- Brand publishers can benefit from instituting journalism-style “church-state” separations between their editorial teams and other parts of their businesses.
- Effective editorial teams often operate independently, and are given the freedom to publish without the burden of heavy oversight or bureaucracy in the form of approvals and reviews.
- Advantages of this approach for brand publishers include the ability to create more engaging content, build greater credibility with audiences, and ultimately further the interests of their broader businesses more effectively.
Brands that are serious about their editorial and publishing operations often benefit from adopting the habits and approaches of journalists and journalism organizations, including operational processes, audience development strategies and storytelling methods.
But one journalism concept that’s rarely discussed in the context of brand publishing – and one that’s often crucial for the development of engaging, high-quality content – is the “church-state divide.”
In layperson’s terms, the “separation of church and state” has become journalistic shorthand for the idea that the business side and the content side of a publishing organization operate separately and autonomously from one another, and – crucially – that the business side will not attempt to influence or otherwise interfere with the methods and output of editors and journalists.
While the benefits of church-state divides are clear for journalism organizations, (i.e. they contribute to the production of objective, unbiased information and content) they’re perhaps less obvious for brand publishers. Few brands think about or successfully implement intentional divides between their editorial operations and other areas of their businesses, largely because editorial is often seen as a means to an end, rather than a “product” in its own right.
Nevertheless, a strategic divide between the editorial teams and other internal teams can help supercharge publishing operations and ultimately help more effectively influence companies’ bottom lines.
The benefits of a church-state divide for brand publishers
The rationale for a church-state divide is somewhat different for brand publishers compared to media companies. For brands, the benefits include:
Credibility with audiences
Brands building publishing operations already face an uphill battle, with many readers expecting brand-published content to be outrightly favorable to business interests of the company that publishes it. Any brand publisher’s work has to overcome these existing assumptions, and one way to build credibility is to challenge readers’ assumptions by tackling issues and themes they may not expect a brand to explore. Without giving a publishing team autonomy and room to experiment with different types of stories, formats and approaches, brands can often undermine their own efforts to attract and engage audiences.
More engaging content
A newsroom that’s given the freedom to explore topics, themes and ideas without the fear of internal reproachment will inevitably generate better quality content. Writers and editors that don’t see subjects and entire topics as being off limits will be encouraged to explore those topics in a deep, nuanced, and valuable way. For example, instead of simply ignoring “sensitive” topics, teams can push to find angles and ways to get into the issues of the day in a way that is both appropriate and beneficial for the business in question.
Efficiency and speed
One of the most important goals for a brand publishing operation is to balance quality with efficiency. Being able to create content quickly with minimal roadblocks is the goal of any process. Being agile can mean creating more content, and reacting to timely news or events to glean the maximum amount of value from the pieces in question. But even the best editing processes can be stymied by cumbersome review processes that require multiple leaders, executives or team members to “sign off” on certain pieces of content. A clear demarcation between the editorial team and the rest of the organization can make the process more efficient and fast.
Clear separation between editorial groups and other departments within companies can benefit and protect the interests of sales teams and other client-facing staffers, particularly if that separation is clearly and publicly communicated. Sales or marketing teams may not always be entirely comfortable with the topics or positioning of content produced by brand publishing teams, for example, leading to unnecessary tension or bureaucracy via review processes, meetings and approval processes. If editorial teams are given the freedom to act independently and autonomously, however, difficult internal discussions can often be avoided, and client-facing teams can easily explain that the operations of editorial teams are beyond their influence. In extreme cases, this can avoid situations where content is being removed or edited after publication, which can lead to loss of confidence in the publication and loss of morale among editorial teams.
More ambitious editorial teams and staffers
While in the short term, many brands could see an independent editorial team that doesn’t have every single one of its pieces reviewed by multiple senior people as a threat to the business, this can change in the longer term. A newsroom that is unencumbered by a fear of the “executive review” is able to be more ambitious, and write bigger stories that have the potential to transform their organizations.
How to institute a church-state divide
Marking clear boundaries between editorial teams and the business teams is critical to ensure the best outcomes from a brand publishing operation. Putting this into practice is relatively straightforward. Brands should ensure that:
- Independent editorial teams should have their own story pitching and editing process that does not involve other team members, particularly during the day-to-day editorial process.
- Editors should have a “seat at the table” with other leaders in the organization for ongoing, consistent meetings to ensure that their point of view is communicated to the larger group, problems are headed off before they happen and that the rest of the organization is kept informed about the editorial group’s progress.
- Editors should be given autonomy and independence to publish pieces without other leaders needed to give it the final green light.
- There are limits to the “second shift” that many writers or content creators have to take on inside brand publishing newsrooms. Many writers are often called on to write or edit other work, including client-facing work, marketing copy or other documents. While this may be unavoidable inside businesses, it can be helpful to limit this to specific times or projects.
- When applicable, there should be people tasked with operating as a liaison between the editorial group and the business side – these should be staffers with a clear sense of strategic direction for the entire organization who are able to spot problems from afar and keep communication channels open.