Caught in a Content-Bind with a Technical White Paper

Between a rock and a hard place with a technical white paper

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

This is not uncommon. Most engineers don’t understand that the role of Marketing is to initiate the conversation that leads to their products being 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 technical white paper. They often prefer 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 technical 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. Besides, 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.

photo credit: Chris Hunkeler


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”