No expensive software or complicated algorithms are needed to focus and deliver your organization’s key messages throughout the year. In fact the secret to making sure you’re “on message” with your communications can be accomplished with a clean sheet of paper and sharpened pencil (or excel spreadsheet if you’re so inclined).
The cornerstone to your new coordinated efforts? A well-planned and executed editorial calendar.
No way you say. I’ve done that before and it never works.
Impossible you reply. We don’t have enough (or we have too much) going on to make that worthwhile.
Rest assured. Even if you have a single message you are trying to deliver consistently throughout the year, a well-planned editorial calendar will help you sharpen your focus and raise your relevancy. Remember that editorial calendars aren’t just for content planning. They can help organize the activities of entire organizations.
We’ve pulled together a few of our thoughts on how to approach great editorial calendar planning with your team or just you. Because how you plan can be as impactful as why you plan. Reinforce a culture of creativity and collaboration through a dynamic editorial calendar planning process.
Whether it’s your first time tackling an editorial calendar or your 225th, we recommend using the visual space of a white board, big 11 x 17 pieces of paper, or our favorite, those oversized post-it sheets with one dedicated to each month of the year. Lay it all out in your conference room, office, hallway, whatever works and is available to you. Feeling plucky? Plot out sheets for 24 months.
Two Heads Are Better
Editorial planning is most effective when all the potential players are in the room. So grab the head of your communications team, development, membership, retail, or publications— any department that faces externally or supports those who do.
The size of an organization does not limit the value of a well-developed editorial calendar. We would encourage you to tap into volunteers or other stakeholders to feed your own ideas for creative for this process— having 1 – 3 people to bounce ideas off can be helpful. Come together for a 60-90 minute session. Bring snacks, color sharpies, have fun. This is a standing meeting (literally) where people are moving around the room, looking at the year and participating by writing directly on the sheets.
With your bold, crisp sheets hanging on the wall with such potential, plot the year. Mark the months when the seasons are changing, major holidays (that matter to your members or industry), board meeting dates, holiday parties, known events. Don’t forget to add in mailings, email blasts, conferences, etc. Color-coding the different types of activities can sometimes be helpful to visually identify what’s dominating your year.
Does each month represent a different organizing topic or theme for you? Or perhaps each quarter? Creating organizing ideas for your activities and content across the calendar can start to create connectivity between activities or ideas that may have previously been disconnected.
Are there months where you have too much going on? Too little? Do you have the flexibility to make adjustments that allow for a more steady rhythm? Did you step back and realize you’re planning on saying, doing, mailing something that is the same regardless of the time of year or your organizing theme? What can change?
If you have open questions, capture them and make a plan for how they will be answered. Don’t complete a planning session without making real commitments to as many connected ideas as possible. Planning with a large group? Help facilitate this process by drawing the discussion out of your colleagues through positive comments and follow-up inquiries.
Take the time following the meeting to build a table or spreadsheet that becomes the working editorial calendar for the year. Include the categories and potential color-coding if you have enough areas to distinguish on the calendar. Then distribute it to those who participated in the process first. Ask for their input, any changes. Once you have a refined document, share it with the whole organization. Giving people something to focus on each month can help bring new ideas and opportunities to the surface. It can also help teams self-edit ideas that might take the organization off course.
Keep it Fresh
Revisit the calendar on a quarterly basis as a planning group to make sure it is on track— and keep planning. Now adding three-month increments each time you meet to always stay 12 months out in your thinking and planning process.
Over the years we’ve had clients share with us that the process of creating an editorial calendar as a team changed how they interacted in their work. It increases awareness of each other’s work and encourages more communication and consideration of each other’s efforts. It can’t fix everything, but a well-planned editorial calendar can at least get everything in one place.
P.S. – not sure what to plot on your calendar? Then use the planning process to plot your aspirational ideas, potential events, meetings, themes, etc. It can be a good way to see if everything you were thinking really fits together.
P.P.S. – we weren’t kidding about those color sharpies and snacks. Everybody thinks better with a little nosh and who doesn’t like markers?