Ep 21- 9 Ways to Think Like A Brand Editorial Director

Wondering what else you can do to better organize and plan your brand storytelling strategy? Sarah Panus shares advice and insights after extensive research/experience across content marketing roles.

Whether you already run the editorial dept at your company, or you’re looking to grow into an Editorial Director-type role, there are key hard skills and soft-skills you need to know. 

BUT, as is often the case, sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. Ya feel me?

Today, I’m going to share an outline of things to think about to help you step into your role as an Editorial Director for your brand.

WHAT MY MENTOR DENNIS TAUGHT ME

I’ll never forget when my mentor, Dennis, came into my life years ago. Dennis is an accomplished and published author and was moving away from writing and was directly working with brands to help them think about their internal editorial storytelling practices.  So, Dennis and I started working together when I was on the brand side and he was hired as a consultant for our company.  It was so invigorating working alongside him, because he was super creative and together we had SO much fun refining how our brand storytelling could evolve and the kinds of stories and programs we could create to engage our target audience.



And, if you’ve caught on by now—I’m a HUGE fan of learning. I’m super curious and Dennis was the first person in a long time that I felt like I could go deep in learning from on a daily basis.



Working with Dennis helped me see new possibilities. He became an unexpected coach and mentor for me. He opened my eyes to the fact that — at that time — I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. Before Dennis came on board, the brand was having extremely successful top ROI results already— but there was still so much opportunity of things we were leaving on the table. Things we weren’t thinking about.

And, you know we really were still in the learning phases with brand storytelling. 



Dennis opened my eyes to new ways we could be doing things. He was able to poke holes at the way things were just done, and offer other ideas for how they could be done. 


It really was a blessing to learn faster from his years and years of experience.

WHO DO YOU HAVE TO LEARN FROM?

Do you have people you can go to to ask questions, give you guidance, inspire you with possibilities, or poke holes in your ideas, like Dennis used to do for me?

If you don’t, you’re not alone. I used to feel really isolated at times when I worked on the corporate side. Like I was on my own island, learning to dive on my own. Because I was forging a new path with the company, no one around me was Sr. to me in the storytelling space.  They were very supportive and amazing with their own strengths. But, storytelling just wasn’t their area. So, I instead went to conferences, read books, bought online courses, followed newsletters, and networked to always keep learning what I didn’t know I needed to know.  

I still do that to this day.

It’s one of the reasons I started this podcast. I wanted to create a space where you can come and be inspired and learn and grow.

Brands are the new editor-in-chief

I believe Brands are the new Editor-in-Chief. Brands are growing their storytelling teams—both internally and externally. They’re partnering w/media outlet creative production teams. Brands have the budgets, the audience and the ability to scale their messaging.

Smart brands see the value of using storytelling to build connections, drive leads, increase repeat & referral, drive action, and build trust & loyalty. With almost everyone being online these days, if your brand isn’t online, you don’t exist.

So, as content marketing and brand storytelling show ZERO chances of slowing down, what things are you just not knowing to think about?  What don’t you know that you should know?  (sing… you don’t know, now you know, brother…)

9 Top Things you need to know to think like an editorial director for your brand

I scoured recent LinkedIn job postings and connected with a some of my contacts working in the brand editorial space for input. THEN, paired those insights with my own experience leading content marketing strategy on the corporate side for a large retailer.  From all of that research I’ve honed it down to 9 buckets.

1. Strategic Vision

Editorial Directors are asked to develop a vision and evangelize the content strategy and insights throughout the org. What are the guiding themes? What is the long-term vision of what you’re working toward? How can you develop new ways to engage your audience?


This is something you can definitely learn to do. To inform this vision, you can monitor trends, issues and topics that matter to your brand to stay in-the-know. Look for patterns and insights with both your competitors AND brands and topics outside of your industry for inspiration. I think it’s REALLY important to look at brands outside of your industry to keep pushing you to think differently than what you’re used to seeing every day.

2. Internal “pr” skills

This is one I’ve found extremely helpful. Because as an editorial director you need to merchandise your work, your idea. You need to sorta sell them in to get others excited. This helps you grow your budget and your team. In my experience, if you’re not talking about it with other leaders internally they won’t know it’s happening. You need to put your PR hat on and build it up, share updates, celebrate wins. Merchandise the heck out of it to help people see the good work you’re doing.

3. Prioritization and organization

If you or your team are disorganized, it can feel like you’re trying to wrangle cats. It’s chaos, and not productive.  This is where you need to create a strategic and focused Brand Storytelling Framework to articulate and get alignment on your brand storytelling approach first.  This framework helps outline your 3 priority storytelling pillars, among other things.


And, this is where your robust, cross-functional content calendar comes into play.  A calendar with a variety of written, audio and visual media like blog, social, whitepapers, website copy, podcasts, e-books, video, and so on…


You want a content calendar that can be easily viewed across channels to inform and incite collaboration. Selecting the right tools, people and processes to manage your content. A shared google doc or excel file is a great starting point. And, for more advanced options, I highly recommend checking out CMS tools, like CrossCap or Desk-net, to help operationalize your content calendar and editorial workflow across teams.


Also under this bucket is helping develop brand messaging standards for consistency across your media & content; systems, workflows, structures, a governance process to ensure alignment so standards are being met across content. 


