How to Avoid (or Escape) the Content Review Doldrums
A crucial aspect of content marketing is getting content out the door, but that’s often easier said than done.
Does this sound familiar?
You produced a great piece of content—you researched, wrote compelling copy, developed illustrative graphics, and established an effective layout. Now all you need is for your reviewers to give you the sign-off to release it into the wild. No problem, right? More of a formality than anything else, because the content’s great.
Hours go by.
Congratulations! You’ve entered the content review doldrums, and this is where you’re going to stay forever.
We’ve all been there—I’ve produced hundreds of content pieces, and overseen many more, and I can assure you that the doldrums are a common stage. Sometimes, they’re a permanent outcome.
In this post, I’ll give you five tactics to help you avoid the content review doldrums altogether, or—if you’re already stuck there—to give you enough of a gust to escape. These tactics will keep your content marketing efforts on-track.
For those of you too busy to take the time to learn (yes, that was said with disdain), here’s a summary that omits the well-reasoned discussion, useful guidance, and examination that accounts for the complexities of the real world:
- Start with a clear goal
- Have only one owner
- Limit reviewers in number and in scope…and secure their buy-in
- Be mindful of dependencies
- Don’t chase perfection
#1—Start With a Clear Goal
If ever a piece of guidance applied in many, many situations, then it’s this one: start with a clear goal.
In the content marketing world, starting with a goal means asking, “What’s this content supposed to achieve?” Often, it’ll trace directly to some problem you’re encountering, like a buying barrier.
Have an audience and an intention in mind:
- An audience might be a demographic like prospects, customers, investors, potential employees, etc., or a particular persona, like an economic buyer, a non-functional technical evaluator, your project champion, and so on
- An intention might be to convey important knowledge, change a behaviour, incite some action
In fact, do more than have an audience and an intention in mind—actually write them down somewhere.
You can go further and specify the precise point in their engagement with you where this content will apply (say, within the buying cycle) .
This clear goal serves as a lighthouse, or a pair of guardrails—or pick your favourite visual metaphor—guiding you in the right direction as you craft the content.
The goal also helps you manage expectations, especially those of executives who might want to step in, which—whether by intention or not—has the tendency of blowing the whole plan to crap.
This clearly stated goal serves as a lighthouse, or a pair of guardrails—or pick your favourite visual metaphor—guiding you in the right direction as you craft the content. The goal also helps you manage expectations, especially those of executives who might want to step in, which—whether by intention or not—has the tendency of blowing the whole plan to crap.
And finally, stating the goal helps you identify if you already have content purporting to do the same thing. If that’s the case, then maybe you don’t need this new piece. Or maybe your new piece should have a slightly different goal. Or you need to be clear that this new piece is replacing the existing, underperforming piece.
#2—Have Only One Owner
No matter how many people you involve in producing, reviewing, and using the content, it needs a single owner: one person must be responsible and accountable for the content.
Crucially, this person ultimately owns all final decisions relating to the content: what goes in, which edits to accept, etc.
#3—Limit Reviewers in Number and in Scope, and Secure Their Buy-In
To bastardize something from the legendary George Orwell, all these tips are created equal—but some are more equal than others.
If you want your content to see the light of day, then limit reviewers in number and scope. Note the two parts:
- Limit reviewers in number: no more than are necessary
- Limit reviewers in scope: involve each reviewer for a specific reason
The simple reality is that too many stakeholders usually bloat the scope of a project. It becomes too big to accomplish, or the direction changes enough that where you end up is nowhere near your initial aim. Even the best-established goal might wither in the face of a committee* of all-powerful reviewers.
*committees are where things go to die
Too many stakeholders usually bloat the scope of a project to the point where it’s too big to accomplish, or they change the direction enough that where you end up is nowhere near where you started.
OK, so how do you reach the nirvana of a limited set of reviewers, leveraging each for well-defined domain expertise?
First, figure out what you actually need reviewed. For me, it was usually technical correctness/accuracy, readability/accessibility, adherence to branding and styling guidelines, and a second set of eyes to look for typos, grammatical issues, and so on.
Second, identify people who can give you what you need. Limit the responsibilities of each reviewer to a particular domain (e.g., technical correctness, message clarity, adherence to styling guidelines). If there’s more than one person who can address a particular issue sufficiently, then choose the person with a track record of getting back to you the fastest. Or if one person’s got a lot going on right now, choose the other. Whatever, just be smart about it.
In the Real World: Miovision’s Clear Signals eBook
When Miovision’s marketers wrote the Clear Signals eBook, they kept reviewers to an absolute minimum. They cited this decision as a major success factor in their content marketing efforts.
Stella: “We did a good job of narrowing the reviewer field from the start, to the key players.”
Those key players reviewed for technical accuracy and provided industry perspective—reviewers included friendly customers and leading academics.
