world which affects your industry and audience (e.g. the Grenville Towers tragedy would give cause for an insurance industry to publish a thought piece – an opportunity called ‘newsjacking’). Or perhaps somehow, an industry conversation flared up, and weighing in means establishing leadership in the arena. A content calendar should always be flexible enough to accommodate these new content pieces, so that the team can place their resources and efforts to get the best results.

Want your own editorial calendar template? Download it here.

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About the Author

Job Title: Group Managing Editor

About James Chalmers: James is the Group Managing Editor at Mahlab. With a background in journalism, he has helped lift the content marketing game of universities, associations and myriad more organisations besides. If he had his own way, he would do all business from his bike – even after it catapaulted him over its handles last year and planted his face in the road. To the distress of his colleagues at conferences, he does not have a Twitter account.

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