“If you’ve ever flown Virgin America, you will have seen the cartoonlike safety video that plays before the flight takes off.
“In one scene, about a minute into the video, a man is shown sitting next to a large bull as he fumbles with his seat belt. A voice-over says, ‘For the 0.0001 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before, it works like this.’
“Few people know that the bull was originally a dog. But when the Federal Aviation Administration reviewed the video, one of the many concerns it had was that passengers would think dogs, which are sometimes on flights, had to wear seat belts — I’m not kidding here — so it made Virgin America change the dog to a bull, as bulls are, thankfully, not allowed on planes.
“According to people who were involved in the making of the video, there were six months of meetings with the F.A.A. and changes to the video before it was finally approved.”
six months and wringing hands over whether people understand dogs don’t wear seat belts on planes? this is somewhat understandable, since you can be fined for letting your dog fly free in your car. but, as this example highlights, it’s also not always easy to corral a review process.
here are 5 tips for keeping the BS out of yours:
- keep your review team balanced. create a review team that includes subject mater experts. we who are closest to the work can get tunnel vision, so be sure to bring in key stakeholders, too, such as line managers, related functions, and, sometimes, employees. however, the review process is not the same as market testing your communications to make sure they connect with and are understood by your intended audience. the review team makes sure the content is correct (and the legal team is happy).
- define need versus want. as in life, there are needs and then there are wants. you are looking for the necessary edits. if you’re working with a talented, experienced communication professional, there’s a reason for the words he or she chose. set expectations with your reviewers up front. that way they’ll know you aren’t looking for “wordsmithing” or giving them a chance to air their inner shakespeare.
- specify the number of review cycles. typically, i have two cycles of review with clients, with the third draft final. your aim is to capture most of the necessary, critical edits in the first review and confirm those with the second review.
- name a coordinator. this person is responsible for receiving all edits and for answering any debates about what’s in and what’s out.
- determine who rules. identify in advance whose edits rule. when you inevitably receive competing edits, you can defend (and stick to) your rationale.
what would you add?