The first rule in scheduling is to work backwards from your anticipated premiere date or outreach launch. Starting there, here are some scheduling rules of thumb:
- Delivery Date
This is the end date of your schedule. You want your piece to arrive two to six weeks before your program premiere (but no earlier). If you are sending a pre-broadcast brochure with an offer to order material, your end date will be based on when you need to receive the bulk of your orders.
If you're mailing your piece nonprofit bulk, allow four to six weeks for delivery. Also, if you have a very big mailing, ask your distributor how fast those pieces can get out the door. Some distributors can label about 20,000 guides a day (so a 100,000-piece mailing could take five days).
Printing depends on quantity and complexity. If you're doing 20,000 four-color teacher's guides, expect printing to take three weeks; if it's two-color, two weeks. Ten thousand postcards require even less time. Check with your designer as early as possible. You can always ask for a rush job, but it will cost you more.
The length of the design stage depends on whether you're working with a freelancer, a station-based design department, or an independent design firm. In all cases, your project is probably not the only thing your designer is working on. It may take 20 hours to do your job, but the designer or design team may not be able to start the moment your copy arrives. The more notice you can give your designer, the better. And if you are doing a multi-unit piece, you can save time by having a pilot unit designed with rough copy before your final copy is complete. In a busy station, you should allow at least a week for a postcard, two weeks for a brochure or poster, and three to four weeks for a complicated teacher's guide. Don't forget to factor in time for your own review and proofing of the designed piece.
Don't forget to schedule time for copyediting and fact checking. Include a week for a guide-length piece. Your best bet is to book someone in advance; this could get the turnaround time down to three or four days. Remember to schedule a day or two to enter the changes and proof the manuscript.
- Entering Changes After Review
Leave yourself time to incorporate changes from anyone who will be reviewing your final manuscript -- advisors, expert reviewers, other producers, designers, the legal department -- before the manuscript goes to the copyeditor. How many days this will take depends on how busy you and your editor are. You could incorporate changes in a day if nothing else is going on. You might want to plan for two or three, in case significant changes need to be made.
- Final Review
Think about who needs to review the final manuscript: the executive producer, the legal department (always a good idea), a content advisor, your designer, other producers. Give them a week if possible since this isn't their only job, and make sure to tell them well in advance when they can expect the manuscript.
- Editing the Manuscript
Generally leave two to five days (or more, depending on magnitude) to edit the final manuscript you receive from the writer.
- Revising the Final Manuscript
Give the writer two to four weeks after receiving the final advisor comments to complete the final manuscript. You can also choose to incorporate advisor comments yourself into the writer's draft. Make sure the schedule is clear when you give the writer the job.
- Writing and Advisor Reviewing
This is the trickiest piece to schedule, because it depends on your writer's other commitments, the length of the piece, and the kind of research required. On top of that, allow a week or so for your advisors to review the draft(s) and get you comments. A full 32-page guide could take some writers up to three months to write and revise, while other writers could whip it off in a month if that's their only job. Also, if you have the time, you might want some of your advisors to pilot activities in their classrooms.
So now you've developed your schedule and discovered that you should have started four months ago. What to do? Tweak and pinch and squeeze. The sooner you let people know what's coming when, the better. You will be much more certain of success if your designer tells you she can do a job in three days than if you bring it to her and tell her that's all the time she has. You also don't want to be surprised by an unexpected vacation in the middle of your production schedule. The key is to set a schedule, keep to it as tightly as possible, and if it starts going off track, immediately look for ways to shave time in other places. The last thing you want is for your material to get to your target audience after your show has aired!