February 2016




Creative Workflow

At the heart of any restaurant, you’ll find a harried crew toiling in a noisy kitchen. And behind the scenes of every thriving brand publishing program, you’ll find writers, editors, designers, and strategists doggedly turning rough ideas into polished posts. While the big creative ideas get the headlines, long-term publishing success depends on an effective workflow.

This month, we celebrate the unglamorous realities of workflow that works. In our Feature, we share tips for building editorial calendars that connect all the dots. Our latest Question explains how to work the kinks out of reviews, revisions, and approvals. And in the new Case Study, we explain how our development team saved the Harvard Business Review’s editorial team countless hours. Throughout, we’re highlighting some of our favorite workflow tools for publishing teams.




Favorite Tools: Boomerang

You know that situation when you’re hoping someone else will deal with an incoming email, but you don’t want to lose track of it, either? Or that situation when you don’t want to forget to send an email, but don’t want to bug somebody after hours? Boomerang is a free Gmail extension built for just those occasions. You can schedule outgoing emails to send automatically at a time you specify. You can also schedule emails to “boomerang” to your inbox: Boomerang sends an email to you at the designated time that resurfaces the email chain in question. These boomerangs can happen at a concrete time, or be conditional — e.g., “Return conversation to Inbox if nobody responds in the next four hours.” It’s perfect for getting an email off your plate until you’re ready to deal with it, or for remembering to take care of an ask if one of your colleagues doesn’t beat you to it.


Editorial Calendar Best Practices

An editorial calendar (edcal) provides a unified look at your content publishing program, across all channels and stages of production — ideas, drafts, scheduled updates, and published posts. By centralizing your planning, you get a bird’s-eye view of your content. This helps you space out your publishing frequency, anticipate gaps, track the status of upcoming content, and get a sense of which verticals, audiences, or brand storylines may not be receiving enough attention in your current content mix.

Setting Up an Effective EdCal

When creating your edcal, set it up with fields that relate to each of its purposes:

  • Coordinate team members’ activity — Fields like “Owner” or “Author” will make it clear who is ultimately responsible for getting each item produced, reviewed and published. If coordinating among multiple global territories, include a field for designating which territory is the “lead” on each piece of content, and a field that specifies whether the other territories should mirror that content. If publishing across multiple time zones, consider including multiple “time” fields for each time zone.
  • Track the status of content — Have a “status” column that follows a concrete workflow — e.g. “To be drafted,” “Drafted,” “Approved,” “Scheduled,” and “Published.” This makes next steps obvious at a glance.
  • Monitor ongoing brand narratives — Don’t forget about the big picture. Fields for “Target audience,” “Business unit,” or “Brand storyline” will remind you to keep your content mix diverse and aligned with your strategy, and make it obvious when a key segment is being neglected.

A Note on Hosting

We typically recommend hosting edcals in Google Drive spreadsheets. Since these are cloud-hosted, you never have to worry about version control; everyone is always looking at the most current version of the document.

While some publishing tools have built-in calendar functions, it’s better to keep content planning separate from publishing. This allows you to involve many stakeholders in your planning process while restricting access to publishing, reducing the likelihood of a publishing mishap. It also adds another layer of review, as the person who moves content from the editorial calendar into the publishing tool can give it one last review before scheduling or publishing it.

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Advanced Tips

Ready to take your editorial calendar to the next level? Here are some how-to’s, tailored specifically to Google Drive:

  • Create drop-down menus: Highlight the cells/column you want to edit. In the top menu, select Data > Validation… A menu will appear in a dialog box. For “Criteria,” select “List of items,” and then input the full list of items you’d like to be available as options, separated by commas. Select what you’d like the spreadsheet to do if someone tries to input something that isn’t in the drop-down list: Reject the input entirely, or simply display a warning. Click “Save” to confirm.
  • Add automatic color-coding: Automatic color-coding can make it even easier to assess the status of your content at a glance. For instance, you can have all the items designed for the “Consumer” business unit highlighted in blue, or all the items marked as “Approved” highlighted in green. Select the cells/column you want to edit, and in the top menu, click Format > Conditional formatting… A menu will appear on the right-hand side of the spreadsheet. Under “Format cells if…” select “Text contains,” and then type the text you want to be affected, e.g. “Approved.” Then, under “Formatting style,” adjust how you’d like the cells that meet the criteria to appear, e.g. with a light green background. When you’re ready, click “Done” to close the menu, or click “Add another rule” if you’d like to add more options for how cells are automatically formatted (e.g. a light yellow background for “Drafted”).
  • Set up easy filtering: Select all the cells in your spreadsheet, then click the “Filter” button in the top menu — it’s second from the far right, between the little bar graph icon and the ∑. You’ll notice that little arrows for drop-down menus appear in all the cells in the top row of your spreadsheet. Click these arrows to filter your view of your spreadsheet based on the content of each column. For instance, you can use the filter in the “Status” column to only display items that are marked as “Drafted.” You can even filter multiple columns at once. When viewing your edcal through a filter, other users of the edcal will continue to see it normally. If you’d like, you can save a specific filter view by clicking the small arrow next to the filter button in the top menu and selecting “Save as filter view.” You can then share a custom link to this filter view with others.
  • Automatically count characters: If you draft tweets or other short-form content within your edcal, it might be helpful to have an automatic character counter built in. Add a column for calculating character count, and then use the formula =len(CELL), in which “CELL” is the location of the field for which you’d like to count characters (e.g. “G5.”) Once you’ve inputted the formula into one cell, you can hover over the bottom-right corner of the cell so that your cursor turns into a thin black + sign, and then click and drag to apply the formula to all the cells in that column.

