How to Read an Editorial Calendar

How to Read an Editorial Calendar

By Rebecca Bredholt

When a magazine plans their upcoming year, they put a consolidated version of the topics they will cover into an editorial calendar. Then their advertising and sales departments use this calendar to sell ad space to companies that would be a good fit for those issues. For example, if a bridal magazine is going to feature honeymoons in their August issue, travel agents and visitor’s guides might want to purchase ad space next to those articles. A fringe benefit is that people planning their public relations efforts can use this same calendar to pitch stories to that magazine’s editorial team. They’re basically telling you exactly what content they are looking for!

However, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when reading these calendars. Think of this as your secret decoder ring for those mysterious tablets of information.

  1. 1.       What do the dates mean?

Ad Close Date(aka Space Close): this is final day on which advertisers can reserve a space/page in that issue. This date tells you the editorial staff has already decided where their articles are going to go and has already acquired the photos and images it needs to go along with those articles. PR people should have already pitched before this date. If they haven’t heard back, now would be a good date to follow up. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to make it into this issue.  PR peeps shouldn’t give up at this point! Much of the content from this print issue will go on their web site or into their apps where there might be more room for more information.

Materials Due:  This is the date on which the advertising department needs to give the electronic file of the display ad to the graphic design department. This date is relevant to PR people because the same graphic designers who place the ads in the magazine are the ones laying out the editorial content as well. The editors can’t have them redesigning editorial to get your PR material in the magazine if they are already placing the ads. (hint: if you’re supplying artwork to go along with your pitch, send them the same type of files they need for ads, aka read the ad specifications for file size and type. They will love you for it.)

On Sale: The magazine is hitting newsstands, subscribers get their issues afterwards since they are all mailed out at the same time and residential mail tends to be the slowest (see USPS fail).  By now, the editors have already selected their content for the next issue.

  1. 2.       What’s a Feature*?

Editorial Theme: Some magazines have regular departments in each issue, then they choose a story or topic from outside those to feature on their cover. Other magazines choose from their regularly occurring departments and expand it to include more content and get the cover. You won’t know unless you read the magazine on a regular basis. The editorial calendar does not always provide this information.

Focus: This could mean that the editors are going incorporate this theme into every single department for this issue. For example, if Real Simple magazine decided to focus on green living for their March issue, everything from their cover to their Problem Solvers of the Month would mention sustainability.

Special Sections/Reports: I could get skewered for letting this secret out, but if I were in PR I would be careful about spending my time pitching around these sections. Oftentimes, and I do not speak for every magazine, but usually, these sections/bonus issues are not pitchable because they cater the content to the advertisers and conventions.

The asterisk here is because when I planned out the articles as editor, I knew there was always a chance that we would scrape that cover feature for something more timely and relevant. Ultimately, the publisher had to approve our request to change the content and the sales team had to let their clients know. If we already had good editorial content, we didn’t want to lose it, so we would just save it for another issue. The PR take-away here is to always let the editor know you are available to update the content if they choose to run the story at a later date.

A Word about Newspaper and Websites Editorial Calendars

Do not assume they have editorial calendars. Newspaper editors generally don’t create editorial calendars every year. Clearly, they cannot predict what will break in the future (that’s why they’re called news-papers), but some will do a special section on weddings every summer. The same goes for websites: they generally do not plan their editorial content in advance. As I steer the collection of thousands of editorial calendars each year for Vocus, I notice that more and more digital publications are starting to create calendars.  This year on Twitter I saw the words “editorial calendar” get thrown around more than I have in the last two years among bloggers. This doesn’t mean that they will share it with you, it just means they are starting to get better about planning topics out in advance – and if you ask nicely, they might even tell you what some of those are IF they have them.

A Good Example

If you work in the insurance industry, get a hold of the Best’s Review media kit. Take advantage of the fact that they created a stellar diagram of what each department covers. They explain what articles they need in every issue, right there in black and white. PR people would be fools to not take advantage of someone handing them the blueprints.


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