An editorial calendar is a plan of upcoming feature story themes for a magazine or newspaper. Editorial calendars are mainly done for advertising reasons. For example, if a theme relevant to certain advertisers' products is used for a feature story, the company is more likely to want to place an ad in the publication since the readers will be interested in the topic. For instance, an in-depth report on teen pregnancy may help sell advertising space to home study schools and baby product companies. The use of an editorial calendar to plan story ideas ahead also allows the publication time to issue a press release of the upcoming story to attract possible new readers.
A press release is a news story that also promotes a company by bringing it publicity. The media covers the story in print or in broadcast media if journalists and editors deem the release newsworthy enough for their readers. An important topic such as teen pregnancy that will be reported on in detail may warrant the media accepting a press release about the upcoming story in a newspaper or magazine. Not every item in an editorial calendar will be acceptable as a press release.
The main use of editorial planning calendars is as an advertising sales function. Magazines and newspapers thrive on advertising sales and constantly need to attract advertisers to buy print ad space in their publication. Advertisers can't simply spend their advertising dollars placing ads randomly, but must get their promotional messages out to a specific target audience interested in their types of products and services. Readers of certain publications are considered as qualified sales leads, as they typically fit the demographics, or personal statistics, of the target market such as age, sex and income. An editorial calendar theme must attract the publication's target readers and advertisers.
Another way in which an editorial calendar is used is in establishing submission guidelines for writers. Most publications include writer's guidelines that ask for articles on the themes they've set on their editorial planning calendar. The editors instruct writers interested in working on an article for the publication to either query first or send the completed manuscript for publishing consideration.
How far ahead an editorial planning calendar is set depends on each specific publication. It's often at least several months since the advertising sales department will need time to sell ad space and the editorial staff will have to choose the best writer for the feature story as well as create a sufficient writing deadline. The time of year is also a factor when preparing magazine issues or newspaper special sections. For example, a camping feature that will be produced and distributed in a spring issue is likely to be started as a project in the previous fall or winter.