The art of editorial guides

Related Articles


Let’s be realistic – the ‘360° customer view’ is a lie


We’re Campaign UK’s Performance Marketing Agency of the Year


The art of editorial guides


Hi, everyone. I’m Cat, I’m a content strategist, and I work in the RocketMill content team. And today I really want to talk to you about something that I’m really passionate about, and I think you should be really passionate about as well.

So, I’m going to play a video, and we’ll get a little bit more of an idea.

Which leads me beautifully on to what my presentation is called: “Dogging and the art of editorial guides”.

What is an editorial guide?

So, what is an editorial guide? Basically, an editorial guide is an important document that you can share with all your freelances, agencies, and internal people who write copy for your brand. For example, we have one at RocketMill. as well, so it lays out really important things that you wouldn’t think would matter but actually do, and make your brand. For example, how to spell ‘RocketMill’. It’s a capital ‘R’ – Rocket – and then ‘Mill’ with no space and a capital ‘M’. Now, some of us wouldn’t know that, so that’s why you make a guide to make sure that if you use freelances or anyone else, it’s all consistent it’s all written exactly the same.

So, the other thing about editorial guides is, they’re a great reference point for your tone of voice and the things that your brand cares about.

What is brand tone of voice?

So, basically, your brand personality. Speaking of brand tone of voice, what is a brand tone of voice really?

Essentially your brand tone of voice is your company’s personality. It’s how your company sounds to other people, particularly to other people outside of your company. Why do you need one? You basically need a tone of voice because it’s your brand’s identity. It forms an important part of how you communicate to your customers and to everyone else in the world. It’s also an important part of how your brand is perceived and actually can become a recognisable part of your brand.

The other thing to keep in mind is that actually the tone of voice is important for sort of determining what conversations your brand can get involved with. What topics can we get involved with, and more importantly what topics you can’t get involved with.

Case study: Innocent Smoothies

So, a great example: Innocent Smoothies. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. They sell smoothies and other drinks. They’ve got a really playful personality and brand tone of voice. This is one of their tweets. They’re talking about something that hasn’t got anything to do with their industry at all, but it puts the message across. They’re fun, they’re conversational, and they want you to buy smoothies.

This is their website, again, really consistent with their tone of voice. Really playful, really fun. We sell drinks – don’t forget that. Their packaging, again, it’s not just on digital. Your brand tone of voice should be part of everything you produce that involves copy, and that includes adverts and packaging. So, I’m not sure if you’ve ever picked up any Smoothie Innocent packing… Innocent Smoothie packaging, I should say. It’s amazing. They’re really, really great. And they’ve actually become part of that brand’s unique identity. So, people go: “Oh, I know that. They have the funny stuff on the back”.

Finally, one of their adverts. Again, really, really fun playful style, keeping in mind we sell smoothies – never forget that. And a bunny, everyone loves bunnies, and if you don’t, I’m sorry about your trauma. But, what that means as well is that they really care about the environment, and all these small elements. Not only is it consistent with the brand, they sell smoothies, they care about the environment.

Case study: Nike

Another brand, Nike. Great big brand. Slightly different tone of voice from Innocent because they sell a different product. Really aspirational, positive, and energised, and powerful. This is one of their tweets as well. I really like this because it reinforces that sense of urgency; you need to get involved and you need to do something.

Their website, again: “Ready for it”. You’re not even looking at any of the products yet. This is the homepage and they’ve already got you pumped. You’re really excited. And the other thing to note here, as well, is that Nike aren’t afraid to sort of address the gender and racial diversity issue as well, and that’s a consistent thing throughout the whole brand.

Again, another advert. Really, really positive messaging. Greatness, sense of urgency, and positivity. Final advert. I love this because it seems like something that this particular brand wouldn’t get involved with, you know disability, or sports company, or active would maybe not talk about it. It shows that they’re actually putting a really positive spin on something that actually takes a lot of strength and dedication, and the fact that they’ve got this and proudly advertise this means that it’s incorporated into their brand and it’s something they’re happy to discuss.

Case study: SwissLife

So, I know what you’re thinking. These are sexy brands, right? It’s easy to write sexy stuff for sexy brands. What about unsexy brands? Okay, SwissLife. Financial sector, they sell life insurance and pensions in Europe and they’re based in Switzerland.

Despite being in the financial sector, which potentially might not be interesting or very sexy for most of us – except for Jon. They’ve actually put a really good positive spin on all their copy and all their tone of voice. It’s really positive. So, this is their website: “Bookworms live longer”, you know things to do when you’re older. These are some of their adverts, you know. “I never want children are great”, like it’s such a nice way to make finance and things like pension, life insurance more personable, and I think that’s carried out throughout their whole brand.

