what is a managing editor

What Is a Managing Editor?

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Who should be in charge of my company’s blog? Should I hire an in-house writer or outsource that work? How can I staff my team so that content isn’t such a chore? We hear the same questions from overwhelmed marketers all over the country. What I wish they could ask me: What is a managing editor?

It’s true, you need people on your team to write and design content. But you also need someone to organize that work and connect it to the overall business goals and strategy.

You need a managing editor.

What does a managing editor do? It’s not actually a new role — managing editors have long played a critical role in journalism — but they’re a fairly novel development for enterprise content marketing teams and are even rarer in smaller teams. Even people already doing this work may not think to describe their role as a “managing editor.”

Wondering what a managing editor is? We’ve created a primer on the role of the modern managing editor.

What Does a Managing Editor Do?

The managing editor owns content at an organization. They are responsible for merging content with brand, and they have a knack for spotting a great story.

Managing editors wear a lot of hats, and they do much more than write or edit. A managing editor is not “our writer.” They make complex business decisions, and they should be deeply involved in making sure all content initiatives are tied directly to business goals.

Here’s what they do:

    • Develop a content strategy that aligns with big-picture business goals. A good managing editor develops a content strategy that is short and simple, but capable of flexibility and growth. It's up to the managing editor to identify the audience, the big ideas to put forth, the channels for dissemination and the audience’s intended reaction to content offerings. The managing editor measures the success of content offerings and uses that data to modify and evolve their content strategy.
    • Collaborate with sales and marketing leaders. And beyond. A great managing editor connects individuals across the organization to build a cohesive brand. They rely on expert advice from each facet of the organization — every role is important, and each player deserves to have their voice heard. The managing editor has the privilege of pulling these voices together to create content that is engaging and unique.
    • Decide the big ideas that align with the organization’s goals. Thought leadership is a critical component of what a managing editor does. The managing editor is an organization’s content gatekeeper. The organization relies on the managing editor to have big ideas to propel them forward and the capacity to lead a team in communicating those ideas to the world. The managing editor has to stay focused on the organization’s goals and gain followers through compelling content leadership.
    • Plan how to communicate those big ideas. What is a managing editor if not a master of language? Content marketing is so much more than producing glorified ads — it’s about communicating big ideas. A managing editor designs content calendars, communicating complex ideas without sacrificing personality or the chance to say something new. They consider the worst and strive to be the best, and they aren’t afraid to take risks to get there.
    • Create an editorial calendar to implement the content strategy. The managing editor schedules thematic and relevant content that attracts and benefits readers. Sometimes that means stepping back and streamlining content offerings to ensure a quality product.
    • Manage the process for getting individual pieces of content created. At bigger organizations that might mean overseeing a full content team of writers, editors, designers and marketers. At a small company, it might mean actually creating the content. In either case, the “team” could include in-house staff, outsourced freelancers or a combination, and it’s the managing editor’s job to make sure all those roles are filled and that everyone is working together seamlessly.
    • Publish content to the organization’s platforms. These can include websites, blogs, social media channels, podcasts, email — the list of platforms goes on and on and changes practically every few months. An excellent managing editor understands the value of connection. The entire content marketing industry is built on creating content that resonates with an audience. Choosing where to publish and promote content offerings to maximize that impact is a critical facet of the managing editor’s role.

Who Makes a Great Managing Editor?

This is an intense role. Managing editors make critical business decisions regarding content every day, and they have to move fluidly between people management, creative brainstorming and navigating the changing algorithms of search engines and social media platforms. So what does it take to be successful?

