By Ann Gynn published March 17, 2020 Est Read Time: 7 min

Should the News Disrupt Your Content Calendar? Here’s How to Decide

Editor’s note: You can follow this process during a pandemic like COVID-19 that affects nearly everyone. It’s also helpful when the impact of a news story isn’t as clear.

Your editorial calendar looks perfect. Your content team has done everything right.

Each week’s theme aligns with your brand’s content marketing strategy. Each day includes topics that will engage your audience in formats they want. The upcoming month’s content is ready to go – approved by all the necessary stakeholders.

Then, something happens that’s out of your control.

A helicopter crash in Los Angeles kills nine, including a basketball legend. Romaine lettuce is recalled because of E. coli contamination. An initiative is launched just before Hollywood awards season to respond to gender inequality and sexual harassment.

At first, the headlines don’t impact your brand. After all, you’re not in the helicopter, romaine lettuce, or movie industry.

But then they do. Thoughts and prayers for the victims’ families overwhelm social feeds. Searches about where the offending lettuce came from rise. Conversations about offending experiences in the workplace increase exponentially.

Unexpected bad news may not directly affect your brand, but it may affect your audience. That means you need to critically evaluate – and consider adjusting – your perfected content marketing calendar.

When headlines fill with bad news, you need to reevaluate your #content calendar. @AnnGynn offers a process to help you decide how to adjust. Via @CMIContent Click To Tweet

Is it time to stand down, maintain the status quo, or change things quickly? Use your answers to these two questions to guide your response.

Question 1: On a scale of 0 to 10, how much does this news relate to our company?

Take the romaine lettuce example. If your company sells an alternative salad green to restaurants, the issue would rate a nine or 10. But if your company sells tire valves to auto manufacturers, the issue would be a zero.

Question 1 for content marketers: How much does this headline relate to our company, asks @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Score 0 to 6

No need to change your content. Proceed to the next question.

Score 7 to 10

Change up your regularly scheduled content programming.

How? Quickly pull together your content team and other key stakeholders. Schedule a brainstorming session or have a virtual conversation:

  • Detail all ways in which your brand is or could be connected to the headline.
  • Look in the archives to see if you’ve already published content that could be used in this scenario.
  • Develop a list of new content ideas. Group them in three buckets: (1) common but necessary, (2) out of the box, and (3) interesting but not a fit for our brand.
  • Identify the resources available to repurpose the old content and create the new content.
  • Republish old but still useful content as soon as possible. (The old content serves as a bridge until you develop fresher angles.)
  • Prioritize your new ideas. Execute the first one or two.
  • Publish the new content.
  • Join online conversations with helpful (not promotional) content. 

TIP: Maintain your brand voice and tone. Don’t sensationalize your content to take advantage of the situation. Provide factual information, address safety concerns, share solutions.

Question 2: On a scale of 0 to 10, how much does this news affect our target audience?

Even when the headlines don’t directly affect or relate to your brand, they can affect your audience. And while you don’t need to change your content creation plans, you may need to change your publishing schedule.

Even when headlines don’t directly affect your brand, they can affect your audience, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s time to go back to your audience personas and other data. Use what you know about your audience to see how they are or could be affected.

If you don’t have enough data to assess the potential effects, use a neutral rating of 5. It’s OK if your personas don’t cover every characteristic of your audience. Frankly, they shouldn’t. After all, they’re intended to communicate the qualities and behavior that relate to why the person would interact with your industry, brand, products, etc. And yet, you know these people have lives outside of that environment.

The earlier examples I mentioned cover topics ranging from basketball, flying, death, and illness to food contamination, sexual harassment, and gender perceptions. Those topics may not appear in your buyer personas, but those subjects may be critically important to the real people behind your personas.

Score 0 to 3

No need to change your publishing schedule. Your audience isn’t likely to change its content consumption habits.

Score 4 to 6

Your existing audience data isn’t sufficient. Do more research.

Reach out to a handful of people in your audience to ask their opinion. Look at your social feeds to see if industry influencers are talking about the topic. Check community forums to see if members are straying from the designated topic to talk about the news. After that, give yourself a new score, which now should fall into one of the other two groups.

Score 7 to 10

Reassess your publishing schedule.

When your audience is affected, they’re looking for information on the headline topic. Your content will go unnoticed because their content priorities have shifted. Stop or decrease your content promotion.

If going along with business as usual would seem insensitive or worse, suspend your publishing altogether. But don’t just disappear – let your readers know why you aren’t going to be populating their social feeds, inboxes, etc. Work with the team to craft a notice that is direct, not preachy or self-righteous, such as:

“Your priorities are understandably focused elsewhere at this time. We don’t want to be an unnecessary distraction. So based on input from our audiences and internal teams, we are suspending our regular publishing schedule. However, we’re still hard at work – so if we can answer any questions for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.”

TIP: If you stop or minimize your content promotion, adjust your calendar to avoid publishing any high profile, pillar, or other substantial content until your normal promotion process resumes.

Reassess every day (or several times a day, depending on the news) to identify the appropriate time frame to resume publishing and/or promoting. Ask:

  • Has the chatter diminished sufficiently in news feeds so our content would be noticed again?
  • Is the target audience talking about non-headline news topics?
  • What do analytics tell you? If metrics dropped during the news event, are they increasing now?

This timeline created by David Meerman-Scott around newsjacking for good also works as a guide when the news is bad:

Be prepared

Being proactive means monitoring potential news triggers. You and your team should regularly consume news beyond your industry. Identify and monitor a list of tangential topics that could activate your company’s content reaction. Know your geography and weather phenomena.

Think about it – a tornado may not merit more than a blip in national news, but the impact on locals could be extensive. And if that’s your audience, you’ll want to know about the impact so you can adjust your content marketing accordingly.

Don’t wait to prepare. Start by customizing the process I’ve suggested to fit your brand, content marketing team, and audience. It’s much easier to react to the news (and the internal question “what do you think we should do?”) when you have an approved assessment process in place.

We’ve adjusted our live event calendar in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. ContentTech Summit has been rescheduled for Aug. 10 to 12 in San Diego. Check out the agenda today. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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