Here are some ideas for developing guidelines for the timely approvals of marketing content so you can drive business results
A few years back, a client of mine was having trouble getting content published. The industry was regulated, so a review process was necessary. The problem was, the review process was so involved, that a lot of work was spent for very little gain.
Articles and blog posts the team wrote for the company newsletter would go stale before being approved for distribution. Reports and long-form content would never see the light of day. Even the simplest of social media posts – the sharing of a neutral but informative news article – would take weeks.
The social media marketer didn’t even have access to social media channels. Access was strictly reserved to a privileged few. Getting something posted to the company’s social media channels required it to be submitted in a spreadsheet six weeks in advance so it could be vetted.
Simply stated, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. When it came to marketing and social media, some of those “cooks” had never cooked before…and yet here they were judging the ingredients.
The process was painful. The team had long since stopped caring. Employees just went through the motions and punched out at 5 p.m.
And why should they? This large global company spent a ton of money recruiting the best marketing talent and then stuck them in an environment where people who had never even marketed a lemonade stand were dictating how they did their jobs.
This sort of thing isn’t an anomaly. PR professionals will joke that it takes a few hours to write a press release and three weeks to get one approved.
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Example of a Decision Support Matrix
The Army once stuck me in a unique position that was a level above my paygrade. In an ensuing training exercise, and in the absence of access to higher-level leaders, I launched rotary-wing attack aviation in response to an enemy incident.
It was a good decision for that moment. That’s what military leadership is – action in the absence of orders. Even so, launching aviation – an expensive, valuable and finite resource – is typically a decision reserved for a general officer (or arguably the G3, a colonel, but not majors). It made the division realize we needed a better way to quickly assess what level of authority was necessary to launch division assets.
As a team, we developed a list of key capabilities, and who should, ideally, approve the use of those assets. We couldn’t account for every possible situation, as a creative enemy will force a choice we hadn’t considered. However, as a group, including the general, we brainstormed about 90% of the potential scenarios, including battlefield conditions (because conditions change the decision dynamics).
The resulting decision support matrix was a worksheet that enabled mid-level leaders (like me) to act if the situation merited. It was in effect, the general’s decision but made in advance.
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A Decision Support Matrix for Marketing
Decisions in marketing and PR aren’t life and death, but businesses have every reason to ensure these too are made efficiently and effectively. If you’ve hired good people, you don’t need business leaders, the CMO, or legal to review and approve everything. A decision support matrix for content, could be very useful too.
Below are some ideas for getting started.
1. Power of suggestion.
Start by suggesting the idea in your team meetings or mention it in your check-ins with your boss. If you are feeling the pain described above, chances are you are not alone. It might even be a good idea to seed this with peers and build consensus before suggesting it in a team meeting (this is the secret to winning in corporate politics).
2. Document content types.
Document all the content your organization develops regularly: blog posts, press release, case studies, sales sheets, and so on.
3. Categorize your content types.
Look at each content type and break these down into subcategories. For example, there are different types of press releases that require different levels of review:
- new product press release
- new customer press release
- conference or event press release
- new executive hire press release
- M&A announcement
The same will be true of your other categories of content; not all blog posts or social media posts are equal.
4. List possible reviewers.
List out the leaders and stakeholders that potentially need to review content. Some of this will depend on your company’s culture, but they should have a genuine reason for the need to review content. Part of the goal here is to eliminate unnecessary bottlenecks.
I once worked with an in-house lawyer that gave marketing a 10-page document with guidelines. These were straight forward. If you stuck to those guidelines, she didn’t need to see the content. If you went outside those guidelines or mentioned a competitor or pricing, she wanted to review it.
If you are part of a business unit in a larger company, consider the role of central marketing or corporate communication in synchronization and orchestration. For example, if two divisions are headed to the same conference, you don’t need two press releases.
5. Head of marketing breaks the tie.
The CMO (or equivalent) should be the deciding factor on who needs to review what. This is especially true if there’s a disagreement between departments, for example, between marketing and product. The CMO will have a perspective on what content items they want the CEO or business unit leaders to review.
6. Set up SLAs for the slowpokes.
In some cases, there are certain reviewers that are slow. In these cases, establish a service level agreement (SLA) that requires them to get back to you in a reasonable amount of time – say 72 hours – although different content categories may need more or less. If they are too slow to respond, you may go to some of their deputies, or perhaps, move on without them.
7. Continuously update the matrix.
The matrix should be a living document, so be sure to update it as you use or develop new types of content. You can’t account for every possible situation, but you ought to be able to nail down 90% of them or more.
Speed and Mistakes
Marketing today requires speed. That doesn’t mean be reckless and anything goes – but set up parameters that allow your team to operate – to make both judicious and expeditious decisions.
To that end, you will have some mistakes. Maybe a social media post comes off the wrong way and incites a small crisis – that sort of thing is going to happen. The upside is with a matrix like this, you now have a framework for capturing lessons learned. As a result, your organization is building a better and more experienced team.
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