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Editorial and content teams need structure in order to thrive. A well-structured content group is far more likely to operate efficiently, generate better ideas and create consistent systems to produce expert-level content. Clear roles and responsibilities and reporting structures mean content teams that are self-sufficient and feedback systems that are robust.
The biggest challenge for content teams is figuring out how to balance efficiency with creating good stories. The way this generally shows up in these kinds of organizations is in the balance of content “creators” to managers. In publishing parlance, that means the ratio of writers to editors.
While organizations want to skew towards creating more and managing less, they often tend to do just the opposite. One of the factors that makes organizing content groups more difficult is that there are unique facets to editorial organizations, which means they need to often be organized in a different way from other departments. Work is often produced faster and more often, feedback has to be given much more regularly in the form of editing, and content is always changing. Because brand publishing must be created consistently to be successful, it’s important for teams to be structured in a way that creates momentum and doesn’t stall progress.
Structuring can also be particularly difficult for content groups that sit within larger corporate organizations, for example, a marketing and communications group inside a Fortune 500 company, or a publishing organization inside a PR company.
The good news is that there are now, a variety of viable ways to build, organize and grow an editorial team. A well-optimized and well-structured editorial organization is now a competitive advantage for any business that wants to grow its bottom line. More importantly, a poorly optimized editorial operation presents significant business risk in a difficult and rapidly changing industry.
In its ideal form, an editorial structure allows each person within it to do their best possible work. It aligns their interests with those of the organization as a whole, it makes their roles and responsibilities clear and it ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction with successful results.
To structure a brand publishing team effectively, companies should:
- Understand the roles and responsibilities of key editorial and publishing staffers: Having clearly defined roles and responsibilities will ensure that people know what they’re responsible for, and also let managers add resources where they’re necessary.
- Understand the pros and cons of various organizational structures: The same structure doesn’t necessarily work for all teams. A reporting structure should be chosen based on resources, expertise levels and overall goals, and also changed and reconfigured when necessary.
- Implement these structures to create a successful brand publishing team: Teams should implement (and then periodically assess) structures to improve efficiency and create the best possible work.
This Guide outlines ways of organizing a brand publishing team, focusing on creating an efficient way to generate a deep well of content, with just the right amount of editing. It also covers job roles. It’s a practical manual designed to consider flexibility, depending on the size, nature, purpose, goals and other unique factors of a company. This Guide will help improve the organization and structure of a company’s content operation and will provide clear and actionable ideas that can be put into practice, immediately.
Defining job roles and responsibilities
Job roles can be tricky to delineate. Depending on the type of organization, there can be a plethora of different titles for people who work on creating, editing or even designing and concepting content. The following section breaks down the type of roles brand publishing teams should have, at a minimum, to create successful and efficient content operations.
Job roles vs. job descriptions
Job roles and job descriptions are different, although related, as they both inform job titles. For content groups, these differences may not seem obvious at first, but this guide will help simplify them so that finding the right roles, descriptions and people are as painless as possible.
Job roles are identified when a certain function or person fits into the larger structure of an organization. Take, for example, a project manager. A project manager title says what the person’s role is: they are in charge of project management. But, a project manager for a business unit that makes cardboard boxes, describes the person’s function. For content groups, especially, implementing these differences is simple, in theory, but hard to do in practice. Another example of a job role is a writer. A job description (that person’s function) goes deeper than that.
Job descriptions define the specific and necessary functions of a job role. The most common pitfall is that job descriptions are, typically, only created when there is a vacancy . Instead, job descriptions should be crafted for every single person in the current group, as well as for future needs.
For more on job descriptions and hiring, see the How to Hire Writers and Editors Guide.
Editorial director/executive editor
The editorial director role is the person responsible for all of the content the organization or department is creating. This person should be responsible for hiring, staffing, editing, assigning and big-picture concepting, including but not limited to coming up with core editorial strategy, tone, voice and so on.
Key responsibilities include:
- Setting the editorial strategy. The editorial director should set the weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual editorial strategy. That includes: working with other departments on overall business goals and metrics and coming up with clear audience personas, tone and voice. For more on this, see the How to Develop a Brand Publishing Strategy Guide.
- Communicating editorial ideas and vision. The editorial director is often the assigning editor, coming up with story ideas for writers to draft, as well as new products, like podcasts or videos.
