At Hoffman, we have started a new series of blog entries in which we highlight one of our writing samples each month. These samples cover hot IT issues that many of our clients are addressing, along with their exciting solutions. This month, we highlight a white paper for IT Security Threats and Response.
Check out our list of “don’ts” to help you avoid common pitfalls and instead create a highly readable, valuable white paper:
1. Don’t fail to define your audience.
What industry are you appealing to and which clients will find the paper interesting? Decide who you are talking to before you write the paper. Understanding your audience up front will keep the paper focused and help the paper flow.
2. Don’t sound too promotional.
Unlike marketing collateral that is supposed to sound “salesy,” white papers are subtle. The white paper’s goal is to inform, educate, and share information about a product or service. If a paper is well-written, it creates sales leads. But a white paper’s primary goal is to share valuable information, and then (hopefully) incentivize the reader to inquire into the company, product, or service being described. People expect a brochure to contain a sales pitch and they expect thought leadership from a white paper. To communicate product features and benefits, consider a brochure or sales sheet instead of a white paper.
3. Don’t write a paper that is too long or too short.
The ideal white paper is 8 to 10 pages in length, including interesting graphics to illustrate points covered in the paper. A paper over 10 pages can overwhelm the reader. Shorter papers often lack enough valuable information. Most white papers require at least eight pages of copy and graphics to fully explore a topic and to incorporate all the typical elements—title page, executive summary, introduction, body, conclusion, and end notes.
4. Don’t create a paper that looks unprofessional.
Nothing is more disappointing than discovering typos, poor grammar, and spelling errors in a finished white paper. When this occurs, the paper instantly loses credibility. To appear believable, a white paper must demonstrate superior writing skills with the correct capitalization, punctuation and spelling. Sloppy formatting, passive writing style, incorrect tense and poor sentence structure are red flags. Hire a professional writing firm to manage white paper development and share your style guide. Make sure several people proof-read the paper, including representatives from marketing, product teams, and possibly your legal department.
5. Don’t let your paper languish.
Creating a well-written white paper is worthwhile …unless you let the paper sit on your hard drive. Many companies spend time and resources creating the perfect paper, show it off around the office…and then the paper sits. Promote your white paper so all your hard work pays off. For ideas about promoting your white paper, view our last blog post about how to promote a white paper.
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After you write a white paper, you need to promote it. Here are a few ideas to introduce a new paper and to leverage its content months after the initial publication date.
1. Blog it — insert a link to your white paper hosted on your web site or extract several relevant items from the paper and insert them as blog comments linked back to the paper.
2. Post your paper — subscription-based services such as TechTarget’s BitPipe, KnowledgeStorm, TMCNet, and others provide a library of IT white papers, webcasts, and product information for review. ZDNet and FindWhitePapers.com are free services.
3. Hand out at conferences — print your paper and hand it out to attendees and reporters at trade shows.
4. Share it with social networks — create a thumbnail of your paper’s cover page and include a visual URL within Twitter to suggest a download from your web site. Send a white paper to Facebook “fans” or link to the paper on your fan page or profile or use the Notes feature to paste in HTML content, such as the paper’s landing page. LinkedIn offers a free app to post white papers and other files on your profile.
5. Send email — rent a list and send an emailer offering a free copy of the paper. You can collect information from readers using a web form for later follow-up and send it automatically by email. Or print a postcard and suggest readers download a free copy of the paper by registering online.
6. Promote in your e-Zine — extract a few tips or quotes to entice readers then request they send an email or complete a simple form for a complete copy of the paper.
7. Capture on video — if your white paper describes a new technology, use video to demonstrate how it works then post the video link on your web site or submit it to YouTube.
8. Send a press release — distribute a press release that describes the message of your paper. Papers with valuable content may justify press attention and releases are indexed by search engines once they are posted online. Some press release distribution firms, such as PR Web, include Google indexing in the distribution fee.
