10 tips to keep huge comms projects on track

Most who work in corporate communications have faced the prospect of handling a massive undertaking. Here’s how to cope.

I’ve just finished project-managing one of the biggest corporate communications challenges of my career: replacing 250,000 words on a company’s database with ultra-cool and engaging copy, ranging from one-liners to 150-word descriptions.

It was a massive task to update all the descriptions and make them consistent—too big for one writer. So, I leveraged the power of my network to pull together a pool of writing talent under my editorial control, producing copy with ultimate client approval.

Given its size and scope, the project could easily have derailed, but by following these steps we kept it on track.

1. Outline the parameters of the project. Write a set of guidelines detailing the project’s context, aims, and strategy, and make sure the client approves them.

2. Make sure the client is kept informed. Continual engagement is essential throughout. Create a weekly update detailing each step of the project, from agreeing the guidelines to keeping tabs on writers’ progress and invoices.

3. Choose your writers carefully. If you admire a writer’s style and have worked with him or her, bring that person on board. If you need more writers, put out feelers to professional groups on LinkedIn, or use your contacts in bodies such as the Institute of Internal Communication, Society for Editors and Proofreaders or Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

4. Make sure your writers understand what’s expected. A big project means writers will have to self-edit (although you should always check their work), so make sure their style is right from the outset. Ask each writer, regardless of whether you know their work, to complete a test run. Also, confirm that they can use any application the client specifies—e.g., Word, Excel, or a workflow system.

5. Manage the client’s expectations. Don’t promise to deliver too much too soon, but let the client know when they can expect copy. Keep tabs on the amount of copy being written, and send out reminders to writers if it seems they’re running late. Deliver copy to the client in manageable batches.

6. Have a backup plan. If a writer is ill or a computer virus causes them to lose all their work, what will you do? Be prepared to step in and take over writing their copy. Be honest with the client; tell them what’s gone wrong and what you’re doing to put it right.

7. Check the client likes what they’re reading. It’s easier to edit hundreds of words as they’re written than 250,000 words after the fact. So, periodically check with the client that they’re happy with the content. Tell writers where their work needs changing before they go too far.

8. To ensure consistency, one editor must have overall responsibility. As project manager, you might not be able to write as much as the others. Keep some time free to edit what they’ve written and rewrite if necessary. Be on hand as an emergency editorial service if anything goes awry.

9. A thorough read will ensure consistency. As project manager, give the copy a final proofread and edit anything that does not adhere to the guidelines.

10. Listen to client feedback. Maintain communication with the client throughout the project and listen to their feedback, especially once they begin verifying the copy in-house (a vital part of the writing process). Be flexible in your response, and be prepared to change direction accordingly.

A version of this article first appeared on Alison Harmer’s blog.

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