How to Deal With Communication Dabblers

If you’re ever created content for any purpose, chances are you’ve encountered a dabbler. A dabbler is someone who, when asked to review copy (or who is responsible for reviewing copy because of their position), suffers from severe scope creep. They just can’t stop themselves from offering far more, and far more detailed, input than what was expected.

Dabblers like to dabble. It’s what they do. Unfortunately, what they do can create a lot of headaches, and much rework and added expense, for those in the business of producing and publishing content of any kind. 

I spent 20+ years in the energy and healthcare industries as director of corporate communications/marketing for two very large organizations. In 2008 I launched my own communication consulting firm, Strategic Communications. I thought, naively, that once I started my own firm I wouldn’t be dealing with the dabblers anymore. I was wrong!

Top Tips for Dealing with the Dabblers

Over the years, though, I’ve found some ways to minimize, if not entirely eliminate, dabbling. To me, the most important, things that communicators can do to deal with dabblers are:

Develop and agree to a Scope of Work up front. Be as specific as possible in outlining what the expectations are and get all involved to “sign off” on the specs.

Develop and agree to roles and a clear process for creating the content and reviewing. Who is responsible for viewing what? When? What type of input is being sought from them? In corporate communication settings that I’ve managed, corporate communications has “owned” the style guide, tone and structure of communications, for instance. Subject matter experts should weigh in on the accuracy and thoroughness of the content, not word choices.

Refining Process

In terms of process, one very important thing I did early on in my career is to establish a routing and review process and objective. The objective: to keep reviews/input down to no more than two rounds once a piece had been through the design process. So, those involved in review process would review the copy before it was laid out and would then have no more than two opportunities for additional input. I also always stressed that the time for any major changes was during the copy phase, not after layout because of the added time/cost to make changes then. Other important process steps:

Establish one person who will gather all of the input, compile it and submit to the content creator. That minimizes conflicting input coming in from various directions, creating rework and increasing the odds that errors will be made.

Strategic Review

When working with the senior leadership team, multiple departments or SMEs have a routing process that starts at the top and trickles down to others. Others are much less likely to make significant changes or be overly critical when the CEO, or someone else in  a position of authority, reviews and comments first and they see those comments.

Doing this the other way around creates a nightmare because each layer of review will want to make their mark. They tend to assume that, since they are at a higher level than the previous person reviewing the content, they need to find something to comment on to prove their value in the chain; and, the more they find, the better.

Focus on the Facts

Any two people writing a sentence will write it in very different ways. To avoid wordsmithing, keep the focus on the initial Scope of Work, and identified roles, and make it clear during the review process that you are looking for “areas of potential confusion or inaccuracies” not wordsmithing.

Ultimately, once you establish your own reputation as an exceptional communicator, the dabblers will diminish. That’s likely most true for those within organizations who have an opportunity to build and strengthen their reputations over time, but freelance communicators can also establish their expertise through recommendations, referrals and testimonials.

I also just recently wrote an article, Is Your Content Review Process Out of Control, for EContent Magazine, dealing with this topic and how it can lead to added costs in the communication production process.

How do you deal with the dabblers?

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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