For better results, try a one-stop-shop approach to content development

Form, as they say, follows function, and so it should be with content development. In the ideal, the form of a thought leadership or content marketing effort—the editorial, the design, and the distribution—would all come together so that the finished product serves the intended function and most effectively communicates the desired message.

Of course, not all projects conform to what we’d consider ideal. Here at Leff Communications we generally like to focus on the positive—and we often share stories of projects gone well. This is not one of those stories.

We recently completed a project that began with plans for content development, design, and distribution all moving on separate tracks. Complicating things further, decisions on design and distribution were made after the pieces were written and the editorial development train had left the station—long after. The result was a train wreck of a process, and much, much more work than usual—on both our part and the client’s—to generate a high-quality outcome.

Here’s a list of the decisions (and non-decisions) that led to a near-doubling of the original project scope and some uncharacteristic scowls in the generally cheerful Leff Communications office:

• When we began outlining the pieces of content for the project, the client had only a broad idea of what they wanted. The project’s ultimate shape only became concrete after considerable work and iterations on both editorial content and design.

• Working on the design and editorial independently meant that as design decisions were being made they were made without thought to how the design might best serve the content. And, as design changes were made independently from the content development process, it also often meant changes and revisions to the content that was already being developed to meet the new design.

• Conversely, frequently during the process editorial changes necessitated changes in design. Naturally this resulted in a process fraught with inefficiency and, all told, a process that went on far longer than necessary.

• Further complicating the scenario, uncertainty over how the content was going to be distributed until well into the process prompted rethinks and redos in both design and editorial development.

Of course we did our best to guide the process toward delivering a high-quality finished product. But the client’s failure to make decisions early in the process about design and how the content would be distributed, let alone alongside decisions about the shape of the content itself, certainly added a considerable amount of time to the project, not only for our team but for members of the client’s staff. We found ourselves rewriting pieces and even scrapping pieces already written as the client team only began seeking consensus on the topics that would best resonate with key audiences after editorial development was well underway. A similar scenario played out in the design phase, resulting in numerous redesigns.

Despite the challenges, I think in the end we provided a quality result for the client. But a better approach would have been to discuss editorial content, design, and distribution together at the beginning, coming to an understanding on the shape of the finished product that would have allowed its development to proceed more efficiently. Naturally there would have been edits and tweaks along the way, but they would have been refinements rather than rewrites and redesigns.

Here at Leff Communications we pride ourselves on being able to offer a one-stop shop for our clients’ content development needs. Our staff includes both editors and designers, and we believe that the best case in content development involves integration of the editorial and design processes. The integration of editors and designers working together produces better ideas, saves time, and, we believe, yields better results for our clients.

So as you move forward with content creation plans, think about the merits of developing all aspects of the product—editorial, design, and distribution—together. You’ll likely get better results and get them faster.

Rodd Zolkos

Rodd is an editorial director at Leff Communications. Prior to joining Leff, Rodd spent more than 35 years as a working journalist, including time with daily newspapers, community journalism, and the business press. Follow Rodd on Twitter @RoddZolkos.

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