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Why Isn't My Content Beating the Competition's?

Posted on Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 8:36 PM

A reader's question: Why can't my editor produce superior content?

By William Dunkerley

Q. I publish an online B2B monthly in a specialized retail field. We also do an annual industry directory that includes a state-of-the-industry analysis based on a survey we conduct. For many years I've had a deal with my editor. I handle advertising and audience matters, she takes care of editorial. She stays out of my hair and I let her do her own thing. More recently we've been losing readers to competitors, and as a result ad sales suffer too. (She's not going to be very happy when I start talking editorial budget cuts.) I hold her responsible for the slippage, but she blames my sales and marketing team. We're at an impasse. Where do we go from here?

A. It doesn't surprise me that trying to maintain an organizational system that's been adequate in past years now has become problematic. The reason is that times are changing. You say you publish in a retail field. Well, think about that. Think about the impact of online commerce. Think about Amazon. Things that were important to readers years ago are likely being eclipsed by the revolution that's taking place in retail. I can't believe that reader needs haven't changed dramatically. Surely your ad sales force is hearing about the changes in business directions all the time. Do you have a mechanism for communicating this intelligence to your editors? Is your content keeping up with the rapidly evolving needs of readers? Is that where you are falling behind in editorial competition?

A Solution

I think it's likely that you and your editor need to stop keeping each other at arm's length and start communicating more. The first thing you should do is take a hard look at your content and that of your competitors.

I strongly recommend a new book by Howard Rauch to help you with that. He's made a science of quantitative editorial analysis. The book is called Get Serious about Editorial Management. (It's available on Amazon.)

Research

One of Rauch's points is that "frequent research must be a priority." You say you're publishing an annual business analysis of your field. When you gather information for that, do you treat it as a one-shot effort? Rauch says, "Without regularly published research, any claim to editorial superiority lacks merit." That would suggest you'd be better off stringing out your industry research throughout the year and publishing some tidbit in every issue. Your annual print publication would then become a handy compendium of it all along with your analytical observations.

Not only will the monthly feature be of high reader interest, it will force your editor to keep up on the directions your retail field is taking, too. Rauch recommends "publicizing survey results through an aggressive email PR program." That should help you in the area of audience acquisition as well.

Establishing Metrics

The "Editorial Marketing Factor" is a measure Rauch has devised as a tool for stimulating discussion between editorial and ad salespeople. It's based on a questionnaire that lists "ten possible marketing tools where the editor should be the key player in terms of creativity." Editors and ad salespeople take the test separately and then get together to compare results. It's a tough test, though. You need to score 90 for a passing grade!

Superiority?

Any ad salesperson needs to be able to make claims of editorial superiority. Rauch lists four categories he says are key but often overlooked.

One category is "the presence of zero-factor warning signs." He calls them zero factors because anything except excellence deserves a zero score. Here are a few of the top zero-factor issues:

--"Variety of sources. When analysis shows that editors quote the same sources in almost every issue, this factor earns zero points. A variation of this flaw is 'source overkill.' This happens when the same sources are quoted frequently in different articles within a single issue.

--"Chief editor visibility. An important qualitative fault occurs when a publication's most knowledgeable editor rarely writes anything beyond a regular personal column. There is a perspective missing that may not readily be offset by contributions from subordinates, no matter what their expertise level.

--"Evidence of reader involvement. If your content doesn't show signs of readers interacting with it, you've got a problem. Upgrading is possible by means of such editorial devices as problem-solving columns, IQ tests, email and online surveys...

--"Frequency of news scoops. How often does news coverage reflect investigative reporting or exclusives? Some publishers actually use 'scoop analysis reports' comparing which editors first broke what hot story. This exercise is especially pertinent in the current online news environment that has rapidly progressed from weekly to daily frequency."

Now It's Up to You

The above are all the kinds of things in which you and your editor should be regularly engaged.

Don't cling to ways that have served you in the past. The approach you were using may have been adequate, but it wasn't ideal. When things get more challenging -- whether through an economic downturn or rapid changes in a field -- systems that were just "adequate" tend not to measure up.

Frankly, I don't think publishers should ever cloister themselves away from editorial. Greater communication and cross-pollination of ideas is always helpful. This is your key for turning around the unfortunate situation in which you find yourself. Stop blaming each other and start cooperating!

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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