Anyone in marketing knows there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which can make moving through an approval process a real pain.
Because any marketing asset reflects how consumers or buyers will perceive your brand, the marketing approval process can be a complex one that covers almost every aspect of marketing production and many different business areas.
While using marketing software to streamline and expedite processes can be beneficial, gaining a deeper understanding of the underlying theory is equally crucial.
A marketing approval process is an oversight of all creative and marketing assets from initial conception to campaign launch.
This article provides valuable insights into the diverse components of the marketing approval process, offering expert tips to navigate each stage seamlessly.
The approval of marketing content is a critical step in getting your company or client’s branding and messaging right across every communication channel you use.
While the methods and people involved in approval marketing assets and activities are unique to each organization, a creative team’s marketing approval process encompasses all of the mechanics of coordination between content creators (writers, graphic designers, videographers, digital marketers), executive staff, (marketing managers, creative directors), and external stakeholders (clients, brand partners, suppliers, and so on).
Moreover, a marketing approval process delineates a complet history of modifications and sign-offs as content creation moves through various review stages and includes all of the feedback, comments, change requests, versions, and actions taken around marketing assets.
Marketing approval covers the mechanics of coordination and collaboration between content creators, stakeholders, executive staff, clients, and brand partners. A strong marketing approval process includes a complete history of modification, feedback, comments, change requests, content versions, and sign-offs as content creation moves from start to end.
Structuring when and how fast marketing content is reviewed and approved depends on many factors, including:
That said, it requires a strong structure to keep the content flowing. Typically, a strong cadence for approving content includes key elements such as:
The most important component of facilitating a marketing approval process is outlining which content stages define your content production flow. It’s important that everyone stays on the same page about which steps move content forward and what counts as a new version for review.
Key steps in creating marketing content include:
These content stages may be defined differently based on the type of asset your marketing team is creating or the kind of campaign you’re launching. They may even include multiple related content types in a campaign, such as a bundle of ad variations that’ll go live as one project across many channels.
Tip: Learn how to improve the workflow of your content creation.
Closely tied to content stages and versions are the steps of internal content review within only your creative team, without any outside feedback. This is often a more informal process as writers, designers, and other content creators collaborate to develop marketing content.
Depending on the size of your marketing team, your content may flow through these stages:
Because your creative team knows a campaign’s needs and creative choices better than other stakeholders, we recommend considering the internal sign-off procedure for your team before sharing any work externally.
Creative work doesn’t stay within a creative team for long. When it comes to marketing and branding, many other business areas often need to input the message, design, and use of marketing assets, which can include:
When marketing content goes through many reviews and experts for input and approval, marketing teams need to define a cadence and a sequence to interact with all of these stakeholders.
High-quality marketing approval processes use a framework of internal and external approval stages and action items that standardize these stages across projects:
Within a marketing approval process, the goal is to create a throughline of all marketing content changes, actions, and sign-offs related to a marketing campaign or asset. Standardizing and automating manual follow-up can help your marketing team reach that throughline faster.
Marketing teams know that there’s always some level of chaos and change within a marketing approval process.
This can include a new asset coming in late, a collaborator forwarding a campaign asset to someone outside the campaign team with feedback, or a logo or color requiring a last-minute change.
Without approved limits, getting marketing content approved and finished can seem like fighting one marketing emergency after another. Here are the top reasons for approval delays within marketing teams:
Despite abundant marketing technology, email remains superior when it comes to sharing marketing assets for review and approval.
However, even the most reactive email threads lack transparency, creating delays in marketing campaigns. With email, it’s easy to exclude people from email replies, and forwarding is a logistical communications nightmare, leaving the full team in the dark about who has seen and approved content and project communications.
Feedback, even if itemized, isn’t tied to the creative asset itself, leading to confusing or non-actionable feedback. This can create a lot of guesswork for your creative team when making revisions for approval, requiring follow-up that slows down the process even more.
Facilitating marketing approval through your team’s inboxes can be never-ending. Critical feedback often comes in an email response well after everyone else has approved an asset.
One of the biggest delays in marketing approval is ensuring everyone in the team has the right assets for the project files and then centralizing all collaboration around those files. When project assets live across systems, marketing teams spend valuable time simply exporting and transforming files to get them in the right place for approval.
Video, digital, email, copy, and design assets may all be related to the same campaign and use the same elements but originate in different content systems. Your designers may use Illustrator to generate design comps, your copywriters Google Docs to share work, and your video team might make revisions in Premiere Pro.
When other team members need to review these assets, it’s time-consuming to share them and configure access. Meanwhile, when content is exported for sharing, it may be pushed to Slack for discussion, uploaded to Vimeo for review, or emailed to external collaborators.
All of this content sharing can create disjointed workstreams and collaboration spaces throughout the marketing campaign cycle, making it easy to miss key comments and feedback and raise questions about where content is in the review process. When feedback isn’t centralized, the marketing approval process falls into chaos. With a web-enabled approval management system, authors and editors can create a more efficient workflow.
