Special Report     Best Practices for Creating Marketing Documents              How to Reduce Cost and Shorten Turnaround ...
Assessing Your Position in Office PoliticsBefore we start on the step-by-step discussion of best practices, we need to tal...
Making an Orderly Start to Your ProjectMost project leaders go off half-cocked; that is, they start a project withoutthink...
Microsoft PowerPoint: While we are on the subject of input, I want to commenton the use of Microsoft PowerPoint. As you kn...
Sources: Decide now who should be available for the writer to interview. Askthese sources to agree to be interviewed.The R...
Hiring a Contract WriterYou may already have a productive relationship with a contract writer or a staffwriter. But if you...
Immediate Disqualifiers: This may sound abrupt or cold-hearted, but you cansave a lot of time and prevent a lot of frustra...
Making the AssignmentHere are a few best practices for assigning the writing task to the writer youhave selected.   •   Be...
Reviewing the OutlineWhen you receive Draft 1 of the outline, forward copies to all reviewers. Askthem to read the outline...
Ten Best Practices for Reviewers1.   Read and review the entire document, not just selected parts.2.   As far as possible,...
When you, as project leader, receive the reviews, you should resolve anydisagreements; generally speaking, you should favo...
Reviewing Draft 3 of the TextWhen you receive Draft 3 of the text, forward copies to all reviewers. Ask thereviewers to se...
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Best practices marketing documents - 20130130

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Best practices marketing documents - 20130130

  1. 1. Special Report Best Practices for Creating Marketing Documents How to Reduce Cost and Shorten Turnaround Time By Joe Roy, “Mr. Clarity” http://clear-writing-with-mr-clarity.blogspot.com/ joeroy@joeroy.comThis special report is for managers who lead project teams that createmarketing documents. By applying the information in this brief report, you canreduce your writing cost by two-thirds or more.In the process of creating marketing documents – including web content –methodology is the major determinant of cost and quality. Poor practices canlengthen your turnaround time, waste manpower, multiply your costs, degradequality, and even sink your project. I’ve seen it all, many times.On the other hand, best practices can dramatically shorten your turnaroundtime, conserve manpower, reduce your costs, noticeably increase quality,prevent frustration, build goodwill, and generally make you a hero. I have seenall that happen many times, too.Let me introduce myself. I’m Joe Roy, a contract writer (freelance writer)specializing in business writing. Over the last four decades, companies havepaid me to write more than three million words: brochures, ads, customersuccess stories, white papers, editorials, technical manuals, web content, e-zines and speeches. I worked 17 years in Fortune 500 companies as a technicalwriter, senior editor, speechwriter, and director of public relations. I’ve hiredand trained more than 275 writers and have been the project leader forhundreds of marketing documents.From time to time, on request, I have given advice or training to project leadersat client companies. Recently I decided to combine the accumulated advice intoa handy, step-by-step document. And so, this special report.Warning: In order to provide practical advice, I discuss real-world corporate environmentswithout euphemism or evasion – Dilbert minus the humor. If you are easily offended by plaintalk, please stop reading right here.
  2. 2. Assessing Your Position in Office PoliticsBefore we start on the step-by-step discussion of best practices, we need to talkabout an unpleasant topic: politics.In an ideal world, a project leader would have all the political power required tocreate an effective document quickly and inexpensively. He1 would have thefreedom to select and employ the best practices, and he would have the powerto prevent others from interfering.For example, on page 11 of this special report we discuss the matter ofuninvited reviewers: people who insist on reviewing your document (orpretending to do so) for idle reasons. If this sort of thing never happens in yourcompany, you are blessed with good fortune.But if it does happen, it can impede your team’s progress. The best practice isto keep these people out of the action, but do you have the political clout to dothat? What if they outrank you? What if they have political pull? What if thecorporate culture dictates that office drones be humored and coddled?In my corporate career, I’ve experienced the upper and lower extremes of powerand everything in between. At the upper extreme, I had the power to tellcorporate vice presidents to “get the hell out of my way.” At the lower extreme, Ihad to suffer in silence while incompetent first-line managers messed up myprojects and sent my costs out of control.So, wherever you may be in your company’s power structure, I empathize withyou. I realize that you probably can’t employ every best practice I’ve describedhere. For political and practical reasons, you have to pick and choose. Iunderstand that.1 Throughout this document, I use the traditional “generic he.” That is to say, in this document,he automatically means he or she, his automatically means his or her, and him automaticallymeans him or her. 2
