How and why communicators should set up an editorial calendar

As in comedy, great timing in public relations is essential. Rather than leaving your messaging to chance, plan to distribute your content—themed and evergreen alike—around specific dates.

Editorial calendar planning

In a perfect world, we could put pushpins on the calendar to plan days, weeks and months of special events, announcements, contests and news to share.

It’d be an entire roadmap of content, blog topics and email promos.

Of course, anyone who’s walked the PR planet for years knows that social media—and breaking news—can quickly overturn your best-laid content plans. If the date for that TV interview you arranged weeks ago finally arrives just as a major earthquake strikes California, then your big moment might be rescheduled—or axed altogether. That’s why you—and your editorial calendar—must be flexible.

First steps

Planning content in advance brings challenges, but savvy communicators still keep a framework in place. It’s crucial to follow a template that allows you to track and update how you will distribute content.

Luckily, hundreds of online templates are available to download free, or you can create your own document. You might opt for something rudimentary, such as tacking a page from a large desk-blotter calendar to the wall.

When choosing a format for your editorial calendar, ask these seven questions:

  1. Will you be using it for both traditional activities (press releases, events, TV-news interviews) and for the online content you create (Facebook Live, blog posts, podcasting)?
  2. Will you need separate content calendars for calls to action, keywords and generating leads?
  3. Do you prefer a weekly, monthly or quarterly calendar?
  4. Is the calendar visually appealing and easy to organize and revise?
  5. Will your team communicate online via Slack, or are you a solopreneur who prefers a paper calendar?
  6. Do you need a dashboard-style content calendar that has separate fields for deadlines, reviews, sales-campaign collaborations, departmental/client approvals and publishing dates? (Agencies, corporate communicators and larger teams typically use these.)
  7. Is the calendar simple, realistic and structured for maximum efficiency?

Different kinds of content

Once you’ve chosen your template, mark special dates, events and occurrences on your calendar. There are four types of content to plan for:

Date-specific content: Begin with dates that are known and probably won’t change, such as the anniversary of your company’s founding, a client’s annual golf outing, the Memorial Day parade or a state budget hearing.

Evergreen content: Not tied to a particular day, evergreen content can be used any time during a month, season or year. For example, if you’re pitching a year-round story about car safety, you can write a tip sheet or create a video on the importance of seat belts. If you’re educating people about the dangers of drunken driving, you can use the same content for the Fourth of July holiday or Super Bowl Sunday.

During Autism Awareness Month in April, you can share relevant content or pitch stories throughout the month. For specific dates such as World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, you’ll have to wait until the following year if you miss it. The same is true for Valentine’s Day and Halloween.

Once you have marked both date-specific and evergreen content on your calendar, backtrack a few days or weeks and note when you should start drafting press releases, inviting reporters or recording videos. Doing so will ensure your pitches and posts are timed appropriately. Also, when pitching print magazines, consider the necessary lead time. Magazine editors often need to receive story ideas three months before an issue’s publication.

Breaking news: Although breaking news can’t be planned, it’s still an important facet of editorial calendars, because it gives you opportunities for prominent placements and can help you build your credibility with reporters. For instance, if a celebrity breakup is making news and your client is a relationship expert or a lawyer specializing in prenuptial agreements, you might ride the coattails of the national story. Dubbed “newsjacking,” this practice requires PR pros to think on their feet.

Communicators will stand out for responding to a journalist’s “help a reporter” request for a story source on HARO or for contacting reporters quickly and efficiently when news breaks. Your willingness to be a subject matter expert can boost your credibility and earn you free press. You don’t necessarily have to create news; you just have to reach out to journalists who are facing tight deadlines. If you can offer a fresh angle on a story—and are willing to talk in a pinch—then reporters will consider you a dependable source for future stories.

Repurposed content: Don’t archive or throw out your old material, thinking, “Well, this is history.” Peruse your past content, and pick out your most popular stories and posts. You can probably tweak a headline or freshen up a statistic and repackage the material as a slide deck, video or podcast topic.

In the end, the right calendar format—and a willingness to think nimbly—can foster exciting content opportunities.

A version of this post first appeared on PRSA’s blog.

Topics: PR

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