The “Wild West” of content marketing stuck around longer than we may have imagined, but COVID-19 well and truly brought it to a close. These days, 82% of marketers use content marketing, over 40% of marketers say content is a very important part of their strategy, and 70% plan to actively continue investing in it in the long term.
If content marketing is such big business now, however, why does so much of it still feel distinctly lawless? Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to actually getting either client or internal approval for your content. You go to all the work of producing your stuff, send it to the people in charge, and then… you’re at their mercy. And often, your content disappears then and there.
There’s a better way to work content approval, and it’s all about process building. Securing content approval is a part of your workflow like everything else, and like everything else, it’s more effective when you have a plan.
Follow these five steps to create your own plan for content approval, and you’ll find yourself spending a lot less time bitterly running down approval and a lot more time actually planning for your team’s next big splash.
1 — Standardize the Lead-Up
The last few times your content got trapped in pending purgatory, was it really because your approver got picky about back-and-forth edits? Sometimes, sure, but usually the issue is simpler… and, unfortunately, closer to home.
Chances are, in fact, you don’t know exactly where the bottlenecks are that hold up your content approval process. THAT is the biggest problem.
You’re not alone, either. According to a survey by the Content Marketing Institute, 42% of content marketers said that content production flow was one of their biggest challenges for the upcoming year. Meanwhile, a DIFFERENT survey by the CMI found that only 42% of content marketing teams have a formal content workflow in place.
When you don’t know what you need to see a piece of content from conception to publication, a lot of your content never reaches the approval phase at all. Instead, it gets wrapped up in “where were we at with that piece, again?” territory… until everyone forgets about it. Then, if it DOES see the light of day, everyone’s forgotten what it was for… and you’re back to square one.
There’s a straightforward solution: a content workflow. Create a tight, simple game plan for publishing and follow it for every single piece of content you create. At every turn, you should know:
A: Where a piece is in the process
B: Who’s in charge of the next step
C: When they plan on completing the next step
D: Who they will send their finished work to
The more you can standardize and streamline your content creation process, the more consistently a clear, relevant piece of content reaches an approver who knows what they’re looking at at. Making that moment happen is the single best way to improve your approval rate.
“Create a tight, simple game plan for publishing and follow it for every single piece of content you create.” — Harry Mackin Click To Tweet
2 — Simplify & Assign Workflow Deadlines — Internally & Externally
Ok, so you’ve got your workflow established. Great, that’s the easy part. Now you actually have to commit to using it… every. single. time. That means two things: you have to keep it simple, and you have to keep it moving.
85% of CEOs blame internal complexity for their failure to grow and deliver sustainable performance, and it’s the mindkiller of many a content workflow, too. As a general rule, you should be able to write out your content workflow — with the names, positions, content info, and description of the role of each participant at every step in the process — for each piece of content you produce.
Next, you have to avoid the dreaded “content by committee.” Keep as few people plugged into the process as possible. Have these people work closely together to understand each other’s processes and get to know their roles.
Assign concrete deadlines for each of these steps, whether the person in charge of seeing them through is internal or external. Assign a project manager to keep track of these deadlines and ensure everyone is on pace. Remind your client or approver of these deadlines, why they matter, and why they need to keep up with them.
“Write out your content workflow — with the names, positions, content info, and description of the role of each participant at every step in the process — for each piece of content you produce.” — Harry Mackin Click To Tweet
3 — Make It About Them, Not You
Failure to get content approval usually stems more from communication breakdown than a problem with the content itself. Somewhere, the wires get crossed — either the client doesn’t explain what they’re looking for or the creators misunderstand intent and take the wrong tack — and then when the approver’s handed the document, they don’t know what they’re looking at… or how it helps them.
This failure may not rest with the content, but it does rest with the process. According to a recent Accenture survey, only 19% of marketing leaders felt they had clear objectives when creating new content. According to another study, 43% of B2B marketers only “sometimes” define their content marketing KPIs!
If your own content marketers don’t know what they want to do with their content, how are the people in charge of approving it even supposed to know what to approve it for? Instead, they receive nebulous content that’s disconnected from their business, their goals, and their ideas about how to propel their brand… and they’re not interested in reading it, much less approving it!
It’s not enough for your team to know why they’re producing their content (though, you know, they should) ; your clients need to know, too. What do they want this content to accomplish? Why is that the goal? How will this piece accomplish that? If you want content approval, you have to show your approver why they should care about your content. To do that, you need to show them exactly why your content marketing matters to them.
“If you want content approval, you have to show your approver why they should care about your content. To do that, you need to show them exactly why your content marketing matters to them.” — Harry Mackin Click To Tweet
4 — Collaborate with Stakeholders From the Jump
In fact, goals are important for buy-in across the board, not just with your client. There are all kinds of stakeholders in any piece of content — from collaborators to contributors to subject matter experts to field sellers. They all should be invested in your content, because it stands to benefit all of them. But, as you’re probably all-too-aware… that isn’t always how it goes.
If the only people who care about your content are the team members making it, you have a big problem. If your client’s team or your approver doesn’t understand why they should care about your content, why would they?
Now imagine if, instead, everyone cared about your content. The sales and marketing teams are excited for the new narrative that informs their own strategies. The clients and approvers are excited to see how the content will move their own agendas forward. Your content producers are excited because they have enthusiastic buy-in and they feel like what they’re doing matters.
This kind of enthusiasm isn’t as hard to achieve as you may think: you just need to get everyone involved. Ask all stakeholders what they want from the content at every point in the process. Figure out what would make them excited to speed the content through to approval, and then provide it! When your content finally hits the approver’s desk, they shouldn’t just know what it is — they should be excited to see it happen.
“If the only people who care about your content are the team members making it, you have a big problem. If your client’s team or your approver doesn’t understand why they should care about your content, why would they?” — Harry Mackin Click To Tweet
5 — Optimize Your Approval Process
When you’ve got your goals locked-in and your whole team is enthusiastic about making them happen, you’ve laid all the groundwork for the most impactful step of all: re-envisioning and optimizing the approval process itself.
Now that you have goals and KPIs established, you have something concrete to check your content against. Instead of approval being a nebulous process combining pitching, editing, revising, critiquing and a little begging, you’ve given your approver definite goalposts to think about when reviewing.
When your approver collaborated throughout the process, this new approach to approval becomes even more effective. Your approver already knows exactly what you’re going for with this content, so they’re free to critique how effectively they think you’ll pull it off.
Best of all, informed approval paves the way for truly meaningful feedback. Without a clear understanding of goals, feedback becomes nebulous, undirected, and often circular — just like the approval process itself. With goals in place, however, all feedback can focus on how you can better achieve what you’re trying to do, which will make any edits far easier both to communicate and to implement.
For more tips on how to bring your content marketing process out of the Wild West and into the age of business, keep up with the experts at the TopRank Marketing blog.