Back in late October, we asked readers if they had finished their 2021 editorial calendar. While 67% responded, “Yes, though we have left some room for flexibility,” 33% checked, “No, things are just too fluid.”
“Having an editorial calendar is well and good until a pandemic hits,” said Robin Re in a webinar this week titled Why You Need to Operate Like a Newsroom in 2021. She is the VP of marketing for Industry Dive, a B2B publisher that in this time of shrinking editorial staffs in many places, has been consistently adding to its reporting staff. They now have more than 80 reporters working on 23 newsletters in 20 verticals.
While the webinar was geared to marketers—the idea being that the way the Industry Dive newsroom gets to know its audience is a worthy blueprint for marketing—it also gave us an inside look at a growing and successful publisher and the insights of its editor-in-chief, Davide Savenije. The five keys that Re and fellow presenter Lieu Pham, Industry Dive’s VP global head of strategy, offered came straight from Savenije as did a few mantras along the way.
When it comes to editorial calendars and other publishing issues that can be put in flux by outside conditions, Re emphasized the need for processes. “What’s your process for dealing with unexpected things in real time?” she asked. “What format can we use to get information out and then update? Pushes? Articles? Interviews? Podcasts? What are the next developments that can then spawn from this? People want to consume quick insight and analysis. By coming out quickly, we give ourselves time to develop the deep-dive story.”
Pham added that in today’s market, brands need a plan for all types of events, kind of a marketing version of a SWAT team. Know how production will be accelerated and where you can take shortcuts to get content out fast. Ensure everyone understands their roles. “You can plan for the unplanned,” she said.
“When we talk about having a newsroom mindset, it’s not just about serving our audience,” said Pham. “It’s about having a plan in place for keeping your audience in the know and helping them plan as much as possible for the future. In other words, it’s about being ready for anything. The world turns in ways that no one can predict. Know who you are, who you serve, and plan for everything: the known, anticipated and unknown.”
While Industry Dive has grown, Pham was quick to point out when asked that smaller editorial departments actually have distinct advantages. “You can be more nimble, act like a startup,” she said. “You can really experiment and refine your approach. Just set up really solid processes than can scale… You may not be able to compete on breaking news, but you can provide more thoughtful follow-up and analysis.”
Having processes in place and being ready to pivot are part of number 3 for Industry Dive: Stay Agile. Let’s go through the other four:
Know your audience.
“We have an entire team dedicated to audience,” Re said. “Who is our target reader? What’s keeping them up at night? [Questions like these] allow our reporters to jump on the headlines and events that our readers actually care about. The audience doesn’t stay static, and neither do our efforts to understand them.”
She said that midway through 2020, they surveyed their readers and found that a quarter believed that their job had significantly changed during the pandemic. “That meant our reporters needed to pivot to stories of transition, increased responsibility, workplace alternatives and continuity solutions,” Re said.
Pham recommended these activities for your publications department: Customer interviews – up to five customers per audience segment. Stakeholder interviews, especially those who are customer facing. Who at your association deals directly with your audience?) Social listening. Don’t go crazy with this, Pham advised. Focus on the key threads to help develop the story angle. Keyword research. “That’s critical to establish authority or own a key conversation.” Analytics. What topics are resonating? Alerts. Competitor mentions, industry trends.
This as an ongoing process, Pham said. “So stay attentive, monitor and listen to make sure you’re investing in the right topics.”
Choose your coverage, keeping your goals, brand promise and audience in mind.
“Focus on what will impact [your audience’s] lives today, tomorrow and 10 years from now,” Re said. ”A story should also correlate back to a trend that says something larger about the target reader’s profession. Our reporters take a backroads view of what will change in the next 10 years and then tell the day-to-day stories that help readers get there.”
She said that choosing what not to cover can be just as important. Every story idea at Industry Dive must go through a series of questions all mostly related to the value the story has for the audience. She quoted Savenije: “You can’t be an expert on everything, so be an expert on the most important things.”
“What topics do you want to be known for that you have expertise and authority to own?” Pham asked. Make sure those topics make sense for your business. “Check out the competition; what are they doing well or failing at? Remember, you’re competing with everyone who has content. That’s not just traditional competitors anymore.
“Be really intentional,” Pham advised, whether that’s “meeting a gap in the market or simply creating high-quality journalistic content. In a world where content is highly commoditized, investing in quality could be all you need to take the lead.
Prioritize substance over clickbait.
“Readers trust us to take a deeper analysis beyond any other business publications,” Re said. “So we need to provide depth.” They discovered that 82% of their audience feel that quality of analysis is something they look for in a news source. So their headlines are active, informative, succinct and engaging, but don’t oversell. “Your teaser text should drive the headline,” she said. “Also try to be economical with words. And compel the reader to take action.” Create a curiosity gap that leaves the reader wondering.
Pham wants to see a diverse range of experts, inside and outside of your organization, leveraged, and for you not to make format assumptions. Narrow your coverage, she advised and double down on the why’s—thought leadership, big ideas—and hows—resources, templates, guidance and how-tos.
Listen. Measure. Learn.
“We want to build a relationship [with the audience] based on trust and credibility,” Re said. So page views are nice but they’re too soft a measurement tool. They prefer time spent on page, engagement rate and shares. “We use content that engages our target reader as fuel for our next story. Why waste time on a topic that the audience has shown little interest in in the past?
“We’ve built out dashboards that help show our newsroom the engagement behavior of our most valued targeted readers. Which stories are they reading? Which ones are they sharing? That tells where we go next?”
“It’s really good practice to adopt an evolutionary approach to content,” said Pham. “We constantly monitor performance and… the topics not working, and double down on the topics that are performing well. It’s a form of content Darwinism; it’s literally survival of the content fittest.”