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4 Signs Your Email Approval Process Is Hurting Performance

Process predicts success. That’s true across the entire email marketing workflow, including how brands handle the approval process for new emails.

Successful email programs are 32% more likely than less successful programs to say they have an appropriately rigorous email approval process (68.6% vs. 52.1%) rather than a burdensome process or one that’s too lax, according to Litmus’ State of Email Workflows. Marketers who describe their email programs as sophisticated are also significantly more likely than less sophisticated programs to say their approval process is appropriately rigorous (69.6% vs. 55.2%).


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A number of factors can tip the balance of an email approval process toward being too cumbersome or too lax:

1. Number of Approvals Needed

Needing two or three people sign off on an email appears to be the sweet spot for a balanced, appropriate email approval process. If more people are involved, marketers say the approval process becomes cumbersome. If only one person is involved, it becomes too lax.

Whereas 47.1% of marketers who say they have a burdensome approval process have 4 or more approvers, only 25.5% of marketers with an appropriate approval process have that many people involved. And marketers who say they have a lax approval process are more than twice as likely as those with an appropriate approval process (16.5% vs. 7.6%) to have just one person approving emails.

Companies with 500 or more employees have 3.3 people approving emails on average, compared to 2.9 people on average at smaller companies. So large companies are at greater risk of having too many people involved.


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2. High-Level Executive Signoff Needed

Having high-level executives involved in email approvals generally bogs the process down. Marketers who describe their approval process as appropriate involve VP- and C-level executives less often than those with a cumbersome approval process (22.2% vs. 34.8%).

The seniority of approvers isn’t a factor for email programs that have overly lax approval processes.


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3. Frequency of Last-Minutes Changes

Having last-minute changes to emails tend to indicate an email approval process that’s out of balance. It’s a sign of process that is either too cumbersome or too permissive.

A little more than 22% of marketers who describe their approval process as appropriate say last-minute changes are made to emails often or always. That compares to 58.4% of marketers who describe their approval process as too burdensome—and 44.6% of marketers who describe their approval process as too lax—reporting last-minute changes that frequently.


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4. Approval Lead Time

Having emails approved very close to their send date can indicate an overly lax process. Only 32.4% of marketers who describe their approval process as appropriate say they send emails the same day they’re approved, whereas 42.0% of marketers who describe their approval process as too lax have a similar short turnaround. While it’s generally good to be fast and nimble, you don’t want to be so fast that you become reckless.

At the other end of the spectrum, having a long approval lead time didn’t make marketers perceive their approval process as burdensome. Actually, marketers who described their approval process as appropriately rigorous were more likely than those with a burdensome process to have an approval lead time of 2 or more days (23.1% vs. 21.9%).


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Creating an Appropriately Rigorous Email Approval Process

Email programs should aim to create an approval process that’s not so nimble it’s reckless and not so rigorous it’s stifling. The “just right” approval process…

  • Has two or three people approving emails. Large companies, which are prone to having many approvers, should strive to limit themselves to just three.
  • Minimizes the involvement of VP- and C-level executives. This should especially be the case for routine, day-to-day email campaigns. However, the occasional high-profile email—that launches a major new product, for instance—may warrant high-level executive involvement.
  • Keeps last-minutes changes from becoming more than a sometimes occurrence. Last-minute changes are going to happen, and happen fairly frequently. Only 2.6% of brands with appropriately rigorous approval processes report that last-minute changes never happen. You just don’t want it to become the norm.
  • Obtains sign-off for emails at least one day before the send date. If you’re going to allow same-day approvals, consider implementing an X-hour rule, where you wait a set number of hours after approval before sending an email. That gives you extra time to run a final check, and gives your brain a chance to recognize potential mistakes in that email while you work on other tasks.

Use these findings to benchmark your own email approval process and make refinements to ensure that it’s nimble yet rigorous.


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Chad S. White

Chad S. White

Chad S. White was the Research Director at Litmus