Far too many stakeholders, endless feedback loops, interference at board level… the stories content professionals told us when we surveyed their copy approval processes were pretty frightening.
The result of creating content by committee is usually monstrous. And we meet plenty of desperate marketing professionals, haunted by their inability to get the good stuff live as they fight the combined dark forces of legal compliance, jargon-spouting subject-matter experts, and senior managers who’ll ‘know what I want when I see it’.
If you feel that you are simply at the mercy of a rigid corporate hierarchy, take heart. You have more power to change this than you think. Try these 3 transformational steps:
- pre-empt your stakeholders
- design a desirable approval process
- STOP asking for feedback
1. Pre-empt your stakeholders
If you want people to sign off on your usable, scannable, mobile-friendly copy or best-practice video content, you must first manage their expectations of what good looks like.
Often basic copy usability fixes will be reversed via feedback, simply because a stakeholder doesn’t understand why, for example, their complex and technical product descriptions have been replaced by customer-friendly, short-form copy.
In our experience, time invested in educating anyone who plays a part in content sign-off pays dividends later on.
ACTION POINT: start by educating and engaging stakeholders through a series of content workshops. Use these to:
- demonstrate how your customers consume content on different platforms
- explain the business case for improved content quality
- show what competitors are doing better
- show case studies and metrics to emphasise how content contributes to the bottom line
- help them to understand that speedy, accurate content approval is a business-critical role rather than a time-consuming opinion-giving exercise
2. Design a desirable approval process
Most stakeholder sign-off processes fall over due to one of 2 things: too many stakeholders or too many feedback rounds.
ACTION POINT: take control. Remember that YOU must run the sign-off process, it can’t run you. Categorise content into low, medium and high risk areas and design a slick and agile approval process around this. You can do this as part of your content strategy activities, using audit and inventory.
Your aim is to move towards a process where as much content as possible requires minimal approval outside the content team. In order for this to happen, you will need to:
- build a strong editorial hierarchy of trusted content gatekeepers
- develop detailed content guidelines – and train and encourage content creators to stick to them
- insist that once guidelines are agreed, stakeholders at every level agree to work within them
To help people come your way, try selling in the key benefit of a slicker, pared-down process: it will take up less time.
Some people insist on signing off on content simply for reasons of ego, politics or control. Appeal to their self-interest by suggesting a process where you provide a quarterly report and they spot-check certain types of content every month (as they are clearly too busy and important to do it every day).
Or loop senior stakeholders into the development of new content formats or guidelines, so they can approve the high-level format, rather than every single execution of it.
Finally, our survey showed that senior management make the biggest dent in content quality during feedback rounds. So, are you managing upwards properly
Most senior managers are focused on business performance and the more you can build the business case for a streamlined sign-off process built on an editorial hierarchy, rather than an organisational hierarchy, the less interference you’ll get. Let metrics be your friend. Set regular dates to communicate tangible content wins and build their trust (and your team’s autonomy).
3. STOP asking for feedback
If you’re wrestling with the 8th round of amendments on a piece of content, consider this: could it actually be your fault?
Most of us tend to circulate a piece of content for approval with a call to ‘give feedback / your amends by Friday’ and then are surprised when we get lots of conflicting, last-minute comments. Have more confidence. If you think something is ready to go live, then it needs approval, not amending.
- Watch the wording of your cover emails carefully: don’t encourage people to simply give opinions. Or they will. What you need is authorisation for your content to go live.
- Tell the stakeholders you are satisfied with the quality of the content, that you have checked it and think it ready to go live. (If you aren’t, don’t circulate it.)
- Ask stakeholders to sign off, not comment. The only welcome feedback is a factual or legal correction.
- Give hard deadlines and mean them. Don’t let stakeholders see things multiple times.
Thinking, ‘that wouldn't work here’? Take courage from a fellow content professional, heading up a content team at a large, hierarchical not-for-profit who wrote to us recently: ‘I took your advice to start encouraging stakeholders to sign off rather than give feedback and it has worked incredibly well. I estimate that it’s cut [our amendments] down by 80 per cent.’
So take back control of your content. Stop doing it by committee. Slay the monster.