9. Reposition as an article — for maximum impact, use your white paper to reach out to a key trade journal or magazine editor. Send the paper for review and suggest repurposing it as an article. Editors receive a new story idea and your paper is exposed to hundreds or thousands of new readers.
1. Gather approvals up front.
Before beginning the white paper project, secure all necessary permissions and signatures up front. Many writing firms prepare a work statement that explains the project scope and establishes deadlines for draft submissions and payment. Also, line up purchase orders and non-disclosure agreements (NDA), if required. Handling approvals before the kickoff call allows you to concentrate on the white paper, rather than on administrative details.
2. Invite project participants to kickoff call.
Invite everyone involved in the white paper project to the kickoff meeting, including a marketing representative, technical contact, and the review team. The meeting provides an opportunity to establish participants’ roles and review the paper’s main points, scope, and purpose. During this call, introduce the writer and discuss expectations.
3. Designate a single contact person.
Establish a single point of contact to coordinate the white paper review process. This person will act as a clearinghouse for all white paper drafts and can coordinate feedback for the writer.
4. Secure high level buy-in.
To ensure cooperation amongst project participants, try to get a high level company executive to “buy in” on the white paper project. He or she can explain the project’s importance, increasing the probability of success. This can be accomplished in-person at the kickoff meeting or by email.
5. Handle housekeeping up front.
Before scheduling interviews and gathering content, address housekeeping details, such as payment details and terms. Also provide the writer with a list of key personnel and contact information, including subject matter experts and a financial liaison.
6. Synch schedules.
During the kickoff meeting, ask project participants for ideal meeting times to avoid scheduling conflicts.
7. Create an outline.
An outline ensures that project participants are on the same page regarding the target audience, objective, primary focus, tone, length, and the paper’s overall purpose. An outline provides a framework for the paper and keeps the project focused to meet stated objectives.
8. Establish review timelines.
During the kickoff call, establish deadlines for document delivery. Set a tentative deadline for the outline and the first draft of the white paper. If the paper is needed by a certain date—perhaps for a product launch or trade show—discuss this at the kickoff call. Also review travel schedules, vacation plans, or other time constraints to ensure timely review of drafts.
9. Address graphic needs up front.
Discuss any required illustrations, drawings, or other graphics at the kickoff call. Involving an artist may require additional time, so it’s best to address what you will need early on to meet project deadlines.
10. Ensure thorough and timely review.
Encourage all reviewers to thoroughly review the outline and identify necessary changes or additions to planned content—preferably within two to three business days. Maintain a tight project schedule to ensure the content is fresh in your writer’s mind. Also, ask for delivery of an eight to 10-page paper within a week of outline approval. For subsequent drafts, a good rule of thumb is delivery within three to four business days.
1. Trust the experts.
Writing is a craft, and you benefit from the expertise of a skilled writer. In addition to a solid understanding of style, grammar, punctuation, and spelling, a seasoned white paper writer is also a marketer and knows how to indirectly market your products or services by informing readers and demonstrating thought leadership.
2. Conserve time.
Like any experienced professional, proven white paper writers are intimately familiar with their craft and can therefore produce drafts much more quickly than someone who is unfamiliar with the process of content gathering and writing. Since time is money, a hired writer almost always writes more quickly than a writer inside your organization, particularly if that person is unaccustomed to deadlines.
3. Save money.
Hiring a professional writer can actually save you money because these writers are always deadline driven and will finish your project faster. In addition to time savings, outsourcing white paper writing may be more cost-effective than hiring an employee if you cannot keep a writer busy full time.
4. Benefit from outside objectivity.
An outside writer is especially helpful in maintaining a sense of objectivity about your products or your company. Inside writers are sometimes too close to a topic to ask the probing questions your readers want to know. After being inside your company for a while, writers can become jaded. An outside writer lends a fresh perspective and is sometimes better able to gauge your customers’ needs.
5. Stay focused where you excel.
Although your lead engineer might be the most knowledgeable person about a specific technology, they may not necessarily be the best candidate to write a white paper. A professional writer can leverage your engineers’ knowledge base by conducting a set of interviews and then weaving this information into a paper. In this way, you keep your employees working at the jobs they do best.
6. Continue to market.
In a down economy, businesses can compete more effectively by using an outside writer. Although many companies slash their marketing dollars and stop creating papers when times get tough, this is rarely a good strategy. When the market rebounds, you want your customers to remember you. Even when budgets are slashed, successful companies maintain a presence by creating and distributing white papers. Even if you have reduced your marketing staff, call an outside writer and keep your name circulating in the marketplace.
7. Keep current.
Professional white paper writers are adept at the latest tools and trends in writing and marketing and will use these skills to your advantage when creating a paper.
8. Leverage local style and terms.
If you are marketing in a foreign country, trust your white papers to a writer who is knowledgeable about the country, customs, and culture you are targeting. A local writer will intrinsically understand regional idioms and word uses that you would not spot as a non-native speaker.
9. Achieve aggressive deadlines.
In-house writers cannot always achieve the same deadlines as a professional writer because they are often distracted by other important tasks. As part of their responsibility for delivering a good product, professional writers must deliver on time. In cases where you need the paper for a trade show or for a new product launch, hiring an outside writer is sometimes your best bet to achieve an aggressive deadline.
10. Enhance your image.
Rely on a professional writer to enhance your image—especially for important white papers. No longer do you have to worry about spelling errors or poorly written papers that tarnish your company’s image. A skilled writer will add a professional touch to all your white paper projects.
Next time, read about green white papers—the benefits of digital distribution over printing.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 408-778-5664.
Answer the following questions before you meet with your writer. The result will be an outstanding white paper!
1. Who is your target audience?
Who is the primary audience? What industry are you targeting? What job titles describe your readers?
2. What is the desired length of the paper?
Most Hoffman white papers are between eight and ten pages in length. Some clients request a concise, five-page, white paper brief while others require 15 to 20 pages to explore a complex topic. Just make sure you include enough information to adequately cover your topic but not so much that you bury your reader in unnecessary details.
3. What is the white paper’s objective?
Will the paper be used to create sales leads or as a reward to someone who emails for more information? Will you distribute the white paper to press and analysts to create buzz or use it to educate your salespeople about a new product? Define a clear objective to help guide the content you deliver.
4. What is the white paper’s primary topic?
What is the focus of this white paper project? What information will you provide to ensure your white paper delivers true value to your reader?
5. What tone will the paper adopt?
How do you want to approach your readers? Will the paper be informational, using a credible third person tone (recommended) or a more familiar, “friendly” tone using first or second person?
6. What challenges will resonate with your reader?
What business or technical challenges do you want to address in the white paper? These are the problems that your products or solutions help solve. Do you have current statistics, relevant data, industry stories, or customer examples to underscore the difficulty of these challenges?
7. What primary messages will the white paper share?
What are the top three to five primary messages you want to leave with your reader? What memorable lessons can you share?
8. What supporting information can you provide to the writer?
What supporting documents and illustrations can you provide for additional content? Assemble sales presentations, marketing collateral, videos, previously written papers, news articles—anything to quickly bring your writer up-to-speed.
9. What is the schedule for completion?
What is the deadline for completion? Do you need the white paper for a new product launch, trade show, or a press campaign? Establish important milestones during the kickoff call such as the dates for outlining, first draft, and revised drafts. Also, allow enough time for design, layout, and printing.
10. What is the writer’s scope of work?
Will your writer provide writing services only or is design, illustration, and layout also included? If you are using different vendors for writing and design, make sure all parties are aware of the schedule.
11. Who are the key contacts at your organization?
During your initial white planning meeting, provide your writer with the names, titles, email addresses, and phone numbers of subject matter expert(s), reviewers, and a financial contact.
Sit down before the interview and answer the above questions. Being well prepared will shorten the interview time and ensure you start your project off on the right foot.