There are many companies reluctant to let their marketing execs have free reign with their owned and earned media.

This is understandable where reputations are easily won and lost. It doesn’t pay to give just anybody the keys to your website, email builder or social media channels and ask them to go at it. Social media faux pas in particular are well documented. 

Whatever the benefits of managerial oversight, anyone who has worked at a digital agency or a big corporation will tell you the process of ‘sign-off’ from a director or sponsor can be torturous.

A sign-off culture gone awry can involve numerous levels of sign-off with each level giving subjective, sometimes arbitrary and even contradictory feedback. This is obviously dispiriting for the execs creating the work.

So, how do you ensure that sign-off remains an orderly and consistent process, one that emboldens the content creators but also keeps them in check?

1) Sign-off on concepts before completed work 

Having work rejected is obviously a waste of time and can reduce morale. Having that work rejected when it was merely a concept would have saved money and frustration.

However intimidating it may be to interact with a sponsor/manager, it’s essential that regular contact is established. Even if this person doesn’t demand to see concepts and is only interested in the final work, it pays to present the work in various states of undress.

The reasons for this are manyfold. If a sponsor agrees with a concept, they are much more likely to feel they have a stake in the finished work. They may still reject the finished article but are more likely to do so with some constructive criticism.

Presenting multiple concepts to a sponsor allows them to assert their own tastes, they can look at your ideas subjectively and select their favourites.

This allows sponsors to feel they are dictating play and the execs are supporting them. If a sponsor is spoon-fed finished work, they may spit it out merely for lack of choice. Make management feel they’re ordering a la carte.

idea

2) Editorial guidelines on the wall 

Editorial guidelines are an obvious essential for any business engaged in publishing online. What are the no-go areas of topic, style and tone? How about the specifics of grammar and punctuation?

It’s the duty of content creators to create editorial guidelines (if they don’t already exist) or amend them where necessary and place a copy in front of the person responsible for sign-off.

Unblocking the sign-off process is all about creating a framework to allow managers to say yes - this means making sure they’re clear on right and wrong. Presenting them with guidelines will also give them confidence that you are in control.

It may be appropriate to create distinct and separate guidelines for different content channels. 

3) The shotgun approach 

When completed work is presented for sign-off, it can be useful to over-deliver. Without contradicting point one, adding both subtle and bold work to increase the range of what you present is a nifty trick when sign-off is proving particularly difficult.

This technique can have the useful effect of creating straw men for a manager/sponsor to decline, thereby saving the rest of the work from criticism.

shotgun firing

4) Consistency

If things are going well, the sponsor likes your work, then consistency is key. A change in style is likely to derail the content carriage, giving a sponsor something to question. However if consistency is maintained, any criticism from a sponsor can be questioned by highlighting the success of previous work. 

5) Feedback on the feedback 

This is the most important point when creating content for sign-off. If it’s turned down point blank without feedback or if the feedback given is difficult to understand, seek clarification.

It can be a scary thing to do, to ask ‘why?’ but without asking you won’t know how to improve the work and the sponsor won’t engage with the work as seriously as they should.

feedback 

6) Content plan

A simple point. Make sure your sponsor knows what’s on the horizon by providing a content plan. Presenting work that has been scheduled in all year has more chance of success than the (shock of the) new.

7) Campaign analysis 

Let’s be honest, hard numbers make the most persuasive argument to a sponsor. Pointing to the success of previous work in increasing traffic or conversion rate, or indeed the work of a competitor, is the quickest way to get sign-off.

Ben Davis

Published 30 September, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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