Bad Timing is the Death of Comedy… and Content Marketing

on July 9, 2014

When I was working as a stand up comic I’d often see performers excel with either great material or great timing, but not both. The lopsided combinations always failed. Great material can’t compensate for bad timing, and vice versa.

ContentTiming_01One of the great advantages of being a comedian is immediate feedback. No need to deploy “real-time analytics.” Laughs and silence come free of charge and you know right then and there if you’re doing well or not.

Comedy timing is incredibly sensitive. A simple missed beat, word, or delay can turn a joke that traditionally gets a huge laugh into a room of dead silence.

Comics aren’t the only ones whose work is time sensitive. Timing is also valuable in online publishing. If used incorrectly, or thoughtlessly, it can destroy a great piece of content.

Most brands screw up timing of content

For more than two decades I’ve worked in traditional advertising and media. I can safely say that compared to the media, traditional advertising moves at a glacial pace. In advertising, there are many people involved in the production of media. I’ve worked on many content projects where the subject of publish date or how we’ll time the content is never considered.  It’s more of an attitude of “we’ll publish it when it’s done.” Granted, media buying and planning is a science of timing ads, but it’s not the same thing as publishing media.

Operate as if the show must go on

ContentTiming_03In a podcast interview with Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels said, “We put the show on not because it’s perfect, but because it’s 11:30pm.”

When I worked in advertising I heard the term “emergency” way too often. The concerns were always about client complaints. It was never about the timing of content. In my experience working in advertising and content marketing, releasing something at a precise time, no matter what, has never been considered. Yes, there are deadlines, but they’re arbitrary. It’s not the same as timing content appropriately.

Conversely, traditional media, especially radio and TV, always considers time. Every day is a series of second-by-second deadlines. When you operate under that type of pressure, you must create a rigid structure to make sure you can release content in time. You don’t have the luxury to wait for someone to come back from vacation before you can release the content. Not being ready is not a concern. What’s important is it’s going to be 11:30pm in ten minutes and something is going on air. If it flops, then you fix it next time. If you create that type of rigid production structure and make sure everyone knows about it, then your audience can count on you and you can produce a lot more content.

Timing of content is just as important as the content itself

ContentTiming_04How often have you read a story about a blockbuster movie that bombed solely because it was released on the wrong weekend? Those stories are not isolated to just movie releases. It’s true for all content. What will be happening the week, day, or moment you’re going to be releasing your content?

Your slow production process is killing your creative

ContentTiming_05Take half of the energy you throw into building creative and spend the effort designing a fast production process. For seven and a half years I’ve been tweaking Spark Media Solutions’ process to enhance real time and near real-time production. Even with all our efforts, we’re still dependent on the client who simply doesn’t have the systems in place to operate at our speeds. In cases where clients literally wait for someone to come back from lunch or will be in tomorrow to review something, we miss our window of opportunity and the content’s impact is then halved. It’s as if we released a Christmas movie in January.

Seize opportunities with a fast production process

One of the great advantages of having a fast production process is you’ll be able to pounce on opportunities before your competition can even begin. One famous case is that of the Old Spice campaign in which they produced videos in response to tweets in near real time. It was heralded as an incredible innovation in branded social media, but in actuality they were just operating like a media network that had a trusted producer who didn’t need to go through an endless chain of checks and balances to release its content.

ContentTiming_06Another case I wrote about in Mashable is that of Cellufun, a mobile game developer who produced a social game called “Made Off” in which you invited your friends to invest in your Ponzi schemes à la Bernie Madoff. The game was simple and fun. Most importantly, it was timed extremely well to the Bernie Madoff scandal and as a result 25,000 people downloaded the game in two weeks of which 40 percent spent money for additional game features, said Keith Katz, Cellufun’s VP of Marketing. Pretty spectacular for a game released in 2009

“Because our production team is so nimble,” said Katz, “We can quickly seize upon events that have struck a cultural nerve and build a game or application around it that our users will respond to.”

