When it comes to launching a corporate writing project – whether a white paper, bylined article, case
study, press release, sales brochure, or whatever it may be – a clearly thought-through plan is essential for success. Otherwise, that project is doomed before it begins, likely to die from endless rounds of revisions (because there's no consensus on what the final product should actually look like), scope creep, and destined-to-be-bottlenecked approval processes.
How do you avoid the headaches and position your writing project for success? Create a project plan that answers these 12 questions. This way, you can get buy-in and agreement from all stakeholders – before you start – and ensure the project moves toward completion as smoothly as possible.
1. Why this project?
Thinking about writing a white paper, case study, article or brochure? Why? Challenge your assumptions. Ask yourself and your team, "Is this the best (most effective and cost-efficient) tool to accomplish our objective?" This way, you help everyone involved with the project to reconnect with the objective to ensure the marketing tool you're about to invest time and money on will be the most likely to succeed.
2. Where does this project fit in the sales cycle?
(Refer to graphic on the left -- "Law of the Harvest on the Trust Continuum.")
Your answer to this question will do a couple things for you. First, you'll be able to ensure
that your call-to-action is appropriate to where this project fits in the sales cycle. Second, if you know what other marketing tools are being used concurrently (e.g. press releases, case studies, catalogs, etc.), you can make recommendations to seamlessly integrate your project to enhance the overall initiative.
(For more on this topic, see my post The Law of the Harvest: A Strategic Framework for Creating Content that 'Sows' Trust, Grows Sales.)
3. What is your goal response?
What do you want readers to think and feel after reading your copy? What action do you want them to take? Is it to request more info? Subscribe to receive your e-newsletter? Enter their email address to download your white paper? Begin with the end in mind, then work backwards. Always align your project and copy with that end-goal to drive the response you intend.
4. What will define success?
If it’s a bylined article, “success” could be defined as a trade magazine editor’s acceptance to publish the article. Or if it’s an email newsletter, blog, web copy, or something online, you could track metrics, such as page views, email subscribers, requests for quotes, etc.
When you define success ahead of time, with agreement from all stakeholders, you gain a more objective framework to guide the revision and approval processes.
5. What will determine scope?
Will it be pages or word count or another metric? Make sure all stakeholders are in agreement upfront to mitigate risk of unpleasant surprises and unnecessary revisions.
6. What is the structure?
Think of this as a broad working outline. If the project is a case study, you might say something like:
The structure will include these main points: Client Description, Challenge, Solution, Results. We’ll also include copy for a sidebar covering these points …
Once you have agreement from all parties on the big picture, you can be a lot more focused and efficient in filling out the details – and will minimize the need for wholesale revisions down the road.
7. What are the deliverables and when?
Will there be one deliverable or will the project be divided into stages or milestones to be approved before moving to the next phase?
Also, what's the deadline for the final product? Are there target dates to meet with intermediate deliverables, e.g. outline, first draft, etc.?
8. Who is the target audience?
Determine whether the project will be geared to existing clients, warm prospects (those who have given the company permission-to-market but are not yet customers), or cold prospects. Then define demographic and psycho-graphic characteristics (e.g. industry, job title, concerns and pain points).
9. What’s in it for the reader?
Many marketers have a clear idea of what they want to promote but too often fall short on making it interesting to the reader. How will this content add value to your audience? What can they expect to get out of it by investing their valuable time to consume this content? Then create content that delivers what they want in a way that also meets your company's strategic objectives.
10. What quantity and type of research do you need?
Where can you get the raw material/ research you need to write the piece? Will you need to do a lot of outside research or interview subject matter experts to gather the data? This will help you determine how much time you need to invest, in terms of research, to make the project a success.
11. What are the copy guidelines (e.g. tone, style, etc)?
This is dictated by what you've learned about your target audience. Should the tone be informal, maybe even edgy? Or should it be more conservative? Are there words or phrases you should stay away from?
- Write for a business audience. Avoid overly technical copy.
- Define acronyms
- Litmus test for each post:
- Is this post useful to our audience?
- Is it unique – and distinguishes our expertise from the competition?
- Is it easily understandable to a non-technical business audience?
12. What is the communication plan/ review process?
Who do you report to on this project? Who will be involved in the review process? What exactly is that process? What must happen for final approval? Defining this process upfront will help ensure smooth communication, from project launch to final approval.
The Bottom Line
A common mistake marketers make with corporate writing projects is they hastily jump on the project and then take a "figure-it-out-as-you-go" approach, which inevitably leads to scope creep, wasted time, and mounting frustration for all stakeholders due to unmet expectations. Start with a good project plan to ensure your time and company's resources are well spent.
Image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC (www.lydencommunications.com), a business communication consulting firm that advises companies on honing their message and their methods to more effectively influence their markets -- whether customers, partners, investors or employees. Practice areas include content strategy, sales strategy & coaching, and executive communication consulting. A feature writer for several automotive and trucking trade publications, Sean is also co-author of “How to Succeed and Make Money on Your First Rental House” (John Wiley & Sons) and contributor to "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide” and “The Great Big Book of Business Lists,” both books published by Entrepreneur Press.
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