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see saw of white paper vs press release

White papers versus press releases

If a client asks for “an announcement” what do they really want?

In most cases, they’re after a press release.

Press releases are short, factual announcements intended to share some news from a certain company.

This format has existed for more than 100 years. The first press release is generally considered to date from 1906.

Until recently, press releases were used to influence media “gatekeepers” and gain publicity for their sponsors.

The most effective press releases were used by journalists to create their articles, especially in trade magazines.

Today, press releases are available to anyone on the Web, without the need for any gatekeeper.

An even older format

White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays that use facts and arguments to promote a certain product or service.

This format that has existed for even longer, close to 135 years. The earliest  white papers were government reports created for the UK government in the 1880s.

Their popularity exploded with the growth of high tech since WWII. And white papers have evolved quickly since the turn of the 21st century.

While a white paper is sponsored by a company—the same as a press release—white papers are much longer, with more room to present facts and develop arguments.

And white papers are sometimes submitted to trade magazines as bylined articles or opinion pieces.

In any case, this table sums up the key differences I can see between a press release and a white paper.


Press release White paper
FocusNews of interest to
a certain audience
New solution to an
old problem, or
benefits of some
product or service
MessageHere's some "news"
for you
Here's a better way
to solve this problem
Length1 to 3 pages5 to 12 pages
FormatPlain text as e-mail
or Word file
PDF with good design
and a few graphics
LifespanA few weeks,
months at most
1 or 2 years,
then refresh
Time to create1 week at most,
including reviews
4 to 12 weeks
When to useAny time you
have any "news"
Early in sales cycle
Why to useTo draw attention
to the sponsor
To generate leads,
engage prospects,
or explain product
or service
AnalogyPuff piece in
trade magazine


Just the facts

Press releases must be highly factual. In fact, there are rules about what a public company can say in a press release.

There are no legal limits to what a company can say in a white paper… beyond any that normally apply to your sector, such as healthcare.

But it’s good to follow the same factual approach when writing a white paper. Take a journalistic approach and back up every assertion with statistics, facts and quotes from respected sources.

How to use press releases with white papers

1. Make up a press kit

Bundle one or more white papers together with one or more press releases as a press kit.

2. Create a press release for your white paper

In the press release, sum up the highlights of the white paper and where to download it. Then circulate this press release to all the trade magazines, bloggers, and journalists in your space.

3. Use press releases as sources

Since press releases are generally considered trustworthy, you can use them as sources in your white paper… especially those from third parties.

For example, if a consulting company puts out a report that costs $5,000 they generally publish a press release with the key findings of the report.

It’s fine to use the press release as your source, since anyone else can find it at the same URL to substantiate your reference.

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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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