  3. 3. Making an Orderly Start to Your ProjectMost project leaders go off half-cocked; that is, they start a project withoutthinking it all the way through. That’s understandable, of course: if a newdocument is needed, it is usually needed in order to increase the company’srevenue, and everyone wants the project finished quickly.But if you invest an hour or two of careful thought at the front end of theproject, you can prevent weeks of wasted time later.Here are a few things to think about, before you select your writer: 2Goal: Clearly define the goal of the document. Be as specific as possible. Forexample, don’t write, “Increase awareness of Product XX.” Instead, write,“Induce the reader to view a demonstration of Product XX on our web site.”Audience: Clearly define who should read the document – their functions,ranks, titles, experience, and so on (or, for a consumer product, thedemographics and psychographics). The more narrowly focused you can be, themore you will help the writer focus the content and adjust the style for thecorrect audience.Input: Decide now what input you will give the writer. Be thorough – ask therelevant managers what input is available (it doesn’t matter how rough it is). Itis far more efficient to gather all the input now, as opposed to stringing out theprocess.Here’s why: If, while the writer is working on Draft 1, you keep sendingadditional files as you think of them or discover them, each new and slightlydifferent version of your story may pull him and the text in a new direction.This will waste time and limit quality.In contrast, getting your input ready now will save a lot of time and moneythroughout the project. It will also enable better writing quality, avoidfrustration for you, and engender good feelings all around.2 Except where otherwise noted in the text, all comments about writers apply to both external(contract) writers and internal (staff) writers. 3
  4. 4. Microsoft PowerPoint: While we are on the subject of input, I want to commenton the use of Microsoft PowerPoint. As you know, PowerPoint is an applicationthat enables a speaker to show his audience slides containing graphics and“bullets” (fragments of text) while he reads his script from the “Notes” areasunder the slides.But most presenters don’t have scripts; they leave the Notes areas blank andthey speak informally, using the bullets as cues. A presentation of this type,consisting only of graphics and bullets, is nearly useless as input to a writingproject (except, of course, as a source of graphics). Therefore, you shouldalways try to find input in the form of prose, even if it is brief and clumsy.However, you may discover that PowerPoint presentations without scripts arethe only written input you have. This generally means that: 1. No one has thought clearly about the topic of the planned document. 2. The input interviews will be less helpful than usual, and the writer will have to work longer and harder than usual to fill the gaps in content and logic. 3. The review process will be longer than usual, and it will include confusion, arm-waving, tangents, disagreements and changes of mind.These three discrepancies usually double, triple or quadruple the number ofhours the writer will need to spend.The text fragments in a PowerPoint presentation are no substitute for theorderliness, logic and precision of discursive prose. Encourage your sources toget in the habit of capturing their ideas in prose. They don’t have to becomegood writers – they just have to stop leaning on the PowerPoint crutch. 4
  5. 5. Sources: Decide now who should be available for the writer to interview. Askthese sources to agree to be interviewed.The Review Team: Decide now who should be on the review team. This can be atricky part of the process. Ideally, you should keep the team small: maximumthree or four people, including you. If you assemble a team of, say, ten or morepeople, the draft reviews may take weeks or even months 3 instead of days, thetask of resolving disagreements will drive you crazy, and the project will bemuch more likely to go under – and make you look like an incompetentmanager.So, try to keep the team small. However, don’t overlook anyone who is essentialand then be forced to add him to the team later. For example, adding someoneduring the review of Draft 1 is usually disruptive, because he will not have seenand approved the outline. If he calls for radical changes, these changes willtake a lot of time at this stage, whereas they could have been made almosteffortlessly at the outline stage.Ask yourself who must approve the document. Bring all these people in at thebeginning. Then try to prevent anyone else from joining the team or meddlingin any way.Messages and Proof Points: If your company does not have a comprehensive,definitive, clearly written messaging platform, be aware that your success willbe constrained, through no fault of yours. In the absence of such a platform,every marketing document costs more and delivers less – in spite of everyone’sintelligence and dedication. Documents are weak and diffuse, instead ofpowerful and focused. Each document is a pillow, not a hammer.If it is within your power, persuade senior managers to create and promulgatea comprehensive, definitive, clearly written messaging platform. If they do so,all your future projects will be more successful as a result.3 Yes, a draft review can indeed take several months: I’ve seen it happen dozens of times. If youare skeptical, I understand. There are a lot of difficult-to-believe assertions and examples inthis special report, but I assure you that each one is based on several real people – oftenhundreds of real people. 5
