We love getting commissioned for white papers. Smart ideas, strategy, value to customers—what’s not to love? But occasionally we see these beautiful beasts go horribly wrong, and it’s always in the same place: when people focus on the desire to have the paper “written” without considering anything beyond hiring a writer.
Here’s my plea: white papers are expensive to commission and hard work to create; don’t let them be just another check mark on your Bill of Materials (BOM). Ask yourself and your team a couple of questions before you get started. It’s an hour or two of conversation that won’t be wasted, I promise.
Here’s how to get started:
- Who are your readers? Where are your readers in understanding the topic and where do you want them to end up when they finish reading the paper? Better informed, yes, but what will be their next step? What’s in it for them if they take the time to read your white paper? Is it realistic to think they will read a white paper? Are you sure a white paper is the right medium?
- What’s your process? Don’t forget to account for the time it will take to plan, interview, write, edit, review, template, and approve the white paper. (These can’t be done overnight.) Ask yourself how many subject matter experts should contribute to the white paper and find out if they’re available for interviews. On the other end, how many people will need to review it? Are there legal concerns? If the paper includes more than one organization (product group, company, partner, etc.), who takes the lead and when does everyone else get to weigh in? Most importantly—how will you distribute the white paper? Don’t just post it to your website—make the most of your investment and push it out across multiple channels (see diagram below).
- What’s the value of the paper? If you don’t know, you won’t know how much you should budget for development and distribution and you can’t plan for return on investment (ROI). Some important considerations include how long it should be, how technical it should be, whether there should be graphics or diagrams, and whether you need to create a template. Also consider the shelf-life of the paper—will this topic be quickly outdated? If so, maybe something that’s easier to update is a better fit for your information.
For a smooth arrival, lengthen the runway: Most white papers take longer to produce than originally estimated. A word to the wise: plan accordingly. You know the drill: plan for the worst, but hope for the best. It’s worth it to spend the time on planning and distributing your white papers right so you can make sure you’re getting the best possible ROI.
(Psst: If you don’t have time, we’re always happy to help.)