Why All Brands Need an Editorial Workflow

When I first imagined being an editor in New York City, I saw myself tucked away beside a fireplace in a cozy cafe—article and red pen in hand. While this fantasy remains a weekly ambition, it looks nothing like my actual life as a digital editor in 2016.

Unlike my fireplace reverie, digital publishing involves a regimented system of checks and balances. That system becomes more complicated for brand publishers that must also align with marketing, legal, and design departments. For The Content Strategist, our workflow is driven by our technology, and it’s a crucial part of how we’ve managed to grow as a publication over the last few years.

Since clients and prospects often ask what our workflow looks like, we decided to outline it here while explaining why each step is important to our content marketing philosophy.

Understanding the unsexy

An editorial workflow is not the sexiest part of publishing. By workflow, I’m referring to the the series of steps it takes to get from an idea to a finished piece of content that’s ready to be published. Compared to writing, reporting, and editing, it’s probably the least sexy part of the process. But it’s still a vital aspect of any successful content program.

If workflows aren’t set up well, they can become messy labyrinths of bureaucracy. We’ve heard horror stories of brands spending six months approving one blog post. That gridlock will ultimately crush the creative spirit, no matter how passionate you are about ideation and writing. But when you have an established workflow all in one place, you can avoid those issues. Maybe you take weeks to approve a piece of content while competitors take months. Maybe you can cut it to days—or even hours.

Building the right workflow differs depending on industry, company size, mission, and the type of content you want to create. A big bank producing a blog post could have a very different workflow than an educational startup putting together a 30-second explainer video. But regardless of the differentiating factors, there are ways you can simplify your publishing process.

For context, this is how our workflow looks:


Step 1: Compose story

To start, our senior editor assigns a story to a member of our internal editorial team or a freelancer. In this first step, the writer composes the story. Once she submits a draft, it triggers an email notification to our editorial team.


Step 2: Edit

One of our editors claims the story, which prevents other editors from mistakenly accessing it and erasing or altering notes. The senior editor delegates the stories to the right person, depending on availability. (As the marketing editor at Contently, I typically handle edits for case stories, case studies, product stories, mid-funnel articles, and certain e-books.)

Step 3: Final editor review

By the time it reaches the final editor review, the story has likely gone back and forth between the contributor and editor several times. In this stage, either our editor-in-chief or senior editor gives a last look, by checking the story structure, ensuring the voice is on-brand, and identifying any big-picture issues related to the reporting.

Step 4: Copy check

Once the story gets approved, it goes to a copyeditor who focuses solely on grammar and usage issues.

Step 5: Design

With the copy ready to go, one of our in-house designers works with the editors to select a legally compliant hero image for the story. Our editors offer broad concepts and suggestions, which the designer is free to ignore if she has better ideas. Once the designer finds a few options, we select the best image. She uploads the final version to the assets tab on Contently so we can easily find the file for future use.


Step 6: Publish

From here, we use our custom fields feature that lets us set SEO details like focus keywords, meta descriptions, and tags. When the fields are ready, we push the article through Contently Live, our custom CMS offering, and publish it on The Content Strategist.

(These were the steps involved for publishing this very article.)

Mastering the workflow

If you talk to any of our account managers, they will tell you that one of the biggest indicators of a brand’s editorial success is how quickly they can create an ideal workflow. This isn’t an accident.

An editorial workflow sets a clear chain of command. Writers know where to report and whom to go to for clarification. Editors and marketers know when to pass a project along to design or get approval from legal.

Workflows also make it easier to delegate. Instead of chasing after colleagues and freelancers in long email threads, the centralized workflow allows for a steady process for creation and review. Publishing becomes easier when each player sees and understands how they fit in to the overall process.

Perhaps the most compelling benefit of an organized system is efficiency. A good workflow should save you time. When you’re just starting to publish, people from every department will want to be involved. Some of them should be, some shouldn’t. It’s important to cut out unnecessary steps. If two executives with overlapping responsibilities want to approve a story, see if you can consolidate that request so only one needs to look at it.

For TCS, we’ve gotten to the point where we can cover a big story the same morning that it breaks. Our workflow isn’t fancy, but it’s effective. It’s evolved slightly over the years as our team has grown and responsibilities have become more specialized. Initially, we didn’t have a specific step for copy editing, for example, but we quickly learned that it was an area we needed to address to become a better publisher.

There weren’t any romantic touches like breve lattes, coffee table jazz, or red pens. But we did have careful planning and honest communication with people in our company. And without that workflow, The Content Strategist as you know it probably wouldn’t exist today.

Image by Andy Roberts / Getty

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