Content Strategy Tools Apply To All Industries
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Imagine you’re watching the best movie you’ve ever seen – the characters are likable and their story is both interesting and relevant. You’re 75 minutes in before there’s a plot twist that lets you down, had no context, and is clearly not well-thought-out. It went from the best movie ever to the most disappointing movie you’ve seen all year.
Hopefully, a movie like that would not make it all the way to the big screen. But if it does, it’s not winning any awards. Good movies are well planned, well developed, and require even minute details to pay off.
As a graduate student studying Interactive Media, I have been reading about modern content strategy a lot. I have been utilizing it in web content management and user experience focused projects. Modern content strategy generally applies to the same kind of preparation and follow-through that a script needs to be successful all the way through production, post-production, and distribution. Laying that solid groundwork in the beginning essentially ensures the success of a project. Something that has helped me connect creating a content strategy to pre-production for a film is Meghan Casey's book titled "The Content Strategy Toolkit".
The book taught me that it's not about what you say, but how and when you say it to the right audience.
These things are so much more important than just the story itself because it ensures that it will stand out amongst the crowd. Not all content is created equal. A good film needs to be able to stand on its own foundation that comes from detailed preparation and creativity.
I feel that this time that I've spent studying Interactive Media and in all of its forms has allowed me to really think about my industry of choice in a new light.
As for the idea or script itself, there can be a very negative connotation that is perceived from the word audit. The key to developing a successful project is to look at your script with a focused lens over and over again. Identifying the criteria that you are basing this audit on is a great first step because every detail in the story has to pay off in the end.
From there, you can find the main things that are "wrong" with the project at that moment in time and gain insight as to what is most important of your goals. These might be the character's objectives, a simple prop that helps further the narrative or just details on the plot points between the main story's progression.
Writing & Revising are essential to making a story really work.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
Who is your audience?
Knowing your genre is one of the first things a writer really considers especially when creating a style. Some writers love writing horror - others like comedy or romance. With a genre comes a certain audience to cater to and there are story formats that come with each. Action and horror sells overseas, while comedies are far more culture-specific. Genre strongly comes into play with getting buy-in from the people you pitch it to.
Below is an image from Studio Binder that details the process of pre-production and planning for a film. You can find that this process is very similar to that of what you would do for any type of content. Once you have a well-written and covered script, then you start to build your team and take on further planning.
Pay equal attention to steps like choosing a team, creating a budget, and creating your schedule. These pieces are what are going to make your script come to life so you can't cut corners.
Budget: Money, Money, Money
This one is a little more about what you say, because you need to have your facts straight. But it's also about saying it to the right people to get investors on board.
You need to be able to estimate the number of days it takes to film your script, any estimated extra costs allocated to post-production, equipment costs, locations, and how big your crew/cast is going to be. Having set-rates for union workers makes that last one a little easier. If you don't come to a development executive or a studio with an estimated budget already in place, they aren't going to take you seriously.
It costs to create, and your project might need to get scaled-down if you don't have the means to afford it. But you should be aware as soon as possible so that you don't have to backtrack.
Consider the pitch.
It is so important to know your players when pitching and producing a script. Understanding that full-scope of their requirements will help you gain insight as to how to look at your project and present it to the world. This article on How to Sell a Screenplay shows us that this is key because you need to know who you're dealing with, what their goals are, and what is going to sell to the company they are representing. Consider genre as an example. You're not going to sell a romantic-comedy to Blumhouse.
You might want to consider the potential producers, development executives, and studio representatives. Meghan Casey states that “stakeholder” functions that these people might fall into categories of are the decision-makers, the champions, the influencers, and the de-railers. Understanding who could play which role when you are pitching your project can help you defend it in areas that might need it.
As a writer, getting a seat at the table is much easier when you are able to understand the terminology these business professionals are concerned with, but also are able to use it to gain their trust. They want to know that you have an understanding of their company's needs and requirements and if you don’t know the terms they are concerned with, you’re not going to be taken seriously. Studio executives are business people in one way or another.
For this reason, I took a business course to understand how business knowledge can coincide with my goals and allow me to gain a deeper understanding to boost my buy-in from superiors once I begin working on a full-time professional level. For this course I read a book titled Business Essentials for Strategic Communicators, where the author stated:
"Business leaders will engage communicators at a different level if we can speak their language, understand their pain points, recognize new opportunities, and clearly articulate a strategic, informed point of view.”
This is something that really resonated with me because I have to think about not only how the content that I've written or created aligns with my goals, but also how these people that I am providing with the content and working with will perceive it. You are the creative and analytical force and your knowledge and excellence will show once you've got their attention.
Following Up / Deadlines
Not only have you spent all this time planning your project and researching so that it can be executed successfully, but now you need to make sure you're staying on target. Setting milestones for the production, communicating with your team, and staying productive is all-important to make sure nothing is missed or falling behind.
All of that planning and preparing for production will go to waste if nobody knows to show up on set at 7am every day. Communication is key, but how and when you communicate your message goes a long way in making your project successful.