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Establishing a Healthy Writer/Editor Dynamic

Writing, like any creative expression, tends to bring about an emotional attachment from the author to the article. We can call it ego, but frankly, it’s just natural. You’ve built your business on monetizing your creative prowess, so enduring artistic critique is nothing new to you. But in working with many agencies on their content marketing strategies, I’ve observed that harnessing that thick skin in an effort to establish a healthy writer/editor relationship among content teams is more challenging than you might expect.

And yet, the editorial role is critical to the success of your content marketing program. Your editor is like your secret weapon. They share your intimate knowledge of your positioning and your target audiences but enjoy enough objectivity to help you better express your expertise in a way that’s most palatable to your prospects.

When a content team is full of smart, experienced writers and empowered, strategic editors, a certain magic happens that makes your writing better.

Too often, I see an individual inside of an agency deemed the “editor” who spends more time corralling their writers, managing deadlines, and serving more of a copy editing duty, rather than strategically optimizing the messaging so it better suits the audience. And in many cases, that’s because the dynamic between writer and editor was never properly established. They don’t understand each other’s roles. The good news is it doesn’t take much to redefine that relationship. Following these three rules will establish a much healthier partnership between writers and editors, ultimately improving the quality of your writing.

Rule 1: Choose your editor carefully

One of the first mistakes you can make is being careless about your choice of an editor. This is not a junior-level position. A good editor does more than correct your comma splices and sentence fragments.

Think of your editor as the protector of your brand’s voice.

This person is intimately familiar with your agency’s identity and how to best express it in every context: blogs, white papers, podcasts, webinars, videos, e-books, etc. They understand what makes you unique; they share a passion for bringing that unique expertise to market. In many cases, they’ve been deeply involved in the development of your firm’s marketing strategy. Because of this experience and fundamental understanding of your firm’s expertise, they’re well-suited to think critically about helping your writers best share that expertise in a way your readers can access it.

An ideal editor is well-versed in the nuances of your firm’s various target personas and their associated purchasing journey. They understand the differences between an early stage prospect simply looking for education and thought leadership and a later stage prospect truly evaluating the possibility of working with your firm. And they’ve got a knack for striking the appropriate educational-to-promotional language balance based on those interests.

Perhaps most importantly, this individual is empowered to change your work. This relates to Rule #3: it’s important that your editor be encouraged and expected to offer critique.

Rule 2: Communicate early and often

When a great idea for an article just “comes” to you, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the creative writing process. Especially if you’ve found yourself with the time and space necessary to crank out an article quickly. You can figure out how to make it fit your strategic marketing goals later. The important part is getting the thing written… right?

Not always.

I’m not saying that spontaneous writing for your site doesn’t have its place or that it can’t lend itself to great content. But more often than not, I’ve observed (both inside of our four walls and with the agencies we work with), it’s almost always more advantageous to put a bug in your editor’s ear first.

The earlier you involve your editor in the content development process, the better that piece of content will turn out. When the two of you shape the messaging from the beginning, you’re ensuring creative and strategic alignment from the start. That alignment is important. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending time creating a piece of content for your website only to spend just as much time convincing your editor it fits the strategic goals of your content marketing plan in the first place. In the best case scenario, that’s going to lead to a heavily-edited, mediocre piece of content that neither person is really all that excited about. And in worst cases, you’ll be dealing with team members who are frustrated with one another, frustrated with the plan as a whole, disinterested in the article at hand, and losing momentum to continue sustaining the aggressive content marketing engine at all. Trust me. It ain’t pretty.

You can save yourself and your content team a slew of headaches by creating a process that’s intended to bring your editor in the loop early in the topic ideation process. For instance, plan on having your editor attend all monthly content marketing meetings to help you vet your month’s content right from its inception. And then, take the time in those meetings to critically evaluate every topic that’s proposed for possible development. Lean on your editor to help you understand if it’s targeting your ideal prospect with messaging they really care about. (And as a brief aside, if you’re not having regular monthly content planning meetings, you should be and can learn the ideal agenda for one here).

Once the first draft is complete, allow time for a thorough round of internal review before the scheduled publication date. This might mean planning out your site content a few more weeks in advance, but the extra breathing room will be well worth it and is likely to improve the quality of your writing overall.

Rule 3: Don’t get too married to your writing

Working in a creative field, you’ve likely harnessed your skill of accepting creative critique. However, it’s interesting to me how many professionals in the agency world seem to view editorial feedback as some sort of failure. As the writer of a piece of content, you’ve got the most difficult job of shaping a concept or idea into a digestible, interesting, engaging format for your readers. It’s unlikely that your first draft is going to yield the absolute best, most strategic version of that content. Your editor’s job is to make your writing better. And “better” can mean a lot of things you might not have been focused on when developing the first draft, like tying in a relevant area of your firm’s expertise or referencing a well-known and related challenge of your personas, or simply cross-linking to another article or service landing page on your site in order to drive more engagement.

A good editor is going to amplify your voice in a way that will resonate with your readers as well as reinforce the brand and experience of your firm. They carry the objectivity you can’t possibly have as the author of the piece. Harnessing that objectivity will make your writing so much better if you let it.

This means you should accept and expect revisions on every single piece of content your editor reviews. If you’ve followed Rule #2 and brought them into the content development process early, odds are these won’t be sweeping, fundamental message shifting changes. But it is likely your editor is going to notice nuanced opportunities for improvement in your writing that you’re blind to. That’s their job. And it’s your job to be receptive to that critique.

When your editor requests revisions or changes to your content, try to remember how important their role is to the quality of your writing. Be as receptive to the idea of feedback as possible. If you have questions about their advice, ask them from a place of genuine curiosity rather than a place of defensiveness. Don’t shy away from debate. You should push your editor to understand your perspective and to understand your voice. But listen with an open mind to their insight as well.

These small behaviors can shape the relationship between writers and editors and go a long way toward establishing trust between both people. That trust is the foundation for an essential partnership on your content marketing team, and is bound to improve the efficacy of your content marketing investment.

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