How to create the perfect editorial calendar

Every publication—whether print or digital—needs an editorial calendar. They’re the guiding framework that helps you keep your editorial projects on track: from planning content themes to assigning writers. 

If you’re creating an editorial calendar from scratch, read on for our step-by-step guide to creating your own, or use the table of contents to jump ahead.

What is an editorial calendar?

An editorial calendar is a tool that organizes, assigns, and tracks your content pipeline from planning through to publication. It keeps both your content production process and your publishing themes organized in one place. 

In this example of a print editorial calendar, each issue of a magazine is listed with its publication date.

Editorial calendars are used by traditional publishing houses, magazines, blogs, and other online publications to keep content plans organized and on track. They’re used to:

  • Orchestrate content around themes and campaigns (e.g. seasonal or industry events) 

  • Identify the resources you need to create your content (e.g. writers, designers, editors, and subject matter experts) 

  • Create a content budget

  • Assign writing projects

Most editorial calendars are used by a group of stakeholders, like project managers, editors, writers, proofreaders, publication assistants, marketing teams, just to name a few. So they need to be easy to create, and easy to work with for all parties.

What’s the difference between an editorial calendar and a content calendar?

Some companies use the terms editorial calendar and content calendar interchangeably. The difference is small, but notable.  

Editorial calendars are most useful for building out themes, planning content around those themes, and assigning writers. They’re frameworks for your overall publishing plan, guiding decisions around the types of content you create. 

If editorial calendars paint the big picture, content calendars get into the details. They include in-depth execution plans, like: production plans, distribution plans, and review cycles.

But every organization is different. Some use both, some choose one, and some combine them into a single view.

Tip: Want to create a content calendar instead? This resource can help

If you’re ready to create your own editorial calendar, Airtable has a few templates to get you started: 

Why is an editorial calendar important?

By nature, every publication’s editorial calendar is unique. But the reasons to keep one are (mostly) universal. 

An editorial calendar keeps you organized

Having a bird’s-eye view of your publishing plan gives you an overview of your content pipeline, and helps you identify content and topic gaps. 

For instance, in retail, content is usually themed around seasons. Marketing content tends to ramp before seasonal events like Black Friday, Valentine’s Day, and back-to-school shopping. An editorial calendar helps to map out the assets that fall under each theme so you can plan resources accordingly.

It helps maintain a steady publishing cadence

Making the time to assign, write, edit, design, and post content on a consistent basis is a challenge for even seasoned editors and content creators. 

An editorial calendar keeps you on track. By giving you a place to plan long-term, you can find gaps in your calendar, or areas with a high density of content. Identifying those spots ahead of time—and redistributing content accordingly—can help ensure a steady publishing cadence. 

It improves communication within editorial teams

Whether your team is working out of a shared office, or working remotely from around the world, a central hub for editorial organization helps you stay in sync. Channels like chat, email, and video calls are helpful for discussion, but an editorial calendar creates a central source of truth.

This blog editorial calendar lists each story along with its scheduled date of publication, status, where it lives on the blog, the author, editorial notes, and images to be used with the final post.

It creates and maintains editorial alignment

Content publication is often subject to change. An editorial calendar ensures that every stakeholder knows what’s expected of them, and how their work fits into the bigger picture. 

Format options for an editorial calendar

Choosing the right format for your editorial calendar depends upon how you’ll use it and who will use it. There are three common formats for editorial calendars: calendars, grid views, and kanban boards. 

Calendar: A calendar view is a common and effective option for an editorial calendar. It gives stakeholders a quick look at what’s publishing tomorrow, next week, or even next month. That makes calendar views a great choice for an editor or content manager that wants a high-level understanding of your publishing plans, or a place to visually schedule new pieces. 

A calendar view shows every piece scheduled to be published by day.

  • Grid view: People used to working with spreadsheets and tables to keep information organized are probably most comfortable with a grid view. This format lets you skim content by things like: theme, target keywords, personas, and more. 

At a glance, a grid view shows the most information at once out of all three formats. For some, that can make this format overwhelming. But for those that want a more detailed view (like content producers and contributors), they’re extremely useful. If you group content by type—or by status, persona, and the like—it’s even easier to review information in a grid view.

A grid view breaks down editorial content by type, persona, targeted keywords, and status.

  • Kanban board: If calendars show a high-level view, and grid views focus on the details, kanban boards are somewhere in between. By letting you bucket content pieces by category—like status, theme, or content type—they help you visualize your content pipeline without losing sight of the details. 