Have any more questions about editorial calendars? Want a hand with setting up your editorial calendar or taking it to the next level? Reach out to your PNConnect representative or email



Favorite Tools: Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that makes it easier to get started on big tasks by breaking them into manageable time chunks. Traditionally, the procedure is to work for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. After four of these 30-minute units, you take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

Of course, you can adjust the timing in a way that makes sense to you. The point is to make it less scary to tackle a project you’re dreading or unsure how to start. Rather than saying that you’ll do the whole thing, you’re committing to spending 25 minutes figuring out your first steps and getting started. The built-in breaks ward off fatigue and help you feel like a respite is never too far away. You can set your own timer, or use Moosti, an in-browser Pomodoro timer with adjustable intervals.


How do you streamline content reviews, revisions, and approvals?

In companies with strict legal or stakeholder review requirements, there’s no getting around the challenge of clearing approval hurdles. But there are still steps you can take to minimize the time it takes to review, revise, and approve content, both for day-to-day publishing and bigger projects, like site redesigns.

  • Interview the approvers – The starting point for faster review cycles is understanding what stakeholders and legal reviewers are looking for. Ask everyone in the approval chain what they do and don’t want to see in content — especially the specific topics, messages, and style choices they’ll always ask to revise.
  • Document your content standards – Starting with what you hear in approver interviews, document all content dos and don’ts, from brand style conventions to legal restrictions. Share the guidelines with the entire publishing team, ideally via a collaborative platform, like Google Drive. Update the guidelines regularly, adding new dos and don’ts based on review feedback.

    It’s a good idea to include a checklist for writers to reference before sharing content for review. Content templates are useful as well. For each content type, create a document template with fields for every element you need (meta information, byline, image details, etc.), to ensure nothing is missing from each draft. The publishing tool GatherContent takes this a step further, making it simple to build templated forms for each content type.

  • Get early buy-in – If you end up having to revise content substantially following your stakeholder reviews, consider adding an additional step: Before writing begins, create a detailed outline and share it for review. This will surface issues early on, saving you from completely rewriting content down the line.
  • Designate a content owner – While the unique perspectives of different reviewers may be valuable, it’s easy to get derailed by back-and-forth debate when no one is empowered to make the call. Determine which stakeholder has the ultimate authority to approve content, and make sure everybody on the team is clear on their role.
  • Consolidate reviews: – If you have multiple reviewers involved in your program, look to establish a process that consolidates their feedback, rather than going through separate revision cycles for each review. One simple way to do this is “pass the doc,” asking each reviewer in a chain to add their comments in turn (via Word’s review features or Google Drive’s commenting and edit system). As the final reviewer in the chain, the content owner makes the final edits and comments, taking the other reviewers’ feedback into account.


Favorite Tools: GatherContent

GatherContent is a lifesaver for projects involving a ton of content, contributors, and approvals, such as site redesigns. For each type of content — e.g. “category page,” “product page,” and “about us text,” — we create a detailed template that specifies requirements for every piece of content, including character counts, style guidance, meta data, and imagery files. We use the templates to create an individual entry form for every page to be created, organized into the site’s hierarchy.

We assign each page to the appropriate writer and reviewers, establish an approval workflow, and set due dates. As the content comes in and goes through approvals, we always know the status of each page. We can start getting finalized content up on the site while other pieces are still in progress, without any mixups.


Case Study

Bridge Building

The Harvard Business Review is one of the most prestigious publications in the professional world. Every day, it publishes widely-read thought pieces that inform leaders at all levels of business. But behind the scenes, the editorial team struggled with a content management system that required duplicating work for web and print publishing platforms.


HBR asked Voce Communications, a Porter Novelli company, to give the editorial team a simple way to publish content for digital channels. But they also wanted to keep their existing toolset, which meant connecting these two stand-alone systems.

Pulling from their extensive WordPress expertise, the Voce Platforms team mapped out an approach that would use WordPress as the go-between from one system to the other, converting material from the print production CMS to the web publishing CMS. The team built custom extensions to take the raw output from one system and convert it to a suitable form for WordPress to use and store. Next, the team developed an API allowing WordPress to convert that content into an XML format used by the front-end publishing system.

Integrating WordPress as the new editorial platform into current publishing systems allowed the HBR team to take a small step towards a web-first publishing model, without the huge investment of replacing all their current architecture. The WordPress software’s flexibility and scalability, along with the team’s creative problem solving, provided the connective tissue HBR needed to bridge print and online publishing.


PNConnect is the global digital services offering from Porter Novelli. Our global team spans 60 countries and brings the combined digital resources of our social media marketing, creative production, paid promotions, and web development capabilities together for one purpose — to help our clients share their story with the world.

For more information about our team and approach, or to learn how we can help your organization with digital strategy, development and measurement, please visit the PNConnect site.


Thank You


Many thanks to our February contributors.

Mary Gaulke in Sarasota wrote this month’s Feature about building effective editorial calendars, and Chris Thilk in Chicago wrote our new Case Study on the Harvard Business Review. Tom Harris in Raleigh wrote this month’s Question on reviews and approvals.

Ervins Strauhmanis uploaded the cover photo to Flickr, Dominic Sayers uploaded the Welcome photo, Michael Coghlan uploaded the boomerang artwork photo, Michael Mayer uploaded the pomodoro timer photo, and Johann Dréo uploaded the paper pile photo.

Thanks to Mary Gaulke, Tom Harris, and Chris Thilk for editorial oversight.

Drop Us a Line

We’re eager to hear your thoughts on this edition and your suggestions for future issues.