How to avoid v32 syndrome
Excessive amends hit creativity and ROI
A recent LinkedIn poll by Highbrook suggested that 55 percent of content marketing people have worked on projects that involved more than 30 rounds of amends.
A senior content executive says of a previous gig: “I once had the pleasure of a V21. There was a brief along the lines of needing ‘something modern, but with a classic twist’, and the feedback was to ‘make it, you know...pop’. Different people in different departments and all giving final feedback. And it was probably only for a single page.”
Allowing stakeholders numerous rounds of feedback can lead to unintended consequences such as destroying the character of the piece, making it bland and uninteresting; missing deadlines; letting unforced errors creep in; and generally sucking the life out of the content and those who have created it.
This is not only a creative problem, but also a return on investment (ROI) problem. Internally, if this many people are spending this much time making constant amends, then they are not performing other tasks. Externally, if you have hired an agency to create the work, and even if you have agreed a fixed price, a long, expensive approval process will be clawed back in future fees.
Feedback is, of course, essential to any project – be it writing, animation or podcasts. Everything needs to be accurate; everyone needs to be happy. But 30 rounds is excessive. That means something has gone wrong.
Getting all your stakeholders in a row
So, what is the problem likely to be?
- A lack of understanding of the strategy and aims of the project or piece in question across the organisation.
- An inadequate brief as a result of the above.
- Disagreement on how the brief should be implemented.
- Failure of those implementing the brief – be they internal content people or an agency – to understand it.
- No prior agreement on tone of voice or how the text is rendered.
- Stakeholders who are too busy to give all their feedback in one go.
- Too much experimentation, for example: “Show me it in all the styles and all the colours.” This may be useful for the first of many pieces, but it mustn’t be allowed to happen every time.
- Misunderstanding of what feedback is for in this context. It is intended to reach agreement rather than initiate a debate.
- Poor creative work.
- Stakeholders who want to be seen to be contributing or controlling the outcome.
Fewer amends? Amen to that
Let’s talk about ways to avoid a stakeholder version of Game of Thrones.
- Clear and consistent communication across the organisation (and with agencies) about the aims and desired outcomes of the project. That could (one day) include a face-to-face onboarding meeting. Meeting people really helps.
- A clear and simple brief, approved by all stakeholders.
- Prior agreement between stakeholders regarding implementation of the brief.
- Permission to challenge assumptions about how the brief will be implemented.
- Prior agreement about tone of voice and style – preferably including a style guide.
- Key stakeholders who agree to prioritise feedback and meet deadlines.
- Trusting the judgment and expertise of the people you’ve hired to do the job.
- Setting the expectation that stakeholders will supply clear, consolidated feedback.
- Hiring trusted creatives.
- Limiting the number of stakeholders authorised to give feedback.
At Highbrook, we try to get all amends done in two rounds. That’s not always possible, of course, but it concentrates the mind if a piece of writing or creative is not regarded as a perpetual work in progress. The first round covers the implementation of the brief; the second finesses it and includes compliance.
And that’s it. Fewer amends? Amen to that.