- Managing the team. The editorial director is responsible for every brand publishing team member, as well as every piece of content; they must motivate and develop editorial talent.
- Measuring and tracking metrics. The editorial director is responsible for tracking and reporting metrics that define success, including pageviews, visitors, engagement and more, and tying these back to business goals.
- Editing. Editorial directors often double-up as editors, taking a second or third look at stories to get them ready for publication.
Writers and content creators are the beating hearts of any editorial team or publishing organization. These are the key staffers who are responsible for pitching stories, writing copy and assisting in developing the overall publication.
Key responsibilities include:
- Pitching stories. Writers are responsible for generating story ideas, both during content meetings and to fill the editorial calendar.
- Writing stories. Writers are responsible for reporting, sourcing and writing stories, copy, articles and posts, turning them in on time, and adhering to a content calendar.
- Developing the publication: Where appropriate, writers are also responsible for coming up with editorial products such as podcasts or video, new newsletters and formats and overall development of the publication.
Editorial producers are the people who make things happen – from taking edited copy and placing it onto a website or into a newsletter, sourcing art or design, working with designers or audio producers to tie up loose ends or ensuring that the content operation runs smoothly, overall.
Key responsibilities include:
- Publishing content. Editorial producers take finished stories and place them into content management system (CMS) software and/or on the company website with headlines, art, SEO copy and so on.
- Producing newsletters. Editorial producers take articles from the week and turn them into emailed content, sent to the company’s target audience(s), clients or internally.
- Providing support for design requests and other needs. Editorial producers may often assist with booking guests for podcasts, work with designers on shepherding through art or logo requests or manage content calendars.
Managing editors can be a controversial topic, as their roles can often feel more organizational than editorial, but as content groups grow, they can be essential to act as a second to the editorial director and ensure smooth operations.
Key responsibilities include:
- Supervising editorial staff. Managing editors govern the writing staff’s schedule and assign and manage stories to ensure a smooth flow of content.
- Overseeing production schedules and calendars. Managing editors are key to ensure content meetings run properly, story ideas that are pitched actually get done and there is enough content on the company’s site.
- Editing. Managing editors also double-up as editors for copy to ensure it adheres to standards, answers the right questions and works with the larger goals and vision of the organization.
Section editor(s)/deputy editor(s)
Section editors, also sometimes known in editorial organizations as deputy editors, are content managers with specific expertise. These are useful for larger companies, where there are multiple industries or verticals to cover.
Key responsibilities include:
- Managing content. Section editors manage content for a specific topic or subject, as well as focus on hiring and staffing writers or producers for that topic.
- Assigning stories. Depending on the size of the organization, section editors are the ones in charge of assigning stories for that topic, and perhaps writing their own.
- Editing. Section editors should also check copy to ensure readability and that it answers the right questions.
- Working with editorial directors and managing editors. Section editors can be the first line of management and are, therefore, often responsible for channeling information and ideas up to executives.
Copy editors don’t have to be, and often aren’t, a singular job title; they can be combined with other editorial staffers. Still, these responsibilities are extremely important in creating content that’s polished, professional and premium.
Key responsibilities include:
- Keeping copy clean. Copy editors look for typos, missing words and finicky sentence structures and correct them. This is a key responsibility and the last line of defense for editorial content.
- Fact-checking. Depending on the nature of the content involved, copy editors can double-check numbers, stats, dates, quotes and assertions.
Defining organization structures
Determining which structure befits an organization should be evaluated and re-evaluated consistently. Here are three, newsroom executive-approved ways to organize a content team.
Hierarchical, or pyramid, structures are the most common way to organize any organization. They’re the simplest representation of how management authority flows – from the top to the bottom. They also create an umbrella, or shelter, for any type of junior role so that each employee has a clear and direct method of contact.
For publishing operations, particularly, this organizational structure also helps in showing how the editorial process runs. For example, decisions for a big story or project, are made at the top, transmitted to the executive roles of editorial directors, then meted out to managers, who can govern day to day operations. And, when stories are turned in, the flow begins from the bottom, making its way up to the appropriate senior representative.
Benefits of the hierarchical structure are:
- Clear communication and authority. The most traditional org chart also has the most traditional benefits. There is rarely any confusion about who makes the final decision, for example, on a story pitch. There is a clear line of communication – writers to their editors and above – and a clear sense of authority, as well.
