This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
Communicators commonly say one of their most difficult tasks is to gain approval from managers for draft text and printers’ proofs. Some communicators even find that text approvals are the longest part of the production process. There are several ways you can reduce the risk of delays in obtaining approvals – most of these ways involve communication!
These principles apply as much to consultants dealing with clients as to internally based communicators.
When I was contracted to a national company a few years ago, the State manager proved to be the stumbling block. He was a micro manager who held up the monthly staff newsletter for up to two weeks until he got around to reviewing it. An extremely frustrating situation, especially when the delays may jeopardize the meeting of important deadlines.
Review the number of executives required to approve your material. When I started a new job as Corporate Affairs Manager for a power utility, I found the staff publication required the approval of about five senior managers! And the inevitable happened – with every issue, the draft layout would sit in the in-tray of one or more of them past the deadline. Therefore, no issue had ever appeared on time! Rather hesitantly, I quietly deleted two of the managers from the approval process – and never heard a complaint. In fact, I suspect they were glad this duty was taken away!
Don’t leave this project to the last minute, because the managers you are relying on to make a quick approval may not be available at deadline time. You will earn more respect if you are well organized and approach them in plenty of time to allow them to complete their part. Even if you are flat out, you can spend a few quick minutes reviewing your planned material and notifying contributors about their role. Email notification can be done quickly. Then you can get on with your other commitments in the meantime.
If you need a contribution from a manager, merely interview them, especially senior managers, to gain information and quotes or to clarify the brief in detail. They are likely to be extremely busy and so the most efficient way to act is to minimize their contribution. In this way you won’t depend on them for the quality of writing or its timely delivery, and they won’t be overly sensitive to the draft text – because it’s not theirs!
If you are obliged to rely on them to supply some text, ask them for bullet points, which you can expand into fuller text to fulfill your required word count. This will simplify the process for them – and you. Again, they are likely to be less sensitive to your text than to your editing of their writing. Obviously you would need to provide the draft material for their approval.
If you have to depend on managers to respond to your requirements, you should manage their expectations – and yours – by communicating early and clearly about what you need from them. When they are writing text for you, be clear about what you want. Give them a word count, guidance on the direction you want the material to take, and its context, a definite deadline and a reminder sufficiently ahead of the deadline so they can rouse themselves to perform the deed by the due date if they don’t have it already in hand.
If you are interviewing them, tell them during the interview when they will receive a copy of the draft – and tell them the deadline for approval. In doing so, you can check their planned movements with them or their personal assistant in case they will be away at deadline time. Depending on the person, it may pay to tell them you have a fixed word count, and so any additions they make will need to be counterbalanced by deletions to text elsewhere in the piece.
Where the approval of senior management is required for publications, ensure you emphasize the approval deadline to them verbally and in writing – and tell their personal assistant as well. In doing so, tell them the outcomes if they do miss the deadline – outcomes such as costly ‘author’s corrections’ to text that has been laid out, missed dates in articles about forthcoming events, and rescheduling of printing etc.
Although there is a general assumption that we shouldn’t give false deadlines, if a manager repeatedly ignores deadlines, give them a false deadline and see if this works.
Apply some psychology: keep in touch with them frequently so they understand their key messages are covered in the publication or website. If they know you are on their side and their area will get a good plug in the publication, they are likely to respond more positively to deadlines. And you might even let them know that their delays will affect senior managers’ articles.
If all else fails, raise this problem with a senior manager, your boss, or even the CEO, asking for their assistance by saying the delays are putting their messages at risk. But be careful about this – if you appear to be telling tales you will make the recalcitrant manager an enemy for life.
Above all, be well-organized and consistent about time. Plan ahead and contact all the people who you will rely upon for contributions so they have plenty of time to get their act together. And create a tangible trail of proof about your original briefing and reminders so culprits can’t unfairly point the finger at you about short deadlines.
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