A lot of businesses that have previously had nothing to do with publishing now want to get into publishing. And for good reason, since it’s easier than ever to broadcast your brand’s expertise to potential business leads and customers. Most CEOs, business owners, or marketing executives do not have the time, skills, or even interest in producing ongoing content. So when they decide to start up an online blog or a magazine for their brands, they usually assume that the first thing they need is writers. What they don’t recognize is that the writers come second — what they need before writers is an editor and an editorial strategy.
The role of an editor can be overlooked because, ideally, it’s an invisible one. In book publishing, editors usually remain unknown and publicly unacknowledged. Sometimes top magazine or newspaper editors become somewhat recognized if they become celebrities themselves. But the fact is, whether you know about them or not, there are editors behind everything you read. And that should include a company blog.
The editor drives the strategy and direction of the content, and is the big-picture filter through which all story ideas and drafts are run. Whether editors are employees of the businesses (many major corporations these days have one) or are part of a design firm, their job is to understand how a brand voice — and the specific objectives of a brand publishing program — should play out in content. From that foundation of editorial strategy, the editor can assign the appropriate writers for the job and through a substantive editing process make sure they’ve nailed it.
One common result of not having an editor and editorial strategy is an unhappy business owner or marketing exec who knows something isn’t working but can’t pinpoint why or what to do about it. In our experience connecting brands with journalists, one past experience stands out. We had arranged for one of our writers to produce a series of initial blog posts for a new company in the financial sector. The client contact, who had insisted on managing the writer directly, didn’t have any experience doing that. (And why should he have, given he had never worked in any publishing capacity?) So after the writer had completed the first batch of articles, the client called to ask for a new writer.
“It’s not the right voice for us,” he told me. I reminded him what he’d written in the brief and explained that the writer had delivered something very close to that. Of course, the problem was the brief itself — it had leaned on references to a couple popular magazines, but there was little in terms of strategy. The client had a sense of what their target audience was but the tone used in the publications (which were popular with the same audience) turned out to be wrong for their brand. Why was that? Why could their brand not present the same tone? How else could they attract the attention of the same demographic with a different tone and style? What did the client ultimately want the readers to do after they’d read their content? None of that was completely thought through, and so even after attempting to write in a certain style or mimic a specific source, something would inherently be missing.
I do give credit to that client for knowing that his blog would be most successful if he hired a professional storyteller — a journalist who knows how to obtain information, conduct an interview and artfully assemble a narrative. And he’d hired a good writer with over a decade of experience in the subject matter. But if you haven’t truly defined the course your publishing should take, the easy solution seems like just replacing the writer. In fact, the opposite is true — that’ll cost time, money, and maybe the entire project itself. A good writer is fully capable of changing course with the right editorial direction.
This story had a happy ending. Once we’d put an editorial strategy in place, our editor was able to correspond with both the client and the writer in order to create articles that exceeded the client’s expectations. And what we always find happened here again — once a writer is set off on the correct course for the brand and its objectives, the content is produced easily and only improves in quality over time.