Every year or so, I set out to create a single massive piece of content. This is some sort of large-scale piece, designed to allow for research into something. Previous pieces have included things like Fly Me to the Moon, a piece designed to test Google's JS rendering capabilities. This year, I'm focusing on launching a tabletop RPG. This process is designed to showcase what we can do, to force us to learn how things we've never done before work, and to have some fun in the process.
However, whether what you're doing is something along the lines of long form journalism, a video or live event/experience, or something else again, you'll need to start with a prototype.
The scale of the prototype and method of prototyping obviously various by medium. If it's an interactive web piece, then it might be sketches showing the different states as the user progresses. If it's video it'll be draft scripts, storyboards, colour scripts and the like. For a textual story or journalistic piece, it'll be the basic outline and emotional beats.
Whatever it is, you need to start out with a rough outline which you can rapidly amend, but which also conveys enough information to keep stakeholders up to date. When you're doing outreach to distribution stakeholders after you've gotten their feedback, it's a great way of keeping their interest up, by showing them how the thing that they've helped with is progressing, which is especially useful if they're on a deadline for it. It allows you to converse with management about the current state of the project, how development is going, and how close you are to having a finalised, signed-off piece of work.
It also plays a second role though...
Supporting Media Prototyping
Content doesn't exist in a vacuum. Sadly, whether you build it or not doesn't dictate whether or not anyone will turn up. You have to market the content you create. In the case of marketing, that means engaging influencers, reaching out to publications, finding audiences and making them aware of what you're doing. And that takes media too.
That will at the very least mean a good media pack about the campaign and its flagship content, assets partners can use (which could include anything from images, infographics, gifs, and videos to PDFs, downloadables, copy and more), and a publication calendar. Every part of your campaign needs to be meticulously planned and considered.
That work starts with prototyping those supporting elements, in addition to your main hero piece. They're just as important, even if they're not the final piece. Plan them, get feedback, edit and iterate. Again, get feedback from stakeholders to get the various media parts as polished as they can be.
Cutting the First Draft
Once everyone's signed off on the prototype for the hero piece, it's time to produce the first draft. The difference between this and the prototypes is that this has a level of polish to it that a prototype lacks.
Above, you can see the evolution of a character from the game we're creating from the first concept and prototyping stages through to the first serious conceptual version. The final version is slightly different again, with amended colouring, and slightly altered hands. The first three are like your prototypes - quick, simple, just viable enough to prove the concept being tested. The first draft is something recognisable as the finished product, but not there yet. Something that can still be amended and played with.
Similar processes occur in all creative disciplines. In CGI video production, this is where you're moving from the layout stage to effects, lighting, shading and so on; on to something recognisable as like the finished product. In writing copy, it's where you're now editing to turn the draft into something really good.
Whatever your medium, this is the point at which you now produce something that you can show to people and it's finished enough to be representative of the final work.
Having arrived at this point, you want to now ensure consistency across all the media. Make sure the supporting materials really reflect what is being produced. Make sure the messaging is as clear as it can be in the main piece. Work the details to get everything as cohesive and refined as it can be. The time spent here, combined with the effectiveness of your messages, will be what ultimately determines the success or failure of your project.
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