A kanban view gives a visual overview of a content marketing pipeline in this example of an editorial calendar.

Ideally, you’d have a mix of formats for different stakeholders, and for different tasks. For example: you’d probably want a different view when planning content for the month versus when you’re checking in on the status of a batch of assets. 

For that reason, most editorial teams rely on more than one tool to manage their content pipeline. They might log deadlines and publishing dates in a Google Calendar, content drafts in Google Docs, and other information organized in Google Sheets. 

But sharing information across different platforms, files, and folders can get unmanageable quickly. If a deadline is pushed, for example, you have to manually make the change in every tool you’re using.

In the best case, you want a tool that lets you toggle between different formats without having to replicate changes, or switch from tool to tool. That way, you can easily switch formats depending on the work you’re doing. And your stakeholders can do the same. 

What should be included in an editorial calendar?

As we discussed in the last section, every editorial calendar is unique—so there’s no one universal way to create one. But most publications and marketing teams need to track a few key elements. 

Type of content: There are a lot (!) of different types of content your team might produce. Those include, but aren’t limited to options like: articles, blog posts, reports, videos, and podcasts. Tracking the types of content you’re producing is especially helpful for assessing resourcing needs. If the menu of content types you produce evolves over time, you'll be glad that your calendar is flexible enough to adjust.

In the example above, this calendar organizes different types of content (under “Publication Location”), the reader personas it targets, the keywords the team aims to build on, the status of the piece, and the writer. See the Content Marketing Management template for more.

Editorial theme: Traditional publications like magazines tend to choose a theme for each and every issue. And many digital publications follow suit. By tracking themes in your editorial calendar, you can help your writers align on relevant topics and articles to pitch.

  • Channel: Producing your content is one task, and finding a home for it is another. Tracking your publication channels can make sure your content get seen—and can help you distribute content across channels to make sure you’re not over indexing on one or the other.

In this example, taken from the Airtable Cross-Platform Digital Publishing template, each content piece is published on multiple channels, which you can see under the column labeled “Platforms.”

  • Ownership: Many publications work with multiple writers, editors, and designers. Tracking content ownership in your editorial calendar helps every stakeholder understand what’s expected of them.

In this Airtable Content Calendar template, contributors can see what they’re expected to produce at a glance.

  • Deadlines: Most editorial projects have multiple milestones or deadlines before the ultimate publication date. In addition to the publication date, you might also want to track production stages like: brief creation date, outline due date, rough draft date, and more. 

This snippet from an editorial calendar showing where in the pipeline each piece of content lies.

  • Publication date: A publication date is one of the most important pieces of information to track in an editorial calendar. With your editorial calendar as a source of truth for go-live dates, you can better direct air traffic across your channels. 

In Airtable’s Campus Editorial Calendar template, blog posts each have a “Go live date,” plus a specific time the post will go live to make it easier to manage supporting social media efforts.

The last step in creating an editorial calendar is deciding how often to update it. It’s worth noting that an editorial calendar is never truly done; it’s a living, breathing resource that you need to update and maintain continuously to get the full value. Plan accordingly! 

How often should you update an editorial calendar?

Setting up a new editorial calendar will inevitably take time to set up. Once you have it up and running, though, how often should you plan on setting aside time for updates?

The annoying answer: there’s no hard-and-fast rule.

It’s common for an editorial team to meet once per month, or once per quarter to map out the next set of assignments and themes. Bigger teams often map out their editorial plan for the entire year, knowing it’ll be subject to change. But ultimately, it depends upon your editorial and marketing goals. Generally, the more frequently you publish, the more often you’ll want to update your calendar. 

Your editorial calendar contains a lot of moving parts. Shifting deadlines, staffing changes, and new priorities can change your calendar at any moment. So don’t get too hung up on the cadence you start with. Like any good working document, an editorial calendar (and the process you use to manage it) is always evolving. 

Start creating your editorial calendar 

An editorial calendar can be a daunting, and even complicated tool. But with the information logged, and the right format, it can also be a content creator’s best friend. The key is to create an editorial calendar that’s uniquely tailored to you, your team, and your publication. 

With an editorial calendar in Airtable base, you have the capability and flexibility to create a calendar customized to your org’s needs. Stakeholders can easily pivot between grid views, calendar views, and kanban views. And if you use other tools within your editorial or marketing department—like content drafts in Dropbox or Google Drive—you can connect them to your editorial calendar with Airtable integrations

Create your own editorial calendar with Airtable.

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About the author

Margaret Jonesis Head of Content at Airtable, with over a decade of experience in content strategy and production.

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