Their blog as well. I think, the “Bright side of later life”, this is their article about sort of living in your later life, and things you can do. And whilst normally, people would be like: “This is a slightly depressing subject, or maybe it’s a bit intimidating because I don’t want to think about it.” Again, because their brand tone of voice is so positive about enjoying life, no matter what age you are, it carries on through, and it makes the brand more endearing to their customers. And it makes you think: “Ah, you know what? That brand put a really spin on that. I like that brand. I’ll remember it because I’ve got something good to look forward to.”

When tone of voice goes wrong

So, that’s when it all goes right. When it goes wrong, it goes really wrong. So, brands have the best intention; but sometimes, they don’t nail their tone of voice, and they don’t think about conversations they can get involved with.

So, a lot of people died in this incident. This is not the time to be pushing your products. Bad call SpaghettiOs. Gap, again, so many people suffered here, but you want to go shop at the Gap? Of course, you do. No, you don’t GAP. No, you don’t this is not the conversation to get involved with, and it makes you look so bad. So, whilst I know it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, these sort of compliance and sensitivity issues should be included in your guide, but I’ll get onto that a little bit later.

How do you make an editorial guide?

So, how do you make your editorial guide? First off, you should probably already have one but if you don’t, this is going to come in useful for you.

So, these are the things you should include:

  • Brand beliefs. What does your brand care about? What matters to your brand? If you’re not sure, look at sort of your brand values cause that will help you.
  • Brand tone of voice, again, what’s the personality of your brand? What does it like? What does it not like? What does it care about? How does it sound?
  • Content types. This is strange thing to add but it’s really important, because writing for different platforms are obviously different. Writing for social media is different writing for an email blah, blah. So, make sure that you include that in your guide in case the styles vary at all.
  • Compliance considerations, as well. Again, I mentioned this. Really put a section in here because it’s important to think about these topics of conversation. We live in a world where we’re all connected. People want to interact with your brands. So, there are many conversations and opportunities for brands to get involved with the public. So, make sure you put in a section about sort of sexuality, gender, race, anything like that because it will affect how you sell your products. So, sexuality. Pride, you want to talk about it, do you want to get involved? … Do you not want to get involved do you not want to talk about that at all? It’s really important to mention it.
  • And world list. Can you say “fuck”? Can you say “shit”? Can you not swear at all? What words can or can’t use for your brands because it’s really important. You don’t want people to be using different types of languages. You have to have one frame of reference, which is what your editorial guide is.

Case study: MailChimp

Some great examples, MailChimp. I love this one, this is a great one because these are all public-facing guides by the way, so when you come to make your own guides … And I highly recommend you do because every brand should have one … These are the examples you should look at. MailChimp. This is all public. And they have great section on sensitivity, so I believe it’s on age, how you should refer to people at certain ages, and how you shouldn’t, and gender, and it’s a really, really good example of that.

Case study:, again. This is a great example if you have a brand that’s slightly more professional. So, you can’t be as silly or as sexy, but you still want to offer a really good style guide. The layout of this is incredible, and is definitely worth a look in terms of structure.

Case study: University of North Carolina

By far the best designed one is the University of North Carolina. I love this one. It is really, really, really beautiful. So, it’s all online. You go in there, and it’s got all the logos and colours, and obviously the writing style as well, and it’s just a really nice layout. So, when you come to make your own editorial guides, or your style guides however you want to call them … Doesn’t matter … Use these as an example, and use the bullet points that I provided earlier.

Back to dogging…

Back to Dogging. This is Les. Les has 18 kids, and he’s not tried the extra, extra. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I highly recommend you Google it afterwards. It’s hilarious. Les is on a documentary called ‘Dogging Tales’ on channel four that aired in 2013. And during the show, Les very proudly proclaimed that he loved Lynx deodorant. Like, loved Lynx deodorant so much he sprayed it on himself, and proudly told everyone – in fact 2.1 million viewers – that his 2012 limited edition Lynx deodorant was a guaranteed good night dogging result.

Case study: Lynx

This would be considered an absolute PR disaster for most brands. So, everyone thought it was going to tank. Lynx, this is it, your brand is tarnished. It’s over. This guy has mentioned it. It’s horrific.

Lynx didn’t quite take it that way. During the show, they tweeted this … Which was amazing, this was actually very early on. As the programme progressed, I believe this tweet received a ridiculous amount of likes. It was just ridiculous. You think that would be the end of it. No. This is what they did the day after … Great, isn’t it? The sparkly cat masks were almost exactly like the ones that people wore in the programme, and what Lynx shows us, is that this is a really strong brand who know their tone of voice. Who know the conversations they can get involved with, and are confident in their rules and guidelines enough to react so quickly to something that would’ve been actually pretty horrific for most brands. And, in the end, they turned it into something really, really positive.

So, if you’re not sure what the point of being confident in your brand guidelines, and nailing your tone of voice is, this is why you should do it. Because I believe at the end, over the whole course of this show, this got ten thousand mentions and they’ve probably gained new customers they didn’t even know and endeared into their existing customers.

Thank you for watching.