Similarly, at Spark Media Solutions, we develop near to real-time production for our clients at conferences and events, turning around videos within hours of initial writing and shooting. We do this because interest for a conference is at its highest while the conference is happening. If you release content while the conference is in process, you can expect a greater number of social shares and searches for information on that topic. Expect interest the following week to be a small fraction of what it was during the conference.

What you need for a fast production process

ContentTiming_07If you want to operate quickly you need to look at every step of your process and where you can reduce production time. Here are some common areas that slow down production:

  • Writing notes by hand and then transfer to a computer: Sure you “like” to write by hand, but you’re also holding everyone else up. Type on a computer or a tablet and then you won’t have to waste any time transferring the information.
  • Production and editorial meetings only: All other meetings for content production are superfluous. Eliminate them.
  • Limit the review process: The all important “review” process is the worst time killer. Either hire a producer you trust, or find the critical people responsible for review and make them aware of the exact time you’re sending content and the deadline for returning edited content.
  • Look at your tools: Are the solutions you have the best? Is there a faster computer? Maybe there’s a macro you could write that could automate a specific process? Is there a software program that collaborates better? For our production process we look at every step and often shave seconds on single steps which turn into minutes and then hours of saved time.

Best times to release content

  • ContentTiming_08“Best time to send” is often not the best time to send: One of the problems of following the advice as to when the best time to send is that’s the time everyone sends. Another option is to choose a less crowded time to send your content. For example, most don’t consider publishing on the weekends, but they still have a significant audience even if it isn’t the largest audience. As compared to the weekdays, one-tenth of the media is produced on the weekends. But 60 percent of the weekday audience is also available on the weekends, noted Gabe Rivera, founder of Techmeme.
  • Time multiple releases: Everything doesn’t have to go out at once. Can you tell multiple stories from your content? Can you slice your content up? Can you version it to build interest? Think about multiple releases for your content.
  • Only publish when items are trending, not later: If you notice something is trending, then you better be able to publish content as it’s trending. If you can’t, don’t bother publishing. You will have lost your window.
  • When the topic is fresh in everyone’s mind: The only time people are thinking about Halloween is the week before, on Halloween, and the day after. No one cares about Halloween at any other time. Whatever your topic is, be clear about the “window of interest” and only publish during that window.
  • When people are eager to share: At a trade show, when people have their laptops and phones out is an excellent time to create content for others to easily share. For example, during a panel discussion at a conference, I’ve opened up a Word document and projected my screen on a wall. I simply wrote a list of the most pithy comments made during the discussion. On the other wall I projected a Twitter feed locked on to the discussion of which many of my quotes from my computer were retyped and tweeted.
  • When everyone is talking about your competitor: You know who is attending your competitors’ conferences? All your customers. Buy a ticket and go. Interview attendees and try to get them to dish dirt about your competition at their show. You’ll be surprised how willing people will be to talk about their gripes.
  • During a really big industry event: One of the biggest tips we give to our clients is to release content in near real-time at your industry’s biggest event. As I said previously, interest in the show and the topic is at its highest during the event. That’s when you can expect the most social shares and searches. Next week, your audience has moved on to something else.
  • Know when your audience is ready:  While most of this article speaks to speed of production, often you have to get in the minds of your audience and be sensitive to their head space. Deliver content to them when they’re ready, not when you’re ready. Sometimes it’s actually OK to wait.

CONCLUSION: Stop taking timing so lightly

Sadly, timing for most brands is an afterthought. The focus has always been on the story and the creative. Spend the time to build a fast production process. You’ll be amazed at how more successful you can be.

Here’s an interview I conducted with Dennis Washington of Cross Digital. Dennis, like myself, is a former journalist now turned brand journalist. The two of us talked about brand journalism and also the need for speed of production.

Creative Commons photo attribution to Erin Nekervis, Isabelle, Wendy, David Stewart, Andrew Menage, and Berc.

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