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Build a Successful Editorial Plan: Essential Skills Your Team Needs

Content_TeamWhile it takes a wide variety of skills to achieve content marketing success, there is one essential role that any company looking to get started in content marketing will need to fill: the managing editor.

Traditional marketing and social media skills are certainly helpful for organizations that are looking to transform their marketing machine from campaign-based to content-focused. But teams also need someone who can create, manage, and measure the components of an editorial plan — a set of skills that can vastly differ from what trained brand marketers intuitively possess.

This sixth installment of our “Back to Basics” series delves into the skills needed to build, implement, and execute your editorial plan.

Pulling it all together: The managing editor

The managing editor (who could also be called a content marketing manager, or any number of other job titles, for that matter) is the person responsible for managing all aspects of the content marketing workflow.

Though this is by no means a comprehensive description of what the job entails, the following is a breakdown of the key processes and considerations the managing editor (along with the members of his or her team) should be responsible for as your company builds and fulfills its editorial plan:

Content ideation and prioritization: When you are new to content marketing, it can be tough to get good ideas for content. However, once you get started, you’ll likely find that you have more ideas than you can implement. As such, one key skill you will need to have in your arsenal is the ability to organize and prioritize all of the content marketing ideas generated by your team. (For some more-specific content organization tips, I recommend reading this post by Jay Acunzo.)

Content taxonomy: The managing editor will need to develop the “buckets,” or groups of key topic areas your content will cover. At a basic level, you can use these topics to help you prioritize specific pieces of content — i.e., if something falls outside the key topics you’ve selected for your editorial plan, it might be worth putting it on the back burner in favor of content with more immediate strategic value. Even if you don’t yet have a plan for how you’re going to use this taxonomy, it will ultimately be key for organizing your content and helping you understand what is working — and what isn’t.

Ability to find and manage writers: Managing editors need to know where to find the right writers for content projects, and should be able to guide them through your editorial and publishing process. (Grant Butler offers some useful advice in his post on how to hire effective writers and editors.)

Content workflow and scheduling: A large part of the managing editor’s job is keeping all projects on track and moving everything through the process, from ideation to publication and beyond. Your editorial plan should outline all of the steps in these processes, including who needs to see each piece of content — and what their responsibilities are in order to move it along to the next stage of production. And, if you are looking for a basic editorial calendar to help you with planning and scheduling, you can download this template.  

Basic understanding of SEO and social optimization: While SEO is only a small part of content marketing, it’s important that your managing editor understands the basics so every piece of content your company publishes gets optimized for its specific marketing goals.

Editing capabilities: Even if you have several editors and copy editors on your content team (i.e., those who will focus on editing each piece for meaning, factual accuracy, style, format, grammar, etc.), your managing editor should be responsible for maintaining the quality and value of the collective body of content you publish. In addition to editing pieces for logic, flow, and structure, this involves making sure content speaks to your overarching brand story and point of view.

Content repurposing: Part of the managing editor’s job is to maintain the efficiency of the content production as much as possible (while focusing on quality, of course). Instead of producing one-off pieces on a random, as-needed basis, it’s helpful to have a plan in place in advance for how you will repurpose your key assets to extend their value and reach.

Measurement: Last, but certainly not least, a managing editor needs to be able to figure out what’s working, and what isn’t. (Remember the content taxonomy? If you have this in place from the beginning, you’ll be able to tell what topics are resonating and which are not.) Of course, any plan you put in place will likely need to be adjusted on an ongoing basis, depending on how your audience responds to what you publish.

“Soft” skills

While the descriptions above can function as a checklist to help you understand the basic roles and responsibilities of a managing editor, I have also found there are some “soft skills” that can really help your content marketing plan move the needle for your organization. While finding the right person who is a cultural fit is paramount — and every organization needs something a bit different — here are some of the traits I suggest looking for:

  • A love of learning: Content marketing is a field that is rapidly evolving, so to keep up with the trends, you need to find someone who’s constantly reading, learning, and applying the new skills they gain. Remember that sometimes the best learning experiences and most inspiring moments occur when you make the effort to break out of your regular routines.
  • Willingness to innovate/experiment/fail: The best ideas are often not those that cost the most but rather those that are most creative. And, to be truly creative you need to be OK with failing sometimes. Look for someone who is willing to try new things — and learn from inevitable missteps.
  • Comfort in working with technology: There are a lot of systems involved in content marketing — from email marketing to web platforms to marketing automation tools and more — and even though a managing editor does not need to be a master at all of these, it helps to have someone who has a basic understanding of how these tools work and is comfortable with incorporating new systems into his or her existing processes.
  • The ability to communicate well with others: Content marketing is very much a team sport, and a managing editor needs to communicate with many different people. On one end, you need someone who is clear and diplomatic. But that person should also be strategic, business-minded, and able to communicate and justify programs with management.

Interested in what employers are looking for when the hire content marketing managers? Some recent research by Software Advice analyzed what skills are included in 300 job listings.

An example from CMI

While I serve as our team’s managing editor, many of the tasks above are a team effort.  Our editorial team has evolved over the past several years, as we look to constantly learn and adjust our approach. This is a very simplified look at our structure:

  • I oversee CMI’s content marketing strategy across the various channels. It’s my responsibility to figure out what topics we should cover, how to organize the information, and what is working. I also look for opportunities to repurpose content and make our overall process more efficient.
  • Jodi Harris manages our daily blog (as well as our online training), which is the hub of our communications for the practitioner-level audience. She works with our authors on a day-to-day basis and manages the editorial calendar.
  • We also have someone who optimizes the titles for each of our posts (Tracy Gold) and another team member responsible for copy editing and managing the production of content through our content management system (Lisa Higgs).
  • Clare McDermott is the editor of Chief Content Officer magazine, our print publication. Her focus is on bringing in editorial content on the topics that marketing leaders care about most.
  • Lisa Murton-Beets heads up our research efforts, including our annual content marketing research and other custom projects.

As mentioned above, it’s critical that everyone on our team works well together. It’s not uncommon for us to pitch in and do things that are outside of our defined roles. But, it helps tremendously that we know who owns what part of the process.

An important note: Our editorial team is focused on what content to create, while our marketing director, Cathy McPhillips, is responsible for the outreach strategy for all of the content across the enterprise. While the managing editor often plays a hand in marketing, I recommend placing a marketing expert on your content team whose role will be to focus specifically on this goal.

I’d love to hear from you: How are you organizing your editorial function? What tips can you share?

Ready to make content marketing an integral part of your business operations? Download our workbook to learn how to Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program

Cover image by Andrew Moir