If your vision of a managing editor is someone with a red pen marking up copy, shouting at everyone and reducing new writers to tears, well, you may be partially right. However, managing editors do much more than deal with budgets, enforce deadlines and strike fear into the hearts of staff.
Lindsay Marder spent five years as the managing editor of DigitalMarketer, where she managed the editorial team and the DigitalMarketer blog. She is also co-founder of Digital Strategy Boot Camps, where she helps companies use digital marketing strategies to achieve their goals.
We asked Lindsay for her thoughts on what a managing editor does, how the role has evolved and why the managing editor job has become more prevalent.
Keeper of the Brand
Lindsay came from a background in traditional publishing and editing. “I got into this digital thing just because I needed a job,” she says. When her old job was eliminated, Lindsay had the opportunity to become the first ever managing editor for DigitalMarketer. She was hesitant at first, because she associated managing editors with newspapers and wondered if she had the experience she’d need. But founder and CEO, Ryan Deiss, told her that she could shape the job into what she wanted it to be. He summed up her job description in one sentence: Your job is to make the rest of the world think we have our act together.
Lindsay took that to heart and says it has influenced everything that she does. “That is what the managing editor does — makes sure that the business, the media, everything, lines up.”
She says it’s the managing editor’s job to make sure that the brand is represented as it needs to be. “I've told people that your managing editor is the person who knows where all the bodies are buried,” she says. “They're the quality checker, they know where everything is, they have the courage and trust from the team to say, ‘No, we shouldn’t launch or publish this,’ Or, ‘Yes, this checks all our boxes.’"
As a result, a managing editor needs a certain set of traits. Lindsay says they have to be system-oriented and very organized. “Also, they care a lot about the work. It really takes someone who's willing to dig their heels in. You're lucky when you find them.”
A lot of companies struggle to find a good managing editor, primarily because they don’t even know they need one. Lindsay says a lot of her clients want to hire a content marketing manager, and they assume that person will handle their blog content. But she explains that’s not where the focus should be. “You need someone broader, who is not as focused on doing the distribution or setting up posts. You need someone who is thinking about strategy.”
And Lindsay is encouraged that the industry is starting to recognize the need for managing editors. “I spoke at a content marketing conference at the beginning of May in Boston, and the speaker lineup included so many people with the title of managing editor.” She was even more impressed that so many women were represented in such an integral role.
Managing editors are also content strategists. They decide what to publish, and what each piece of content should achieve.
Lindsay says everyone wants to publish content to increase their Google ranking and generate more traffic from organic searches. But, she says, it’s worth stopping on the endless quest for more and consider what you have to say. “If you stop and think, ‘What do I need more of?’ and look at content as a lever to pull, you can create a content strategy of only creating something when you actually have something to say.”
She says that smart brands are publishing less. Instead, they focus more on their key message and their community. “When you publish, spend a lot of time on one really, really, really awesome piece of content that says something about who you are as a company — this is the flag we plant, this is what we teach, this is our authority.”
“Then, splinter your content into a few smaller posts … and let those posts do what they need to do,” Lindsay says. “Buy traffic for them on social and then go focus on your community, and you will get so much more out of your content.”
The first time Lindsay opened Google Analytics with her new boss and mentor, Russ Henneberry, she remembers asking why she should care about metrics. Now she laughs. “I would tell this to anyone else that's just getting started, or is still learning: Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Why do we care?’ Ask for explanations — and keep asking that question whenever you’re in doubt.”
She also learned that managing editors are relationship builders. “You need all these relationships with subject-matter experts, your team, everyone to create great content,” Lindsay says. “I've said for years and I want it on my tombstone that my job as a managing editor is to gracefully beg and subtly threaten, because you're just constantly asking people for things they don’t actually need to give you.”
Opportunities to learn and grow are everywhere. You just need to know where to look for them. For example, she recommends looking at the magazines and tabloids when you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. “Look at how they arranged their headlines, look at which stories they're putting first and what blurb they're using on the cover to sell the story. Look at the hooks they choose, look at how they position their covers, and think about why made those choices to get a leg up on the magazine next to them.”
Then figure out how you can translate your takeaways into your work. “Learn from every advertisement around you and think, ‘How are they selling me this?’ — and then think about how you can use that strategy in your own content production.”
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