A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Brand Publisher
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
- 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:
- Thought leadership
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.
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.
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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com