During the content creation process, one of the slippery wild cards that can put a serious strain on budget and time is the revision process. While revisions obviously play an essential role in producing engaging content that meets brand standards, an excessive number of rounds can push back deadlines and create additional work for everyone involved.
Add to that the fact that busy content marketers are tasked with creating content at scale and often need to receive input and final sign-off from multiple stakeholders, and pushing a piece of content through to approval becomes a Herculean task. What can be done to reduce the rounds of revisions so deadlines and expected output can be met while maintaining a high level of quality?
To minimize the number of revisions, content marketers can create in-depth, detailed editorial guidelines. Besides including standard content strategy information like personas, targeted audiences, and content pillars, guidelines can also include specifics on brand voice, style, and tone with examples. And taking the time to outline information on the nitty-gritty, such as proper formatting, image specs, and in-house exceptions to standard AP or Chicago style, will speed the initial revision round.
While it’s not common practice, content marketers should consider including a section in their guidelines on the production process. As a freelance content creator, this is a personal wish-list item for me. What are the steps involved in creating different types of content: video, podcasts, articles, whitepapers, web copy, infographics, and guides? For instance, who needs to review story pitches, and how long does it generally take to get them signed off?
Often a piece of content I submit enters a black box of sorts, and I’m not entirely sure what happens to it until it gets sent back for revisions. By being in the know, I can be more mindful of what I can do to ease the workload for others and speed up the process.
Adding info about the editorial and approval process can ensure everyone is on the same page. This especially rings true for brands working with freelance creatives. I’ve found that the sets of eyes and number of sign-offs for my clients can run the gamut. For instance, some brands have their sales department offer feedback on content before a piece goes live, and others have a subject matter expert do a thorough fact-check. And those who work in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare, financial services, and insurance, know full well that navigating compliance and legal can be a tricky—and time-consuming—endeavor.
Image attribution: Alejandro Escamilla
Workshops and training sessions can help the entire editorial team and relevant personnel stay afloat on recent changes to the strategy and process of content creation and inform everyone of upcoming goals. They can also serve as an opportunity to answer general questions that pertain to a wide swath of attendees. And if a wide number of content creators seem to be repeat offenders of the same mistakes, it’s a prime opportunity to address these errors.
Besides involving content creators and fellow editors, if it makes sense, aim to include consultants from outside vendors you may be working with, in-house subject matter experts, and members of the compliance and legal teams. While everyone’s time is valuable (and coordinating such a session might feel like herding a bunch of feral cats), an hour spent for a tutorial can save loads of time—and company dollars—in the long run.
There are many steps in pushing a piece through the layers of approval, so try to foresee issues and drum up solutions ahead of time. For one-off bottlenecks, for instance, if your main contact in compliance is leaving for a weeklong conference, communicate your concerns and needs beforehand. See if you can make some adjustments so they can receive a batch of content to review before they take off. Will they be available to answer questions while they are away? If not, is there someone else who can step in?
Often, though, bottlenecks reappear in the same places. When I worked on the magazines of an entertainment labor union, this issue popped up repeatedly. When an executive we needed for final sign-off flew to New York for a meeting, the editorial team would have to adjust the entire schedule.
For repeat problems, you may need to adjust the editorial process. Say the content approval process tends to get bottlenecked at a certain stage or when sent to a particular department. If that’s the case, what can be done to prevent that bottleneck? Perhaps the order could be rearranged, a bit of time buffer could be added to account for this delay, or the time of month when they receive the content could be adjusted.
Image attribution: Brent De Ranter
If you’re getting bogged down by the many different layers of approval, it might be worthwhile to create a case for fewer sets of required eyeballs that need to review a piece. Let’s say you need to send a piece of content to a dozen different people before it gets published. Cutting it down even by a few could help save a lot of time.
Instead of review by two subject matter experts, could it be cut down to just one? And perhaps it would be more efficient if the director of marketing reviews and gives final sign-off before a piece goes live? Or perhaps only forms of content that are newer or tend to have higher visibility, such as a video series or whitepaper, need to go through the standard, longer route of approval, while shorter, more established forms can skip a few steps?
To ensure your workflow is efficient, start with the big picture. Can you get the review process out of email and into a shared location? Is there a logical order to who reviews what when?
Then, look for opportunities, even small ones, to expedite the process and reduce rounds of revisions. It could be something as simple as having your content creators add links to all secondary sources in their pieces to cut down on time spent fact-checking.
Or you may find that something as basic as file naming conventions can help reduce confusion and double-work. For instance, when I worked in-house creating content for an insurance company, each article needed to be reviewed by compliance and legal. The personnel in these departments were tasked with looking over every piece of marketing material from all the different offices in the US, and as you may imagine, they were constantly inundated with stuff to look at. In turn, it was critical that we blog contributors adhered to a specific file naming convention. Leaving the version number on a file could lead to someone reviewing an older draft, or having it sent to someone out of sequence.
Revisions are an important part of the content creation process, but even small changes can take the pain out of the process and save time, money, and effort—without sacrificing quality.
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Featured image attribution: Firdouss Ross