How to Create an Editorial Philosophy that Drives Sticky Content

Posted by Doug Davidoff

May 10, 2016 9:30:00 AM

editorial_philosophy.jpgHave you ever stopped to think about what makes a publication a publication? Unless you’re involved in the publishing business, the question has probably never even occurred to you.

Did you catch that? I just wrote, “unless you’re involved in the publishing industry.” Of course, if you’re aiming to separate your company from the competition, to increase lead velocity, to shorten your sales cycle or a myriad of other demand generation objectives, you are in the publishing business. So if you haven’t contemplated that conversation, move it to the top of your list.

As Stacy has shared many times on this blog, creating content that resonates is really hard work. It’s difficult enough to create content, but doing so in the volume needed today and doing so in a way that sticks is feeling impossible to a growing number of people.

This is where we can learn from the traditional publishing industry. They’ve dealt with the problem for generations. So, how do newspapers and magazines consistently generate content that people find valuable enough to pay for (subscriptions), and maintain focus and feel with multiple people who write for the publication?

They utilize what’s called an Editorial Philosophy. I learned about this when I was a contributing editor for SmartCEO magazine. The philosophy is what ensures that a publication feels whole and complete when consumed by readers.

If you write for a professional publication you will be exposed to their editorial philosophy to ensure that  you:

  • Write to their desired audience (personas)
  • Maintain the style and approach consistent with other articles/content (voice)
  • Write in alignment with the angle the publication wishes to communicate (point-of-view)

It’s hard to believe (for me at least), but we’ve (Imagine) published more than 1,100 blog posts in addition to white papers, eBooks, viewpoint documents, podcasts, workbooks and more. Over the course of the 11+ years, we’ve had more than 10 people write for the blog, as well as accepting guest blogs on occasion.

Keeping all of that content aligned and creating consistency across various writers is one of the most difficult things we do (if you see Stacy ask her...she’ll tell you), and this is what we do professionally. When your business isn’t in the content marketing world, it’s literally like managing another business (of course the reason for that is that you are managing another business).

Editorial_Philosophy_Equation.pngThe only way we’ve been able to pull this off is by creating and maintaining our editorial philosophy. When we launch content efforts in any of our inbound marketing client engagements, one of the first things we do is create their editorial philosophy. The editorial philosophy works hand-in-hand with the editorial calendar to guide all content development efforts. The philosophy is shared with anyone creating content for a client or site, from executives to the freelancers who may be creating content.

There are a variety of ways to create an editorial philosophy. Here’s how we create ours:

Personas:  The philosophy starts by focusing on the personas that we are focused on.

Platform/Channel:  Clearly identifying the platform/channel being covered. For example, while different channels don’t have to have different philosophies, we may have one philosophy for a top of funnel focused blog, another for a technical blog and yet a third for middle funnel newsletter.

Purpose:  An explanation of what we’re “hiring” this content to do. Is it designed to drive traffic? Conversions? You should never write content for the sake of creating content, there should always be a purpose.

Positioning:  This is the core of an effective editorial philosophy. If you were to read every blog post on our blog over the last 11 years, you’d see they all come together to tell a single story (and that’s with several adjustments to our philosophy over the years). Take a look at any successful publication - Wall Street Journal, Inc., New York Times, The New Republic, Forbes, etc. - and you’ll see they all take an angle to tell a story. By the way, this is the answer to the question that led off this post.

Questions We Are Provoking:  I’ve often said that the company that controls the questions being asked, controls the market. If you’re writing to influence others, you are far better off provoking questions than merely providing answers.

The Actions We Desire:  When creating business or demand generation content you’re writing to create action, not just to educate. You want to be clear about the primary actions you are looking to prompt.

The Advantages We Want to Connect To:  Effective content creates a structure for prospects to better understand and analyze their situations. The goal is to orient and highlight those issues to the advantages you bring over your competition. Clearly laying these out in advance of creating content will make the process more efficient and effective.

The High Probability Indicators We Want to Connect To:  Defining your HPI manages complexity and gives your content a clear focus on the issues it should be highlighting, and the problems they should be diagnosing.

Negative Indicators (Red Flags):  We work with a client that sells to a highly sophisticated person type within defined industries. While it would be far easier to write content that would appeal to a less sophisticated person, that person would be highly unlikely to understand the real value our client brings. This is an example of a negative indicator/red flag. By clearly laying these issues out, everyone writing knows what to avoid.

While an editorial philosophy certainly doesn’t make the process of creating content easy, it does create the focus necessary to make content stick, and drive the business results that come from that.


Topics: Inbound Marketing, Demand Generation