White paper must-do #1: Hold a kickoff call

When I first started writing white papers, not every one went smoothly.

A few were painfully slow, going through revision after revision as we chased a moving target.

Another was ruined when the CEO appeared late in the process and insisted we turn it into a sales pitch.

kickoff - White paper must-do #1: Hold a kickoff callA few were never completed because the management team couldn’t agree on how to position the product.I’m sure every white paper writer has a few horror stories of their own to share.That’s because any white paper is a complex project that calls on many players.

Three must-do’s for any white paper project

Fortunately, some powerful steps can help any white paper succeed. This three-part series covers what I consider the “must-do’s” for managing any white paper of any substance.

This first article describes the all-important step I call holding a “kickoff call.”

What is a kickoff call?

This is a conference call that includes all the intended reviewers and lasts for about an hour. This is also known as an “audience analysis” or “needs analysis.”

The goal is for the writer and all reviewers to build a shared consensus that will help guide the project; in other words, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

A related goal is to determine if any sources or reviewers will be gone on vacation or extended travels while the white paper is being developed.

How to hold a kickoff call

You typically go through this step using a teleconferencing service and recording the call.

The writer often leads the discussion and takes detailed notes; these notes can be sent to the client as a preliminary deliverable.

During the kickoff call, the participants discuss the terms of reference for the white paper, including:

  • the purpose(s)
  • the ideal reader(s)
  • which flavor of white paper suits the purpose best
  • an overview of the content
  • the call to action at the end
  • the schedule.

Why bother with a kickoff call?

Having all the reviewers on the same call can help uncover and resolve any differences of opinion. This dramatically reduces one of the most common problems reported by white paper writers: changes in the direction midway through a project.

This one-hour conference call can help avoid weeks of stress, communication breakdowns and wasted effort.

In fact, this technique implements one of the so-called seven habits of highly successful people: “Begin with the end in mind.”

It may be challenging to get all the reviewers on the line. It helps to assure them that this planning call will last one hour max, and that their attendance will help ensure that their viewpoint is included from the start.

What you can achieve with a kickoff call

Look at everything that holding a kickoff call can achieve:

  • Identify all reviewers
  • Confirm the availability of all reviewers
  • Review key parameters of the white paper
  • Quickly gather the best thinking from the whole team
  • Identify the best sources for further research
  • Uncover any differences early, when these are easier to deal with.

The client and writer can schedule the kickoff call for any time that makes sense.

Consider this step complete once the call is done… as long as there are no serious differences left unresolved. If there are, the client may need to hold internal discussions or schedule a follow-up conference call to iron out the differences.

Completing this call is the first “must-do'” that helps ensure a smooth and successful white paper.

Part 2 of this series describes why you must create an executive summary before starting to draft the full document.

About Gordon Graham

Author close to 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients everywhere from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, for everyone from tiny startups to 3M, Google and Verizon. Also wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. Reviewers call it "a must-read... fantastic... outstanding... terrific... phenomenal... the best book of its kind."

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