Editorial roles are changing rapidly, from producing a print magazine to creating newsletters, virtual events, data products, moderating panels, commercial content, social media and more. What’s involved these days in being an Editor, especially in B2B, professional and specialist markets, and what new skills are needed?
Three senior editors discussed the “Future B2B Editor” at The Publishing Show recently: Joel Harrison, Editor in Chief of B2B Marketing, Catrin Griffiths, Editor of The Lawyer, and Chris Ludwig, Editor in Chief at Ultima Media. These are the highlights of an entertaining and information packed session, essential intel for experienced and aspiring editors and the publishing teams who work with them.
Editing across a broader canvas
In recent years, focus on the news agenda and a single print publication has been replaced by a broader canvas. Editors are responsible for live and virtual events, podcasts, newsletters, digital magazines, websites, data products, social media and commercial content. This requires just as much creative input and energy but spread across many more products. Publishing business models have also shifted away from print, and towards paywalls and subscriptions.
Best bits and worst bits of being an editor
Panellists admit to being exhausted but also energised by the variety and are focussed on creating good journalism in every medium. Catrin feels the same buzz from uncovering a great story from data – such as the gender bias in solicitors instructing QCs in high profile cases – as from covering breaking news. The biggest challenge in the role is being spread too thinly or being coerced into poorly thought-out commercial content.
Knowing your audience
The editorial superpower is knowing your audience and exactly what information they want and in what form. Readers are swamped with excess content, so there is great value in being succinct, in careful curation, and boiling a story down to its essence. Less is definitely more.
Moving to paywalls
The Lawyer has moved from a free print weekly to a digital subscription with premium products. Ultima Media’s automotive titles have also shifted from print to digital, and most are now behind registration or subscription paywalls. This does mean publishing and editorial teams are more closely aligned – the subscriber comes first.
All the panellists have moved away from print in the last two years. The Lawyer went from weekly to monthly and then fully digital. Ultima Media has shifted from print to digital magazines in most sectors, although they still produce some custom print. B2B Marketing has moved from print to a fully digital, community-driven subscription platform. A minority of readers were upset by print closing, but editors felt there had been unnecessary duplication between print and digital.
Whilst editors may be a little nostalgic for the design discipline of print magazines, the economics of print are tough. The panel acknowledged that digital magazines are an imperfect and possibly intermediate solution. It helps to establish a new valuable product for readers at the same time as removing print. The Lawyer launched a daily newsletter, Horizon, with dedicated journalists, that provides a punchy, opinionated view in 500 words. It has highly impressive open rates and is well received.
Managing commercial content
Poorly planned and irrelevant commercial content is a major bugbear for editors, but commercial content will always be part of the publishing mix. The solution, according to the panel, is to engage with commercial teams earlier in the process and set the boundaries before the sales teams go out to pitch. Some clients are receptive to listening to editorial advice on how to present their message, others are more resistant. However, editors do need to be able to push back and have an ultimate veto. The move to subscription-based content is helpful as commercial content has to meet subscriber needs.
Finding and nurturing talent
All editors are experiencing higher churn in their teams as we emerge from the pandemic. Catrin advised giving new journalists their own product, e.g. a newsletter, to develop their skills and provide a chance to shine. Chris has hired journalists from around the UK as flexible working means they don’t have to travel into London each day. The B2B media sector must work with journalism courses to get more business modules onto the syllabus. Too many young journalists remain focussed on consumer journalism which is competitive and insecure, when business journalism is more rewarding and lucrative.
Building a personal brand
Editors are the face of their market or publication, with expectations for social media, live events, and personal contacts. Joel advised not to fight this but to embrace the trend. A high profile editor brings personality and authority to the title and can develop valuable individual connections. Catrin commented that it is easy for editors to forget just how much specialist knowledge they have, and the value that has in the market. Chris limits his own presence on social media, and as an Editor in Chief aims to share the limelight with individual title editors.
How to persuade an editor (if you are a marketer)
Of course, some intransigent editors are wedded to the old world of print and resistant to change (but not all). For marketers who want to win the trust of editors, a top tip is to take the time to read and appreciate their content, according to Catrin. Joel added that editors love producing products that readers value, so include that in your pitch for new ideas. As publishers move towards subscriptions and paywalls, there is an opportunity to align incentives for editors towards creating the content that attracts new subscribers.
Advice for aspiring editors
Chris advised staying curious and open to new skills. Be ready to learn about how to improve your interviewing or video editing. Catrin counselled being confident. Not everyone has the skill of storytelling: the ability to find an idea and articulate it snappily. Her top quote: “Data is nothing without a story”. Joel added that demonstrating a commercial understanding was a good way to build credibility with publishers.
If you’d like to discuss how to support your editorial team through a publishing transition, please get in touch for a chat over a real or virtual coffee.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.