How to write whitepapers and reports and use them to influence change

At Pinstone, whitepapers and reports are enormously valuable communication tools that add credibility to our client’s messages and can form the bedrock of entire campaigns.

But going about developing a credible, top level report is no mean feat – as we discussed in our latest Agri-food comms cast (AFCC) episode. 

In this blog we delve into the three-step process involved in piecing together extensive cross sector knowledge to bring reports and whitepapers, such as the National Food Strategy, to fruition.

Gather the right information  

When undertaking research for a whitepaper, choosing the right data gathering method is key. Factors to consider are the depth of the information to be gathered, the audience being targeted and ultimately the reason for gathering it.

The research used to feed the National Food Strategy was based on a programme of engagement in which the public were heavily involved.  A smart move because keeping target audiences involved from the outset of a whitepaper or report and taking their recommendations forward to decision-makers, encourages shared responsibility for implementation.

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The team used a public ‘Call for Evidence’ from citizens and people working across, and interested in, the food system. The most challenging ideas within the responses were then discussed in focus groups and with citizens at the “deliberative dialogues” held around the country. Focus groups are one of the most effective methods of data collection, partly because they enable in-depth insights and can be used to clarify and test pre-conceived notions.

For many clients we interview experts in the sector as it’s a very useful way of gathering information on first-hand experience and in-depth knowledge. We also conduct literature reviews of research and academic sources to provide a foundation for knowledge on a topic, prevent duplication of work and ensure the need for inconsistencies and the need for additional research are identified. The National Food Strategy team undertook a literature review whereby policy ideas from around the world were reviewed and assessed.

Presentation is key

The execution of a whitepaper or report should not be overlooked as a mere vehicle for information. Crafting the message in the right way will significantly influence engagement and action. Especially because people’s average attention span is reported to amount to just eight seconds – to put it in perspective, the attention span of your average goldfish is nine seconds!

The copywriting and design skills used to disseminate information in the National Food Strategy make it engaging to read. It’s been broken down into colour coded sections to make it easier to navigate, plus graphics and infographics have been used in the form of tables, graphs and maps to grab the reader’s attention.

The fact the National Food Strategy was created as an interactive PDF that can be viewed online, anywhere, anytime alongside ‘bitesize’ animations will help with accessibility and therefore reach.

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Let’s not forget there is no end of other ideas in the comms ‘tool box’ that could be used to complement or even replace a whitepaper or report but still convey important information. For example, video content could be used to convey a summarised report or key sections within a full-length version. Webinars, podcasts, infographics, animations and in-person events are also other channels we have used at Pinstone to make ‘big data’ digestible.

Engage your audience

The main thing to take away is that it’s important whitepapers and reports aren’t created for them to just sit at the back of an archive gathering dust. They should be used to form the groundwork for a long-term engagement campaign to repeatedly reach your target audience and influence meaningful change.

Luckily, we live and breathe the food and farming supply chain at Pinstone so we understand and can reach the target audiences our clients typically want to engage with, helping them not only become part of conversations but to lead them.

Organising interactive press launches, creating and delivering webinars, securing speaker or presentation slots at events and ensuring in print and online coverage to showcase a client’s whitepaper or report through our strong media connections are just some of the ways we do this.

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Judging by the fantastic amount of coverage the National Food Strategy has and continues to receive, and the reception from the majority of the farming industry, Henry Dimbleby and his team have made sure the conversation around it doesn’t stop while being empathetic to the issues. Making the canny decision to build a strong community of support by working in partnership with industry and civil society organisations also means that the recommendations within it are easier for government to act upon.

Listen in to the AFCC to hear from John Shropshire of G’s Fresh and Oxtale’s Amy Jackson to learn about the communication challenges Henry Dimbleby came up against when creating and promoting the National Food Strategy.