Helping organize best practices for content creation, distribution, maintenance, tagging and content repurposing. There’s a lot of things that will benefit from prioritization and organization. And, if you’re not the most organized person, you can hire people to help you quickly get more organized; to help set up SOPS and workflows.

4. People management

Both up and down the ladder. Inside and outside of your company.  You can’t create all this content by yourself. As a leader in the editorial space you’re providing thought leadership and managing or mentoring writers, designers, producers, editors. You’re also collaborating cross-functionally with teams and leaders to develop integrated campaigns & scale across channels.  And, you may be managing external content partner relationships.  If you feel awkward managing people and teams, this could be an area you decide to book an online coach to help teach you people management skills.

5. Measurement, seo & auditing

Think about how you can you go one level deeper this year to show the value your brand storytelling is having against your company priorities. Look at the data or talk it out with your team to understand how to read content performance.  Help lead content audits to determine whether content is well-received or not.  Run content gap analyses to determine what type of content is missing and what is needed. And learn over time which formats best communicate the stories you’re trying to tell.


You don’t need to be an SEO guru. But, know enough to be dangerous. Know enough to pull insights for your content strategy. And, from that you can then have even more detailed conversations with your SEO-partners who are the gurus.  One of my favorite places to look for free SEO insights is answerthepublic.com. 

6. Leadership presence with a double dose of optimism

This goes back to the question of whether leaders are born or made. I believe anyone can be trained to be a better leader IF they want to be a leader. And, as you step into an Editorial Director role tasked with vision and content strategy that we talked about above—you need to work on your swagger. Because as you’re sharing your vision and strategy and doing internal PR to get people excited about your brand storytelling efforts – you need them to have trust in you and what you’re talking about. And, you need to have optimism and excitement for it because no one else is going to jump on board if you sound like Eeyore from Winnie the pooh. 


Monica O’Reilly, the Chief Talent Officer at Deloitte & Touch says to, “be boldly self-aware.”  Understand your strengths and where you can make an impact. Then, be brave enough to make that impact.  She suggests uncovering your strengths by asking for 360-degree feedback from others around you. Listen for positive traits that are referenced more than once, and then aggressively seek out opportunity to apply those strengths.

7. ability to stay calm under stress situations

You and your team are going to be juggling a lot. Some things will have longer-lead times; others won’t. You can’t sweat the small stuff or you’ll burnout and drive yourself nuts. Take a deep breath. Go back to your brand storytelling framework to refocus you/your organization whenever you need to have more sanity.

8. curiosity and creativity

The best work comes when you stay curious, and you’re open to creative collaborations, brainstorms, discussions.  I love leading remote content brainstorming sessions with team or individuals to help you unleash the creative ideas that are already inside your head… you just don’t know it yet.Stay curious. Ask questions. Read. Take online courses to advance your skillset in new ways. Keep a notepad by your bed for when those late-night ideas pop into your head after you’ve put the kids to bed.

9. courage

Anytime you’re sharing creative ideas with others, you have to develop a thick skin. Because your ideas won’t always get approved. The ideas your team or partners pitch to you won’t always be a home run. BUT—if you never share those ideas, they will never see the light of day. What if they’re great? What if you learn something really valuable to inform your next piece?  Have the courage to speak your creative ideas.

don’t stress. i created this to help you. Start here.

If you could use more alignment, and less overwhelm, frustration or confusion—I highly recommend creating a brand storytelling framework first. 


Think of it like marriage. A good marriage is based on a foundation of trust and respect. Without those two things, the marriage most likely fails. Well, the brand storytelling framework is like that foundation in your marriage. You need it before you can grow old together.


If you want to learn more about creating your own brand storytelling framework, I want to help make the process much smoother for you, so you don’t have to fumble through it like I did years ago.


I really want to help fellow communicators like you who are working inside of, or running your own brands think like an Editorial Director for your brand. SO– I’m very excited to share that I’m launching a mini-course called Brand Storytelling BlueprintTM that has an already-designed plug-n-play ppt template to help you quickly and affordably create your own brand storytelling framework from start-to-finish.  A limited number of people will also get the opportunity to be coached directly by me through a live, private 1:1 video call where you and I review and discuss the framework you create for your brand using the template I teach you how to use.


We’ll dig in, and I’ll become your behind-the-scenes coach providing feedback to help make it even stronger; including thought-starters to think about; and answers to your questions. Visit www.kindredspeak.com/courses to learn more about when my Brand Storytelling Blueprint course launches in April 2021, and as a thank you for joining my waitlist to learn more—I’ll send you a free template that guides you through how to repurpose content across your channels. Limited time offer.

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I hope this was helpful. For more tips, insights and inspiration, sign up for my Kindred Speak newsletter. I share tips and stories to help anyone working in a brand storytelling/content marketing/comms role. Sign up HERE .

Sarah Panus has nearly 20 years’ experience helping billion-dollar brands drive leading ROI through brand storytelling. Sarah is a Minnesota mama, content strategist, podcast host of Marketing With Empathy, and owner of Kindred Speak LLC.  She’s on a mission to humanize brands; help content marketers reduce overwhelm/confusion; and raise money to fund child trafficking rescue missions. She spends her days working 1:1 with brand clients, and is newly getting into the online course space where she’ll teach you how to think like an Editorial Director, and build winning brand storytelling strategies. Follow Sarah on Instagram or LinkedIn as she helps brand content marketers who struggle with overwhelm or confusion at work. Learn more at www.kindredspeak.com.