Advice on updating communications products

By Melissa May, Former Director of Public Information, Population Council, New York

Handling the release of the Carraguard microbicide trial results, we learned the hard way about “version control”: managing a document with multiple contributors and reviewers so that one master incorporates everyone’s changes. The difficulties were compounded in that project because of the number of different communications products that we were producing to support the release. Early on, we realized the benefits of giving every document a name that we could use to refer to it, and then to always use that name as the document title, together with a number for version control. By the end we had the “media backgrounder” the “internal Q&A,” the “external Q&A,” the “South African country handout,” and the “advocates PowerPoint,” among many other documents.

We also learned that it is much easier to have all updates to materials managed by one person, who is responsible for updating all versions, posting them to the Web, and circulating them. In the beginning, we had way too many cooks in the kitchen!

And finally, we realized the benefit of keeping track of where information was repeated. In our materials spreadsheet, we noted which communications products included key bits of information so that we could easily update the materials en masse as new information became available. We even created dummy pages on a password-accessible Web site, which could be completed easily once the final results were known.

October 3rd, 2013