I delivered my first teleseminar yesterday, on how to improve the approval process. I think it went okay but it’s impossible to tell until the evaluation results come in.
What a strange communication medium. It’s quite daunting to speak for a full hour into a telephone with complete silence on the other end of the line. The last half hour was opened up for questions, which was much more relaxing and fun.
With the topic of the session fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share an extremely condensed version with you.
11 ways to improve approvals
1. The more work done up front to determine the content and angle of the story, the easier the approvals. The more detailed and thorough the planning, the more comfortable management is with what you do. Story lineups and editorial calendars are helpful tools, but even if you don’t have a master plan, engage in a constant dialogue with your internal contacts to determine what needs to be covered and when. No surprises = easier approvals.
2. It pays to build positive relationships with internal stakeholders. Whether approvals are simple or complex, they are easier to deal with if the editor has the trust and support of executives and content providers. Indeed, the very act of consulting with an executive about what tack a story should take, or asking someone to review a drafted story, are important bits of relationship-building. When effective editors have issues, they face them head-on, and they prefer to have a face-to-face conversation with their colleagues.
3. Written guidelines and formal processes help. Style guides, written values and principles, boilerplate e-mails outlining how a reviewer should look at an article—even a written publication “manifesto” from the CEO in the first issue of a new magazine—all these contribute to a greater feeling of control by the editor and a stronger sense of confidence among stakeholders. Written guidelines also help to resolve arguments. Write them in peacetime, refer to them when war breaks out.
4. Streamline the process. Only the sources who are quoted should see the draft of a story unless there’s a good reason for a lawyer to look at it. The fewer people who have to review a story, the better its chances are of making it through the process intact.
5. Business literacy goes a long way toward building stakeholder confidence. The better an editor knows the business—its players, issues, sensitivities, long-term strategy, goals, and so on—the easier it is to earn trust and respect in his or her role.
6. Editors need a senior advocate. It almost goes without saying that the editors who have the support and backing of a senior executive, or, ideally, the CEO, wield more power, are more effective in their jobs and are more likely to achieve positive changes.
7. Research is an important tool. Almost nothing sells an idea better than, “We have talked to our employees, and this is what they want to know.” Survey data is extremely powerful in pushing forward an agenda that advocates more frank communication. No executive wants to waste money on an employee publication that is not respected by its readers.
8. Technology can help streamline approvals. Editors who have to deal with complex approvals can benefit from using technology to streamline the process. Several different options exist, from web-based wikis that allow multiple users to make revisions to a master document, to specialized document management software like Livelink, to a simple network solution using the revisions function of Microsoft Word.
9. The more experienced the writer, the easier the approvals. If it’s an important story, don’t send in a junior staffer, student, or new freelancer. If you use freelance writers, it’s better to develop long-term relationships with them, and to make use of specialized knowledge and skills whenever possible. I know of companies where freelance writers have been working for the publication for so long that content providers will ask for them by name.
10. Using business unit communicators as point people can help. This approach can build trust and streamline approvals—although some successful editors like to go directly to the source because involving other communicators complicates matters. For the most part, though, having someone “on the ground” who knows the issues and the players is a useful technique.
11. Executives will always be reluctant to address controversial issues in print, or in any medium for that matter. In the end, if the only way an executive is comfortable talking about sensitive issues is in face-to-face meetings, so be it. Hold as many face-to-face meetings as you can, then, and the information will get out.
Any more points you'd add to this list?
Any war stories to share?
Any positive feedback from my session yesterday?
In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream. Unless you have RSS.