Have you ever tried to put together a content calendar for multiple months in a row? It’s easy at first. Anybody can pick out the 5-10 easiest stories to tell about your company and the most obvious questions you get from prospects. But where do you go from there? The next few topics aren’t nearly as obvious, which is why you need a process. And just like the journalists who face the same issues every day, every week, or every month — whenever they publish, you need an editorial meeting.

More than a Brainstorming Session

Editorial meetings are part of the time-tested process that journalists use to discuss stories — but they aren’t just brainstorm sessions. Everybody knows their role, the rules, and the cadence of the editorial meetings, using the power of numbers — and multiple perspectives — to come up with the best content mix.

Because they use set rules and a set process, they are efficient — taking a full slate of timely news, feature ideas, useful information and oddball thoughts, and quickly running them through a series of common filters to identify the best mix of stories to pursue. They need to be effective and efficient, because the newsroom will run the same drill, with the same people, the next time they need story ideas, which could be the next day.

So, how does this translate to creating a content calendar? Surprisingly easily, since content marketing mimics so many aspects of traditional journalism. It just makes sense to use these time-honored tools to identify the most interesting stories to write about. Still, if you need more convincing, or some help getting started, I’ll borrow from another journalism convention — using the 5 W’s — to explain why editorial meetings are useful.

Here’s the who, what, why, when, where, and how — to get you started using newsroom-style editorial meetings to create better content.

Who?

Invite everybody, and urge them to participate. There’s strength in numbers and power in perspectives. You can’t possibly know everything interesting going on in your company, and might not have the right perspective to identify which initiatives really aren’t that interesting. Your sales and customer service teams will bring up different ideas than you will — and that’s a good thing. More ideas lead to better ideas — that’s the power of brainstorming with different people. Better yet, when extra people contribute ideas, they become more invested — and more likely to either write or do the necessary research to bring “their” story to life.

What?

You’re looking for the best stories. It’s as simple as that. Set the ground rules ahead of time, so everybody knows your criteria for good stories. Explain that you’re looking for things that are interesting, useful, and unique. If you always use those filters when you evaluate stories, your staff will even start using them when they evaluate what to pitch.

When?

Hold an editorial meeting every time you put together a content calendar. And if you run into any issues with either the cadence or the goal of both brainstorming stories and identifying which ones to execute all in one hour, remind your team that news organizations use the same process to tackle more difficult challenges every single time they publish. “If they do it every morning, why can’t we do it once a quarter?”

Where?

The location isn’t important, but it should be consistent. Keep it in the same room, and hopefully at a common time, so the editorial meeting becomes an expected part of your culture. And make sure you have a whiteboard. Like most brainstorming sessions, seeing all the ideas going up on the board is an important part of the process. Remember, no idea is too silly to make the list, but it needs to meet your key criteria to advance from idea to story.

Editorial Meetings

Why?

Would you rather do it on your own? Besides the obvious advantages of sharing the workload, the reality is simple — the more viewpoints you include, the better the perspective. More people mean more good story ideas, better discussion, and ultimately, more buy-in.

How?

This is what you’re really looking for, right? Fortunately, we’ve created a process at StoryTeller — based on our own newsroom experiences — that works for our editorial meetings. Follow the process, keep asking questions to drill down to the best stories, and then, do it again the next time. It’s not easy, but running your editorial meetings the same way every time will help you identify the best stories and even encourage your team to do some research before coming back for the next one.

StoryTeller Editorial Meeting Process

1. Set the Stage

The leader should open the editorial meeting by identifying what’s timely. In a newsroom, this is when you discuss the regularly scheduled events and ongoing stories that you just have to cover — and remind everybody about seasonal events and stories. Think of these as conversation starters. Some should be covered on their own, others will help trigger timely ideas:

  • Upcoming Events
  • Business News
  • Business Goals
  • Marketing Goals (including any high, middle, or bottom of the funnel needs)
  • Marketing Opportunities (including good keywords, and review high performing blogs)
  • Upcoming Holidays and Seasonal Events

2. Brainstorm Stories and Feature Ideas

Open the floor to brainstorm ideas, but be mindful of these key rules:

  • All ideas welcome
  • Must be unique, useful, or interesting

3. Apply Filters

This is where you vet the ideas. Ask these questions to decide which stories are worth pursuing.

  • Who will we interview?
  • What will we/they say?
  • Do we have enough information to write a full story?
  • Where can we get more information?
  • Will the story interest our personas?
  • Does it fit in the top, bottom or middle of the funnel?

4. Identify Top Stories

If you do it right, you’ll identify more good stories than you have time to write (or space to publish). That’s a better problem than we started this blog with, right?

Use the same criteria — useful, unique, interesting — to decide which stories to prioritize. Then you can decide who’s going to write them, and save the rest for next time — which is how the whole process becomes easier and easier over time.

Conclusion

Brainstorming five, ten, or twenty stories at a time is too much work for one person, so why try? Fortunately, journalists have developed a time-tested process to handle the same problem. Experiment with news-style editorial meetings and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to identify your best stories. Better yet, you may even get some extra help writing them.