Marketing Content Strategy

How Creating Cadence in Your Editorial Calendar Can Benchmark Your Content and Build Anticipation


In today’s on-demand world, we don’t wait for the news cycle to come around—we go directly to it. The publishing world, which prides itself on being a metronome of regularity, has had to scramble to adapt to the age of instant gratification, while CNN’s around-the-clock coverage and multitasking news ticker has forever disrupted the news cycle. Here’s how establishing a cadence in your editorial calendar can help keep your audience engaged:

The Slow Jam of Serialization

In the rush to compete with the media being published every second, we rarely step back to ask whether the “always on” model is necessarily better than the “tune in” model. Consider the ritual of habitual content consumption. When it comes down to it, slated content that requires patience from readers can actually build more anticipation and, ultimately, prove to be more captivating than what’s readily available at our fingertips.

Take the House of Cards release: The creators cultivated anticipation, then released the show out the gate like a bunch of freshly groomed derby horses trampling tracks for just a few heartbeats before they’re spent. Netflix original content has completely disrupted the television series content delivery model—a model that is measured on retention, not quick flashes in the pan. There’s no need for a “sweeps week” when you have Frank Underwood, and the fact that we’ve patiently waited a full year for the release of the third season is proof. A “one-and-done-until-next-year” approach is a risky strategy when you’re trying to create a steady streaming editorial calendar, but it’s one worth exploring.

Build Your Own Benchmark

How can brands create that same cadence to build excitement? Consider benchmarking your content. Magazine publishers have been doing this for over a century in the form of dedicated issues that mark the passage of time and celebrate milestones, events, people, and companies. Let’s not forget the advertising drive that targeted subject matter creates.

Consider Vogue’s beloved September issue, which, for the fashion world, heralds in a new year beginning in autumn (January’s issue pales in comparison). Eight hundred plus pages long and weighing in at five pounds, this issue begs to be taken seriously. This edition will sink like an anchor to the bottom of your bag, and most likely end up forming the base for a bedside table made entirely of literature. Even those who no longer subscribe to the print edition scramble to newsstands when these tomes hit, turning September issues into collector’s items.

Trailer for The September Issue

Here are a few other examples of benchmark content that have come to shape publishers’ editorial calendars:

  • Time‘s “Person of the Year,” an annual feature launched in 1927, commemorates a person or concept that has had a profound impact on the world, for better or for worse. It’s an opportunity for Time to encapsulate 365 days in an infamous, controversial, or heroic light.

Person of The Year

  • Since 1983, US News & World Report has become the defacto source to turn to for an in-depth evaluation on the world’s best educational institutions. Whether you’re a nervous high schooler weighing your options, a helicopter parent measuring how your kids stack up, or a university vying for that top spot, this edition hits multiple sweet spots.
  • People‘s Sexiest Man Alive, inaugurated by Mel Gibson’s mug in 1985, has since established itself as the authority on celebrity attractiveness, much like Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit Edition has continued to own the sun-kissed, provocatively posed models who manage to drive print demand in the digital age.
  • Forbes debuted the Forbes 400, its list of richest Americans, in 1982. The first list included only 13 billionaires, who were required to have a net worth of $75 million to make the cut. Today, a minimum of $1.55 billion is required to make the list. The Inc. 500, also introduced in the 1980s, is an annual report that measures countries’ fastest-growing private companies. The Fortune 500, which has been around since 1955 and predates both lists, ranks both public and private companies.

Key Takeaways

While models in bikinis and absurdly wealthy individuals may not have a place on your editorial calendar, here are a few takeaways from these benchmark features that more readily apply to brands:

  • Provide a unique editorial perspective. Sorting, nominating, creating hierarchies, or coming up with superlatives means forming an opinion. You don’t have to be Time to do this—you just need to be confident that your position is in line with your brand’s positioning.

  • Measure change. Develop subjects that provide an index for economic, cultural, social, and political trends. This data can provide direct insight into any fluctuations in the journalistic climate, which informs your content creation process.

  • Be retrospective. Readers love a good roundup. We are inundated with so much information that it can provide much needed relief when someone comes along and ties a bow around it. Make it easy for readers to process your benchmark. Readers tend to look to authoritative sources, and if your brand can summarize, process, and reflect on trends, then you’ll earn the respect—and attention—of your readers.

  • Be consistent. Becoming a benchmark doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t decide to create a semi-annual list and proceed to neglect it halfway through the year. You’ll need diligent editorial calendar planning well in advance, partnered with fact-checking, vetting, and making sure your content will stick at the time it’s released. Most of the media publications mentioned here have worked long and hard to establish themselves as thought leaders, and they have certainly been met with skepticism along the way. Think of this as a long-term strategy that will be measured year-over-year.
  • Don’t forget your brand voice. Pick your topics carefully. You are an expert in your field; leverage that innate status to build believable benchmarks that are in line with your brand voice. Say, for example, you’re in the retail space: Creating a benchmark around innovative fashion designers is aligned with your core purpose, as opposed to building an index on the health of emerging markets.
  • Create demand for inclusion. If you’re creating “top 10” lists or building buzz around the status quo, people will notice. Every year, companies clamor to be featured in the Fortune 500 because, should they be selected, they’ll gain immediate credibility. But be cautious before stepping into this crowded space: In order to nominate others, your brand must be viewed as an authoritative voice in your industry, lest you appear like you’re arbitrarily picking winners and losers.
  • Attract like-minded partners and advertisers. These benchmark features are an advertiser’s dream—a pretty package bundled up for a specific audience. Consider this an opportunity for partnership, building a paid social campaign, or reaching out to media outlets that are hungry for this type of content.

  • “Trailer” your benchmark content. This is your big chance to get media excited. Build anticipation around the release by previewing what’s coming soon. Need I mention Apple as an example of a “anticipation marketing,” a brand who drives buzz like no other consumer product?

  • Stay relevant. Think about developing a theme that will resonate year after year—something evergreen. The blanks may change, but the structure stays intact. You also have to consider that a lot can happen in one year. For example, Forbes used to update its 400 list every fall. As of last spring, pressured by the entrance of Bloomberg’s billionaire list, Forbes announced a “Digital Wealth Tracking Tool” that provides real-time updates. They no longer have the luxury of waiting around for the next year to go to market with their report. Make sure you stand up against the competition and truly provide a value add for the reader.

Need help finding your benchmark strategy? Contact to find out how our program managers can help you become the defacto destination for themed content.

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