Stylin’: An editor’s guide to staying organized, pleasing clients and having it all*

And I yet again make a bad visual pun. Anyone up for voguing? Image from www.theguardian.com

And once again, I make a bad visual pun. Anyone up for voguing/vogueing? Image from www.theguardian.com

One of the biggest challenges of my job is balancing the competing style guidelines of my various clients. These businesses represent a variety of industries and come in all shapes and sizes, and thus have widely varying attitudes toward consistency in communications — everything from “what’s a style guide?” to “OMGZ you must capitalize that upon penalty of death!”

Here’s a look at a few of the different editorial guideline scenarios I face:

Company A: AP style, with half a dozen exceptions
Company B:
Chicago style, but with all numbers spelled out, including those in percentages

Company C: A mix of AP and Chicago, with citations in MLA

Company D: No specific style, but all titles are capitalized and the company must never be referred to by its acronym

Now, I want nothing more than to make each client happy by adapting with natural ease to each one’s editorial idiosyncrasies. But when you’re delivering content to corp comm or marketing folks at eight to 10 different companies in a single week, it’s easy to feel like your multiple personality disorder is spinning out of control.

So, how does an editor cope, fair reader?

1. Two words: Document. Everything. Keep every email you get that pertains to any style dictum. If these mandates stack up, create a Google spreadsheet that tracks the rulings, if and how they deviates from a broadly practiced convention, and the source of the deviations (date, person, form of communication). Share this spreadsheet with your client; if they have a firewall, export it as a PDF or Excel spreadsheet. Be as transparent as possible. Refer back to this documentation often.

2. Ask lots of questions. If you spot an inconsistency of any type — whether it’s a departure from the client’s known style or a departure from something they or one of their associates specifically shared with you — bring it to their attention. Be clear and direct. Offer insight regarding why one choice might be better than another. Don’t forget, you’re the expert. They might think you’re widget-polishing, but that doesn’t make this attention to detail any less important.

3. Follow through. Clients change their minds. Show them you’re listening when a style matter changes midstream by making the change across all content, and tell them you’re doing so. (See also: Be as transparent as possible.) They changed their minds again? Agree to make the changes again — after all, they’re paying for them. Sometimes these changes come from on high, and your client contact has no control over them. If it’s possible, though, try to find out the rationale behind the change. The more you understand your client’s communications DNA, the easier it is to minimize frustration on both sides as you navigate a major project.

4. Arm yourself. Learn as much as you can about AP, Chicago and any other style guides you use. It’s not enough to say “I abbreviate military titles this way because AP says so.” Go deeper, so you can speak intelligently about the history and logic of a particular choice. (See also: You’re the expert.)

These are just a few ideas to help you juggle disparate brands and editorial philosophies. Take ’em with a grain of salt; I’m still learning, still making occasional mistakes and still trying to earn clients’ trust.

*Having it all not guaranteed.

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