Death by committee

I’m currently working with an organisation that cannot make a decision without consulting EVERYONE.  While that’s very frustrating if you’re working with them and trying to get an end result quickly (this client has a deadline of two weeks), what does that actually do to the project?  Does the addition of extra people have any benefits to the work being done?

In short, no. It works in the opposite direction.

One of the hardest parts of working in this field of providing high-quality writing for business is that there are some people in business who believe they can write.  Designers tell me the same thing.  I had one colleague who had designed no less than 10 different versions of a new logo for a client, only for the client to knock every single one of them back based on ‘I don’t like it’ and then scribble something on a Post-It note and ask ‘can you make it look like this?’   A horrible logo ensued.

I often say in my web writing workshops that approval committees are like vampires.  They suck the life out of anything that has been written until the only thing that is left is a limp, lifeless web page.

So how do you work in an environment like that – particularly when it’s your reputation on the line?  What if the web site doesn’t engage readers, only for the client to blame you, the writer, for not doing their job?

Here are three things you can try – I’ve had some success with them in the past:

  1. Make the audience the reference point. If you’re struggling to get the business to understand concepts like messaging or brand, stop using the concepts. Instead, make the audience the reference point for new content – will they like it? Will they understand it? Will they respond to it? These questions – and building the audience into the process EARLIER can make a huge difference.
  2. Make the outcome the reference point. Again, if the business doesn’t understand key messaging, instead focus on something they do understand. Outcome. Keep that firmly in the frame, and use it as the reference point. For example, “yes, that’s interesting wording but will it help us sell another <insert your product here>?”
  3. Reduce the approvers, and clarify their role. Change the wording around approval – use phrases like fact checking or process checking rather than approval. Be specific about the role you want people to play – and stick to it.

Well, sometimes you just have to work with it.  I’m meeting this client this week (the project is now overdue) but I have a clear paper trail of how many times I’ve asked them for sign-off.  I have kept copies of EVERYTHING so that I can refer back to Draft 1.1 where we were saying something the complete opposite.

When you’re writing for the web, you’re often educating the people who you are working with.  One of those educational points is that not everyone needs to have a say about the web site. Or the social media.

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