Even the most organized share drives and team chat threads often lack the transparency for clear status updates of the campaign assets, which leads to the following issues:
Without a comprehensive method for tracking the status of marketing projects, changes, and approvals, marketing teams keep waiting for feedback. This feedback may have already been approved, and any rework here would only impact team performance. Not seeing a status update before you end your day at work could slow down your project timeline, causing unnecessary delays in the approval process.
Status tracking isn’t simply a project management issue. With the massive amount of content and projects being handled by creative teams today, marketing teams need a way to track the work and approval status across all campaigns systematically.
The progression of a marketing approval process depends highly on your marketing team’s size and the project types. An efficient approval process can be built by structuring these core areas.
The first step to improve a marketing approval process is mapping out who's involved in each part of your marketing campaign and who’s approving content before launching it for your customers. Identify which internal departments should have the final say in marketing materials and if any external partners need to review campaign assets before publishing.
The creative brief or project plan should be the first piece of approved content. It’s important to have a process that indicates that all team members and stakeholders have signed the marketing plans and any design comps prior to starting any creative work.
To ensure clarity in the process, separate your internal review steps from the external ones. This allows your creative team to efficiently collaborate and shield internal work from clients or high-level stakeholders who only need to see certain versions.
You’re often met with questions like who should be involved in an approval or project and what defines it. Regardless of the type of organization, emphasize project visibility and structure that clearly explains every review stage and the tasks involved.
Ask the following:
It’s crucial for marketing teams to challenge the notion that all stages (and collaborators) are needed for each version of the creative under review, especially when involving external stakeholders.
Configuring approval stages isn’t necessarily about reducing the number of versions, comments, or people involved in the approval process. It’s about making sure reviewers receive content at the correct time with context, so they're adding appropriate comments and feedback based on what other people have contributed.
Configuring project access at the right time allows more people to contribute to the project and helps your creative team get through the approval cycle faster.
Not all team members need access to all versions of a marketing asset or must be involved in all stages of marketing approval. In fact, when too many people work together on something, it leads to conflicting feedback and slows down the approval process.
It’s helpful to think in collaboration streams and align notifications, tasks, versions, and project spaces around these streams. For instance, not everyone needs to be informed when every version of a new design comp is available. Still, a specific group of people may need to know when the entire design review process has started or if the final design content has been approved.
Decision checklists can also help delineate who has approved which pieces of content, at which time in the approval process, and their reasoning for approval or non-approval. It’s necessary to indicate when something has been approved and useful to note if it hasn’t for quick revisions.
This can be automated through your marketing workflow system, online proofing system, or simply a portion of your project management software that someone manually updates. Tracking the status and reasoning of decision-making helps align all stakeholders throughout the creative production process.
Instead of waiting for everyone’s input, it can be helpful to weigh your approvals when there are many people involved. Would input from your digital marketing manager supersede your design choices? If your CMO has signed a content piece, would it need a further review from those who haven’t seen it yet?
Deciding which approvals have more value and which ones are required to move content to the next stage lays the foundation for a smooth marketing approval process.
Determining the answer to these questions can help inform your marketing content versioning strategy and how different versions affect content sharing for approval. You can ask:
Answering these questions can help you decide how your marketing files, data, and systems are configured for efficient and transparent marketing approvals. Identifying which team members and collaborators should have access to which versions of a content piece helps build a more actionable and controlled marketing approval process.
Once you’ve outlined all key review decision points and content access, it’s critical to secure them with guardrails throughout your marketing approval process. Adding checkpoints into the process can help stop work from progressing if full approval and review haven't occurred, avoiding time-consuming rework and project delays.
This can be a daunting task to implement and enforce. It’s easy to think, “We don’t use deadlines because they don’t work, “‘We can’t enforce deadlines on our clients,” or that we move too fast for deadlines.
However, over 80% of marketers have said they encounter issues getting feedback and that approval times become even longer when external reviewers are added to the mix.
While reducing feedback delays, the confusion starts when you implement tools to keep everyone on the same page and engaged with your collaboration efforts on content. Features like decision checklists, approval deadline reminders, and marketing workflow automation can help codify and standardize these key oversight markers in your marketing approval process.
The following can help expedite approval timelines:
Implementing these guardrails doesn’t just help keep everyone up-to-date throughout the creative process. It can also significantly reduce approval and project timelines, mostly when they are automated through something like a marketing workflow or task management system.
Consider a project example in which a marketing team created 73 versions from the beginning of a project to final approval. Across these 73 versions, the creative team recorded over 700 review and approval decision points and about 10 comments per version. Despite this considerable volume of content along the way, the average approval turnaround per version for this project was about four days, which is incredibly fast given the project’s size and scope.
Without guardrails in place, manually tracking all of those versions, comments, and approval decisions would be quite difficult. However, because the team was tracking actionable comments, capturing those comments on content, and submitting their decisions across the full approval cycle, they could get the content to the production team for launch and make changes much more quickly.
