Powerful Practices that Take Content from Good to Great

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Figuring out what you’re good at is exciting. Like the year my sixth-grade teacher ignited my love of writing. I spent hours penning stories for fiction contests. One such tale featured a monster that ravaged an entire city because it was suffering from… menopause. What I didn’t know: The meaning of the word “menopause.” What I did know: Grown-ups used the word in the same way they talked about rising gas prices or bad traffic.

Sometimes, content teams, too, miss the mark when they aim for the razzle-dazzle. You know, the tantalizing headline with a story that doesn’t deliver. Or the periscope account littered with inconsistent clips. Focus instead on powerful storytelling with a purpose and a plan. Here are a few powerful practices to help you take your content from good to great:

Curate With Courage

By day in New York City, Cara Katz conducts an orchestra of luxury magazine advertisers, whose photos of exquisite jewelry, designer fashion and fast cars must fuse into one lustrous ensemble. She is the vice president for sales and marketing at Pace, overseeing the print and digital versions of Four Seasons Magazine.

Being surrounded by high-gloss media most of her career has made Katz a discerning reader. “What resonates most with me are NOT the sites with endless scroll, but rather the well-curated and highly edited sites that provide me with the content I want to be fed,” Katz says. Clean, trim digital sites such as EliteDaily.comTheScienceofUs.com and fwx.com not only earn Katz’s attention, they leave her wanting more.

This trend is evident in publications like The New York Times, which has increased the number of its human-curated newsletters to more than 30, according to a Poynter article. The paper found that emails “derived from feeds were less popular with readers than ones informed by the input of the paper’s editors,” Poynter reports.

“People are looking to us for some of this editorial judgment and curation, trying to figure out what they should be reading and why,” Dork Alahydoian, the paper’s executive director, told Poynter.

Content Differentiator: Thoughtful curation is key. In today’s busy world, readers want the luxury of finite curated content. Be the sophisticated editor your audience desires.

Drill Down to the Story’s Marrow

If you build and sign off on creative briefs, you know that video synopses can be tricky. No matter how crisp the content director’s description or how seasoned the producer, much is easily lost in translation.

Sure, producers should invest time in the pre-production process, says Brian Bowen, executive producer of video for Pace. But higher-level filmmaking is achieved by digging deeper and pushing beyond the brief’s obvious marketing copy and questions. Inspire your crew to capture the essence of the environment; give the audience a sense of place and time.

That’s done through well-crafted B-roll. When Bowen’s teams are on assignment, they arrive early at the location and scout the town.

“Get a feeling for the place and immerse yourself in the details before the shoot,” Bowen says. “Once you capture the B-roll, paint the picture and drill down into the questions until you get into the story’s marrow. You know you’re there when you feel it.”

Content Differentiator: Excellent stories are born from rigorous pre-production/research and in-person reporting.

Kill Your Most Precious

Creatives get attached to their carefully crafted phrases. However, those same words can hold the story hostage. Two of my Syracuse University magazine professors — Bill Glavin and Jake Hubbard — implanted this fundamental in their students’ brains. When we struggled with the nutgraf or forced the story arc, we were trained to identify sentences with which we were smitten. Today, when I find myself overwriting, I unfold a piece of paper with my favorite newspaper story lede written on it. “This is a small town in search of a really big floor,” by the late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was introducing a piece on the Iranian rug-making industry. Simple is beautiful.

Content Differentiator: The best editors are those who can identify when an over-manufactured paragraph or art selection is holding the bigger piece of content at gunpoint.

So, What’s the Point?

Gordon Bass is known around Pace as an idea guy. He’s a fun creative, the kind that inspires bigger thinking. He’s been a Group Creative Director here, and edited and consulted for top brands including Time Inc., Men’s Journal, and Wired. But his real secret weapon is this question: “What’s the point?” Posed in a conversational tone and with the right degree of curiosity, these three words have the power to render entire tables of debating content professionals silent. Why? Sometimes teams are so wrapped up in the execution that they forget the intent.

Content Differentiator: Ask yourself “What’s the point?” at the beginning, middle and end of every project. If you answer with ease and confidence, you aren’t wasting anyone’s time. If you stumble, be ready to reconsider.

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