The best managing editors we know have:

  • Broad business perspective. They need to speak the language of the C-suite. They need to understand business goals, see the plan to acquire new customers and be able to translate that information to other employees and the organization’s external audience. A good managing editor has to interpret that data to demonstrate just how powerful content can be.
  • A visionary mindset. A managing editor is responsible for interpreting the business’ goals and brand, and for translating them to a wider audience. A company’s success is only as strong as its connection with people. The first step toward engagement is to understand who your audience is and what their needs are. Connection is the managing editor’s end goal, and bringing that visionary mindset to help the audience connect with the brand at each stage of their journey is vital.
  • Strong writing and editing skills. When asking the question “What is a managing editor?” this is the response people expect. And it’s true: a great managing editor is comfortable writing and editing in a variety of formats and can make sure all content is consistent with brand guidelines. But beyond that, the managing editor is the content gatekeeper. It’s up to them to keep the reader on the other end of the piece in mind. Audience plays a critical role in both writing and marketing, and the managing editor’s skill in writing and editing makes all the difference between a bloviated sales pitch and a thoughtful, provocative piece of content.
  • A knack for collaboration. They will need to work with different people across the organization to get buy-in on the content strategy, understand new business decisions and execute the content plan. An effective managing editor will develop relationships with marketing, sales, product and customer service leaders to keep content ideas flowing throughout the organization. And remember — not every published author has to be a writer. It’s up to the managing editor to collaborate across the organization and put stories at the forefront.
  • Project management savvy. There are a lot of steps involved in creating a great piece of content, and the managing editor has to divvy them up and ensure they get done on schedule. Luckily, a good managing editor knows their audience — and that extends to their team. Learning how each team member works fosters a more effective project management style. And learning is a hallmark of what we do.
  • Analytical skills. They’ll need to interpret content performance data and make decisions based on that data. The managing editor is responsible for curating content that resonates with readers, and they have to know how to use data to find out what’s most relevant for the audience. This includes performing content audits on existing content and revamping older pieces to match your audiences’ needs. Data provides a map, and reading the numbers tells a managing editor which direction to take.
  • Familiarity with content marketing technology. Managing editors are often the lead decision-makers in adopting and implementing marketing tech platforms — which includes the organization’s content management system, marketing automation, email marketing and marketing reporting tools. A great managing editor stays on top of tech and trends and makes informed decisions regarding the best platforms to support content.
  • Coaching and management skills. The managing editor will need to help everyone on the content team grow and improve and understand the changing requirements of content marketers. The managing editor is responsible for offering the feedback and coaching that writers, editors and other team members need to be successful. Managing a team requires establishing expectations and standardizing processes. Communication and delegation are skills that any managing editor exercises frequently.

What Does a Managing Editor Need to Succeed?

Managing editors sound like superheroes — which they are. But they need support from the organization to make it all happen. Here’s what they’ll need.

  • Resources that match the ambitions of the organization. Content is powerful, but the difference between consistently amazing and “meh” is often a reflection of the time and money you devote to the content platform over time. To ensure excellent content, a managing editor needs to allocate sufficient time and funds. Spending those extra minutes or dollars on a content offering can mean putting out a more polished, engaging piece.
  • Technology that helps track effectiveness. As big-picture people, managing editors need tools to measure and record how content performs, how audiences react to it and how it affects the broader ROI of the content strategy. Engaging with data is an everyday task, so a managing editor needs excellent tech that makes identifying trends and measuring successes easier and more efficient. Knowing which social channels to promote or topics to cover can make a vast difference in how content is received.
  • Dedicated time to spend on content strategy. The managing editor needs time to review and adjust the strategy regularly — this isn’t a job that’s just about heads-down execution. An excellent managing editor understands the value of devoting time to establishing an optimal content strategy. Putting extra effort and organization in at the beginning pays off exponentially in better curated, more thoughtful content.
  • Opportunities for continuous learning. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we don’t know what’s coming next. But we can learn. The world of content marketing and marketing tech is evolving quickly. It’s already changed so much in the past couple of decades, moving from the page to the screen. Managing editors need to be able to set aside time for their own education and development.

Serving as a brand’s managing editor isn’t easy. That’s why we created Managing Editor magazine — to give people what they need to succeed in the role. Next time someone asks “What is a managing editor?” you know where to send them.

Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO of Rep Cap. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. Before joining SmartBrief, she spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. You can find Mary Ellen on Twitter @MESlayter.

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