In short, more reviewers, contributors, and stakeholders don’t necessarily have to correlate with longer project cycles. Implementing approval guardrails, such as decision checklists, automated reminders, and more, can help shorten marketing project approval timelines even when many people and versions are involved in getting to the final copy of an asset or campaign.
One of the most significant advantages of a standardized marketing approval process is having an auditable activity history for your records and marketing compliance. When steps in the approval process are automated and traced, your entire team has greater transparency of how marketing campaigns are conducted.
Here are some helpful areas to trace the marketing project lifecycle:
Tracking these actions reduces any uncertainty about who approved a creative piece that represents your brand or client. Such information management also lets you identify the standard workflow or any common delays in your approval process.
This post-mortem process analysis can provide valuable insights that save your team time and money as you look to optimize the amount of time and effort spent on marketing content creation.
Creating an audit trail throughout your marketing content production and approval process also helps scale regulatory review. Being able to trace marketing approval across files, systems, and projects provides oversight that all brand guidelines are followed or reviewed, that brand assets are used correctly, that disclaimers are properly applied, and so on.
This not only reduces the risk for your brand but also makes it much easier to generate project files and provide assets to auditors if needed.
Depending on your marketing team’s size and scope, your marketing approval process may require structure and integration across a wide range of marketing tools. All of these systems help marketing teams move away from email to facilitate marketing projects. These systems include:
The file storage and file sharing systems you use to house marketing content all impact how marketing approval is facilitated internally. You may use an internal folder structure to manage project files, rely on Google Drive to store various types of content, or keep all in-flight files in a system like Hubspot, Asana, or Trello when it is being developed and used.
No matter what you’re using, you should be able to quickly access and transform these files for viewing, access, and use by all team members. Your file storage systems and file numbering strategy should also easily indicate which file is the final or approved version of a piece of content for clear reference.
Each organization and marketing team may rely on a different project management software system to track individual and team-wide tasks and deadlines. Project management systems can all help break down and assign tasks throughout the marketing project lifecycle. They also provide visibility into the work in progress and on hold and outline roles and responsibilities.
One downside to these systems is that the structure of project tasks often masks file sharing and storage. While it may be easy to navigate to different tasks and deadlines, finding collaboration on the actual files of marketing assets can be more difficult in a project management system.
Marketing teams should look into how to connect their file sharing, storage, and proofing systems with project management structures for absolute project transparency and accessibility.
Tip: Learn about additional tools that can assist with the coordination and collaboration of creative projects.
Once marketing assets are created and approved, the final version typically lives in some content management system. These systems can vary based on the format or the marketing asset, like web hosting sites, video hosting sites, or email and marketing systems. Many companies also have internal CMS tools to host brand and marketing content for internal access or client use.
To connect the dots between approved content and launching that content for use in marketing campaigns and reducing duplicates, marketing teams can often automate the file sharing between systems used in the internal review and approval process and their CMS tool.
If you’re working on the agency side, you may have a separate system or space you use to share work with your clients that differs from your internal content and project management software. This can range from an FTP file transfer site, a client space within a project management system, or a folder in your online proofing system.
No matter what you’re using, the software you use to facilitate your client management and client approval process should be easy to use for your clients. They should be able to navigate to the latest version of a content piece quickly, see a history of revisions and changes, check deadlines, and add their comments and approvals. The system should also be easy for your clients to access without requiring many new logins or user accounts.
Online proofing software facilitates the markup, review, and approval of marketing content across all stakeholders. It can also be used to implement many of the guardrails we discussed throughout the creative approval process. The upside of online proofing is that it centralizes feedback and approvals across many different content types, so creative teams can work and track approvals for websites, design files, email blasts, print work, and more in one location.
Online proofing provides many of the task and project management capabilities needed for marketing approval. It should ideally be combined with project management, task management, file sharing, and client management systems for full automation.
Having a consistent system and process for reviewing and approving marketing assets is incredibly beneficial for marketing teams. Project timelines are directly impacted by the format, medium, and systems used to produce marketing content and the work done in between content versions by reviewers, approvers, and creative teams.
An efficient marketing approval process includes coordinating overlapping content types, steps, and stakeholders. To maintain efficiency and keep projects moving, marketing teams should delineate each content creation stage and define clear roles for each stage of internal and external approval actions. Automating those decision points with staged triggers, notifications, and reminders can help create actionable approval steps combined with precise feedback.
Reducing email communication, disjointed file sharing, and soiled collaboration spaces also helps eliminate some of the chaos and delays in creating marketing content. When marketing teams can centralize files and collaborate on those in a way that all team members can access and use at various stages of the review process, marketing projects benefit from greater visibility and efficiency across the board.
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Katie Oberthaler is the Brand Manager at Ziflow, an online proofing platform. As the leader of content and comms at Ziflow, she’s passionationate about producing resources and thought leadership that helps marketers focus on producing creative work they love and deliver marketing projects faster.
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