Review Loops Made Easier – Part 1

This post was written by John White on Wed, 04 Dec 2013 15:48:46 +0000
Posted Under: managing writing project,marketing communications writer,marketing manager

Review loops cause most of the delay when you’re trying to get content out the door. Here are few ways to make review loops go more smoothly.

Rope loops, review loops. Take your pick.On most content projects – white papers, case studies, contributed articles, blog posts, etc. – it’s the marketing manager who ends up getting the squeeze during content reviews.

“Why is this taking so long?” the stakeholders moan. “Sales needs this content to close the Flubdrubber account, and they need it yesterday.”

Alert readers have pointed out to me that there is plenty of glamour and enjoyment in most marketing communication duties, but they can’t find any at all in content review loops. I believe them when they tell me that, so here are a few ways to lessen the pain and shorten turnaround.

1) Get all reviewers involved from the start.

If you know that five different people are ultimately going to review the piece, get all five of them involved from the start. That means:

  • sharing the creative brief with them, if you have one (and if it’s mercifully short)
  • showing all five of them the outline you receive from your marketing writer
  • including all five of them on all review loops

What happens when you don’t do that?

“I don’t want to see anything until after it’s been through all reviews,” says Mr. Big. He is too busy to have a look at it when it’s a work in progress, but not too busy to demand huge changes when your finish line is in sight.

Maybe you save Mr. Big for the final review because you want to reduce the number of cooks in the kitchen. In that case, you’ll find comments from him that look like this:

  • “This is not the messaging we’re going with in the future.”
  • “Why are we mentioning Blunderbuss Industries? They told us that we were not to use their name.”
  • “I thought Bluetooth Smart was our secret weapon. We shouldn’t describe it in public-facing content.”

In other words, you squeeze yourself even tighter, you undermine your credibility with all of the other reviewers and you antagonize the writer. Bringing everyone in as early as possible helps you avoid that.

2) Ask your white paper writer to include the summary with the outline.

How do you know what the writer really took away from that one-hour interview with your director of engineering? She’ll prepare and send you an outline, but most outlines are just a box of bullets arranged in chronological order. How do you know she got the right message?

Consider a small but important insurance policy on your project: Ask your marketing writer for the introduction or up-front summary along with the box of outline bullets.

What happens when you don’t do that?

Without a summary, you can get all the way through the first draft before it dawns on you that the writer is off message. You can get as far as a first draft that describes your peer-to-peer networking technology accurately, but for deeply technical readers instead of the business-focused readers you intended. Or you may find yourself with a draft that reads more like a newsletter article than the white paper you wanted. That means a lot of re-work. And more squeeze. Taking the writer’s temperature at the outline stage helps you avoid that.

3) When you send it out, tell reviewers what you do and don’t want.

When you specify the depth of review and the kind of feedback you want from your reviewers, you make it easier for them to perform the task and easier for you to incorporate their comments.

Drop a few bullets on page one, labeled “Comments for Reviewers,” with guidelines such as:

  • “Ignore formatting. This draft is for review of content only.”
  • “Focus on ensuring that technical details in this draft are accurate.”
  • “Your concrete changes to the text will help us stick to our release schedule. Change tracking is enabled. Add/edit/delete text freely.”
  • “Use embedded comments only for unresolved questions.”
  • “Please return your marked-up copy by Tuesday, December 10.” (Always include a deadline when you ask for a review.)

What happens when you don’t do that?

If you send out a draft for review without specific do’s and don’ts, you’ll find that at least one reviewer has taken  it apart with a scalpel and tweezers and put it back together “the way it should be.” That may be beneficial, but most of the time it’s hopelessly vexing because marketing managers don’t like to open a review draft and see that somebody has changed it completely.

Also, you don’t want to get reams of comments with vague questions or topics for debate. In a draft, concrete changes are best. If Mrs. Big has an issue with messaging or disagrees with the project on some existential level, draft comments are not the best place to work that out.

Assume that your reviewers crave your leadership and direction. Give them specific instructions.

Start with those.

That’s plenty to get you started simplifying your content review process. In my next post, I’ll include more ways to make review loops easier.

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.

photo credit: Joe Loong

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  1. Review Loops Made Easier – Part 2  on December 17th, 2013 @ 16:55