Well, as communicators, we have a similar message: The right project contributors and stakeholders need to complete the right tasks at the right places in the process. Let us explain what that looks like and why it matters.
Why It Matters
First, why it matters.
- It saves time and money. When subject matter experts or other stakeholders are brought into the process too late in the game, you end up paying more for a project for updates and sometimes rush fees (as you stare down a print or go-live deadline). You can preserve everyone’s precious time (and your budget) by writing and designing once with solid direction rather than enduring constant revisions.
- It saves irritation. Whether you have employees who are busting their tails on a project or an agency you’re paying by the hour to make changes, the truth is that no one likes to see their work wasted. A well-run project enhances morale.
- It reduces the risk of error. Perfection is pretty freaking hard to achieve under any circumstance, but anytime you allow for late-stage changes, you are basically saying, “Typos? Misprints? I’ll take my chances, thankyouverymuch.”
- It makes for a better final product. And not just because there are likely to be fewer errors. But when you pull the right people into the project at the right times and make it clear to them what their responsibilities are, they’ll take you and the project seriously. You’ll be able to write with the best information in hand and design using copy you’re confident in. And you’ll be able to have the confidence that you have buy-in from everyone involved.
What It Looks Like
Now that we agree we want everyone to engage in the project at the right points in the process, how do you make sure that happens? Keep these steps in mind.
- Start with a list of approvers. As part of your creative brief, list out your project’s approvers. Who must sign off? And what are their expectations around seeing the project? This will likely vary depending on the type of project. Maybe a brochure can be shown to the VP once it’s in layout and ready to go. But an ebook or annual report — the VP might want to see the full text before it goes to design. Or maybe she’ll want to weigh in on the outline and a sample paragraph.
- Consider the keepers of the information. Who are your subject matter experts (SMEs)? Will they be OK giving you the data and entrusting you with the content, or will they need to see it in context? (Hint: They will not trust you. They will definitely need to see the copy and maybe the design too.)
- Build a schedule that accommodates everyone. You might be annoyed that your circle of stakeholders on this project is so broad because of the irritation it causes you and time (oh my gosh, the time!) it adds to your production schedule. But there is no question that you will be even more annoyed when Jim in Sales gets wind of your project and gives you an earful days before you print — and you have to make his changes.
- Write an amazing — and amazingly detailed — strategic creative brief. For big (read: expensive) and/or important pieces, a strategic brief is essential. I’d argue it might be more important for your stakeholders and contributors than for the creative team. Your writers, photographers, videographers, designers and the rest of your content creators need to be on the same page and understand your vision and goals, of course, but your brief should also align your SMEs and approvers. This is where you explain that the blog is a storytelling — not a sales — vehicle. This is where you make it clear that last year’s 100-page ebook fell flat, and we’re not writing more than 40 (short!) pages this year. This document is where you reiterate the goals, the metrics, the messages. It’s the document you can refer to when the VP tries to hijack your project and add content that doesn’t fit the purpose or goals. A strategic creative brief can be your lifeline. Creative briefs often tell us the number of words, the main messages and any required visuals. But this document should be much more detailed and strategic.
- Make the process clear. The people who are contributing and signing off often don’t have experience with the creative process. So, your job is to let them know what is expected of them — and when. Tell Bob that he’s responsible for a one-hour conference call with the team to answer questions related to specific information. Then, he’s responsible for reviewing — in detail and on time — the copy that’s presented to him. He will get no further reviews, so it’s crucial that he doesn’t rush through the review he has or miss his opportunity to give complete input at the beginning. Meanwhile, you might tell Sally she will see the copy but not the design. And that anyone looking at the final design is invited to make only certain edits.
The process will look different for every organization. For marketing, though, the upshot is you aren’t rewriting pages of copy at the last minute or finding out you have to redesign a section because someone in the C-suite decided she had an opinion. (“That’s information that would’ve been useful yesterday!” is a sentence I commonly say.)
You will be confident you’ve done the best work possible — with the right people doing the right jobs at the right times.