As a content marketer, you have so much of the planning and execution phases in your control. You drive forward, setting up tasks to be done and milestones to be hit, and then knocking them down one by one. You have a tangible feeling of accomplishment and momentum. Everything’s running on time. The finish line is in view. You can almost taste victory when BAM! You hit the wall – the review and approval phase.
Suddenly, that feeling of accomplishment is gone. Momentum: gone. Your delivery date: blown. Instead, you feel like your coffee has been spiked and reality is tumbling in slow motion out of your grasp. Your once-vibrant, healthy project has mutated into a delayed, unrecognizable mess.
If you’ve been there, you’re not alone. When we polled Content Marketing World attendees on this topic in 2015, 92% confessed to being victims of the review and approval phase. One in five revealed that tangled review and approval processes regularly delayed their projects by over a week.1 in 5 #CMWorld attendees revealed tangled review & approval processes delayed projects. @marcusworkfront Click To Tweet
Miranda Barnard, vice president of content development at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, says, “If there’s a road block involved with the approvals, it can stall the project to the point it’s no longer relevant.A road block w/ approvals can stall the content project to the point it’s not relevant, says @_mirandawrites. Click To Tweet
“It can also cause a logjam in the distribution process, which can impact the distribution plans for other content in the distribution queue.”
You understand the urgency and do whatever it takes to keep your projects limping forward. Perhaps you hound indifferent approvers mercilessly or conveniently forget to include certain approvers who might hold things up. Both moves only invite more dysfunction into the system.
Instead, give your review and approval phases a makeover, a shot in the arm, or (insert your metaphor of choice here). Save your sanity and supercharge your ability to strike in the market with timely, relevant content by making these seven changes to your review and approval phases:
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1. Make a template
Don’t let the review and approval phase be a nebulous thing caught in a vicious cycle of revisions for days, weeks, or months. Create and follow a template to establish necessary structure.
A typical content review and approval template could look something like this:
- Pre-review: Notify reviewers/approvers of date content will be ready for review (duration – one day).
- Review round one: Distribute first version of content to reviewers; remind them of content’s purpose and deadlines (duration – three days).
- Revision round one: Update content based on feedback (duration – three days).
- Review round two: Distribute new version to final approvers; remind them of deadline (duration – three days).
- Revision round two: Create final version based on round two feedback (duration – three days).
- Distribution: Give access to final version to relevant parties (duration – one day).
Of course, your template might look different than this process. The most important thing you can do in creating your template is to observe what works for your people and environment. Start there and be aware that your template will remain a living process that can be changed and adapted.
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2. Avoid reviewer/approver bloat
Too many brands operate under the assumption that an increase in reviewers proportionately increases the content’s quality. To build a security blanket around the project, teams pull in people who are often unqualified, un-invested, or unavailable to review the content. These superfluous reviewers can not only bog down the process but may take the content on pointless or even destructive tangents.
Fight this trend by limiting the number of reviewers and approvers on your projects. Be picky. Ask of each potential reviewer: “Is he qualified? Is she going to be available? Is he motivated to provide sound feedback and provide it fast? Does her feedback bring something new and critical to the table?” If the answer is no to any of these questions, rethink including this person in the review process.Limit the number of #content reviewers & approvers on your projects, says @marcusworkfront. Click To Tweet
3. Reduce rounds
In the same way marketers sometimes pack in a bunch of reviewers to get a false sense of security, they also tend to add extra rounds of review. A recent survey by Workfront and Brand Republic found that 58% of marketing decision-makers say their projects typically endure five or more rounds of review and 14% slogged through 10 or more rounds.58% marketing decision-makers say projects typically endure 5+ rounds of review. @workfront_inc @brandrepbub Click To Tweet
If so many rounds are required to get everyone feeling good about a project, the problem is likely not in the content. Overstock Senior Marketing Manager Jonathan Burgoyne says:
If many rounds are required to get buy-in, the problem is likely not in the content, says @marcusworkfront. Click To Tweet
One of the issues we used to run into was when a project … was marked highly important, but would lack proper details. When review time would come, decision makers would have changes that should have been addressed before the creative/project was made.
Miranda of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals says, “It can be easy for one colleague to suggest the message be tweaked to meet their specific agenda and another colleague may want it edited in a different direction for their purposes.”
