By Jessica Lee published March 22, 2015

A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Brand Publisher

guide-brand-publisher-cover

What does it mean to be a brand publisher?

A brand publisher has solid processes and structures that allow its team to create the types of brand content needed in a repeatable and scalable way.

Let’s face it: Magazines like Vogue and newspapers like The New York Times didn’t become successful without operating as a well-oiled machine. They didn’t sometimes publish content. They didn’t sometimes have all the resources in place. And they didn’t sometimes follow writing guidelines.

Many brands struggle to figure out how to create that type of operation – how to establish the best in-house structure to develop content and devote the necessary time and people to the publishing division of the brand.

I’m going to share with you the steps you need to take to be a successful brand publisher. This post will help you lay a foundation in terms of the roles, processes, and guidelines to support your content house as you scale from small to large.

Team

Start small (think party of one) and scale from there; it’s just a matter of understanding the skill sets and roles, when to bring in more staff, and how to divide one person’s role into many.

Let’s take a closer look at the three necessary roles on your brand publishing team.

Editor-in-chief

Ideally suited for someone who has his or her finger on the pulse of your industry, this editor role oversees the creative direction for all of your brand’s content. In a niche vertical, you also may need someone with hands-on experience in the thing you do to create better-quality, more-informed content.

The person in this role should be well versed in the brand so every piece of content created in the department is informed and relevant, and upholds the brand. This person also orchestrates the editorial calendar and makes the assignments.

Tip for success: As the editorial director, this person must work closely with the brand’s executive team to understand the company’s business strategy and goals, then align the content with those objectives.

Writer or brand journalist

Think of the writer (writers as you scale) as the brand journalist, someone who finds and tells the stories that are happening at your company.

The brand journalist goes out into the field at the editor-in-chief’s direction, meeting with people, listening and observing at meetings, and extracting the stories on the topics assigned.

With the right access to the right people and resources, good brand journalists should be able to communicate a subject well – even if they don’t have direct experience in the industry. However, industry knowledge certainly helps.

Tip for success: From the top on down, the brand must communicate why the brand journalists exist so the staff understands why they see these professionals embedded in meetings, for example, and accepts their requests for interviews and information.

Administrative support

A publishing department involves quite a bit of administrative and operational work. You need someone who can help manage the day-to-day activities, including setting meetings, uploading and publishing blog posts, making edits to the editorial calendar, coordinating design work, managing people and paperwork, etc.

Tip for success: Many brands, particularly those on a smaller scale, rely on the same person who writes to administer the content program. That can be a mistake. You can see how all those administrative responsibilities could hinder the productivity of a good editor or writer.

These are the basic roles or functions required for the foundation of a publishing team. As you scale, you can add more staff to expand productivity and add positions with more granular responsibilities such as assistant editors, research assistants, etc.

Guidelines

After you have a team in place, the first thing a brand publisher needs to do is establish guidelines for content creation. This means:

  • Creating a publishing process – a framework for content creation
  • Establishing a content lexicon – the brand’s definitions of content-specific terms
  • Defining style guidelines and editorial procedures – the bible or master guide

Publishing process

Workflow needs to be established, indicating who does what, when they do it, and how. The editor or designee maps each phase of content creation from research to writing, reviewing, and publishing.

The process must include the answers to questions such as:

  • What does the writing process look like?
  • How does the writer get the information he or she needs?
  • Where and when will the writer sit in on meetings?
  • How will writers schedule interviews?
  • Who gets the first draft and who reviews it?
  • How does the review and editing process work?
  • What sorts of rules are in place for editing between the editorial department and other internal stakeholders?
  • What happens when a completed piece is ready for publication?

Tip for success: Consider assigning writers like traditional media does – give them a “beat,” an industry or topic that they are responsible for covering.

Establishing a publishing process isn’t a one-time event. It will develop over time by trial and error within each unique business culture.

Content lexicon

Do you know what the CEO means when she says she wants a white paper? Does she know what she means when she says that? If there hasn’t been any formal education around what a content asset actually is, people have incongruent ideas that could become problematic later in the process.

It’s extremely important to get clear from the start on the lexicon of your content-asset library. Create a content lexicon for every content asset that could be created for the brand. With each type of content, write down:

  • Name of the content asset
  • Purpose of this type of content
  • General length, approach
  • Tone
  • Style framework
  • Cases when and where it would be used

Tip for success: Get as granular as you need to. Instead of just naming and describing one type of blog post, break it down into all the possible types of posts, such as:

  • In-depth
  • News
  • Opinion
  • Thought leadership
  • How-to

This lexicon should be your editorial procedures manual.

Style guidelines and editorial procedures

In traditional media, journalists follow the AP Stylebook. In colleges, many follow The Chicago Manual of Style or MLA style. These established style guides set standards and consistency for writing.

