Fruitcake vs. shortbread

I was asked to review a rather densely written document with multiple contributors. The conversation went something like this.

Client:             It’s been through Marketing, Technical, the guys in Melbourne, and my team. Everyone feels it’s a bit too dense and wordy. And it’s not hanging together well.

Me:                  OK, but you’re happy with the overall --

Client:             Yeah, all that stuff. It gone kinda off point.

Cutting me off was the first clue. We’ll come back to that.

It’s more than dense, wordy or off-point. It’s as solid as a compressed slab of fruitcake. The brief specifies shortbread – short sections with punchy intros, bulleted lists, what you need to do now calls to action. Some good graphics and photos; certainly nothing using cartoons and stock images.

Me:                  The original brief says eight pages, lots of chunked content, bulleted lists, what to do now--

Client:             Yeah, all that stuff. We think it needs to have more information in it. We’ve done a lot of research and want people to see how seriously we’re taking this. But, this version’s a bit too technical.

Me:                  Ok. So, you’re happy with the overall structure, tone, content--

Client:             Yep. That’s all good. Can you just lighten it up? We need to lose at least four pages from it, but we have to keep the appendix.

Are you picking up the contradictions?

It’s not his fault. He was handed the slab of fruitcake and told to turn it into shortbread. While retaining the slab of fruitcake.

From there we moved through:

Me:      How about a summary on page 3? The first thing they see when they open it.

Client: The CEO wants to put a letter on that page.

Me:      There’s a lot stuff in here about frameworks--

Client: Yeah, they want to keep that.

On we went. Jargon. Technical descriptions. Two pages about the research underpinning the project.

We ploughed on. They had both stakeholders and target audiences and seemed to include everyone from emeritus professors to school-leavers. Someone on the leadership team insisted all acronyms be spelt out. The images are off-brand, but technical won’t give them up. Marketing and Design are now having fisticuffs.

And so on.

You must have realised by now that this is fiction. It’s a pastiche of all sorts of things I’ve encountered in recent years. All of these things have happened, just not all in the same assignment.

My point?

Once you embark on a process such as this, you must keep a firm hold on the brief. Repel those who really shouldn’t be reviewing. Manage away those who don’t understand the end-user’s needs. Remember the end-user.

Fruitcake man was real, by the way. He moved on to strategic planning.