The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Editorial Mission Statements
Let’s address the ugly part of editorial mission statements up front.
Too few brands (18% of B2B marketers) have one.
Yet, there are plenty of reasons why brands should have an editorial mission statement. As Kane Jamison writes, “(c)ontent that’s not backed by an editorial mission statement is a bit like a ship without a compass.”
A documented editorial mission statement gives your content team direction – it points out the who, what, and why of their work. And, if shared publicly, it communicates to potential readers what your content is all about.
But there’s an art to crafting editorial mission statements, and not everyone gets it right. Many statements lack sufficient detail – or offer too many details – to be useful.
The good news? You probably have everything you need to craft or improve your brand’s editorial mission statement today. You’ve probably documented the who, what, and why of your content in a multitude of places. Now, it’s time to bring it all together.
To get you started, let’s go over some best (and some bad) practices around editorial mission statements.
Given that media brands have been in the content business longer than most B2B and B2C brands – and share their mission statements publicly – let’s explore the good and note some of the bad and ugly.
In 12 words and one picture, Redbook magazine describes its editorial mission – “style and confidence for the busiest, messiest, happiest years of your life.” The statement and image are published on its site. (Redbook is in the top 30 of circulation for magazines in the United States.)
The good: It incorporates the push-pull of its readers’ lives. It reminds the content team that their readers have complex daily lives.
The bad: Readers of the statement are left to their own interpretations of connotative words such as “confidence,” “messiest,” and “happiest.” Plus, the image accompanying the words is a single stereotype that drills down the audience to happy, white, youthful-looking, and fashionable moms.
Lessons learned: Be succinct but don’t oversimplify. Describe your editorial mission clearly to prevent your content team and your readers from making assumptions about the purpose of your brand’s content. And don’t rely on images to fill in the blanks, especially ones that make your editorial mission statement read more like a persona description.
The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
The Gazette in Cedar Rapids offers this 22-word editorial mission statement, “To guide the community’s deliberation of public issues, motivating people to get involved in the process and advocating for solutions.”
The good: It effectively describes the purpose of the newspaper’s editorial content (guide community deliberation) and the content’s overall call to action (to get involved and advocate).
The bad: The editorial mission statement could be the same for almost any mainstream newspaper in the country.
Lesson learned: Don’t be generic. Distinguish your brand in the statement, whether it’s by geography, industry, niche, etc. (And if you can’t craft a unique editorial mission statement, it may signal a need to revisit your overall content marketing strategy.)
Sky & Telescope
The editor of Sky & Telescope crafts the mission statement in a 235-word letter to readers:
Now in its 77th year, Sky & Telescope is the world’s leading compendium of timely and accurate information about the science and hobby of astronomy.
Our magazine appeals to the devoted amateur looking to enhance observing skills and learn about the latest equipment, as well as to professionals and academics desiring to keep up with this dynamic field.
Our readers include the most active observers worldwide — those who stargaze regularly and travel to remote places to find dark skies or chase solar eclipses. These enthusiasts can’t wait to learn about new equipment and techniques, and they aggressively seek every opportunity to view rare or unusual celestial sights.
Our articles are rich in information and images that compel readers to go out and experience the night sky firsthand. Our science features offer the most authoritative reports on discoveries in astronomy and space science. Our practical and attractive sky maps, coupled with helpful tips from highly skilled observers, ensure that stargazers can locate and enjoy the highlights of each month’s sky. In every issue we showcase the best images from the world’s best astrophotographers. And we publish more elaborate, thorough, and objective product reviews, and more of them, than any other astronomy magazine.
With seven successful decades behind us, Sky & Telescope will continue to provide essential astronomical information to enthusiasts of all levels, enticing readers to become dedicated night-sky explorers and advocates for this exciting science.
Editor in Chief, Sky & Telescope
The good: The statement clearly states the goal of its content is to “compel readers to go out and experience the night sky firsthand … to become dedicated night-sky explorers and advocates for this exciting science.”
It also sets itself apart from the competition, detailing its differentiation: “…(w)e publish more elaborate, thorough, and objective product reviews, and more of them, than any other astronomy magazine.”
The inclusion of the current year in the letter indicates the editorial mission statement may be updated (or at least shared with readers) yearly. That’s a good thing because your editorial mission usually isn’t set in stone.
The bad: It’s not a statement. It’s a missive. Someone has to really, really want to know its mission to get through all that.
And brevity might have helped avoid conflicting information. In the beginning, the letter says, “Our magazine appeals to the devoted amateur.” That’s a great description of its audience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there, and by the closing paragraph it widens its focus to “enthusiasts of all levels.”
Lessons learned: Always include the purpose of your content in your editorial mission statement. How should it motivate the readers or viewers? What do you want them to know, think, or do? But explain it in as few words as possible. And remember, your content can’t be everything to everybody. Pick a niche audience and ensure that your content is loyal to it.
Now craft your brand’s editorial mission statement
While each of these examples (good and bad) offers lessons, make your brand’s editorial mission statement great by ensuring that it incorporates all the necessary elements. As B2B marketing strategist Ardath Albee said in The One Brief Statement That Will Refine Your Content Marketing, an editorial mission statement should include:
- Who you are as a company
- Who you are trying to reach
- How you’re going to reach them
- What you want to accomplish when you do
“It should be the measuring stick by which you evaluate all of your editorial,” the article notes.
How well-crafted is your editorial measuring stick?
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute