Is Your Audience Fast-Forwarding to the 30% Point of Your Content?

CONTENT CAREERING

FFLet me know if this has ever NOT happened to you.

In your own reading you’re tooling along until you come across a headline that promises instant benefits – say, “7 Tips on Vacationing in Hawaii for Less Than $1000.”

Yes! you think. Tell me how! And then you start to read the lead:

“Emily Smith works a stressful job as a nurse in Blytheville, Mo. Rarely does she get a chance for a getaway vacation, what with her job; her home responsibilities; her husband Gaylord; her three children Vera, Chuck and Dave…”

Huh? you think. Who cares about Emily Smith?

You’ve just been struck by the superfluous lead – the personal anecdote many journalism consultants have espoused as a way to “humanize” a (what they might think to be boring) story. In other examples you might be offered a juicy little bon mot – a witty bit of sociological or historical observation to open things up. In this case you’ve also been had by author-throat-clearing.

When I come across leads like these I want to pull out my red grease pencil, slice an “X” through the first three paragraphs and bark at the unseen author (from under my editor’s green eyeshade, of course): “Just get to the point!” Not that these little openers are always mind-drags, mind you. In the right situations they might be just the thing to pull the reader in. But more often than not, you’re probably better to cut to the chase and deliver on the headline’s promise quickly.

By the way the propensity of content types to be long on the windup is not isolated to text, as has been noted by online trolls and digerati. In video the Wadsworth Constant is based on the phenomenon that the first 30% of most videos are perfunctory and of little value. Such leather-lunged videos are perceived to be so widespread, in fact, that there is a “bookmarklet” that jumps a viewer straight to the 30% point of any YouTube video.

Are our audiences skipping to the 30% point of our content? Let’s hope not. But the next time I’m nipping-and-tucking a story into a small space, I won’t necessarily start at the end of the story or even the middle. I’ll start at the beginning.

(And maybe I needed to have done that with this very post…)

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How Important Is Content Planning?

CONTENT CAREERING

Planning

Dwight Eisenhower, who of course was a master of logistics as well as a general and U.S. president, was famous for having said:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

In its own modest way the same could be said of content planning. Rare indeed would be the edition that comes together precisely the way it was planned. Stories and relatively priorities change. Cover concepts evolve through brainstorming and refinements. Ads come in (or don’t).

So is planning a waste of time? Absolutely not. Planning affords choices and flexibility – important factors both quantitatively (“do I have enough stuff?”) and qualitatively (“do I have enough GOOD stuff?”). In my own issue planning, this is how I’ve sort of liked to see the pipeline at any given time (and when I say “pipeline,” I mean content that is “in” or is “committed to and on its way”):

Three-month content planning

For instance, for the immediate next print issue I always want to have 125% of what I think I need because a story may fall through, an 8- or 16-page form may be unexpectedly added, etc. And I’m always trying to modulate that mix of timeless (often outside-authored) and timely (usually inside-written) – dialing up the relative ratio on the newsy stuff as each issue deadline approaches and as market conditions and audience needs dictate, knowing our staff editors can turn these timelier stories around on a dime and to our specifications without a whole lot of time-consuming to-and-fro at the 11th hour.

But no matter what your system is for planning – be it mighty or modest – know this: Any planning is better than none.