- Growth is straightforward. When it comes to these structures, they’re also pretty clear in how to advance within the organization. Writers or producers can seek to move up to senior roles by being promoted to senior writers, editors and so on. If organizations have clear job descriptions, then it can make conversations around growth paths pretty forthright.
- Ownership isn’t confusing. Each person has a good sense of where they are in the organization and what they’re responsible for. Each writer, or group of writers, can be responsible for specific topics or products, such as writing an email newsletter.
- As the publishing team grows, the structure can largely remain the same. Growth is predictable in this kind of organization, even if it does feel a little one-dimensional. People can move up in the hierarchy (or leave the company), and as new departments or products are added (a new beat, or even a new vertical), they can simply be slotted into the organization. Large-scale reorgs are not needed.
Risks of the hierarchical structure are:
- The management paradox. Despite so many calls and examples to the contrary, organizations persist in expecting that good, individual contributors can only progress by becoming managers. It’s especially common, in this structure, where the only real way to progress is to manage other people and other teams. This means that growth is stunted and limited and people may be likelier to leave when they outgrow their current position. This can be especially painful in content organizations, where management often takes a different approach than creation.
- Managing people should be separate from being a good employee. A good editor doesn’t mean a good manager. Line editing, or having a vision for story angles, doesn’t also mean managerial skills that can guide staffers. This structure bundles everything in one. It can work for some organizations and some people, but those are probably rarities.
- Stifles innovation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a structure that doesn’t have lots of “ideas” floating around. For some organizations, that can be good. But this structure means that if you’re in an editorial organization that values and demands (and perhaps even needs) lots of new ideas, this isn’t the ideal structure.
Matrixed organizations are becoming increasingly popular in content and publishing organizations because they recognize that multiple “managers” are needed for groups. It divides the management function into two parts: one, for editing, and one for people management.
This, essentially, leaves section editors or the managing editor to focus on the output or the actual stories. These organizations can be difficult to set up and hire for, but can scale rapidly and keep people focused on what they’re best at.
Benefits of the matrixed structure are:
- People do what they’re good at. People who are fantastic at crafting story angles are left to do that with the full support of the organization behind them. Other managers, who are more management-oriented and understand how individual and team growth can ladder up to success for the organization’s actual business priorities, are also left to do that. Writers and other team members have the benefit of a dual-manager structure.
- Collaboration becomes more than a catchphrase. All the managers have to work together, and symbiotically, in order for success. This way, “team” is an authentic construct with real goals and KPIs attached to them. The section editors cannot successfully do their job without working in tandem with each other.
- There’s “growth” for many skill sets. Growth can be clearly delineated. While many people can be good at both individually contributing and managing, organizations may succeed by creating editor paths and talent paths for growth for everyone. It retains people without shoving them into boxes in which they don’t belong.
Risks of the matrixed structure are:
- Two bosses, two problems. Obviously, the biggest challenge is in managing managers’ expectations in a realistic way. Writers can be caught in the middle with two different bosses to report to. Conflict can also be harder to solve.
- Lack of accountability. Matrixed organizations often make it easier to hide underperformance from specific people, since there are multiple managers and performance can be confusing to track.
In most cases, flat structures refer to little or no hierarchy. They don’t mean, as many often think, little to no structure. Flat structures get a bad reputation in other industries. But in newsrooms, they can often work surprisingly well.
In brand publishing teams, as you can see below, flat structures can work when organized around beats. An editorial director can sit on top, with “desks” or “beats” structured underneath them. Editing is usually traded off to other team members. But otherwise, this works well for player-coach-style newsrooms where everyone writes and contributes to content creation.
Benefits of the flat structure are:
- Easy communication. Communication is simple and not confusing. Without multiple groups or multiple layers, misunderstandings are less likely, as are confusions about expectations or responsibilities.
- Faster decision-making. Products, such as a story, a series, or a new type of website, can be launched quickly.
- Scaled vision. The “vision” is completely scaled, from the editorial director to the rest of the group. It makes decisions agile and quick, and also seamless. For publications with clear aesthetics, tonality and “voice,” this is extremely important.
Risks of the flat structure are:
- Growth is limited. While a flat structure doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow, that growth is less traditional, often appearing as a bump in salary and responsibilities, versus a more traditional increase in job title or reporting structure.
- Management can be stretched. One person managing many can be difficult, leading to less-personal overseeing and more autonomy – which can be good for some people, but for those needing more hands on management, it’s just the opposite. And for managers, it can mean their entire job is about managing people, nothing else.
