Association Communications Benchmarking Series

Build a Strong Foundation for Your Communications with an Editorial Content Plan

By Sarah Sain, CAE • January 24, 2019

As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” This holds particularly true for your association’s print and digital communications. It’s essential for your association to have a clearly defined editorial content strategy if you want to reach your communications goals.

According to the 2018 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, associations know that having a communications strategy is important, but they also say that creating a comprehensive plan that meets their members’ needs can be a challenge.

Consider these best practices when creating your association’s editorial content plan for the year.

Do your research ahead of time.

Two out of three associations said their members are “too busy” to engage with their communications. That’s why it’s so important to know what topics are relevant to your association and your industry. When we see content that is relevant to our careers and our lives, we make the time to consume it.

Start by looking at data and analytics to show you what your readers want. Establish performance metrics and track them over time. That could be open rates on your magazine digital edition, click-throughs for your newsletter or top read stories on your website. Don’t get too worried about a particular statistic at one point in time – look for trends and work those into your overall strategy.

Other ways to stay on the pulse of what your readers want include talking to your members at events, conducting surveys, listening to them on social channels, and paying attention to their conversations in online communities. Different segments of your membership will have different preferences for what type of content they want to see, as well as how and when they want to consume your content. Use that information to target specific member groups with personalized content throughout the year.

Timing is everything.

Deadlines don’t have to be something that fills your association with dread. In fact, having a calendar that includes agreed-upon deadlines can help you successfully implement your content strategy. Follow important deadlines for both editorial content planning and production, and promote your publish dates so readers know when to expect new content.

Set deadlines in advance and be aware of how they fit into your association’s calendar. For example, you don’t want a major content deadline for your annual membership directory to fall right in the middle of your conference. Make sure all deadlines are outlined with everyone involved in the project using a shared calendar or collaboration tool.

Clear, firm deadlines help your association prioritize the right tasks and set a realistic timeline so you can accomplish all of your communications goals.

Draw on the strength of your membership.

Thirty-five percent of respondents said maintaining their position as the industry’s No. 1 info source is a challenge. Your members can help you meet that test head on – they are the experts in your industry, and your editorial content is a lasting resource where they can learn from each other’s knowledge, experience and leadership.

Consider creating an editorial committee where members can serve as a sounding board for ideas or volunteer to write or edit content. You should also include regular calls for member-created content in your magazine, newsletter and on social media. By having a written editorial content strategy, your members will know where to focus their efforts and how they can have the biggest impact.

Members can also play an important role as you look to expand your communications portfolio into newer channels like podcasts or text messaging. Include these new communications in your annual content strategy and build excitement with members before rolling them out to a larger audience.

Tie your editorial content in with your education goals.

Traditional conferences and face-to-face events remain the top individual communications channel in this year’s Benchmarking Report, with 90 percent of respondents saying they consider them extremely valuable. Take advantage of the strength of your events when you’re creating your editorial content plan.

Work with your education and events team to identify popular content from past events and highly anticipated speakers at your upcoming conference that you can repurpose in your magazine, digital newsletter and across social media. Ask all your speakers to provide written editorial content that you use throughout the year to promote both your publications and events. At a time when association staffs are doing more with less, working together to develop and promote event-based content is a win-win.

Consider your advertisers and sponsors.

This year, nearly half of all associations told us they are struggling with generating non-dues revenue – 46 percent say it’s a serious or significant problem. One step in the right direction is to make sure that your content strategy keeps potential advertisers and sponsors in mind.

Plan your overall editorial content strategy annually to allow advertisers to allocate their dollars. If they know what editorial content to expect throughout the year, they’ll be better able to budget support for your association communications through regular advertising, sponsored content and targeted sponsorships.

Finally, don’t be afraid to include topics within your overall content strategy that would be a draw to advertisers – after all, they’re your members, too. They rely on your communications to stay updated on important industry news and trends. They may even have an interest in contributing content on a particular subject, and their perspective and expertise could provide a valuable new voice for the industry.

Editorial Planning 2019 Infographic 640 px
Download the full-size, PDF version of this infographic here.

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn more about editorial content planning and how it can help take your member communications to the next level, here’s some related reading.

Why an Annual Content Plan is Paramount to Member Communication Success

How Content Opens the Door to New Streams of Non-Dues Revenue

Extend the Life of Your Event with Content That Lasts All Year

Download the full-size infographic pictured to the right, “5 Best Practices for Building a Strong Editorial Content Plan.”

About The Author

Sarah Sain is Director of Content with Naylor Association Solutions. She is responsible for the overall strategy, leadership and management of Naylor’s content department. In her seven years with Naylor, Sarah has provided editorial consultation and content strategy for more than 30 associations across an array of industries. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @ssain7.