By Gordon Graham
How long can a company use the same white paper? As long as it works, really.
There is no “best-before” date on a white paper, no set time when it must be withdrawn from circulation. If a white paper is still generating traffic and pulling leads, and if it still captures an essential message from the sponsor, it’s perfectly valid to keep distributing it. For instance, I’ve written white papers that clients are still happily using three years later.
But once a year, it’s a great idea to “refresh” every white paper published by any company. Here are four suggested steps for doing this. It won’t take long, but it will surely help extend the effective lifespan of a white paper.
Step 1: Update the cover and copyright date.
Don’t reissue the same white paper with a new title; this could annoy prospects who downloaded it earlier. But if the cover says “Special Report 2008,” change that to “Special Report, updated for 2009″ or simply “Special Report 2009.” And change “© 2008″ to “© 2009″ or even “© 2008-2009.”
Step 2: Update all “retrieved on” dates in footnotes.
Consider the following footnote:
1: Jim Laube, “10 Best Practices of Highly Successful Restaurants,” Restaurant Startup and Growth, retrieved April 15, 2008 from www.restaurantowner.com/10_best_practices.html
Sometime in the spring of 2009, test the link to make sure the source document is still there. If so, refresh the download date as in, “retrieved April 12, 2009.”
If the source document is no longer there, you have four choices:
* Leave the footnote as is, and live with it.
* Find the same document elsewhere, and update the footnote.
* Drop that footnote, and cut the quoted text. But if that undermines the effectiveness of your argument, try the next option.
* Look for an equivalent report, and rewrite the affected text. This is clearly the most work. But it’s better for you to discover and fix this discrepancy than for a reader to look for a source, be disappointed, and lose trust in the company.
Step 3: Update any references to specific years.
Any phrase that points to a specific year or number of years can easily go out of date. So you’re well advised to search and refresh all these phrases.
For example, in Word, you can search for:
* “20^#^#” to find any year from 2000 on
* “19^#^#” to find any year in the 1900s
* “year” to find any phrase such as “last year” or “the next three years”
Scrutinize the context for each date and then update anything that makes the white paper sound stale. Of course, you can’t rewrite history, but you can make your wording more precise. For example, instead of “last year,” write “2008.” Instead of “for the next three years,” write “until 2012.”
Step 4: Update any customer stories.
Over time, people come and go. Companies are sold and merged. Systems are replaced. And on a positive note, clients sometimes collect more metrics on the benefits of their product.
So make a quick call to any customer mentioned in a white paper to confirm the details. If necessary, add fresh statistics, revise titles for anyone who’s moved on (change “CIO” to “then-CIO”) and update company names (change “EDS” to “EDS (now HP).”
In most cases, you can complete all these steps in less than an hour, and either do text touchups to the PDF or mark up the PDF for the designer to fix. If you can, it’s ideal to copyfit your updates into the same number of lines, so the whole layout doesn’t have to shift.
After that, you can consider the white paper “good to go” for another year.
About the Author: Gordon Graham helps B2B software firms tell their story with persuasive white papers. He’s the founder of www.thatwhitepaperguy.com, a presenter in the White Paper Success Summit 2009 and a frequent poster on the WhitePaperSource forums, http://www.whitepapersource.com/forum/.