8 steps for communications leaders to navigate the internal approval process
What does it take to run a successful communication project? You can ensure the success of a project by establishing a productive protocol for reviews and approvals. Written content is just as important as the visuals in communication design projects and yet many companies neglect to get the content right, which ends up causing stress and overtime charges. Managing your stakeholders, following brand guidelines and producing strong content is not an easy task. We see so many projects needlessly run amuck of deadlines with costly over time because there was not a clear process for obtaining the right approvals and tracking the edits. Navigating the approval process can make or break your success in communicating.
Here are 8 steps to establish a successful workflow for your next communication project:
1. Know your brand standards
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the brand standards for your organization. Do you have a Brand Guidebook (or Corporate Identity manual) for logo, typography, color, and other design standards? Does this include stylebooks with language standards? Many organizations use professional style books like those published by the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or the AP. Review your organization's standards and prepare for your project. Find out if there is a brand manager who needs to be part of your review team.
2. Manage your internal stakeholders
Find out WHO at your organization will need to be involved in the review/sign-off process. This is the most important thing you can do at the start of each project. Anyone who has to sign-off on the project should be included in the input process. The worst thing you can do is to second-guess what leadership wants. This leads to the most disruptive process where wasted efforts become delayed projects that go over-budget.
· Brief them on their responsibilities and expectations.
· Find out how much time the reviewers require.
· Establish an “always respond to email policy.” Whenever you receive an email, always confirm receipt. Commit to responding within 24 hours of receipt.
3. Host a kickoff meeting for your designers, writers, and internal stakeholders.
The most successful projects involve leadership participation at the earliest stages. This is the opportunity to make sure the communication materials meet the goals of your leadership. Leadership input assures your project is on track and that decisions are made with the necessary and critical input. You’ll avoid the “last-minute scramble” that can contribute to unproductive stress and confusion.
· Hold a Kickoff Meeting with key decision-makers to get input on goals, purpose and desired impressions from the leadership before the design/writing begins.
· Ask your design team to prepare a marketing brief that defines the marketing goals and summarizes the leadership’s input.
· Review/sign-off on the marketing brief with your leadership team before design commences.
4. Schedule the first presentation IRL (In Real Life)
This should be a working meeting where valuable insights from leadership are incorporated into the design and content creation. There are so many subtle signs that can’t be read over the phone or via email. In-person meetings allow for immediate feedback and diminish the chance of interpretation which turns many long-distant meetings into the “telephone” game as each version of the story changes slightly until it’s indecipherable.
· Present a content outline and pagination for each project.
· Present sample layouts for cover/key pages with options for imagery and approach.
· Keep track of client feedback and summarize the feedback in a follow-up report.
5. Include a refinement presentation in your process
One way to build client feedback into the process is to put “refinement“ in the work plan. It is not a revision or a mistake to listen to feedback and then to modify the communication. It is actually part of the process! After this meeting, leadership does not need to review the project until the layouts are ready in the next step.
6. Establish a review process workflow for your internal stakeholders
Here’s where planning who needs to review the communications in advance is essential. Some leaders do prefer more input, others want to see it when it’s done. The biggest mistake is not giving your leadership the option to see things sooner. That leads to last-minute edits, rushed changes…and mistakes.
· Consider legal/financial and other internal reviews.
· Hire a professional proofreader who is well-versed in your organization’s style guide and standards. Get the proofreader involved now to avoid lots of last-minute style edits.
· Track all edits, number, and date each manuscript draft in Word or Google Docs.
7. Define the roles of the reviewers
After establishing a successful workflow for your editorial process you need to let everyone know what their role is. Set expectations with clear schedules and you’ll be able to reduce errors while speeding up the approvals. This is the important review where all of the feedback should be consolidated and leadership should sign-off. Best practices can cut down on unnecessary errors and redundancies. For layout and design edits, consider the designer your partner. Describe the problem rather than dictating a solution. For example, try saying, “This section needs more attention,” rather than, “Make this bold and move it up.” The designer may have a better way to achieve your goal if you communicate what needs to be done instead of prescribing the solution.
· Send the final document to your proofreader to review one more time.
· Share the final version with leadership, as needed, for a review before publishing.
· Important: Return one consolidated PDF to the design team that incorporates all of the client comments in one document.
8. Making the most of the final review
We recommend that you get your leadership sign-offs in the review phase so that the final review is about confirming edits, not creating new editorial changes or changing stylistic/formatting changes. Last-minute edits are prone to last-minute mistakes.
· For print: Work with your designer/printer to review bluelines and printer proofs, often ordering two proofs will speed up the process. Only ONE final proof should be signed off and returned to the printer.
· For web/digital: Edits may be posted online. We recommend creating spreadsheets in Google docs where you can track the edits and that assign tasks and define who is responsible for finishing the task.Back to Insights