Defining your editorial mission and values - The Collative
Content creation

Defining your editorial mission and values

OK, so hopefully you’re convinced on the benefits of getting clear on your business’ mission, and you know how this can help you stay on track.

But have you thought about the purpose behind the content you create?

When you know your business’ mission, you can identify the reasons why you need to create content in the first place, and therefore what type of content will work best for you.

For example, if you’re a career coach whose mission is to help graduates and school leavers find fulfilling work and financial freedom, your “whys” and “whats” might look something like this:

  • Why: Establish your expertise – What: Blog posts sharing helpful tips on creating your CV, gaining work experience, how to conduct yourself during interviews, etc.
  • Why: Build trust and connection – What: Client testimonials on your services page to build ‘social proof’; a weekly Facebook Live video to help people get a better sense of what it’s like to work with you; a daily Instagram post to take people behind-the-scenes and build trust.
  • Why: Build an email list of people who are interested in your products and servicesWhat: A valuable resource that people have to “opt-in” (ie join your list) to receive, such as a free e-book or email course.

But as well as figuring out what you want your content to do for your business, it’s just as important to outline what you want it to do for your audience – which is where your editorial mission comes in.

Your editorial mission outlines what you want your content to achieve on a purely editorial level. Whether blog posts, videos, podcast episodes or Instagram posts, what should they do for your audience and what impact do you want to make? Do you want to inspire, educate or entertain?

Why define your editorial mission?

I know what you’re thinking… is this really necessary? Yes, it’s yet another thing to think about, but just as having an overarching mission for your business helps keep you focused on the things that matter, having a standalone mission for your content helps make sure you’re never sacrificing quality for the sake of strategy.

Don’t get me wrong, strategy is important for success, but there are certain timeless principles that should underpin everything you do. Now more than ever, with so many technologies and techniques available, it’s easy to get so caught up in funnelling, optimising and automating that we begin to overlook the fundamentals.

You could have the slickest sales funnel in the world, but if your content and offerings are ultimately weak, any success this generates will be short-lived.

This quote from Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, in this article on Contently, sums it up perfectly:

“[Content is] part of our DNA. We believe in sharing and being transparent in putting out there the things that we’ve learned…We want to try and help marketers first. That’s our underlying goal. We really don’t think of content marketing as being part of our funnel. It’s part of our mission.” – Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz

To sum up, getting clear on your editorial mission can help you:

  • Create a benchmark to refer to before you create any piece of content, to make sure it measures up.
  • Create content that resonates and connects with the people you want to serve.
  • Start to become known as a stand-out content creator in your field.
  • Maintain quality and standards as your business grows, particularly if you’re bringing more content creators on board.
  • Edit your own work effectively. As Greg McKeown says in his book, Essentialism: “An editor must have a clear sense of the overarching purpose of the work he or she is editing.”

What goes in an editorial mission statement?

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), an effective editorial mission statement covers three key areas:

  • The types of information you will provide through your content
  • Your core target audience
  • The desired outcome for the audience – things your audience will be able to do once they have consumed your content (ie, what’s in it for your audience?)

In his book Content Inc.*, CMI founder Joe Pulizzi upholds Inc. magazine as a traditional media company with an editorial mission statement that follows this format:

Welcome to Inc.com, the place where entrepreneurs and business owners can find useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration for running and growing their businesses.

Inc.’s mission statement includes:

  • The core target audience: entrepreneurs and business owners
  • The material that will be delivered to the audience: useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration.
  • The outcome for the audience: running and growing their businesses.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things I found useful when defining the editorial mission for The Collative as an online magazine:

Think about the outcomes you don’t want

The idea for the online mag itself was born from thinking about what I didn’t want the content I created to look and feel like anymore, and what I wanted to change. For the past year or so, I’ve been feeling tension between what I’ve felt called to create and the direction the blogging world seems to be heading in – or rather, the path much of the content I was consuming was telling me I should be on as a blogger.

This has led to me feeling boxed in and second-guessing myself, and I knew I wanted to create something that helped people to feel the opposite of this: limitless, rather than limited.

Know your why for each platform

“Marketing professionals, with both small and large businesses, get so fixated on channels such as blogs, Facebook or Pinterest that they have no clue to the underlying reason of why they should use that channel in the first place. The ‘why’ must come before the ‘what’.” – Joe Pulizzi.

Just as it’s important to know your why for each platform from a business point of view, it’s also important to know your why from your audience’s perspective.

Reconnect with your values

Sitting down to think about the values I wanted the magazine to embody (more on editorial values below), helped me understand how I wanted people to feel when they read my content and the impact I want it to have.

I wholeheartedly believe in sharing information and ideas, and helping people make well-informed decisions. But I also want to leave space for people to determine the path that’s best for them. It’s the difference between saying: ‘here are some ways to do X’ / ‘here are some key things to consider’ / ‘here are some areas to explore’ on the one hand, and ‘here are things you must do’ on the other.

I realised I want readers to feel: well-informed, energised, empowered and confident in finding their own way. This all became part of the ethos and mission of the mag.