Learn more in: An Oral History of Miovision’s “Clear Signals” Campaign and eBook.
Third, be very clear about what you want from them, and what doesn’t need their attention. Make sure they know the overall goal, so they understand how their contribution fits into the larger context.
In many cases, especially for technical reviewers, you can send them only the snippets they need to approve; I’ve used this to great effect when getting technical whitepapers reviewed. Most reviewers appreciated getting an email with the few paragraphs in question, rather than a 15-page paper; and I appreciated getting a focused answer quickly, rather than a bunch of unwanted edits on things they needn’t have examined four weeks later than I’d hoped.
You also have to be clear with your expectations about the quality of the review and comments. For instance, just circling a paragraph and saying, “This is wrong” isn’t especially actionable; in this scenario, the reviewer needs either to provide a correction or to direct you to a person or information resource where you can learn the truth.
Fourth, make sure each reviewer agrees with your timeline and understands when their contributions are needed.
Make sure each reviewer agrees with your timeline and understands when their contributions are needed. You have to do your part by being realistic, reasonable, and accommodating with your review timelines—and by delivering your material to each reviewer in accordance with the schedule you presented to them.
Importantly, you have to do your part by being realistic, reasonable, and accommodating with your review timelines—and by delivering your material to each reviewer in accordance with the schedule you presented to them. Plus, rather than just making assumptions about availability, it’s a good idea to speak with your reviewers ahead of time both to get their input on how long they’ll need, and to get the item on their agenda. If someone has major commitments coming up, then try to get their part ready for review sooner.
Finally, you need to hold poor reviewers (e.g., slow, unhelpful) accountable for delaying the whole piece. Going forward, be ruthless about cutting them out of future content cycles. You undermine your own content marketing efforts if you accept mediocrity.
Advanced Technique: Just Publish It
Here’s an advanced technique you should use sparingly, when there’s no other practical option: just publish it.
Sometimes just publishing something (subject to it meeting the good enough criterion—see #5) is the best way to get someone to finally review it—especially if the downside of misinformation is significant.
Also, for whatever it’s worth to you, if endless review cycles frequently get in the way of your content marketing efforts, then that’s often a symptom of foundational issues like disagreement about importance or purpose. If those are conversations that just won’t get settled in the timeline you need, then it might be better to just get the piece out there—especially if the downsides are negligible.
#4—Be Mindful of Dependencies
You don’t want to have a piece of content 90% of the way done only to have it held up by a need for a diagram, or a screenshot, or a feature name, or a customer quote, or trial results, or market stats, etc.
These snafus really do delay content and undermine your content marketing efforts.
Make sure to think of these things at the beginning; get the ball rolling early on any long pole items.
Also, give some thought to other content you might need to create or update, and that might impact when you can release this new piece: Does other content need to be created for cross-linking or cross-referencing?
Identify dependencies early to make sure you don’t get held up waiting for this stuff later. You can also distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves. The must-haves must be done and included before you publish, whereas the nice-to-haves could be added in an updated iteration.
In short: identify dependencies early to make sure you don’t get held up waiting for this stuff later.
You can also distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves. The must-haves must be done and included before you publish, whereas the nice-to-haves could be added in an updated iteration.
#5—Don’t Chase Perfection
There are at least two reasons why you shouldn’t chase perfection:
- Just like Patton’s quote that, “A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next week”, good content now is better than perfect content never. There’s a real opportunity cost to delays. Understand what is legitimately good enough to achieve your goals.
- There is no perfect. Once you get into quibbles about opinions, personal preferences, etc., you’re just wasting time. Make sure things are correct, but understand they’ll never be perfect. Also, be willing to accept acceptable substitutes. Maybe the screenshot you want doesn’t exist yet, but you have another that’s OK. Use it and get the content out the door, then update it later.
Good content now is better than perfect content never.
Now, I’m not saying you should publish garbage, either. Find what is legitimately good enough for this piece of content; once your content crosses the line, you’re likely better off moving your attention to the next thing.
To reiterate: I don’t mean “good enough” in a “meh”, half-assed way. It’s possible to hold yourself and your colleagues to a high standard while simultaneously recognizing that perfection is a fool’s errand.
It’s possible to hold yourself and your colleagues to a high standard while simultaneously recognizing that perfection is a fool’s errand.
Content marketing is tough enough without endless review cycles killing your momentum. Employ these five tips to crank out winning content!
- Start with a clear goal: it’s a light that’ll guide your way
- Have only one owner: committees are where things go to die
- Limit reviewers in number and in scope…and secure their buy-in: and make sure to uphold your end of the bargain
- Be mindful of dependencies: surprises can cause big problems
- Don’t chase perfection: hold yourself and your colleagues to a legitimate good enough
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