10 Tips for Navigating the Approval Process Gauntlet

February 2022
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You’ve interviewed multiple sources for that news release, speech or internal communications newsletter article. After you write a great first draft, you send it out to your reviewers for approval.

And you wait…

And you wait…

You send out a reminder email. And you wait…

And your deadline starts getting closer.

What should you do? It’s a common problem that faces every communicator who’s ever put pen to paper (and finger to keyboard).

Identifying the approvers

Who needs to approve your piece? During the 10 years I worked as a news reporter, that question was easy to answer. It was always my editor. For PR practitioners, it can be more complex. 

In the almost 30 years I worked in corporate communications, I found sometimes the approvers are not only your supervisor or the people you interviewed. Sometimes you need to also seek input from each source’s boss or department head, and maybe even a member of the legal department.

Breaking through the logjam

For a recent business writing workshop I presented virtually to a client, I developed 10 tips for breaking through the approval process logjam:

  1. Have a realistic deadline. Communicators are used to working on a deadline, but we should remember not everyone has our sense of urgency. Your failure to give an approver enough time to give you their feedback is your fault, not theirs. Unless you’re dealing with a crisis and need to send out an immediate communication, I suggest giving an approver at least a week to provide you their comments.
  2. Verify approver’s availability. People take time off work for a variety of planned and unexpected reasons, including parental leave, sick leave, weddings, honeymoons, surgeries, funerals and holidays. When you interview a source, be sure to verify they’ll be available later to review your draft. They might not think to let you know they will be out of the office for two weeks on vacation, which could cause you a problem.
  3. Recruit help. If the approver has an assistant, copy them on your email(s). The assistant will thus be familiar with your project, your approval request and how soon you need a response. The assistant can also notify you if the supervisor is unavailable and when they’ll be back in the office.
  4. Name drop. Clearly explain the reason for the communication to the approver, especially if the request for it originated with their supervisor or department head. Don’t hesitate to name drop.
  5. Be specific. The words “soon,” “ASAP” and “next week” mean different things to different people. Be specific when giving the approver a deadline for responding.
  6. Share your timeline. It helps if you can provide the approver an explanation for your deadline. Are you going to press next week with your publication? Do you need to post an item quickly because an event is scheduled? Let the approver know your timeline.
  7. Explain your comms goal. Explain why the communication is important to your organization. Will it impact fundraising or earnings? What is the purpose of the piece?
  8. Include ramifications. Don’t threaten, but politely explain what will happen if the approver doesn’t get back to you by your deadline. Will you need to hold up the publication, proceed without their input or seek approval from someone else in their department?
  9. Choose a point person. If you’ve interviewed multiple sources from the same department or source, ask if a single person can be responsible for showing the text to the others and giving you feedback on behalf of everyone.
  10. Follow up. If needed, follow up with the approver by phone or email before your deadline draws too close. In your follow-up email, program it to include a “Read Receipt.”

Our jobs are already stressful enough. Hopefully these 10 tips will reduce your anxiety when it comes to meeting your deadlines. 

Return to Current Issue The Annual Writing Issue | February 2022
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