Marketing Strategy

Why Every Content Strategy Needs a Managing Editor

By October 24, 2016 4 Comments

Jane, a director of marketing at a SaaS company, eagerly opens the email attachment. She is charged with designing and implementing a content strategy that will grow the startup’s user base, and she’s relieved to have this first draft—delivered on time—from Dan, a freelance writer she hired to develop blog posts and white papers.

It’s been a long road to this first article. First, Jane used a content studio, but the articles they delivered were superficial clickbait. She got submissions from colleagues that were too technical to understand. Other colleagues promised contributions but haven’t had time to follow through. And she played freelancer roulette on Fiverr and Upwork, wasting more time than money.

But Jane anticipates better progress now because, after a lot of vetting, she knows Dan is a good writer; he has great references and great samples from respected trade magazines. Jane is ready to read the first of many substantial, complete, well-written blog posts that she can load into the CMS and hit publish on.

And Dan’s draft is terrific. It flows. It’s informative and well-researched. Readers are going to find it useful, and Jane can even imagine sharing it on social media herself.

Except, Jane notices with a sinking feeling, Dan quotes her company’s competitor and fundamentally misunderstands company positioning.

Reading on, she sees that he also perfectly addresses the bottom-of-the-funnel concerns of the company’s secondary customer persona, when what Jane’s content strategy requires — yesterday — is top-of-the-funnel content for her primary customer persona.

Jane can’t use Dan’s draft at all without totally reworking it.

Jane Needs a Managing Editor

Jane, like many overworked directors and VPs of marketing, is responsible for developing call sheets, kill sheets, landing pages, slide decks, conference presentations and a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes the miracle of “free traffic” attracted by a steady outflow of valuable content.

There never seems to be time to develop that content, though, and even if Jane hires a terrific freelance writer like Dan, that doesn’t seem to lessen her workload. Because who is going to manage this writer to ensure they understand the startup’s marketing strategy and are working in alignment with it?

What Jane’s marketing strategy needs is a managing editor, a role born in newspaper and magazine publishing rather than in marketing departments but critical in the era of brand publishing.

The Benefits of a Managing Editor

Ironically, a ridiculous amount of good content does actually get written without ever reaching the audience. Studies show that at least $50 billion dollars are spent each year on wasted content. It is written and paid for and then hits a choke point instead of getting completed and distributed.

Another way to think of this is as a “last mile problem.” Marketing directors assign someone to write an article, the article gets written according to specifications and it gets 90 percent of the way to the finish line. But nobody has responsibility or time for revising and editing the work — much less to see it through the illustration and production stages.

This results from marketing departments trying to execute a content strategy without planning for how it gets operationalized. That operational step is what a managing editor does. They anticipate and minimize the problems that will cause a breakdown at the last mile, and they know how to rescue a project that is faltering despite the best planning.

What will a good managing editor do for you?

A good managing editor will serve as a bridge between the business goals and the writing going out on behalf of the business. Here’s how:

  • Comprehensive consulting. A managing editor will meet with the VP or director of marketing to get key pieces of information on the table. Who are your stakeholders and target market? What are your objectives? What is your company’s voice?
  • Designing a creative brief and an editorial calendar. The creative brief, often overlooked, draws a nuanced picture of the client, while the editorial calendar provides a detailed strategic timeline for the entire project. Together, these roadmaps ensure everybody — the client, the editorial team and the writers — are running toward the same destination.
  • Sourcing the writers. As I’ve discussed previously, it’s a good idea to include writers with a journalism background in the mix, rather than only marketing copywriters. In any case, finding and onboarding writers with an understanding of both the content strategy and content plan will save a lot of grief later.
  • Crafting good assignments. Interesting articles don’t result automatically from interesting topics. Nor are a headline or a keyword phrase enough guidance to give a writer. The writer needs to begin with a sense of where to look for information, who to talk to, the points that should be covered and the questions that need to be answered.
  • Staying informed. Good managing editors keep a finger on the pulse of their industry so they know where to look for the best information and the right sources. And they know how to ask good interview questions.
  • Overseeing work-in-progress. An effective editor won’t just just give an assignment and wait to see what shows up. They are checking in with writers, checking outlines, nudging the projects that are adrift back on course and troubleshooting problems before the deadline arrives.
  • Keeping the reader’s point of view in mind. I cannot emphasize this last point enough. A managing editor is an advocate for the reader’s experience while keeping in mind the overall business objectives. Content projects have at least two sources of gravitational force pulling at them — the tendency toward clickbait and the tendency to drift into promotional marketing mode. A managing editor helps maintain high standards for the content project.

Getting Your Managing Editor in Place

Suppose, like Jane, you decided on topics and hired some writers, and you now have imperfect drafts landing on your desk. Some are awful, some are polished but superficial and, with others, you look at it and think, “This is mostly what I need, but not quite.”

You don’t have the time or a process in place to see to get some momentum going. What should you do next?

  1. Consider the objectives of your content marketing strategy. Who do you hope to reach? What sort of information and messaging do you want to convey?
  1. Think about your timeline. Remember content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint; projects typically span at least six months.
  1. Determine your budget. Hiring an expert to operationalize your content marketing strategy adds costs above the “cheap writers” model, but it solves the alignment problem and closes the gap on the last mile. If they are bringing their own writers to the project, the all-in cost may be lower than you expect.
  1. Shop around. Contact content marketing services companies and ask about their processes. Expertise matters some, so you may prefer a provider with experience in your industry. Personally, because this is an operations problem, I believe process matters as much as domain expertise — though Jane’s company probably doesn’t want to rely on someone who knows nothing about B2B startups.
  1. Dig a little. After reading this article, you know what to expect from a good managing editor. If you don’t hear anything about absorbing and aligning with your marketing strategy, call somebody else.

You’re looking for a managing editor who can shepherd content development past sticking points until each article is 100%. They reduce the risk of hiring freelance writers by including all of the necessary steps to content marketing projects — the risk that you’ll be contributing to the $50 billion in wasted efforts. If you account for how your content strategy will be operationalized, the result will be excellent writing that is aligned with your business objectives.

Robert McGuire

About Robert McGuire

Robert McGuire operates the content development firm McGuire Editorial. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

4 Comments

  • Waynne Meek says:

    Great article! And how very true. This is something close to my heart, as a content manager and managing editor in the past. I am also open to taking on this role for a company – find out more from my LinkedIn profile (search Waynne Meek), or check out my website http://www.brandcopylab.com.

  • pamellaneely says:

    I think Dan could be doing more here. He should have:

    a) asked Jane who she considered to be competitors, and then not mentioned them (even if they have awesome research that would have made the piece).

    b) spent 2-3 hours reviewing the company’s other marketing materials so he would have understood their positioning before he wrote even a sentence.

    But I definitely agree with you – a good Managing Editor can be invaluable. And if you’re really serious about making content marketing work, you need one.

  • Janice King says:

    Another thing a managing editor can help avoid is the expectation that writers are mind readers. Too often marketers are so deep in their own company knowledge they forget outsiders need a lot of input on the company’s products, customers, positioning, and market strategy.

    • Great point Janice. The way I like to think of it is that managing editors are advocates for the perspective of the publisher/company, of the readers and of the writers. That perspective may be, as you say, less informed than the marketing pro realizes.

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