With a professional style guide chosen (I use AP because of its wide implementation on the web via traditional media), you have a good starting point and a professional guide to which you can refer when trying to decide whether to use “adviser” versus “advisor” or whether to use the serial comma.

But your brand has its own style, too. And sometimes that style overrides the guidelines in your chosen standard stylebook. For example, AP Style treats Charity: Water with proper-name capitalization. But the non-profit spells it as “charity: water.” That difference would be noted in its custom style guide as an exception to the standard guide.

In addition to a style guide focused on spelling and punctuation, you need an editorial procedures manual – to help create a consistent feel and approach for your content across the brand’s business units and content creators, from in-house staff and outside vendors.

When creating the manual, you should work with those in charge of the brand to flesh out the do’s and don’ts such as “don’t ever mention this competitor’s name in any content.”

Editorial procedures template: Here is a sample of what information could be contained in an editorial procedures manual:

  • Brand and editorial mission
  • Professional style guide used
  • Brand’s style guide, including
    • Common terms used in the industry
    • Preferred spelling and punctuation (that differentiate from the standard style guide)
    • Preferred references of brand products and services
  • Documentation for all content procedures, such as:
    • How to create a newsletter
    • How to write for the blog
    • How to format the blog
    • How to create a press release
    • How to publish a case study
    • How to secure review and approval
  • Collection of executive biographies – short and long versions
  • Logo and brand guidelines and usage
  • Geographic-specific guidelines if applicable.

Tip for success: The editorial process manual should be considered a living document. It shouldn’t belong to any one person so that it can remain a staple facet in communication no matter who is in the department.

Conclusion

Becoming a successful brand publisher is about building something from the ground up that can operate as its own venture within your company. It requires putting in place the people, processes, and procedures to ensure your content is high quality, consistent, and aligned with the brand. When you create that kind of experience, you firmly stake your claim in the brand publishing world.

Want to evolve your content marketing processes? Connect today with the Content Marketing Institute and sign up for daily and/or weekly highlights of the CMI blog and exclusive content from CMI Founder Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Author: Jessica Lee

Jessica Lee is the founder of bizbuzzcontent Inc., a content services company offering quality content creation and strategy. Prior to launching bizbuzzcontent, Jessica was head of content at global SEO firm Bruce Clay Inc. She holds a bachelor's in communications from San Diego State University, and her writing is featured in the active college textbook, “Reading and Writing About Contemporary Issues.” You can follow her on Twitter @bzzcontent or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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  • Hillary G. Salazar

    Gain experience through the school newspaper. Working at a school newspaper can give an individual experience gathering facts and getting a story published. Having an article published may also be helpful when seeking an internship, as you will be able to show published work.
    Complete an internship. Internships completed independently or as part of a degree program are a way to gain practical experience in the publishing industry, which is often required for entry-level employment. These can also help students develop connections and network. While many colleges include a career center that can help students find an internship, some publishing companies may offer internships directly through their website.
    Consider earning a master’s degree. A master’s degree in publishing educates students on all aspects of the publishing industry, including sales, design, marketing, communications and organization. These programs may also offer classes on specific types of publishing, like magazines and books. Go to next one

  • http://www.writespark.com Janice King

    Jessica,

    This is a very good guide… except I disagree with your advice about writers. It’s a myth that writers are an interchangeable commodity. Subject knowledge in a writer isn’t a “nice to have,” especially for complex, technical, or market-specific B2B content.

    Instead, a writer who has subject and market knowledge makes a big difference for quality content, a smoother development and review process and, often overlooked, less impact on the very valuable time of internal subject experts.

    I explain these points in more detail in this blog post:

    http://writinghightech.typepad.com/writespark/2012/04/do-you-need-a-specialty-copywriter.html

    • Jessica Lee

      Hi Janice, Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree with you that the writer’s hands-on experience in a subject matter lends a depth to the content that can’t be replaced.

      I also agree with you that sometimes people want to hire writers who have hands-on experience in the thing they are writing on for market specific content.

      However, there are other instances where it may not be needed in a brand publisher environment and it boils down to process and types of content.

      If you have a good process in place for research that also allows you to extract the expertise of the subject matter expert you’re writing on behalf of, a good writer can write in-depth about a topic even without direct experience.

      Second, the people you hire will gain that subject matter experience over time. Think about it: Top media journalists have opinions about the issues they cover because they are embedded in the subject matter via research, investigation and discussions.

      Also, when talking about brands being able to scale content, if a company is solely relying on the writer’s knowledge to create content on behalf of the brand, they will be missing the mark.

      Being a brand publisher means allowing the “journalists” of the company to find the stories and extract the expertise of the people they are writing on behalf of and/or engaging people throughout the company to also contribute for certain types of content.