  6. 6. Hiring a Contract WriterYou may already have a productive relationship with a contract writer or a staffwriter. But if you don’t, and you have to go outside and interview strangers,here are a few best practices that may augment your own hiring skills:General: Ask the writer for samples of his work – and read them. Send copiesto your reviewers and ask them to read the samples, too. Then compareopinions.Ask the writer for references. Any writer with substantial experience shouldhave a few clients willing to discuss his strengths and weaknesses. This is lesstrue of speechwriting – many executive speakers like to pretend that they writetheir own speeches.Industry and Genre: If you are like most project leaders, you strongly prefer awriter who has a good knowledge of your industry. That’s logical. But don’t stopthere: also consider the genre; i.e., has the writer ever written the kind ofdocument you need?For example, if your project is a white paper, then a writer who has writtenseveral white papers – even for companies in other industries – will have a goodsense of how to write your white paper.Ideally, you want the writer to have both industry knowledge and genreexperience. But if you have to choose, generally you should choose genreexperience. That’s because it’s usually easier for a seasoned writer to learnabout a new industry than to become proficient in a new genre. This iscounterintuitive but true. 6
  7. 7. Immediate Disqualifiers: This may sound abrupt or cold-hearted, but you cansave a lot of time and prevent a lot of frustration by using immediatedisqualifiers. Here are five disqualifiers that I have found reliable: • No samples: The writer has no writing samples at all. Even a rookie should be able to show a coherently written paper from school. • No process: The writer can’t briefly and clearly describe how he works. Or he has no established billing structure; instead, he says things like, “Oh, just pay me what you think a keynote address is worth.” • No context: The writer has not had enough experience in the business world to have acquired an intuitive sense of business context. For example, he does not know, beyond a comic-book level, what a CEO does. Or, worse, he has had a lot of experience in the business world but has not absorbed much context because he does not observe carefully, does not have much intellectual curiosity, and does not do much reading. In a writer, these are serious flaws. • No maturity: The writer talks like a Valley Girl: He lifts his voice? Like this? So it sounds as if he were constantly asking questions? Or he abuses the word like: “And I’m like, ‘No way!’ ” If he is willing to sound this immature in a business setting, would you dare put him in direct contact with your senior managers? • No precision: The writer frequently uses vague, faddish words and phrases instead of more-precise words and phrases. For example, he uses the word drive in place of more-precise verbs such as attract, cause, create, determine, enable, govern, guide, increase, inspire, limit, manage, occasion, persuade, promote and stimulate. If he is habituated to mindlessly repeating other people’s lazy and vague diction, how precise will he be when he is interviewing and writing? Yes, I know, it’s understandable that people will fall into lazy habits – but we writers are supposed to be more aware, careful and precise than the average person. 7
  8. 8. Making the AssignmentHere are a few best practices for assigning the writing task to the writer youhave selected. • Be honest with the writer about the challenges of the project. Especially if the writer is a contractor, warn him about any creeds or taboos that he must keep in mind. • Give the writer all the input and introduce him (in person or via email) to the sources. • Tell the writer that you want all interviews taped and transcribed. Experienced writers do this anyway: not only does it promote accuracy but also it gives you (the client) useful input for future writing projects; i.e., it gives you residual value. • Agree on the scope of the project: Unless the document is brief (say, under 1,000 words), contract for an outline (one draft of the outline in any case, and another draft of the outline if requested). Contract for two and only two drafts of the full text. By the completion of the writer’s second draft, you should be able to take the project inside for the final adjustments and the production work. If you can’t, something has gone seriously wrong. (If your writer is inside, you needn’t limit him to two drafts.) • Negotiate the schedule and budget.Attending the InterviewsShould you attend the (in-person or telephone) interviews? Generally speaking,you can trust an experienced writer to handle an interview solo, especially if allparties have agreed in advance to the questions. So, you don’t have to attendjust to “baby-sit” the writer. However, there may be good reasons for you toattend; for example, the interviewee feels more confident with you there, or youknow a lot about the subject and therefore would be able to make goodsuggestions or quickly locate facts and figures if needed. 8
  9. 9. Reviewing the OutlineWhen you receive Draft 1 of the outline, forward copies to all reviewers. Askthem to read the outline carefully and then send you their comments on thestructure, ideas and facts. Remind them that the purpose of the outline is tohelp them see the overall structure of the final document and that theyshouldn’t waste their time fussing over phrasing at this point.When you receive the reviews, resolve any disagreements. Then consolidate allthe comments into one copy of the outline (of course, this process is easier ifyou use the Track Changes function of Microsoft Word). This is Draft 2 of theoutline.4 Send it to the writer – thereby arming him with the consensus view ofthe structure of the full text.If the reviewers’ comments included any substantial criticism of the outline, askthe writer to write another draft of the outline (Draft 3). When you receive it,send it to the reviewers for final approval.Give a copy of the approved outline to your production people. It can help themstart thinking about the look of the document (unless it is to conform to anestablished template) and the diagrams and other graphics to be included.Keep them apprised of the status.Reviewing Draft 1 of the