Using White Papers to Put Out Fires

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, published in 1989, made a big difference in my life. And of course I’m not the only one—15 million copies have been sold. For comparison, David Allen’s Getting Things Done (another classic) is still well under two million.

The habit that I have the hardest time applying is, in some ways, the simplest—put first things first. And I must not be the only one; of all the seven habits, this is the only one that got its own follow up book (First Things First was published in 1994). To make his point about priorities, Covey divided work (and life) tasks into four quadrants; here’s a version of the chart created by Sid Savara:


The idea is that it’s far too easy to focus on Quadrant 1 and 4 tasks that are urgent, important or not, and let tasks that are important but not urgent (Quadrant 2) slide. And that’s ironic, and a little tragic; if you’re always putting out fires, you’re more or less guaranteeing a continual supply of fires. Put another way, the best way to reduce the number of ‘emergencies’ in your work life is to systematically put systems in place that prevent problems from arising or solve them automatically. If you never put the systems in place, you’ll continue to have the emergencies.

For infrastructure executives who want to publicize and sell their solutions more effectively, it’s easy to identify urgent and important (Quadrant 1) tasks, such as countering bad publicity, solving the problems of major clients, getting ready for the next trade show, putting together PowerPoints for a big sales call, etc. etc. etc. And of course you have to stay on top of those.

But what are Quadrant 2 tasks? Now, full-disclosure-I’m-a-marketing-content-provider, but I think one important Quadrant 2 task for infrastructure executives is the creation and distribution of a full suite of educational marketing content like case studies and white papers. It may not be exciting to commission a white paper, and you certainly don’t need to do it today, but consider the good results that follow when you do get it done:

  • By publishing your content online—on your site and on blogs and online magazines—you begin to get better Google results, which lead to a stream of qualified, automatically generated leads.
  • By assembling educational content, you have material for free editorial content in the trade journals you use for advertising. This is a ‘force multiplier’ for your advertising dollar.
  • Case studies and white papers can be repurposed as handouts for tradeshows and panels, eBooks for online distribution, newsletters aimed at prospects, and free reports to be used as lead-generating ‘bait.’
  • You begin to position yourself as a ‘niche publisher’ precisely focused on the demographic interested in your solutions.
  • Your sales force will have a good supply of ‘leave behinds’ that are likely to be read and passed on—unlike many sales-oriented brochures, no matter how slick.
  • You have multiple ways to expand your prospect list for email and paper newsletters.

And I could go on; seriously, I can go on—call me sometime. The point is, soon after you get around to assembling your content marketing pieces, you’ll begin to feel less urgency around your marketing. You’ll use the content to create systems that do a lot of work for you.

The nice thing is, it’s a lot easier than you’re probably thinking. If you’re working with an experienced writer who knows infrastructure—like me!—a case study (for example) will be as easy as providing a good client’s contact information. In a week or so, you’ll have a case that’s ready to deploy. White papers require a bit more effort, and cost more, too, but they pay off in longevity—a good white paper will generate leads for years.

This is the time of the year when many of us are thinking about Quadrant 2 goals, often involving exercise, diet, or time with the family. At work, scheduling fifteen minutes for a phone call with me or another qualified infrastructure writer is a great way to do something important that makes your life easier.

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Angus W. Stocking

Angus W. Stocking, L.S., is a licensed land surveyor who now prepares information marketing content for the infrastructure industry.


Angus W. Stocking, L.S.
P.O. Box 872
Paonia CO 81428
270.363.0033 office