Communication is hard. And when you think about higher ed, where we’ve got both central- and unit-level communications staff—each with their own stories, platforms, priorities, and staffing—it is really hard. The oft-invoked analogy is “herding cats,” and it certainly applies in this instance.
So, we organize an editorial meeting, inviting all the top cats. Finally, we’ll bring order to the editorial chaos! But it’s not that simple. Our feline colleagues may get distracted by shiny objects, or launch into a rousing rendition of the “Meow Mix” jingle. At worst, though, the claws may come out.
Setting the cats aside (for now), editorial meetings are incredible opportunities to harness collective brainpower toward making communications easier to wrangle. But there’s that pesky m-word—meeting. We’ve all been to terrible meetings. It’s almost impressive how you can manage to have all the right people in the room but have all the wrong outcomes.
If we plan and manage editorial meetings purposefully and efficiently, the benefits are innumerable. Editorial meetings, when run well, are unique opportunities to bust some silos and tell meaningful stories—and get those cats purring.
How is This Different Than Your Campus Content Group?
Faithful readers may recall an earlier post on a topic near and dear to my heart, creating campus content groups. These groups, I wrote, gather “all of these lone rangers together to learn, share information, enhance the quality and better ensure the consistency of content across our institution.”
A campus content group can serve a multitude of purposes, including training, discussing strategy, sharing case studies and best practices, or developing common resources. Ideas can be shared via meetings, instant messages, phone calls, training sessions, you name it.
But an editorial meeting—by my definition for the purposes of this post, at least—convenes content creators and stakeholders on a regular basis with the purpose of planning content for publication. That could be a news site, a newsletter, a social media channel, or a series of short videos.
The output of an editorial meeting should contain some (if not all) of the following:
- A discussion of editorial priorities
- Content leads and ideas (sharing and triaging)
- Content idea refinement and development
- Assignments (writing, video, photo, infographic design, etc.)
- Production schedules (for photo/video shoots or other multimedia efforts)
“Wait,” you might ask with a plaintive mew, “we’ve got to figure all of this out in the meeting, too?” Yup. An editorial meeting isn’t just a feel-good exchange of ideas. It’s where we develop the structure to help those ideas come to life, with input and investment from all the key players.
When multiple people have roles in a publication’s success, bringing them together on a regularly scheduled basis is where that success is incubated. An effective editorial meeting lights the fire under that reservoir of brainpower, fueling an effective and manageable publication. Here’s how to get the flames growing:
How to Make Editorial Meetings a Success
1. Own, but Don’t Dominate—Facilitate
It’s important that editorial meetings have an owner—someone to ensure they happen as scheduled and run efficiently. But that owner shouldn’t be the only person talking during the meeting. Ideally, all attendees should have an opportunity to share their ideas, bring up points for discussion and ask questions.
The owner’s job is to facilitate that discussion: setting an agenda (with advance input from attendees) and ensuring that it is followed, ensuring that everyone is heard, and making sure that necessary decisions are made. The meeting is not just for the benefit of the owner but also for everyone in the room.
2. Include Appropriate Communicators from Across Campus
In the case of, say, a central university news vehicle, it may make sense for the university-wide public relations or communications office to initiate an editorial meeting. But the attendees should include more than just those staff members.
Invite communications staff from other colleges, departments, units and initiatives, as appropriate. These folks will have on-the-ground information and insight that may not otherwise penetrate the central communications bubble. They may also be willing to share content they’ve already written or planned, or contribute to new coverage. You can also pool resources to, say, hire a videographer for a major feature story that benefits multiple groups.
3. Don’t Forget Print, Video, Photo and Social
When you hear “editorial,” you may think of writers and editors. But with web publishing, we need to think more holistically. What’s the best way to not only tell the story, but enhance the story, share the story, and source the story? Bringing the relevant social media specialists, photographers and videographers into the conversation as equal players will help yield more successful, well-rounded stories.
And, if they’re not already a part of the discussion, don’t forget the folks from the print side of the house. Can content be adopted for the magazine from the web, or vice versa? What does each version require? How can we share resources in a mutually beneficial fashion? This is where we plan it out.
4. Brainstorming Trumps Bullet Lists
Sometimes in editorial meetings, people simply go around the room and recite what they’re already working on. While this may be informative, it’s like the NBC time-delayed coverage of the Olympics—it’s already out of date and past the point where really exciting things can happen.
Editorial meetings should be about sharing and refining ideas, planning coverage and coordinating efforts. They are where collaborations are forged and connections are made. If all we’re doing is sharing what’s already carved in stone, we’ve missed out on a world of opportunity.
5. Invite the Occasional Non-Communicator
While it’s our job to be in touch with our audiences, our beats and the general culture on campus, it can be easy to get trapped in a communications bubble. After all, we’ve got a lot of work to do! That’s why it can be helpful to invite a relevant non-communicator—say, the athletic director, the dean of student affairs, the chair of a department with a really popular major, or the student government president—to share insight from their area of expertise, if only for 15 or 30 minutes. Get their perspective on the priorities and hot topics in their area of expertise. Find out what’s new, what’s interesting, what’s changing, what’s sensitive.
Keep your calendar in mind as you invite guests—bring in the hockey coach shortly before the season starts, or invite the residence life director before the start of the school year.
6. Share and Encourage Measurement
Ideally, you should be employing a measurement plan to ensure that your content is on target in helping you achieve your communications goals. That feedback loop is critical in ensuring that your content is doing its intended job. If it’s falling short, it’s time to revisit your efforts. This meeting is a great opportunity to discuss what’s popular and effective, and what’s lagging.
If you have a series of video shorts that is hugely popular, use this time to share those stats, as well as any other feedback you’ve received. Discuss what you think makes them so popular and how that might inform future videos, as well as other content efforts. If a certain story type is consistently underperforming, consider how to revamp it, or perhaps cut it entirely.
7. Minutes: Take Them, Share Them, Archive Them
A good editorial meeting will have tons of discussion, cross-talk, banter and ideas, and it’s awfully easy for a valuable nugget to slip through the cracks. That’s why keeping minutes is important. You can capture the great ideas that may not have a place right now but will be valuable next month or next year, hold people accountable to assignments and responsibilities, and record decisions around coverage. The meeting owner can record them, or you can have a schedule for circulating responsibility among attendees.
Shortly after the meeting, minutes should be cleaned up and circulated to attendees, but also stored in your online workspace (see next item). Flag loose ends to be brought up at the next meeting or resolved via email in the interim. Also, if there were great ideas shared that were more appropriate for another group or a later time, share them accordingly or set up a reminder for the future.
8. Complement In-Person Meetings With an Online Workspace
Since we want to preserve our editorial meeting as an opportunity for planning, collaboration and discussion, we need a space to store our meeting minutes, lists, outcomes, calendars, schedules and other resources. This is where having an online space is essential. It could be a wiki, a Google Doc, a blog, an online spreadsheet—whatever works best and is accessible to the entire team.
This space should be referenced before, after, perhaps even during an editorial meeting. It’s your collective brain, so treat it as such. You may also want to complement it with an email listserv, for ease of communication with the whole group.
Okay, well, maybe things will never be perfect. But by managing our editorial meetings more effectively, we can lay a stronger foundation for our publication’s success. And hey, maybe a little “Meow Mix” jingle sing-a-long could help boost morale? Just saying…
What’s worked for you in terms of making editorial meetings efficient and productive? What pitfalls have you encountered, and how do you avoid them?