Creating an editorial calendar for your email newsletter

Get strategic with email content

“Ack, our email newsletter is supposed to go out tomorrow! What should we write about?”

“There’s nothing new! Should we ask Sales?”

“What if they want us to write about the Super Widget again? We can’t keep writing about the Super Widget!”

“Why are we always in this position?”

If this was your last impromptu email newsletter meeting, you aren’t alone. And the reason you’re in this position every couple of weeks is because you don’t have an editorial calendar.

An editorial calendar is a device that encourages you to be more strategic with your email marketing — and, because you’re planning ahead, helps you avoid this last-minute stress.

1. Choose a format.

Editorial calendars can take on a variety of formats. Some people like to use their Outlook or Google calendars. Others think a list is just fine. Personally, I prefer a grid using Excel, though a lot of marketers I know opt for a grid format in Word (because it isn’t Excel).

If you do a grid, you can list your issue dates down the side and your story slots (“Feature #1,” “Sidebar,” “Event Promo”) across the top. If you have writers (whether internal or freelance), you can also include a space for the assigned writer.

Whether you use a calendar program or a grid, it’s nice to be able to see several issues at a glance so you can make sure you’re avoiding unplanned repetition and hitting all of your major messages.

2. Review your marketing plan for the year.

Before you start planning for six to 12 months of content, sit down with your marketing plan for an evening. What are your key messages for this year? What products or services do you want to promote? Is there a big event that you’re building up to? Do you have other marketing activities you want to play into?

3. Invite input.

This can be a brainstorming meeting or a simple email request — whatever makes sense for your organization. If you have product managers over your different product lines, it’s time to ask them what they want to see in the email newsletter this year. How can your email newsletters over the next six, nine or 12 months help promote the right products and services?

Depending on the size of your business (and how much you delegate), you might not be aware of certain issues within your business. For example, you might learn that one team has a key employee going on maternity leave in August, so they might not want to promote their product line when she’s out. Or maybe some products need more email marketing love than others.

This is also a good time to ask what challenges your sales team is facing — that way, you know what messages might be helpful to them in their efforts. You can also see if anyone has a great customer testimonial or other story ideas.

4. Create story ideas.

With your own ideas and the input you collected, you have the beginnings of stories. But chances are, you don’t have fleshed-out story ideas. You probably have a lot of “Let’s do something about gratitude the week of Thanksgiving!” or “We need to promote the Super Widget in July.”

To be clear, those are great starts, but without stronger, clearer story ideas on your editorial calendar, you’ll still be scrambling at the last minute — it will just be a different brand of scramble. So, instead of “Promote the Super Widget,” which is a marketing demand, a story idea is: “How the Super Widget Can Save You an Hour a Day” or “This Customer Saved $100,000 with the Super Widget.”

The story idea generation process can be a long one. But it’s a fun one. Invite your most creative staffers to join in — even if they aren’t in marketing. Or consider hiring a freelance writer to help you. A good writer (one who has deep experience in content marketing and/or a journalism background) can lighten your load while offering you a fresh perspective. For most busy business owners, it’s a worthwhile investment.

5. Slot the stories.

Now it’s time to go back to the grid or calendar you created in Step 1 and spend some time with all of those story ideas from Step 4. Cut and paste your story ideas into your editorial calendar document and see what works. When you’re done, you’ll have all of your newsletters planned for the next six to 12 months.

If it sounds like this whole process could take weeks (or even months), that’s because it can. And that’s OK if it does. Give yourself time to plan ahead. After all, that’s the whole point, right? To plan. But when your email newsletter editorial calendar is complete, you’ll have the confidence that you’ve been strategic and comprehensive in your approach, and you’ll avoid making last-minute content decisions that don’t earn the same bang for the buck.

Stephanie Conner
Stephanie Conner is an award-winning writer and editor who helps organizations create content that gets read. She has taught writing at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, her alma mater. When she’s not chasing after or wiping food off of her soon-to-be-toddling son, she enjoys yoga, cooking and wine (not necessarily in that order). Find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.