What does an editor actually do?

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From managing editors to proofreaders, we explain the different editorial roles – and why they all matter in content marketing.

Lucy Siebert

People often ask me what an editor at a content marketing agency actually does.

Despite a widely held perception, not all editors have the same skills or can perform the same tasks. In our team, it all depends on the individual’s skills, experience and interests, which client they’re working with and the nature of the project.

There are, however, some common qualities that many editors possess: most are excellent communicators, with a clear vision for their content – be it in print or online. Above all, they’re the gatekeeper for their audiences – they’re constantly questioning whether a piece of content adds value to their readers. 

Let’s bust some commonly held myths about editors.
 A group of women working and laughing around a table

Myth 1: Editors only work in newsrooms

An editor used to be someone who worked at a newspaper, magazine or website. However, brands now publish a vast amount of their own content and either employ their own editors, or partner with a content agency that employs specialist editors.

These days, editors are key members of marketing and communications teams.

Myth 2: All editors do the same job

Wrong! At Hardie Grant Media alone, we’ve got loads of different editorial roles, including managing editors, commissioning editors, editors, subeditors, proofreaders, deputy editors and editorial assistants (scroll to the bottom for an explanation of these different roles). And some large consumer magazines would have even more editorial roles, including editors-in-chief, consulting editors, section editors and sometimes guest editors. 

Myth 3: Editors are all words people

While editors often have a background in journalism or writing, they’re by no means a homogenous group of ‘language experts’. Editors, like anyone who creates content for a living, must be able to plan visual stories and commission multi-dimensional content. By putting their audience first, and understanding their needs, they can plan, create and commission multi-media content beyond just words.  

Myth 4: All editors are like Anna Wintour

For some brands, it is important for their editor to not only lead their editorial efforts, but to also be the face of the publication. This is clearly the case in consumer (newsstand) publications, where the editor was the original tastemaker and influencer – long before the rise of our Insta world. These editors traditionally reflect the essence of the masthead they’re editing – Anna Wintour, for instance, is seen as the very embodiment of Vogue – but different industries call for different approaches.

Myth 5: Editors are bohemians, dreamers, creatives

Some editors might like to wile away their time in bookshops and cafes (well, who doesn't?!), but the reality is that producing a high-quality print or digital publication, on time and on budget, requires precise planning and scheduling and strong management skills. This is particularly true with custom magazines and content. Editors meet regularly with their clients, manage diverse teams including freelance contributors, juggle multiple deadlines, work closely with account directors and are increasingly involved in the commercial aspects of the publication, such as native content, too.

Six different editors and what they do

1. Managing editor: think of them as a one-stop shop. They have a hands-on role covering editorial content, design, advertising and production. In custom publishing and content marketing, this role is usually a client’s main contact and responsible for ensuring all content is achieving a client’s goals. They’ll also manage the production process, budgets, scheduling and flatplans.

2. Commissioning editor: this is a specialist role, usually reserved for someone who has deep experience in a particular sector. This role is particularly relevant for specialist publications, where the commissioning editor creates the content plan and commissions expert contributors. They’ll check the articles meet the brief and are correct. 

3. Editor: this is a hands-on role, often responsible for creating the bulk of content and bringing it to life in new and interesting ways. They'll have a clear vision for the magazine or website, while also always putting the audience’s needs first. Often they’ll have a little black book packed with industry contacts. They’ll review all the content from contributors and do some subediting. Usually they’ll have an eye for design and work closely with the art director.

4. Deputy editor: this is the editor’s right-hand person. They’re involved throughout the process and will pitch story ideas to the editor, produce their own articles or content and play a key role in the actual production of the publication. They’ll sometimes commission contributors and work with a designer to ensure the stories are coming to life correctly on the page or screen.

5. Subeditor: this is a vital role that has disappeared from many publishers (although definitely not here). A sub is responsible for ensuring all content is in line with the style guide, correcting any spelling or grammatical errors and fact-checking everything from names to dates and addresses. They’ll sometimes rewrite copy, if required, craft headlines and raise any potential plagiarism issues.

6. Proofreader: the final piece in the puzzle, this important role carefully checks through all content for typos or spelling errors, correct punctuation and that captions, image credits and page numbers make sense. They’ll also again check for style consistency. The proofreader should bring fresh eyes to the task, so ideally they would not have been involved with any of the earlier production.

As always, if you have any questions or would like to discuss how an editor fits into your marketing team, get in touch: lucysiebert@hardiegrant.com

Lucy Siebert, head of editorial, Melbourne

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