These days, consumers expect companies not just to provide them with valuable products but to actually create value for them. One of the best ways to do this is to produce original, compelling content — and to share it consistently. That’s where the content marketing calendar comes in.
Creating calendars allows content marketers to identify and effectively promote editorial content to their target audiences. A successful calendar also aligns teams and holds individuals accountable; ensures that the content produced is aligned with your overarching editorial strategy; helps you manage resources; and identifies gaps in the strategy.
Suffice it to say, creating calendars for content marketing has never been more important. But doing so requires a strategic, organized approach to ensure all questions — from what kinds of content to produce to the most appropriate timeline to adopt to how to best allocate manpower — are addressed. Here, some top content marketers share their tips for the best way to make a calendar.
First things first: talk to stakeholders
Before you take any action to make a calendar, you should speak with your stakeholders to determine what their goals are for the content produced and what should — and shouldn’t — be included. “Find out if there are specific products or features that need to be showcased on the blog, or if there are existing events/launch dates that must be synchronized with your publishing calendar,” says Lionel Valdellon, content marketing manager for CleverTap.
You’ll also want to define themes for the quarter that “unite content, product marketing, PR/comms, and other teams creating campaign, product, press, or sales messaging,” adds Rachel Serpa, Director of Content Marketing for Wrike. “Everyone needs to be speaking the same language and producing materials that support the same key messages.”
Define your audience
Before you create any content, it’s important for everyone to know who your target audience is.
“Who is buying your product, and who do you want to buy your product? Sometimes those two groups are the same, and sometimes they’re not,” explains Serpa. “If they are, great. If they’re not, be sure to create content that speaks to and unites both of them.”
And don’t forget that your customer’s relationship with you doesn’t end once they make a purchase. “Be sure to create content for people at different stages in the buyer’s journey,” Serpa adds.
Monthly or weekly calendar?
All the experts agree: When deciding on your optimal publishing rhythm, you should prioritize quality over quantity. That means whether you adhere to a weekly or monthly calendar, the most important considerations are the time it takes to produce the kind of content you need and the resources you’ll need to create it.
“Achieving meaningful and sustained engagement with your audience requires that your team delivers something of value that the audience just can't get anywhere else,” explains Brian Walker, Director of Content at Scale Venture Partners. “Doing this takes time — time to land on truly original ideas, time to research and refine, time to really nail the extra 10 percent that makes your content memorable. Your publishing cadence, then, should [result] from the time it takes your content team to get it right; optimizing for arbitrary goals like ‘we need to publish weekly’ distracts from doing the best work possible.”
Serpa notes that while plenty of lead time is necessary for good content, it should be balanced with the flexibility to adapt to changing markets and events. “For me, the sweet spot has been to plan a quarter out, but only schedule a month out,” she says. “If nothing changes, then I can just load the next month of planned content into the calendar. If something major changes, it gives me more flexibility to shift things around.”
Selecting a tool: calendars and templates
Once it’s time to create the calendar, you’ll need to choose a tool or template to design and share it. Keep in mind that every relevant stakeholder should be able to access the calendar, so it must be shareable. There are many different options — you’ll just need to find what works best for you.
Valdellon recommends selecting a calendar that has drag-and-drop capability to make rescheduling simple and painless. And remember that some people are visual learners and work better on paper. In that case, consider printing the calendar and hanging it up where will be seen or using a tool where individual users can print the calendar. Just remind them to check frequently for updates to the calendar so they don’t get outdated.
Wrike Calendars allow content teams to have individual, color-coded calendars for each content type — such as ebooks or blogs. “The ability to layer these calendars creates a single view of all scheduled materials that really clarifies deadlines and dependencies, and makes it super easy to identify scheduling conflicts,” says Serpa, adding that she uses Wrike’s monthly calendar template.
“The best part is that every scheduled task is connected to the underlying work, and all you have to do is click on it to see all related information, files, and conversations. Deadline changes made directly within tasks are automatically populated in Wrike Calendars, and dragging and dropping a task on the calendar also updates the task date,” she adds.
Walker notes that you may want to manage two versions of the publishing calendar:
- A full version for the content team, which details all the production steps, assignments, and deadlines they need to know.
- A streamlined version for the marketing team and other stakeholders, which outlines delivery deadlines. These external stakeholders want to know when that ebook is going to be ready, but they’re less concerned with the process of its production.
Above all, Valdellon notes, “Ensure everyone uses the calendar. If it’s not there, it doesn’t exist, and [content] doesn’t get published.”
Allocating Your Resources
A big part of effectively managing your calendar is knowing how — and how much — to assign to your team. In fact, the Project Management Institute found that 21% of projects fail due to limited or taxed resources, and inadequate resource forecasting accounts for 18% of project failures. Clearly, resource management is critical.
Valdellon says prioritization is key here, to ensure the most important content gets tackled first and by the most appropriate team members. The items deemed less important? Outsource or postpone.
Serpa adds that another tool for effectively managing your resources is to leverage your team members’ areas of expertise as much as possible. “If I know they’re really good at writing a certain type of content or really interested in a certain topic, I do my best to assign it to them,” she says of her team. “I also use the 80/20 rule. I schedule them to 80 percent of capacity to leave room for unexpected projects.”
Managing Your Calendar
Once you make a calendar, the work doesn’t stop. You need to regularly check in with your team to assess progress, communicate important information, address any changes, and update the calendar. A few tips for successfully managing your calendar are:
- High visibility. For example, every piece of content in the publishing calendar used by Serpa’s team is tied to a larger project in Wrike, and these projects are managed in a shared dashboard that clearly displays where each task sits in the team’s workflow. “So if something gets stuck in a particular status or is overdue, the dashboard makes it really obvious,” she says.
Walker adds that with time, you should be able to accurately predict project deadlines based on your knowledge of your team’s output. “Once you have that visibility, be ruthless about holding everyone accountable to the deadlines you set,” he says. That way you’ll stay on track and on deadline.
- Automatic updates. Many digital tools and templates will send an automatic notification to team members when there are updates to the calendar or specific tasks to which they’ve been assigned. For example, every time Serpa’s team changes a status or due date on a task, the team members assigned to the task get an automated notification, ensuring that “everyone is always on the same page.”
- Address delays directly and quickly. Walker notes that discussing any delays or changes to the calendar in an open setting — say, a weekly team meeting — encourages transparency and allows group problem solving to work wonders. “This also communicates that you're all in it together: When great projects are finished on time, everyone wins,” he says.
- Use comments. Avoid sending emails to document changes to tasks, Valdellon says. Instead, consider leaving comments on the tasks. This keeps a record of all communication about the task while also ensuring visibility and transparency.
The best way to make a calendar: the final secret
Publishing calendars are extremely important, and content marketers tend to live and die by their deadlines. But your publishing calendar needs to be a living, breathing document. The secret to making a truly effective and robust calendar is to never think of it as “finished” or “locked down.”
“Chances are, something you planned will get pushed back or moved up or canceled all together — and that’s OK,” says Serpa. “The ultimate purpose of a publishing calendar isn’t to push particular pieces of content live on a certain date. It’s to release timely materials that support key business initiatives and speak to buyers at every stage of their journey. Sometimes things have to change to make that happen. It’s part of the fun.”
Looking for the perfect content publishing calendar for your team? Try Wrike and its Calendars feature free for 14 days! To help in your pursuit of the right project management calendar tool, we’ve also written a few follow-up posts: