How To Handle Editorial Calendar Disruptions

It’s inevitable. That editorial calendar you’ve created and put such care into crafting is going to be blown up eventually. It will happen. After you’ve spent hours making sure every time slot is optimized, that the timing of when posts will go out balances timeliness with respect for the audience and reflects corporate interests, something will bowl it over. After the entire afternoon is approved and scheduled in the CMS and you’re ready to tackle something else, there will something that upsets the apple cart.

I’m not talking about the content calendars that are scheduled months out and which help you plan big marketing campaign beats. I’m talking about the daily calendar that helps you know what you’re publishing today and tomorrow and maybe three or four days out but that’s always up in the air.

These are the calendars that are more likely to be familiar to those who have managed massive content marketing programs that publish a few hundred posts a week across a dozen or more network. They’re the ones that the marketing department doesn’t even want to see because they don’t understand your system and don’t want to get bogged down hearing about the details. But they’re the ones those others rely on you to manage.

Sooner or later the call or email will come that your carefully-crafted ed cal will have to be blown up. Maybe you have a couple hours’ notice, maybe you have 10 minutes. I’ve had both happen to me. The reasons usually fall into one of two buckets:

  • Breaking news has to be prioritized: An announcement is being made at X time that no one told you about but which has to be blast across the network in short order.
  • Tragedy has struck: The instances of this have gone done somewhat but for a few years it seemed as if every week had three national news stories that it would have been offensive and insensitive to publish until things have settled down.

The latter is, of course, less maddening than the former, but both require your immediate attention and action. Based on my experience, here are some tips for surviving these moments that don’t include quitting on the spot and moving to Wisconsin to make cheese.

Take a Moment and Panic

No seriously. This is usually your first instinct anyway, so let it happen. Turn away from your computer, swear, walk around your desk, whatever you do to let off some steam. You have about two minutes at most to give into this instinct, because then it’s time to get to work.

Find Your Place

Take a look at the ed cal and establish where you are. What was just published? What’s next in the queue? What’s already been loaded into the CMS? These are all questions your ed cal should be able to answer. Just like locating yourself on a map, figure out what the landscape looks like and situate yourself in it.

Clear the Deck

If you already have posts scheduled for the time when the breaking news is set to hit, you’ll need to move those. But to when? That’s actually not important now. What’s important is that the planned post get out of the damn way. Depending on how much time you have to make the changes, it might make more sense to just delete it in the CMS and plan to repost it later, after you have a minute to consider and think. Make sure, though, that you are removing the checkmark from the “Published” column in your ed cal so there’s no confusion about what is or isn’t scheduled.

Play In Your Sandbox

One thing I created for my ed cals was a “sandbox” or “staging” tab in the Google Sheet I used for the ed cal. It was space for me to throw things I was working on until I had the timing and balance just right, at which point I would move items over to the main ed cal. The staging tab had the same headers and formatting as the rest of the ed cal, so I could easily move material between the two areas. Take those items you just removed and throw them in the sandbox. You’ll come back to them later.

Plug In Your News

OK, now you should have a whole in your ed cal for the breaking news. Time to plug in the news that’s coming quickly around the corner. Get it blocked out on the platforms and channels it needs to be shared on. Get the copy ready, find your media assets and do all the other prep work you can so you can be Johnny On The Spot with that news at exactly the time you need to be. If you can schedule now, great, go ahead and do so. If not, at least this is now part of the plan and in the same format as everything else.

Measure the Ripples

How much of your day was just disrupted? Do you need to rebalance the whole rest of the day or can you pick everything back up in an hour with just a bit of tap dancing? If the latter, great. Grab those posts you moved over to the sandbox and find new places for them, disrupting as little as possible. If the impact is more along the lines of “entire species just went extinct,” though, you may have to take everything from the rest of the day and move it over to the sandbox, where you can reevaluate the flow of the day and essentially start from scratch. Again, make sure you’re changing any tracking in the ed cal so that it’s clear this content is no longer scheduled. You may need to just reschedule posts in the CMS or, if it’s more drastic, you may want to just delete them and start over.

These sort of urgent situations are why it actually makes sense to use a tool like Google Sheets for the editorial calendar, particularly for daily high-volume programs, and not the built in calendar features many CMS platforms now offer. This system allows you to take a better look at the whole landscape and make changes that make more sense after a few moments of evaluation and contemplation. You can rebalance the whole program in about an hour (assuming you’ve got the chops) and get things back on track without missing a beat.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.