Editorial mission statement examples

Buffer

Treat every piece of content with the utmost care. Every single piece of content is the only one that matters.

Every single piece, we have to feel like ‘this is going to be the one’. Not all in the same way, but all in their own unique way of redefining excellence for their own area. And then, only some of them will be the true breakout hits and most of them won’t. But that’ll be the only way for us to truly create a space of excellence.

While in this case this statement doesn’t span the three areas outlined by the CMI, Buffer runs three blogs, each with a different audience and purpose. Likewise, users of its social media scheduling tool range from individual freelancers to enterprise-level teams.

With this in mind, this statement sits nicely at the top and sets a directive for each piece of content the company creates, no matter what it’s for. Buffer’s editorial mission makes it clear that every piece of content matters. It sets the expectation that no corners should be cut and nothing should ever be created simply to make up the numbers.

And when you drill down into the company’s content strategy, Buffer’s Ash Read explains that questions of audience and content type are key. The company’s content strategy, he says, is largely based on answering these five questions:

  • Topic: What will we write about?
  • Audience: Whom will we write to?
  • Style: What types of content will we publish?
  • Depth: What level of depth will we approach a topic?
  • Behind-the-Scenes: How will we organise ourselves to get the work done?

The Collative

Traditionally, most magazines have an editorial mission (even if they don’t necessarily use this term) and some kind of guidelines around what matters most.

I’m sharing this post with you today because I believe that any business creating content (not just a content-based business itself) can benefit from taking a more audience-focused approach.

While it’s still a work-in-progress, my editorial mission is currently:

The Collative is an online magazine for creative freelancers. Through in-depth features and interviews, you’ll find untold stories from independent creatives who are building incredible things and ideas to inspire breakthroughs and innovation.

The Collative aims to inspire through storytelling. Rather than feeling boxed in by ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’, I want readers to feel inspired, energised and empowered to forge their own paths, while still getting guidance on the fundamentals. The Collative aims to be a compass, rather than a map.

When it comes to content planning, keeping this in mind is helping me make important decisions, stay on track and keep on aiming high. For example, remembering that part of my mission is to share untold stories helps me work hard to find interviewees who haven’t received a lot of media coverage yet, or to find new angles to explore with those who have.

Meanwhile, remembering that part of my mission is to share in-depth features challenges me to write a brief for each piece that digs deep and considers different questions and perspectives.

Defining your editorial values

OK, so once you’re clear on what type of content you’ll create and why, you may find it helpful to go even further by thinking about how this could translate into set of values that help you fulfil your mission on a day-to-day basis.

Your editorial values are a set of guidelines that every piece you create should follow or aspire to (don’t be afraid to aim high!).

Here are a few hypothetical examples. The same business wouldn’t necessarily adopt all of these; they’re just some ideas to get you thinking about what would work best for you:

  • Actionable – Readers should come away from a piece fully understanding the topic and able to implement what they’ve learned immediately, without any further research.
  • Authoritative – Each piece aims to become the ultimate resource on the subject, without leaving any obvious gaps or unanswered questions.
  • Accessible – We avoid words we don’t use in everyday conversation and explain any unavoidable jargon.
  • Exclusive – Every piece we publish should include original quotes or insights from industry leaders.
  • Inspirational – We help readers make informed decisions but don’t believe in one-size-fits-all strategies. Unless we’re talking regulatory compliance, we do our best to avoid telling readers what they “should” or “must” do.
  • Trustworthy – We value editorial integrity above all else. We’ll never compromise this for a commercial deal, even if that means leaving money on the table. Whether paid-for or free, each piece of content must deliver the same high standard of quality to the reader.
  • Authentic – Every piece I publish should sound like me. There shouldn’t be any disconnect between who I am in real life and who I am in my work.
  • Uplifting – We avoid negativity at all costs. While we’ll fight for the causes we believe in, you won’t find us making passive aggressive or snarky comments. We should never publish anything that makes someone else feel bad about themselves.

These are just a few examples! Hopefully you can start to see how defining your editorial mission and values can help keep you grounded, focused on your purpose and confident that you’re making the right decisions in the moment.

And now, over to you… have you ever thought about your editorial mission? Do you have any standards or guidelines that inform the content you create and help you stay on track? I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments below…

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Holly
    September 21, 2016 at 11:22 am

    I found this so interesting to read! I have thought about this before – but definitely not in as much depth as you’ve listed here. I think it’s fantastic though, because you’re setting standards for each piece of content you create, no matter what platform it’s for. That way, when you’re not sure about an idea, you can ask yourself whether this fits in with your editorial mission. I’m definitely going to come back to this when I have more time and define my own mission.

    I’m also very intrigued about your magazine – it sounds awesome! Let me know if I can help in any way 🙂

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      September 21, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you so much Holly, I’m so pleased you found it interesting! It’s something I’ve come across in publications I’ve worked for in the past and have had at the back of my mind for a while too, and only recently sat down and really thought about how to apply this approach to this site. I’ve definitely found it useful and hope you do too, I’d love to hear how you get on. Thanks so much for your kind words on the mag too, I definitely will! 🙂

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