4 Ways to Save Your Sanity: Review & Approval 2.0

Flickr: Ben Solah

How many of your communications projects go nowhere because the approval process is a landmine? For many of us, that happens way too often. We diligently do our homework, developing buy-in from colleagues (by highlighting what’s in it for them) and sourcing practical insights on audience habits and wants.

We use these guidelines to get “it” right, whether it’s a first-ever formalized organizational talking points, campaign mini-site, new program marketing plan, an anniversary celebration approach, or… Then, we sit down again with those colleagues (or send a reply-to-all email with requests for specific feedback if folks are in multiple locations) to get interim or final approval.

Suddenly everyone’s a graphic designer, or a writer, or a creative director. Chaos ensues, even though we shaped the deliverable to what we heard from these same colleagues. I think you know what I mean.

There is a better way—be as strategic in your review and approval process, as you are with your marketing and fundraising work.


A recent rebranding project for a large human services client organization reminded me of how challenging the review and approval process can be, especially for larger organizations (this one has 500+ employees throughout the state of Massachusetts). Here are four of our success factors:

1) Call It a REVIEW Process

The title “Approval” puts us at a disadvantage from day 1. We asked for help instead of permission, calling it a “Review” process. This reframing helped to change participant expectations and gave us more leeway to ignore off-target input.

2) Bring Colleagues In Early
I worked in close partnership with my client (Advancement Director for Marketing and Communications) to identify two staff and leadership teams to bring into the branding process at the get go. Bringing colleagues in early made them feel valued and a real part of the branding work, rather than having the new brand imposed on them. Inclusion was particularly valuable when working on a project as abstract as branding.

Program and Service Reps: We knew that the new brand’s impact depended on front line staff members, so invited a participant from each program and service to join us in brand creation and launch.

Brand Advisory Group: We also invited eight staff and leaders to join a brandadvisory group. Group members were selected because they could bring the most useful input to the process, or were influencers or decision makers. The small size and strong focus of this core group enabled us to be stay fairly nimble at major decision points during the branding process.

3) Explain Your Strategic, Creative, and Review Processes
We explained what the brand development process would look like at a project kickoff meeting. This helped participants understand:

  • We had a clear and proven method of developing the new brand
  • Several individuals would review concepts and drafts along the way
  • Everyone doesn’t need to review every element.

Sharing our approach helped build our team members’ understanding of, and engagement and confidence in, our branding work.

4) Set Clear Roles and Responsibilities
When you ask for input, people expect that 1) you’ll listen to them; and 2) you’ll do what they say.

There’s never a project where all input is relevant, but tension explodes when folks feel ignored. Prevent an insurrection by sharing specifics on each individual’s role from the very beginning of your process.

We let the program and service reps know that they were a vital part of the project success. Since many of them didn’t get how marketing in general (or the coming brand) would impact them, we shared examples of how our relevant, memorable brand would ease their daily responsibilities, build their skills and confidence, and strengthen program funding streams.

We let them know we’d be asking them to solicit input from their team members and share the brand purpose, process, and elements back out. We also recruited them as team trainers (via our train the trainers program).

Take these four steps next time you roll out a significant marketing project. You’ll create stronger relationships with colleagues; the insights, buy-in, and engagement you need; and more satisfaction all around.

Don’t miss Part Two!
Brilliant Way to Get Timely Input: Review & Approval 2.0

Nancy Schwartz on March 8, 2016 in All-Org Marketing Team | 0 comments
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