Congratulations. You got the business! You’ve given your pitch, discussed financial details and company X has accepted your bid. They’re officially your client. Now, you get to develop a magazine.
Don’t get intimidated by multiple blank pages. Content development is, in part, a creative pursuit, so even the most experienced content developers suffer from "developer's block" from time to time. If this ever happens to you, try these four tips to jump-start your process.
1. Remember why you pitched this project.
Chances are, it’s because you recognized a high level of compatibility between the type of product and message your client provides and your ability to help them reach their audience. What’s the connection? Are you more familiar with their product than the average person? Are you a customer? Do you have team members, such as writers or designers that have skills or knowledge compatible with your client’s product or message? Whatever the connection, rock it. Remember: Price is only part of the equation. Your client chose you over the competition because they recognized this compatibility as well.
2. Ask the right questions.
Asking your client, “How do you want this to look?” or, “What story ideas do you have?” might freeze them in their tracks. After all, they’re experts in banking, pharmaceuticals, dairy distribution or electricity generation — whatever they do — not translating their message into magazine content.
Instead, ask your client specific questions you know they’ll love to answer. Ask them if they’re celebrating any milestones or anniversaries, and you might discover that longevity in the community is an important part of their brand. Ask them about what sets them apart from the competition, and you might get insight into how they want their piece to look, sound or feel to the reader. For example, if a client tells you that they want to appear more modern or more forward-thinking than their competitors, you’ll know to develop stories that focus on industry trends and how their company is setting them. Ask your client about who buys or uses their products or services, and you’ll discover how gender-neutral or gender-specific your content needs to be. Remember: Passionate businesspeople love talking about their produts and services, and for good reason. Let them do the talking, then read between the lines. A good conversation will reveal important content clues.
3. Keep your ears perked.
Don’t turn your antennae off between meetings. Some of the best content nuggets are revealed between the elevator and the conference-room door. The reason: Like an interviewee, your client will often speak more comfortably and freely “off the record.” Once, after a long meeting where we thought we’d discussed it all, a client inadvertently revealed an important piece of information just before she walked out the door. “Our readers need to see as many employee faces as possible,” she said. That decision led me to choose an employee family for the cover photo rather than a prominent local celebrity. It also became one of the key tenets I used to produce subsequent issues of the magazine.
4. Provide your own ideas.
Discovering your client’s priorities is essential, but so is providing your own content thoughts. Often, corporate clients approach custom-publishing developers to help make their company newsletter, bulletin or other internal publication into something interesting for outside readers (especially potential customers). Don’t be afraid to suggest running department or story feature ideas that haven’t even appeared on your client’s radar. For example, if a food-distribution company hopes to make their corporate newsletter translatable to a larger audience, and their priority is employee profiles, keep those going. In addition, don’t be afraid to suggest adding recipes, health tips and other brand-specific content the outside reader would also enjoy. Often, the content developer’s job is to blend otherwise-esoteric company information with “news you can use” from an outside reader standpoint. Have confidence. Striking this balance is difficult, but it can be done successfully.