So you’ve worked hard on the content portion of a strategic client presentation.
You have about ten minutes to talk about your findings at that point in time.
You start your ten minutes of fame and before you know it, you’ve spent 20 minutes talking about your methodology, your wireframe of the customer experience, and the latest blog posts, without meeting the client’s main objectives of the meeting. Meanwhile, your team is furious because all the client needed to know was a brief status update about content.
This is a case of Deliverable Overload, where content professionals go too far and strive for sounding intelligent, rather than solving the task at hand. I’m guilty of it sometimes, as I’m sure many of us are. Let’s do something about it!
There’s a time to plan our dream TED Talk and a time to get the job done. Let’s identify what Deliverable Overload is and what we can do about it. That way, you and your colleagues can avoid it and have stronger and meaningful client discussions.
What’s Deliverable Overload?
Deliverable overload is a situation where content professionals inundate a client’s attention span and cognitive load with a flood of deliverables. It’s when a content professional forgets that not everyone is as deep into the project as they are. We forget that just because we’re savvy enough to navigate a content inventory or editorial calendar, it doesn’t mean that the client has the same prowess, especially in the context of a brief check-in-type of meeting.
Before we go further, I want to emphasize that the purpose of this article isn’t to demonize deliverables. We should always keep our clients and project stakeholders informed of progress. We need to strike a balance between which deliverables push the project forward, and which are workings behind the scenes that are better kept to ourselves.
What can deliverable overload do to a project?
While you and your agency or content team might love diving into a deep content matrix or editorial strategy, chances are that the client or stakeholders who are relying on your work don’t really have time for the inner workings or magic of it all. They just want to know that things are on track and that they’re getting their money’s worth.
When deliverable overload turns what should be a simpler satisfaction of a project benchmark into something complicated and convoluted, there’s a chance that particular benchmark is not met. This is the easiest path toward scope creep, or pushing the requirements and resources of a project past original client expectations.
When deliverable overload starts to eat away at client understanding, it also has a chance at affecting their confidence in your team. Just as you want to maintain strong morale with your content team or employer, the client or main stakeholder has a level of confidence that must be maintained.
This is important because ultimately, they sign the checks or are close to the people who do.
Ways to Avoid Deliverable Overload
Here are a few tips that I find helpful to fend off deliverable overload:
Distinguish the differences between what’s client-facing and what’s in your content toolkit. One thing that has helped me in the past is to prepare client-specific deliverables. This a great way to keep clients and stakeholder’s focused on insights and actions from your content work.
One time, I made the mistake of giving a client an entire content audit spreadsheet. Every single sheet was available to them for perusal. Sure they paid for the work, but this created more questions than it delivered answers.
What I should have done was create a trimmed-down, locked version (assuming it’s Excel) that allows clients to easily find the information they need without tampering with what’s “under the hood.”
Similarly, truncate the calendar down to give the main ideas of the editorial approach. If you’re giving them an editorial perspective, they probably don’t need to see a massively detailed calendar during a short meeting.
If clients and stakeholders want more details, offer them the entire package in a separate conversation. But realize that this action depends on who the stakeholders of the project are and how knowledgeable they can be about content.
If your client team has content-savvy folks on staff, you could use the more granular deliverables within your toolkit. If the client prefers answers and deliverables that clearly note that project progress is being made, then aim for something simple and informative.
Shape outcomes to solve for project objectives. The purpose of your meeting is to likely push a project forward, meet some type of deadline, or answer questions. Much like preparing client-facing deliverables, you can shape the context of these deliverables to satisfy the main objective of the meeting or project phase, while answering outstanding questions that the client might have.
Here’s an example.
Let’s use this super-basic Editorial Calendar as an example. During our next meeting, we need to go over Facebook content for September. There could be some organization there. Also, we probably don’t want to show the client any internal notes.
By hiding excess information, we can focus on the meeting topic, or Facebook posts in September. This calendar is easier for a lay audience to understand.
Our next meeting will be about weekly email and blog posts. We can truncate the master calendar down to focus solely on those channels and the landing pages where which end-users will visit.
Another example: I was once asked to recommend new content to a client based off of the results of a content audit. Instead of showing them an entire content matrix during a meeting, I created a separate deliverable that went over the task at hand, the methodology I used, and the outcomes of that task.
Let’s be honest: I might love walking through my spreadsheet. My client– likely not.
The truncated deliverable was a brief Powerpoint with a few slides and bullets. This deliverable solved for the project objective much clearer and within the context of the client’s understanding much more than an entire matrix would have.
Like many, I’m very guilty of content deliverable overload from time to time. But, we should really save the “behind the scenes” kind of stuff for a Meetup or coffee with another content professional.
I’ve learned that it’s important to get EVERYONE to a common understanding about where we’re at with a content initiative. Wireframes and matrices don’t show progress as much as a thoughtful, client-contextual deliverable can.
Run deliverables by a lay audience. Test the clarity and impact of your meeting deliverable with a teammate or colleague. The further away this person is from content, the better.
Some of the most informative working sessions that I have is when I take a colleague out to coffee or lunch and show them my next deliverable. The questions that come out of these sessions only sharpen the work. Also, it’s a chance to get to know your peers better.
If you do this exercise, thicken your skin because there will likely be comments (hopefully constructive). It’s a great opportunity to not only be humbled by peers, but to find ways to be clear and concise about your content methodology and how you’re delivering results for your client.
Take Action: Identifying the Deliverable Threshold
If there’s one thing that will help set deliverable expectations between content professionals and their clients and stakeholders, it would be to identify a “deliverable threshold” for the project.
We can do this by:
Identifying the level of content comprehension that the client and/or stakeholder has. If there are peers that understand components of content strategy and who can interpret deliverables, then great. Keep constant contact with these people and learn the easiest, clearest way to convey project progress and insight. If not, there will need to be time built into the project to create simpler deliverables.
Understanding the precedent set by previous projects. If the client and/or stakeholder has gone through a content strategy process in the past, it could be beneficial to find out the scope and frequency of deliverables and progress updates. This lets you improve upon that process to add more value and understand what might potentially confuse or frustrate the client.
Back to Basics
Sometimes content deliverable overload happens because we’re all in a time crunch and don’t have time to properly inform the client. If you’re in this position, I recommend taking a moment to take a step back and really look at your content methodology. As part of a larger world of client services, we need to remember the CLIENT part of that– they’re the ones who pay for and will live with our outputs. We should create our deliverables to provide them with clarity and understanding. It’s just part of the job.
The idea isn’t to boast how smart you are or how deep the strategy can get. The objective is to add value to a project towards its success. In a way, it’s a content strategy for ourselves.
Why would we create a situation for ourselves where our output into the world has the least chance of succeeding?
I hope you, like me, continue to work at reducing deliverable overload and build a methodology that puts clients on the right track towards understanding the value of strategic, sustainable content.