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Halloween and white papers

White papers and… Halloween?!

I was planting skulls in my flowerbed when a raven cawed behind me.

Looking up, I surveyed my efforts. Cobwebs. Bats. Candles.  

And it struck me like a thunderclap.

Getting ready for Halloween is a lot like sponsoring a white paper.

And kids dashing house to house looking for goodies are a lot like B2B prospects.

So I invite you, if you dare… ring my doorbell and let us explore what Halloween can teach us about white papers.


Halloween pumpkin on chair on porch

White papers and Halloween 1: Show people you’re home

Both getting visitors on Halloween and getting a white paper into the hands of prospects start at the same place.

You have to show people you’re home with something to give them.

And you want to do more than leave out a bowl of candy with the porch light on.

Last year, we decorated our place as The House of Cards, with giant playing cards hanging between the usual cobwebs.

We hid a speaker in the bushes to play spooky sounds of moaning ghosts and rattling chains.

And we set up a smoke machine so fog rose around our visitors as they trudged up our front steps.

Anyone could tell: We were definitely open for Halloween.

For a white paper, you want to do more than bury it deep in your website.

Instead, why not:

  • Feature the white paper on the company’s home page
    (or at least, the home page for the related product)
  • Create a simple landing page that attracts clicks
  • Repurpose your paper into an infographic, slide deck, or podcast

That way, any visitor can tell you have something for them.



White papers and Halloween 2: Give out worthwhile goodies

On Halloween, you can dish out the same bland junk as everyone else.

But you know what all kids do when they get home, right?

They quickly split their haul into two piles:

  • Good Stuff to devour
  • Blah Stuff to ignore

Those gooey caramel things? Tiny suckers falling off their sticks?

Total Blah.

Full-size chocolate bars? Bags of chips? Fruit leather? Stickers?

That’s the Good Stuff.

Same with a white paper: You can cover the same tired stuff as everyone else.

But you know what all prospects do with content, right?

That sugary sales pitch? Tiny insights obvious to everyone?

Yep, straight in the Blah pile… as in, “I’m going to click away and never, ever come back here.”

Strive to give visitors something truly helpful:

  • Tips they can apply on the job, today
  • Fresh data from a new industry survey
  • Something unexpected, like a micro-site
  • A free assessment they can take

For example, one memorable white paper was called “Why Spammers Spam.”

To create it, a marketing team lurked on the dark web until they gained the trust of three spammers. Then they did e-mail interviews.

When the company first published that white paper, they got so many downloads they thought they were under a DNS attack.

But all those downloads were real people intrigued by that breakthrough content.

In the end, that white paper scored 2,200 downloads, major media attention, and at least $100,000 in quick sales.

That’s what worthwhile content can do.


Candles, teacup and open book on table

White papers and Halloween 3: Create a unique experience

My favorite Halloween haunt was a few streets from where I lived in Montreal.

Some residents there took over the park across from their houses.

Some were technicians from TV and film who really knew how to create an experience.

They went crazy with animatronics and special effects: ghosts on wires, strobe lights, a creepy graveyard where monsters popped out of the ground.

That place was so fabulous, most kids forgot all about candy!

Talk about a great micro-site.

With a white paper, you can go all-out in the same way.

You can use any devices of storytelling: personas, settings, conflict, and dialogue.

You can add vivid graphics and rich media, like audio and video, to your PDF.

Just be sure to add a call to action so your visitors won’t forget why they’re  reading your white paper!


mask from Scream movie

White papers and Halloween 4: But don’t go toooo far

One year, our friend in a wheelchair convinced us to park him on our porch, wearing a black cape with a Scream mask and a bowl of candy on his lap.

“I can sit very still for a long time,” he smiled.

So he would sit quietly until some visitor dared to stretch their hand almost to the bowl. Then he’d lurch and shout, “Boo!”

We had little kids in tears… and many too scared to come up our steps.

Maybe that’s not what you want?

With a white paper, you can go too far by aggressively pursuing your visitors.

Don’t use an obnoxious, multi-question registration form asking them things like the size of their budget and how soon they plan to spend it.

And never make every download trigger an instant sales call.

“Hi, Gary from Scary Software. Saw you downloaded our white paper, so I’m just following up to see, ah, when you’ll be ready to buy?”

Sheesh. That kind of experience is too much.


older businessman getting surprised by Death sneaking up behind

White papers and Halloween 5: Face your fears… and overcome them

Admit it: Are you one of those people who turn off all the lights and pretend you’re not home?

Telling yourself you’re too busy? Too grownup for such childish things?

Well, what’s the worst that could happen: You run out of candy?

It’s a lot more fun to open your door and see who comes by.

So don’t give up before you even start your white paper.

Don’t say you’re too busy. Too preoccupied with other projects.

What’s the worst that could happen: You waste a little time?

Well, I could tell you about some scary projects I worked on:

  • The 55-page monster that took me a year to tame
  • Those survey results that grew into a five-paper beast
  • The shape-shifting client who never knew what he wanted

But I survived all those.

And I learned a lot, too, like how to avoid these situations in the future.

You will too, if you face your fears and just start your next white paper.

And if you need some help to get started or finished, call on me: Your friendly neighborhood white paper slayer.

Silhouette at the door

One big difference

A white paper isn’t just there for one special night.

An effective white paper will work day and night all year round to generate leads, build recognition, and support buying decisions.

A good white paper will help businesspeople understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

Oh, now you’ll need to excuse me… The doorbell’s ringing and it looks like there’s a witch at the door.


What do you think? Did I forget any parallels between white papers and Halloween? Please leave your comments below.  

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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  1. Maria Puzo Vasta on October 30, 2021 at 11:25 am

    This is a fun article, and very helpful. It reignited my love for white papers.

  2. Matthew on November 2, 2021 at 3:39 am

    This was really fun thanks – and very creative! Makes me wonder if you ever do creative writing, as in novels or poetry…

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