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Content calendars: The best laid plans

With 2018 already practically in the rear-view mirror (just where did it go, anyway?), thoughts inevitably turn to plans for the New Year – or will turn, once the equally inevitable gluttony and good cheer of the holiday period have been dispensed with. It’s a time when financial targets and strategic priorities are set for the months ahead. Many marketing teams will be going through a similar process with their publishing and content goals for 2019.

At a lot of organisations, these plans will take the form of a content calendar. Whether cradled in a visually dazzling PowerPoint or slapped up in a spreadsheet, this will lovingly detail all the amazing things the company plans to publish over the next twelve months. In the first few editorial meetings of the new year relevant teams will rally around the document with a deep sense of shared purpose, working around the clock to bring that next video interview or op-ed to life.

And then, something happens. Or to put it more accurately, nothing happens. The editorial meetings slow down. Maybe one or two tasks listed on the calendar are skipped or put off when people are busy dealing with other things, or priorities change and the business wants … something else. Soon enough, the calendar is banished to the dark corners of a desk or Intranet and the team is back to scrambling to produce things on an ad-hoc basis.

Given the amount of time and effort that can be put into these documents, the untimely demise of a content calendar is a real shame. From what we’ve seen, it’s also often the result of a few common mistakes. Following are a few tips to help your editorial calendar stay alive (and relevant) well into the new year.

*Be realistic. The misstep we see most often is the tendency to get overly ambitious in the planning stages. Setting out ideas for a bunch of polished videos with no clear idea where you’re going to get the production resources, or assigning a series of opinion pieces to a stressed-out senior executive who’s constantly on the road, sets a calendar up for failure by making execution next to impossible and calling the entire exercise into question.

*Get the experts involved. Publishing meaningful work is often highly dependent on the insight of in-house experts – yet marketing teams often cook up content plans on their own and present them to the rest of the business as a done deal. Make sure the people whose views you’ll need to draw on are deeply involved in the calendar’s development; this will not only help define key ideas and themes, but also help get their goodwill and buy-in for the entire process. They’ll also often be the first to tell you if that plan to have them crank out a LinkedIn post a week might be too demanding (see “Be realistic” above).

*Be versatile … to a point. Established wisdom rightly dictates that content calendars should include a mix of themes and formats (articles, graphics, videos, podcasts), to serve various audiences and purposes. But this is another area where planning can easily get carried away. Not every enterprise needs to do it all; a certain amount of consistency in topics and formats builds focus, makes it easier to keep going, and helps teach your audience what to expect.  As we’ve said before, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or repurpose material now and then. Constantly creating new intellectual property from scratch is a time-consuming and exhausting business (which is exactly why a lot of organisations seek our help).

*Be flexible. While it’s good to stick to a blueprint whenever possible, be ready and willing to embrace a certain amount of change based on market or industry developments, and business needs. A commentary that speaks to a recent news event will almost certainly find a wider and more receptive audience than whatever you planned six months ago. It’s also important to look how what you’re publishing is being received and to apply what you learn to future plans on the calendar – even if it calls those plans into question.

With that, the team here at n/n wishes everyone the best for the planning/holiday season, and the new year. May all your publishing dreams be happy ones.

 

 

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