Do you have an approval route? Should you have an approval route?
Most editorial offices have some form of approval route or formal copy review. It may involve simply one person or as many as dozens. If you don’t have an approval route, you need to ask yourself: Shouldn’t I?
Your answer may be that an approval route just makes it harder, longer, and less efficient to publish. On the other hand, your answer might also be that an approval route serves a useful function for everyone in your organization.
Pros and Cons of Approval Routes
An approval route is a check and balance on accuracy. It is also a protector of message and organizational interests. And it also protects against risk to the organization, if you have the right people on the approval route — an attorney, for instance.
There is no one perfect answer to whether an organization should have an approval route and no perfect answer on how it should look if the organization decides to have one. Here is my experience, and I would love to hear yours and how it affects your view of approval routes:
One Editor’s Experience with Approval Routes
I have worked at and for a variety of organizations – small, medium, and large; privately owned and non-profit association as well as lots of little companies as a freelance editor and writer.
The first company I worked for had no internal approval route and chiefly involved our salesman getting the client’s okay on the copy. (The client was the approval route, but there was no internal approval route.) No salesman ever came back to me for a rewrite before taking copy to the client, and no one above me in the organization ever read or responded to copy. Although I felt at the time that I was writing good copy, without some kind of internal feedback, I could never improve or even know if I was hitting the mark except by getting a nod and the occasional detail correction from a client. That was no way to run a creative service. That was no way to serve clients. That was no way to help your staff perform and grow. It was the total opposite from my next job, where I received continual feedback.
The second company I worked for was a huge privately held international corporation. Our department had a copy review process and then copy went to each department with a stake in the information being messaged, including Marketing and Research and Development for products, and then General Counsel or someone in Legal. All along the process, I received feedback and corrections and tweaks. You might think this was overkill on an approval route – indeed, when I started working there, I was overwhelmed by it – but to this day I view that approval route as the organization’s most valuable feedback loop for quality. I learned not only how to take criticism on content, but also how to negotiate changes and decide what was reasonable to ignore as criticism and what was important to change – all of those are necessary and important skills.
Now I work with smaller clients. Some are just the client with whom I work directly. Others are small clients that work through a public relations or marketing person. With the former, I get feedback directly from the client, but having worked with marketers, R&D nitpickers (meant in the kindest way), and attorneys, I know to maximize sizzle while staying true to the claims and reducing risk on the client’s behalf. In the case of the latter, the marketer/public relations person acts as a first reviewer and then passes the copy on to the client. In both cases, I’ve already learned the valuable skills of negotiating changes to satisfy everyone.
Approval Routes Add Value
Approval routes don’t have to be a hassle. They don’t have to be time intensive. But they can be a valuable source of feedback and correction that every writer and editor values. If you don’t have one, you really should look into one.