TextWhen you, as project leader, receive Draft 1 of the text, attach a copy of theapproved outline and forward copies of this package to all reviewers. Ask thereviewers to re-read the approved outline and then read Draft 1 of the text. Askthem to send you their comments on Draft 1 – both overall comments and line-by-line comments and changes. Ask them to follow the Ten Best Practices forReviewers (see next page).4 To avoid confusion and wasted time, maintain strict control of draft numbers (a functioncalled “version control” or “revision control”). It’s easy to do; it only requires a little extraattention. The writer’s first draft to you is Draft 1; what you send back to him is Draft 2; hissecond draft is Draft 3. Make sure the correct draft number is included in the Name and in theProperties of the Microsoft Word document. In addition, put the draft number on the first pageof the document, along with the date and time of the draft; for example, [TITLE] – Draft 2 –5/23/2012 10:46 PM ET. If you have ever had the misfortune to have spent hours unwittinglyediting a superseded draft, you can appreciate the value of version control. 9
  10. 10. Ten Best Practices for Reviewers1. Read and review the entire document, not just selected parts.2. As far as possible, make your comments in the draft itself, as opposed to emails, cover notes, phone calls, phone messages or in-person visits.3. Make sure your comments are clear, complete and self-explanatory.4. Comment on the content, tone and flow. This is what the writer needs from you, and this is what only you can provide.5. Don’t waste your time tinkering with details of grammar and diction. The writer does not need your help on these topics; he does need your help on content, tone and flow.6. Don’t renounce the outline.7. Don’t renounce the company’s key messages or proof points.8. (If you were a source) don’t renounce the major points you made in your interview.9. Don’t suggest the addition of information that is already included in the text; if you believe the existing treatment of the information is incomplete or incorrect, mark up that part of the text.1. Don’t invite other reviewers onto the team; don’t even send anyone any drafts. 10
  11. 11. When you, as project leader, receive the reviews, you should resolve anydisagreements; generally speaking, you should favor the reviewers who arerespecting the outline and acting like grown-ups. Consolidate all the commentsinto one copy of the text (Draft 2). Send that to the writer and tell him to startworking on Draft 3.Also send a copy of Draft 2 to your production people.Keeping People OutOften, when the development of a document is going well, people will invitethemselves into the review process. There are three major motivations for this:Brown-Nosing/Building the Resume: The reviewer wants to be able to say, “TheXYZ White Paper? Sure, I had a hand in that.” Of course, if the project goesdown in flames, he will deny any involvement.Relieving Boredom: For the underemployed or functionally illiterate manager,membership on a team can help fill the dreary hours – and serve as goodcamouflage. After all, if John is working with an important team, he must be avaluable employee, right? And if that team is reviewing a document, why then,John couldn’t possibly be functionally illiterate, right?Indulging Pettiness and Malice: It is sad to have to say it, but some people willtry to join a review team solely in order to hamper the work of the team.Do your best to keep these people out of the review process. Don’t volunteer togive them drafts. If they ask for drafts, refuse (if you have the power to do so). Ifthey somehow get copies of drafts and send you reviews, ignore their comments(unless you are compelled to take them into account).If someone doesn’t seem to be able to take a hint – for example, if he comesuninvited to your review meetings – do whatever works and is acceptablewithin the corporate culture of your company. I have used some wonderfullyeffective tactics that, for various reasons, I hesitate to put in writing. If youhave a hard case on your hands, call me on 888-877-3324 and I will do mybest to advise you. 11
  12. 12. Reviewing Draft 3 of the TextWhen you receive Draft 3 of the text, forward copies to all reviewers. Ask thereviewers to send you their comments – both overall comments and line-by-linecomments and changes. Remind them of the Ten Best Practices for Reviewers.When you receive the reviews, resolve any disagreements. Then consolidate allthe comments. In Microsoft Word, accept all changes, creating a clean Draft 4.Make your final edits and send it to your production team, with your approvalfor them to begin production. Copy the review team and the writer, to let themknow the document is in production.Except for proofing the layouts and other details, you have completed yourproject.Cleaning UpWhen production is complete, be sure to thank your sources, reviewers, writer,production people and anyone else who helped you.Write down a few notes to yourself on what went right and what went wrong.Consider how you might improve your performance on the next project. Ask themembers of your review team for their observations and opinions.After you have accumulated a few sets of project notes, you will probably startto see patterns and additional ways to fine-tune and perfect your bestpractices.Here’s to your success and satisfaction!JoeJoe Roy, “Mr. Clarity”Joe Roy & Co.Writing for BusinessPO Box 1729Meredith, NH 03253603-279-2789E-mail: joeroy@joeroy.comTwitter: http://twitter.com/joe_royBlog: http://clear-writing-with-mr-clarity.blogspot.com/LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/joe-roy/2/4a7/a11Web site: http://www.marketing-metrics-made-simple.com/index.htmlJanuary 30, 2013 12

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