News planning is an important PR technique. Here’s a process, tools and forward planning data to help build a news or editorial calendar.
A news calendar is used to coordinate announcements within an organisation. It’s an important process document for a PR team that sets priorities between different announcements and ensures there are no clashes. It’s a form of workflow borrowed from a media newsroom.
The news calendar includes significant external dates that might have an impact on an external announcement. This might include Bank Holidays and Easter, political events such as a budget or election, and notable dates such as Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day.
The calendar is typically a working document managed by the PR team and its agencies and shared with the board or senior leadership team and operational areas of the organisation.
News planning and landing a story
The definition of news is the release of a story that wasn’t previously known. Its newsworthiness depends on the subject and relevance to stakeholders. There’s a counter idiom in the statement ‘today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip papers’.
News has a finite shelf life. The chip paper phrase originates from the 24 hours news cycle when newspapers printed two editions per day. Yesterday’s news literally became the wrapping for today’s fish supper.
The reality of modern media is that news stories are published to the web instantaneously. In 2018 half-life of a news story can be hours and often minutes.
News planning for an organisation is the editorial job of figuring out when to land a story. Often organisations make announcements simply based on when they are ready to be made such as appointments, financial results and product announcements.
An alternative strategic approach to news planning sees an organisation carefully plan when to land a story to maximise engagement. It’s an approach rooted in PRs and listening to the local environment.
The Downing Street communication team under New Labour’s communication director Alastair Campbell famously took a strategic approach to news across Government using a calendar system call the Grid.
The diary included details of forthcoming events so that all departments in government knew what was planned and therefore which were good or bad days to plan an announcement. It proved so successful as a means of managing communication that it was adopted by the Conservative administration and continues to be used 15 years later.
News calendar applications
There’s a choice of technologies that can be used to create a news calendar, from a simple document to a shared Cloud based tool.
Lots of organisations use an Excel or Word document shared via email or the intranet. These are the equivalent of moving a piece of paper around an organisation.
Shared document environments such as Google Documents or Office 365 are a good interim solution. Editing and viewing can be managed using a directory service. Documents can also be easily exported in a virtual, physical file or print format. It overcomes the tension in organisations and client/agency relationships where different technology or workflow is used.
Collaboration and project tools are frequently be used as a news calendar. Airtable, Asana and Trello are the most common examples. These web-based platforms combine project management tools with a calendar.
Trello is popular because of its visual environment. It integrates well with agile project management. The workspace resembles a noticeboard. Actions are posted as cards and can be shared among members of a team. Work is typically tracked from left to right through various stages.
There’s a further class of tools that I haven’t mentioned. These are content management systems. They typically combine some news calendar features with workflow to approve, schedule and publish content. This is a growing segment has developed out of the market for social media management. Contently, Percolate, Planable and Sprinklr are among this category.
Forward planning data sources
Tools and workflow provide the means to manage a news calendar.
The start point for the calendar itself should be key dates. I suggest you start by scraping the web. Seek out public sector websites such as GOV.UK which publishes a list of Bank Holidays. Media and event websites are also a good source of information.
Social media platforms such as Twitter (October 2018 lineup: Key dates for Twitter marketers) and tool vendors such as Hubspot (The Ultimate Social Media Holiday Calendar for 2018) are a good source. Crowdsourced sources of forward planning data include Wikipedia. Commercial sources are also available such as the Awareness Days UK web service and Kantar Media’s Forward Planner.
My thanks to Kate Hartley, Mark Groves, James Whatley, Alex Myers and Lyanna Tsakiris. They joined a conversation on Twitter about news calendar technology and workflow and helped inform this article.
- Organise your Life the Downing St Way, BBC, Giles Wilson (25 May, 2004)
- Gartner Magic Quadrant for Content Marketing Platforms, Gartner, Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, Christopher Ross and Stephen R. Wellman (27 March, 2018)
- Moved to publish: Using Trello as an editorial calendar, Trello, Lauren Moon (20 January, 2015)