The first and best way to reduce rounds of review is to take your time and do your homework before the project launches. “We have tried to get folks to think through the entire process by using a creative/project brief,” Jonathan says. “Though not perfect, this has helped get things moving in the right direction.”Using a creative brief can help get #content projects moving in the right direction, says @jdburgoyne. Click To Tweet
Miranda agrees: “It’s crucial to make sure the purpose is identified at the very beginning and all of that feedback is collected before the project started so it’s meeting the needs as much as possible without losing its relevance and core purpose.”
4. Get commitments on deadlines
In too many review processes, reviewers feel like casual observers rather than active participants in the improvement and creation of content. One way to bring them into the fold and help them feel the urgency of the work is to sit down with them at the outset of a project and get express commitments, says Michael Jensen, director of content and social media at tech firm Cambeo.Get commitments at outset of project so review & approval phase won’t balloon out of control. @braddahmike Click To Tweet
He classifies the projects and details the project’s timeline, from creation to review, and specifies when it would need to be reviewed. “If those windows are not met, then the project will go forward as planned, and everyone accepts the process,” Michael says.
When you take the time to get commitments, the review and approval phase no longer balloons out of control. Reviewers and approvers are invited to hop on the train, but they also know – and agree – that if they don’t keep up, the train will leave the station without them.
5. Educate reviewers/approvers on consequences
By no fault of their own, reviewers and approvers are often unaware of the consequences of their actions or inaction. “One of the biggest pet peeves of mine is the lack of understanding of the overall context of my or my team’s workflow,” Michael says. “The problem can actually be far-reaching because pushing back one project means other projects are going to be pushed back or ‘reprioritized’. Then the process starts to repeat itself and before you know it, it’s constantly Feb. 2 and you’re waking up to I’ve Got You Babe.”
Fortunately, a little educating on the consequences of missing deadlines or requesting drastic changes can go a long way toward curbing this behavior. Let reviewers and approvers know, for example, that if they request Change X to the e-book, it will be unavailable at the company’s biggest trade show. With this new knowledge in hand, your reviewers are more likely to be reasonable in their requests.Education on consequences of requesting drastic changes can go a long way, says @marcusworkfront. Click To Tweet
6. Enable more specific, informed feedback
“I don’t like the layout.”
“Can you change this paragraph?”
“Cut out the part in the video where she laughs.”
Sometimes, reviewers give bad feedback because they don’t have any context about the piece. They can’t immediately see the intended purpose or audience. They can’t replay the conversations that led up to the creation of the piece. They can’t see others’ feedback. Depending on the tools and the media involved, they might not even be able to point out exactly what about the piece they want changed.
While marketers have devised ways to proof text or print graphics (i.e., pass around a copy and felt-tip pens), we often don’t have great ways to let reviewers give specific feedback on video, audio, HTML, or 3D objects. For example, if a reviewer wants to give feedback on a video, they have to watch part of a video, hit pause, jot down the start and stop times of the part they want changed, describe how they want it changed, and then resume watching the video. Because of the cumbersome process, reviewers are inclined to give more general and unhelpful feedback (e.g., “It’s too long”).
“Having to redo work because of poor communication is demotivating to the team,” laments Overstock’s Jonathan. “And the project typically turns into, ‘Let’s just do what we need to (do) to get so-and-so off our backs’, instead of, ‘Let’s create something amazing.’”
Even as digital proofing solutions are removing many of these barriers, it is up to marketing teams to provide the proper context as best as possible and ensure that all involved see the value of the solutions that can help their review and approval process.
7. Perform a post-mortem
Putting on your project-manager hat means making a habit of pausing at the conclusion of each project to diagnose what worked, what didn’t, and what actions to take on the next project to improve. Included in this discussion should be the topic of review and approval.
“Having a post-mortem discussion after the campaign/project has concluded is absolutely critical,” Michael emphasizes. “What tends to happen is, because our heads are down on multiple projects, we don’t ever come up for air and examine what went right, and what went wrong. How was our review process? Do we need to adjust review schedules for certain types of content? If there was an obstacle in the process, what was it and how can we address it going forward or add it to the current process?”
Content marketers who take this diagnose-and-improve approach to not only their review and approval phases, but also to their whole projects, will soon find the proverbial wall removed. Projects will tend to get out on time. Freed from the madness of endless rounds of review, content teams will be able to produce more, and the quality of that content will be portfolio-worthy.
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Editor’s note: We appreciate Workfront’s support of Content Marketing Institute as a paid benefactor. This article was reviewed and edited independently to ensure that it adheres to the same editorial guidelines as all non-sponsored blog posts.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute