Caught in a Content-Bind

This post was written by John White on Thu, 14 Aug 2008 07:55:32 +0000
Posted Under: outline,relationship with engineering,revisions,subject matter experts

A fellow marketing manager – let’s call her Matilda – was stuck between the rock of her obligation to product managers to generate technical white papers and the hard place of an engineering group with little confidence in her ability to come up with meaty content.

This is not uncommon (you should pardon the double negative). Most engineers don’t understand that the role of Marketing is to initiate the conversation as a result of which their products will be sold, so when they see a marketing manager coming, they assume we’re there to organize the next company party. They often have trouble giving us the benefit of the doubt when it comes to translating their technology into the plausible, persuasive story that is a white paper. They often prefer either to write it themselves when they get enough time or not to cooperate at all.

So, what would you do in Matilda’s place?

Anticipating the tension, Matilda wisely announced that she was going to offer three levels of service:

1. Full service: Writer interviews engineer, collects data, and writes/illustrates entire paper.
2. Revision Service: Engineer prepares draft of white paper, turns over to writer. Writer updates design and copy, adds or cleans up illustrations.
3. Third Party Review: Engineer prepares white paper in entirety, then submits for specific suggestions from experienced writer.

(We’ve worked at level 1.5 also, in which the engineer prepares an outline with the salient points to be covered in the paper, then the writer fleshes out the outline with interviews, illustrations and other materials.)

That was Matilda’s concession to the engineers. Her concession to the writer is that she planned for this to be an ongoing relationship, in which she offered a relatively steady stream of work at these different levels.

Did this work? We don’t know yet, because it was too nuanced to fly immediately, and it wasn’t the one-way-or-the-other solution that makes decisions easy for upper management. Still, I like it as a compromise, whether you’re a marketing manager trying to harvest content or a writer pitching your skills.

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