Six vital things you missed in your last comms audit (part 2 of 2)

I love that 45 people who can't write get to rewrite the writing of the one person who can write.
Comms managers, when did you last measure how all those bits of communication get produced? And not just how they get distributed and received?

Let me guess, never.

Well, as I suggested last week, you’re missing a trick. Because understanding your team’s writing process could save you time, money and a lot of hassle.

At Doris and Bertie, we believe in lean writing. Lean writing is all about achieving more with less. And as well as fewer words that means fewer stages in the writing process.

“Lean” working processes were first developed in Japanese manufacturing firms in the 1940s and we think the concept applies to writing in large organisations. One of the first steps in becoming a leaner organisation is to measure how the work gets done.

So next time you do a comms audit, here are six things to measure on the writing side of the equation. Spend a month recording data on this stuff and you’ll get a better idea of where the log jams lie.

1. Talk to your team

Get a qualitative sense of how things look by asking your team what they think about the writing process.

Do they feel valued? Like wise consultants respected by the guys in the business?

Or Mac monkeys dependent on the approval of people who aren’t as smart as they are?

Do they feel competent and powerful? Or exhausted at the very thought of getting their stuff out of the door?

2. Compare each document before and after

For every piece of work you produce (intranet article, video script, whatever) record the number of versions it takes to go from first draft to publication.

Go back and compare CSR_announcement_v1.doc with CSR_announcement_v19.doc.

Then ask yourself this question: Is v19 really nineteen times better than v1?

3. Know who’s signing off – and why

For each piece of work, record the names of every “stakeholder” / internal client / whatever you call them whose sign-off is required.

Look at the list of names with a critical eye. Do they have anything of value to contribute? Or do their changes just cause mass eye-rolling among your team?

Are those all signatures really necessary? Or are you running stuff by people just to keep them in the loop/make them feel all warm and fuzzy/prove how busy you are.

4. Record the kinds of changes people are making

As professional communicators, your team members know what chimes with your readers. They’re also the people best placed to nail the right tone of voice for your org.

So if a stakeholder / client / whatever changes their first draft, it should be for a better reason than “aligning and leveraging our synergies sounds more corporate than working together”.

In fact, the only good reason for a non-professional writer to edit a professional writer’s work is to change something that would embarrass the org. Embarrassing things include stuff that’s:

Spelled wrongly
Factually inaccurate
Confidential
Embargoed
Defamatory
Could get the org sued for any other reason

So for every document you produce, record each change under one of the above headings. Include, also, the following heading for anything that doesn’t come under one of the above:

Pointless, idiotic style changes

Note down, too, who requested each change.

Record this data for a short while and you’ll soon get a sense of why it takes you 19 versions to get that CSR announcement out of the door.

I’m betting it’s not because your incompetent comms team are hell bent on sending out stuff that embarrasses the org.

Nope, it’s because your business people think they know best. They don’t.

5. Always ask: “what happens if we don’t publish?”

Get your team to note down the answer to this question before they press send each time. Review all the reasons after a month. How often does the answer “nothing” come up?

Let me guess. It’s whenever they’ve sent out yet another pointless “strategic update” from an exec who believes in “managing upwards” (that’s MBA-speak for jumping up and down, saying “look at me, boss, look at me!”).

6. Know when you’re bringing people into the process

Yes, we get that you want to be inclusive. Make everyone feel they’ve got a say in the stuff you produce (particularly if you’re in internal comms). But the most efficient time to “engage” is at brief, not sign-off.

Because the more people you ask for “feedback” on a piece and work, the longer and more arduous the process.

I recently did a job where my writing was “workshopped” by employees at various stages. On one occasion there were 45 people in the room. All amateur writers. All having a say on my words.

Needless to say, the job took four times as long as it should have – and ended up a more expensive, less powerful version of its original self.

Do you regularly have more people signing off than you brought into the original brief? What do you mean, you don’t know? Get measuring!

Need help becoming a leaner comms team? Email me or call me on +44 (0)208 127 1477 to talk about how we can take the pain out of your writing process.

Tell us about your experiences of the writing process – in this short survey (takes less than five minutes).

5 Responses to “Six vital things you missed in your last comms audit (part 2 of 2)”

  1. Paul Eveleigh says:

    ‘I recently did a job where my writing was “workshopped” by employees at various stages. On one occasion there were 45 people in the room. All amateur writers. All having a say on my words.’

    Death by a thousand cuts. Amazed you stayed the course, Clare.

    Communication managers need to read (and absorb) your audit advice.

  2. Clare Lynch says:

    Funnily enough, Paul. “Amazed you stayed the course” was exactly the client’s feedback.

  3. John Symons says:

    One bit of lean writing I wish all BBC Radio 4 scriptwriters (or newsreaders, programme hosts etc. if they are to blame and also their interview guests) would adopt is never to say “could potentially” and similar tautological pairs of words. They cut out the “was” in “that report was from Joe Bloggs” and then put back all the time they have saved in the form of these horrible tautologies. Why can’t they see that “could” and “potentially” both convey the same message?

  4. John Symons says:

    I have an amusing (well, I think so) tale of inadequate writing controls. In the 1970s a British oil trader was asked by a Swiss crude oil buyer for documentation of a sale “a posteriori”. During lunchtime, when no supervisor was available to sign off, a telex operator was persuaded to reply “As usual we will bend over forwards to meet your requirements”.

  5. Timi says:

    Along with Copyblogger, your site is the most informative and least superfluous on the subject of copywriting.

    I’m really happy a colleague introduced me to it. I work for a conglomerate that’s trying to be more personal and creative, so I regularly deal with these issues (especially the multi-headed beast that is “feedback”).

    Glad to know ways of dealing with this and that I’m not alone.

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