Recently, I had the great pleasure to meet Charlene J. Haykel, Managing Principal of The Haykel Group, a print content strategy organization based in New York, NY. Her approach to content strategy both informs and illuminates the discipline of content strategy for the Web. In Part 1 of this series, I talk to Charlene about:
• Defining simplified communications
• Why content strategy is so important to any type of content
• Macrosimplification™: Charlene’s approach to print content strategy
Defining simplified communications
Get ready, because you’re about to hear something familiar. Charlene says, “Simplified communications was the approach I took over the years when I developed brochures and reports for companies—I always started with the content. My team would assess content for whether it was the right amount and the right value for its audience (useful, relevant) and, finally, whether it was properly written. Everything would stem from the content.”
Why content strategy is so important to any type of content
Charlene believes that corporate communications and marketing firms are limited in their effectiveness and service to clients because they lack a strong content focus. When Charlene moved to New York 25 years ago and started working at a graphic communications agency, she says she was shocked to find out that her colleagues thought communications were 75 percent design and 25 percent content. “The first firm I founded had a tagline, ‘We lead with our writing’, and it was true.” Content is the substance of a communication piece and design is its structure, she concludes, and adds: “Design elements should be used primarily to clarify content, not just to beautify it.”
Macrosimplification™: Charlene’s approach to print content strategy
Macrosimplification™ is both a concept and a process and Charlene feels it is her most important contribution to the field of simplified communications. It was born out of her experience analyzing, writing and redesigning single documents within larger communication systems.
She describes its origins this way: “I began to notice that every time two companies merged and created a new brand, they had to reprint every piece of paper that came out of the place. With Macrosimplification™, I took the techniques I had used to simplify single documents and applied them to hundreds and thousands of printed pieces across a company.”
Case study in Macrosimplification™
At a major financial services firm, Charlene and her team applied the Macrosimplification process — content analysis, reduction, and reorganization — to hundreds of retail brochures , piece by piece, through a total of 750 pieces. In the end, they were able to reduce the number of documents produced by the client by a whopping 60 percent. Think of all the trees they saved!
Here’s at the process the Haykel team used in this project. Notice how many points in her process line up very nicely with content strategy for the Web. In this project, the Macrosimplification™ team:
1. Conducted a very thorough content analysis to find excessive, useless, redundant, missing, poorly written, and mislabeled content (Content Audit)
2. Thoroughly documented the content recommended for elimination, or for a move from print to the Web. (Deployment)
3. Identified bloat and inefficiencies in the current system, as well as opportunities to save time and money. (Planning)
4. Created a financial impact statement for the executive team to document all costs currently associated with printed materials, including printing, fulfillment, storage and handling (Planning)
5. Created an architecture for the core information remaining after the Content Audit.
6. Illustrated how content could be better organized from the consumers’ point of view (Grids and guidelines for creating and managing content)
7. Rewrote all content in plain language and applied best practices in information design for maximum clarity and functionality.
The process was a win-win for both the company and its clients: the company could produce fewer printed materials, and the materials they created were clearer, more concise and more useful for customers.
In Part 2, we’ll talk about what makes a great content strategist, what the future of content strategy for both print and Web should be, and why the entire field of communications needs to change course.