White Paper Projects That Don’t Go Well – Part I

This post was written by John White on Fri, 13 Mar 2009 04:09:20 +0000
Posted Under: Hiring writers,managing writing project,marketing manager,review loop,revisions,vetting writers,white papers

Do you have any white paper projects in your files that didn’t go well? Mine fall into two categories, and I’ll post on the first one now.

Don’t Go Well but Result in a Good White Paper

These are like the basketball games in which you make mistakes, bad passes and poor shots, but you win anyway, mostly in spite of yourself. Warning signs:

  • Creeping Review Loop – If it takes you too long to obtain, vet and summarize comments from your reviewers and get the changes back to the writer, you can burn out a lot of people on a project like this. Some conscientious managers worry about taxing the writer’s patience, but that’s the last thing I worry about. The more people you pull into the review loop, the clunkier and less focused the paper can become; then you start to tax the patience of the interviewees, subject matter experts, graphics team, designers and execs through whose inboxes the paper moves over and over.
  • Creeping Scope – In a similar situation, the original scope may become obscured by newly suggested topics we want the paper to address. Beware of this if you envision a “thought-leadership” paper, because the project will attract lots of new thoughts in which we want to be considered as leaders. I had one of these projects that went on for six months as execs added more content to it. The result is a splendid paper, but it’s too long. The download numbers have been good, but I doubt that anybody is really reading it.
  • Ego – Nobody wants to touch this one with a 10-foot pole, but everybody knows it’s there. Sometimes there’s too much of it, especially when an exec commissions a paper, has Marketing hire a writer, makes life difficult for the writer and the manager, then guts the paper and rebuilds it because the message is wrong. Sometimes it’s the writer’s ego that gets in the way. You can get a good paper out of this, but the process is painful for everybody.
  • Deference – If you’re going to have multiple managers involved on a white paper project, somebody needs to be the designated driver. On one project, I had two product managers so concerned about peaceful collaboration that the writer never got clear direction because neither PM wanted to offend the other by taking a stand. The writer was a good sport about it – and was getting paid to keep up with our tergiversation – but we all learned the lesson about too many cooks in the kitchen.

Still, at least you get something out of these projects. I’ll post shortly on the other category, projects that don’t go well and result in a bad white paper (or none at all).

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