Selecting a structure
While many brand publishing teams may choose to operate outside of these three structures, largely, in a freeform environment, strong content creation and management depend on a tight, efficient way of working. One of the key tenets of creating good content is to be able to do it consistently – on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. That means creating an almost conveyor-belt-type structure that simply runs – and the best way to do that is to pick a structure and implement it.
While implementing these structures, a few things must be kept in mind:
- Structures don’t work in a vacuum. Before selecting a structure, it is worthwhile to take stock of current personnel and resources and determine where and how to position them appropriately. While it may seem tempting to do this the other way around, the reality is that people make great teams, not great structures.
- The size of the organization does and will matter. For example, the matrixed structure is complicated and works best for large scale organizations, such as a large, multinational PR agency that creates content for clients in a variety of sectors. This example agency could benefit from the matrixed structure precisely because there are so many different ideas, content types and industries at play. At the same time, a straightforward, hierarchical structure can work best for a smaller organization, such as a small startup consumer brand that has a content team.
- The people and kind of experience they have makes a difference. If the organization has mostly junior staffers, the hierarchical structure may work best. If there are a couple of leaders who show strong editorial skills, the flat structure can make sense. Being realistic with the levels and capabilities of current teams is the best way to choose what structure is appropriate.
- Culture carriers matter. Whether the company has a clear vision and culture that can be carried through by multiple people is something to consider. If, for example, there are a multitude of people who have worked at the company for a long time and are exemplary staffers, it can be easier to implement a flat structure with little oversight. For groups with high junior turnover, hierarchical structures will make more sense.
Measuring performance for publishing teams is an art unto itself. That being said, the regular ways managers and leaders measure success is effective for all types of roles, including content-driven positions, as long as there are additions made for content-specific needs.
This section is, therefore, meant to be an add-on to supplement existing performance reviews that focus on metrics and goals that were set previously.
Defining what is being measured
Writers and editors need to have a clear path to what the ultimate business metrics are and clear lines drawn to how their work affects those metrics. For example, there’s no point in measuring newsletter opens if they’re not a definitive part of the wider strategy.
Content operations and newsrooms need to use metrics in a way that is effective. That means making metrics, that the writers can control, part of the performance evaluation. Over the last few years, it’s become more common to have newsroom reporters evaluated according to metrics like page views, newsletter opens or event subscribers. But, those metrics often come after the fact.
Formative assessments use metrics in a way that aids efficiency and workflow. For example, showing a writing team that newsletter opens are highest when the newsletter is emailed out at 9 a.m., should create a deliverable of having the content for the product ready to go before that time.
It can be difficult to track individual success when most writers are asked about what they’d like to optimize; and answers may range from, “do the readers love what I write?” to “influence” to other qualitative answers. That’s fine. But all of these things come from good habits, ambition and pitching good ideas – and those are the deliverables to track. One simple way to do this is via a quarterly performance review that gives a one-to-five sliding scale to 10 desired or expected performance behaviors.
- It’s up to managers which behaviors are chosen to prize or reward in the organization.
- Pick 10 performance behaviors and ask the employee to rank themselves on each, using a scale of one (being the lowest) to five (being the highest).
- The employee’s manager should, independently, rank them, too.
- Then, there should be an open discussion, focusing, specifically, on the attributes where there is clear disagreement (e.g., the writer thinks they’re a five when it comes to innovative ideas, whereas the manager thinks they’re a two).
Checklist and next steps
Structuring a brand publishing team is an important part of creating an efficient and effective organization. Content teams do – and must – operate differently from teams that fulfill other functions, as they need very clear decision-making on an hourly or daily basis because copy must be assigned, written and edited quickly. They also depend on strong editors and managers, and those aren’t always the same thing.
They should also operate independently and think differently from other departments so they can ensure content has new angles and is fresh. Because content is often externally facing, people who staff brand publishing teams are also likely to be former journalists or editors, who are used to fast-paced environments; and the chosen business structure should reflect that.
It’s worthwhile to think through the people in question and determine a structure that works. It’s also helpful to remember that structures can and should change as companies and departments grow. There’s no such thing as a perfect structure, but making an effort to create one will pay dividends.
Companies that want to structure a successful brand publishing team should ask the following questions:
Job roles and responsibilities
Defining organization structures
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