What is the difference between an editorial calendar and a content calendar?
For marketers and business owners, the difference between an editorial calendar and a content calendar is essential.
To help you understand the differences, let’s break down each piece to establish what is an editorial calendar and what is a content calendar.
To start, let’s first take a look why you need an editorial calendar. Often, this is the piece of the content marketing strategy that is either left out or cannibalised into something else.
What is an editorial calendar?
An editorial calendar is a document, typically a branded PDF or slide deck, that presents an annualised overview of topics, themes and campaigns that a content team will be covering month-by-month. This document is then distributed to both internal and external stakeholders.
An editorial calendar is usually presented as a one-page document with each month clearly communicating through colours, bullet-points or short sentences, the key deliverables, concepts, topics, themes, campaigns and values that a content team will be focused on for that month.
The value of this document is two fold. Firstly, the editorial calendar presents a clear overarching set of themes, values and core messages that your content team can plan and strategise for, thereby giving writers and creators greater lead times, clearer pegs on which to conceive of fresh content ideas and a way to keep concerns about lack of direction at bay. This same ethos can apply cross-department, enabling internal company stakeholders the opportunity to understand what the marketing department or content team is working on and — if you have been producing this calendar collaboratively with these stakeholders — allows them to work with you on planning and preparing content, knowing that your calendar demonstrates foresight.
The second value of an editorial calendar is in procuring buy-in from external stakeholders. For instance, you may be running an editorial news website and in the month of November, your editorial calendar notes that you will be focusing primarily on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I); this insight may align with a local business that is also working on D&I programmes, which presents an opportunity for brand partnerships and collaborations. And having a document that is branded, in a format that is lends itself to presenting or handing out — such as a PDF or slide deck — builds credibility and authority.
In summary, an editorial calendar is an excellent asset to empower your content teams and invite collaboration internally; the editorial calendar also provides a clear, digestible roadmap of events for potential brand partnerships.
These functions necessitate a document that is NOT constantly being updated on the fly and one that also isn’t stuffed with dense information that is not digestible. An editorial calendar is not a working document but rather a pamphlet of headlines for each month.
What is a content calendar?
A content calendar is a document, spreadsheet or online tool that illustrates what a content team is working on currently, what the team will be working on and what has recently been completed.
A content calendar should be a working document that is rich with information about past, present and future content in the production pipeline. It is the ’content machine’, it is the ’content production line’, and should be used on a daily or intra-day basis in order to ensure that content is delivered to deadlines.
Because a content calendar is a tool to monitor your team’s progress, it should be structured in such a way that it achieves two things quickly and easily;
- Identify where in the production pipeline a piece of content is, and;
- Identify all collateral both in draft and approved by your stakeholders
For the first requirement, a good content calendar is typically structured with columns signifying your production process. For example, I typically follow:
- Editorial Review
- Graphic Design
- Promotional Copy
- Final Sign-off
You would then colour-code or tick off each column of your production process as the content passes each respective stage, enabling you to see at a glance where your content is currently sitting.
And to the second function, you should ensure that each content piece has its assets easily accessible — either via a link to a shared drive or contained within the task itself if your content calendar has a ‘card’-style system that can host attachments. And crucially, this must be the source of truth. Colleagues should make it essential practice that any assets linked to these content pieces are the latest versions. Sending outdated collateral for review is bad practice, but this can be easily resolved if all key stakeholders understand the importance of keeping their areas of the production process updated.
Now, it’s time to stress one thing that may or may not be obvious at this point: a content calendar is not intended for external distribution, and I’d often hesitate about making it widely accessible to internal stakeholders too (too many chefs). Unlike the editorial calendar, a content calendar is a workhorse that is not intended for outside glances. Don’t forget this!
Differences between an editorial calendar and a content calendar
We’ve now established what is an editorial calendar and what is a content calendar; and by now, some of those distinctions are already becoming clear.
One difference between the two is that an editorial calendar can and often should be shared externally; distributing this branded document externally can provide partnership opportunities, create customer and client expectations for you to deliver on and it can also demonstrate your position as a transparent, strategic thought-leader.
In contrast, the content calendar should not be shared internally. It is often a very dense document with lots of information that can be overwhelming to external audiences. It is also typically not branded, and having externally visible deadlines (which shift and change internally) could hamper team morale and establish unreasonable demands upon the content team. And most crucially, the document will largely contain unfinished content that has not been approved; having such a sensitive document available externally could pose a PR nightmare while also granting your competitors powerful insights into both your specific content campaigns and your production processes.
Mirroring their functions, the content calendar and editorial calendar each has its own ideal format.
A content calendar is best suited to a spreadsheet or an online project management solution. Many popular content calendar platforms for marketers include Trello, Asana, Monday.com, Notion and CoSchedule.com. Whether you decide to use one of these, or something else, they will typically enable you to organise your content, establish a clear production pipeline, facilitate collaboration and you can ideally attach collateral for easy access. Because these are not intended to be shared externally, there is no need for an on-brand document and so third-party, non-white label solutions will serve you perfectly.
Meanwhile, an editorial calendar must instead be branded if it is to deliver the best impression. Therefore, third-party tools are a big no-no. For best results, you’ll want something that is orientated towards presenting branded information in a sleek and stylish package. I’d suggest the ol’ faithful Powerpoint or Google Slides, or a professionally designed PDF graphic that can be both printed out and downloaded. You want your editorial calendar to ooze style and confidence; this is your roadmap. Design something that you would be proud to hand out to potential clients to secure you a new contract, and something that will succinctly address their questions about what key things you will be addressing in the next year of content.
For any digital marketing teams and content creators, having both a fleshed-out editorial calendar and a comprehensive, well-maintained content calendar is a key result that can substantially elevate you above the competition. While it is not essential, and some out there do try to create one amalgamation of the two, I hope that I’ve being able to illustrate the potential for having these two calendars as distinct entities.
If you have any questions about either calendar, or you would like to know what resources I would recommend for your use case, be sure to leave a comment below.
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Read this on my blog here: https://doug-digital.com/what-is-the-difference-between-an-editorial-calendar-and-a-content-calendar/