Time is a scarce resource. Often, despite a team’s best efforts to manage time and balance priorities, there’s a discrepancy between the number of days needed to complete a project and the number of days remaining before the deadline. In the world of thought leadership, sacrificing quality for a deadline is hardly an option. Skipping steps or overly condensing the process can lead to issues, from grammatical errors to narrative gaps or neglected risk concerns. This in turn prevents thought leadership from doing what it’s intended to—elevating the author’s ideas and demonstrating the depth and breadth of their knowledge and expertise. At best, a piece that trades quality for time flounders in a heavily saturated marketplace; at worst, it causes lasting reputational damage.
However, we understand the pressure to publish—sometimes an event presents a hard deadline or the competition is investing heavily in publishing on a topic and a team needs to distinguish their ideas and approach. If there’s any concern that an ambitious timeline will result in a piece that doesn’t make the grade, what’s a team to do? Below are some of the content solutions we’ve seen work successfully in the past—ensuring ideas get the proper airtime with the right audience at the right time.
• Create a short teaser with the key highlights. A teaser piece not only buys you time, it also serves as an accountability tool. A teaser for your longer-form piece can come in any number of formats, from a 45-second motion graphics video to an infographic to a blog post. The objective is to make your audience aware that something is coming, pique their interest, and provide a call to action. The key, then, is to make the messaging relevant to them and provide enough detail to make them anticipate the larger piece. Why should it excite them? What distinguishes this piece from the already-existing glut of content on business challenges? With a visually exciting approach and enticing messaging, a teaser can get the conversation started as you continue to work in the background.
• Turn your original idea into a content series. You may have intended to create a long-form report, but a content series—a small collection of much shorter pieces—can create sustained conversation while also widening the windows for production. Looking for threads that can stand alone in a satisfying way and then developing, for instance, a four-part sequential series can draw attention to specific points while providing more time to work through certain ideas or production. Additionally, giving the series a designated look and feel or visual elements that carry through to each part of the series gives the sense of a cohesive vision on a topic. Like a teaser, there’s an added element of accountability when content is introduced as a series.
• Develop an executive summary. An executive summary can help get your ideas across and in front of busy executives by stripping the content to the key components. This piece lays out the situation and argument you’re making, the problem you’re solving, and then your recommendations and the supporting details. Unlike a teaser, an executive summary is a heavily condensed version of the eventual full report, meaning it mirrors the structure and logic of this larger piece. This shortened version should also include graphics and visuals that guide the reader through your argument and reinforce your messages. By keeping the length down and focusing on the core elements, each step of the process—from developmental editing to design to syndication—becomes shorter.
An alternative solution isn’t simply a consolation prize; it’s a way to make sure ideas are heard when you want them to be. Recently my colleagues and I were working with a client eager to publish a long-form report in advance of an event the authors were attending. As our early conversations with them unfolded, we hit a bit of a snag—the research and analysis weren’t entirely complete, making it difficult to support the authors’ arguments. Attending the event empty-handed wasn’t an option and a deadline was looming, so we looked at what we did have and what we could turn it in to. By the time the event rolled around, the team had an executive summary that conveyed their thinking on the topic and teased the full report—a good outcome all around.