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Content Plan? Success Demands It

Editor’s note: See the updated content planning guide for our latest advice. 

Unless today is your first day as a content marketer, you’re aware of how essential a documented strategy is to achieving content marketing success. It’s one of those mantras you’ve heard being chanted again and again throughout every corner of the industry until you simply can’t help but accept it as truth. It really is that important.

But let’s face it: Not all of us have a direct part in crafting or controlling our company’s strategic, high-level view of content. Our job is to fulfill the promise of those strategic ideals by implementing and executing on an editorial plan – i.e., policy, process, team resource, and task-related decisions – that best positions your content marketing program for long-term success.

If you’re looking to build an essential tactical plan for your organization or to refine the one you have, read on for a handy tutorial and some of our best resources to guide you.

By the way, if it is your first day on the job, you’ll want to catch up quickly. I recommend starting with our Content Marketing Strategy Essentials guide and branching off from there.

What’s in an editorial plan?

Similar to building your content marketing strategy, planning your editorial can seem intimidating at the outset. You need to consider a lot of moving parts and design each aspect to function on its own while aligning with your strategic goals. Your plans also need to allow for flexibility since your content will likely need to adapt to shifting business priorities, emerging tech trends, audience preferences, and other changes over time.

Fortunately, if you break down your plan into three key focal areas the tasks should come into clearer focus, making the process much more manageable. The three areas include:

  1. Guidelines and governance – editorial quality standards, preferred practices, and guiding principles that define and distinguish the value of your brand’s content
  2. Processes and tools – tasks, workflow, and routing practices, and the productivity techniques and technologies to keep your content engines running smoothly
  3. Team resources – roles that handle each task, skills those tasks require, and details on how to keep your team focused and productive
#Contentmarketing tactical plan must include: Guidelines + Processes + Resources, says @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Take a shortcut: Strapped for time but still want to do planning right? Grab some tricks, tips, and helpful templates from our 2019 Content Marketing Toolkit.

Guidelines and governance

Governance lies at the heart of every editorial program. The decisions made – and the guidelines established for activating them – ultimately define and distinguish your brand’s content experience by unifying your efforts under a single set of communication standards. Determining these protocols at the start makes it easier to make tactical, go/no-go decisions and maintain strategic alignment throughout the life span of your content program.

Content tone, voice, and style

Outline the qualities and characteristics that make your content recognizable as an extension of your brand and noticeably distinct from everyone else’s content. Clearly define the preferred tone, voice, and stylistic standards all of your content should stick to.

Editorial quality and value

No matter what tone, voice, and style you use, editorial teams must maintain standards of content quality – the characteristics that make your content worthy of your audience. Not only will poor content quality hinder results, it can reflect poorly on your brand’s value and reputation.

No matter what tone, voice, & style you use, editorial teams must maintain standards of #content quality. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Every content effort should be judged against its ability to provide the value your audience expects. If you are unable to check all the boxes on Ahava Liebtag’s Creating Valuable Content, a Step-By-Step Checklist (below), you might send your content back to the drawing board.

Click to enlarge

Take a shortcut: For a deeper dive on how to take control of your digital content, check out Intel’s governance framework.

Processes and tools

Editorial planning also includes defining the tasks to complete, detailing how each asset is routed, determining how your team members collaborate and communicate effectively, and identifying the tools and technological systems to do the work.

Operational workflows

Good workflow has been called the secret sauce for content marketing success for good reason. Without defining the steps, sign-offs, and stakeholders involved in transforming your team’s creative ideas into shareable marketing assets, you risk encountering breakdowns and bottlenecks at every turn. Tasks slip through the cracks, necessary approvals get overlooked, deadlines get missed, and even minor errors and setbacks can easily snowball into productivity nightmares.

Good workflow is the secret sauce for #contentmarketing success, says @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Communication and collaboration

Once you’ve defined the workflow, enable your team members to understand their role in the content creation process – and how it impacts and overlaps with the responsibilities of everyone else involved in your content program. This makes it easier to put in place tools and techniques to foster better communication and collaboration as your team members do their jobs.

For example, a detailed editorial calendar can be a great tool for managing collaborations as each team member can clearly see where each asset is in the production process, what tasks still need to be accomplished, and with whom they need to work to move it through to completion.

Project prioritization

As your team runs more efficiently, you might realize it’s generating more content ideas than it can be expected to execute. To keep the influx of killer ideas from snowballing into total creative paralysis, you need a system for evaluating ideas to prioritize the projects that align most strongly with your goals and to reject the ones that might hinder productivity, tax resources, or fall far outside your content’s primary purpose.

Content requests

Once word of your content team’s success spreads through your organization, you may receive requests from other functional teams, departments, and business units that want your help producing similar results for them. It’s helpful to have policies and documents for handling content requests to preserve your team resources for the projects that are best positioned to achieve success.

Quality assurance

While your team can be flexible in how it manages editorial processes, procedures, and collaborations, be rigid about one thing: maintaining the highest standards of content quality. Even a small factual error in your content can erode your brand’s credibility in a social media minute. Put in place a quality assurance (QA) process to keep typos, grammatical mistakes, and factual inaccuracies out of your published content and keep your brand’s reputation above reproach.

Even a small factual error in your #content can erode your brand’s credibility in a social media minute. @joderama Click To Tweet


Beyond the basic tools of the content marketing trade – like calendars, workflow maps, and process checklists – make sure you have the necessary technology infrastructure. Depending on your goals, team resources, and budget, the tech systems can range from simple spreadsheets and desktop-publishing programs to full-scale content management systems (CMS), multifunctional marketing automation solutions, and more. You should evaluate your technological needs early in the planning process to make sure you have the power to build and execute on your strategic content marketing vision.

Team resources

Million-dollar content budgets are great but, without the right human resources, even the priciest content program isn’t likely to bring the ROI you might expect. Your content planning process needs to account for each role, the skills and expertise team members must bring to their roles, and the support that enables everybody to perform to their potential.

W/o the right people, even the priciest #content program isn’t likely to bring expected ROI. @joderama #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Culture and mindset

Because of the nature of the work they do, content teams typically function best in an environment that fosters creativity, minimizes distractions, and enables constructive feedback to be shared and discussed easily across multiple functional teams and organizational silos. Paying attention to the small details that make for a more supportive content marketing mindset and collaborative culture can pay off in greater team productivity, lower team churn rates, and higher efficiency and effectiveness.

Team structure and roles

Your content marketing program’s potential for success lies squarely in the hands of your team members, which is why putting the right staff members, functional roles, and overarching team structure in place is a critical component of every editorial plan.

Skill sets

While today’s content teams may have to learn to do more with less, they can only be expected to multitask if they possess the required skills. And while certain skill sets – like writing, editing, and design – are essential for every content marketing operation, others may be nice-to-have additions when you are ready to take your content programs further.

Depending on your organization’s size, available resources, and level of content marketing maturity, determine which skill sets need to be acquired immediately and which ones you can outsource, share, or do without until your need grows.

Take a shortcut: Having trouble getting your staff to realize its potential? Follow these tips to diagnose and treat the source of common team problems.

Stay tuned for next steps

In my next post, I get down to the business of content creation – from brainstorming topics and ideas to selecting the right tactics and formats to making sure your efforts have everything it takes to engage your target audience and drive them to further your business goals.

Be sure to see the guides for content creation and measurement that are up next. And get ongoing tools, tips, and trends to help your content marketing. Subscribe to the weekday e-newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute