Lesson 11 - White Papers

Ten Takeaways for Lesson Eleven

See the "Lesson Schedule" for suggested rewrite deadlines. (rewrites are optional and you may choose to simply include your final drafts in your Final Portfolio.)

  1. Planning Memos, Backgrounders, and other White Papers are some of the most important public relations writing you're likely to do. Because it is here that the strategic skills you've learned can be translated into action plans for you, your client, your agency, and those active advocates that you will mobilize.
  2. 2"White paper" is a generic term for several very different types of document. It takes its name from the fact that it is a vehicle for ideas, without adornment -- in a world of visuals and graphics, the white paper relies primarily on the clarity of words and verbal ideas -- often enhanced by data -- to convey a message. Typically, it's single-spaced paragraphs on plain white 8 X 11 paper.
  3. 3Planning memos are white papers that outline a proposed PR strategy Strange as it may seem, even an intern will sometimes find herself in the position of making recommendations about a situation in which others are stymied -- especially in the chaos of a political campaign. A planning memo will usually begin with an analysis of the current situation, identify particular challenges in some detail, and then propose a course of action with which to respond. Its credibility depends on the perceived accuracy of its initial analysis. If your colleagues don't agree with your outlook, the rest of the work will go unread. Your story telling skills will play an imaginative role here.
  4. 4A backgrounder is intended for distribution to the media, as research on the subject area that they can use to cover your client or cause. In a way it's like the B-roll in a VNR project. Using your backgrounder, different reporters will be inspired by different aspects of your subject, guided by the points you consider most relevant to your story. It is very likely that your client or brand will never be mentioned in a backgrounder, which should not be perceived as a pitch -- but rather, as objective research.
  5. 5A position paper, on the other hand, is all about your cause or client. It is an unambiguous statement of policy that you circulate to influence or persuade someone -- the general public, specific opinion leaders, or others -- of a position you hold and want them to endorse as well.
  6. White papers spin off multiple other PR writings. A position paper, for example, is an excellent source for an op ed article, which will be an edited-down version suitable for the press. A backgrounder will give you plenty of good material for the annual report or other publication you produce. And all your white papers will be valuable when it comes time to write a speech for your client or boss.
  7. White papers help to establish you as a thought leader within your agency, or among your peers. The PR Writer is one of the most knowledgeable people about all aspects of the business -- few other people in the firm have regular, friendly, open access to every area of activity. The PR writer is often in a position to "sum it all up" in ways that no one other person in the firm is able to accomplish. That's a position of considerable influence.
  8. All your white papers can make use of the Message Planner which you have already created to help you with your PR writing and strategy deliberations. In fact, a comprehensive, compelling press release 9and the Message Planner behind it) is a perfect platform for all the other PR tactics you will consider... it all starts with a press release.
  9. And of course, the planning memo is an essential in any PR campaign. There is no substitute for a detailed, tactically lively, thoughtfully strategic, plan of action -- not only to guide your progress, but also to impress those you work with (and for) that you are a big-picture player in the high stakes world of PR.
  10. For a look at an actual PR campaign plan online, look at these pages from the National Council for Social Studies. It's an advocacy campaign to promote social studies education. There's also an earlier version that may be interesting as well: at this Public Relations Toolkit -- web page.