Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Of Style & Substance

It’s always interesting to be given the opportunity to see how your competitors approach proposals and debriefs. Theirs is never as good as yours of course; either they’re asking too much for too little when it comes to the proposal; or they’re stating the obvious and delivering minimal insight when it comes to the debrief.

These days, though, another element has become a major issue, if not the major issue when it comes to how people judge both proposals and debriefs. And this is the way in which both these elements of a project are presented.

You see already in writing this I’m starting to get worried that I’m becoming a tad wordy. And already I’m beginning to have concerns that because I haven’t provided illustrations for the words ‘style’ or ‘substance’ in my title that many of you have switched to trying to find something else to read instead.

But for those who have made it this far I would like to make a point about what I see as a case of style over substance in some of the research documents to which I have recently been exposed.

In these documents I have seen colour aplenty, photographs in abundance, numerous videos, and musical accompaniments too; and whilst some of this serves to complement and support a given argument or story, much of the rest I feel is often verging on the gratuitous.

What I also feel is that in some cases such devices are employed at times when argument generally is lacking and when a narrative has not even been considered, much less thought through.

Please don’t get me wrong here; I’m all for the use of graphics, illustrations, video material et al if it is being used for a purpose and not just for effect. I’m all for the use of any means by which a proposal can be made more interesting, a presentation can flow more smoothly and be better communicated.

But I’m only in favour of this if a proposal is strong on substance already and a presentation has been thought through properly. If this is not the case then I believe that many of the devices mentioned above might eventually serve to devalue our industry more than enhance it.

The written word, I feel, has been fundamental to the way this industry has grown and developed to date. I’d like the use of words to remain a key part of how we continue to communicate. Let’s not gloss over this in our obsession with all things bright and shiny and new.

Now I’m hoping you made it this far in your reading. Otherwise I’ll start to wish I’d kept the original title for this piece. It was ‘fur coat and no knickers’, so you can imagine how much fun might have been had on Google image with that.