During a coaching session with a client yesterday, the topic of special reports came up.

As you’re probably aware, many business owners use special reports, white papers, audio recordings, and other forms of “free information” to encourage newsletter sign-ups, generate leads, and position themselves as experts in their fields.

But my coaching client was concerned about trying this tactic.

She asked, “I’ve heard that special reports don’t work well anymore because everyone offers them. Is that true?”

Well, there is some truth to that. Special reports don’t work as well as they did, say, ten years ago. But they can still be a VERY effective tool for generating leads and attracting clients.

If… and this is a big if… you get the topic right.

Your choice of topic is critical to the success of any special report or other information piece you create to help promote your business. Here’s a quick story that illustrates just how important it is:

A couple of years ago, I worked with a graphic designer who was about to create a special report on how to design an effective logo. He was going to offer it in a direct mail letter to a list of 350 prospects — corporate marketing managers, mostly — in his area.

When he told me of his plan, I agreed with the strategy but was worried about the topic of his report. So I challenged him.

“Dave, who would be most interested in a report on how to create a logo?” I asked.

He thought about it for a moment and then answered sheepishly, “I guess other logo designers.”

“Not the prospects you’re mailing the letter to?” I asked.

“No,” he said. Dave was clearly not happy with the realization that he almost sunk money into a special report and letter campaign that probably would have flopped.

The good news was, he hadn’t actually created the report yet. So I asked him, “What do you know about logo design that would be really helpful to marketing managers?

We discussed it for a while and came up with a new topic: how to review logo concepts and select the best candidate — a task with which marketing managers often struggle.

Dave changed his report topic accordingly and came up with the title: The 5-Step Evaluation Process for Selecting the Perfect Logo Design. It was a winner. When he offered the free report in a mailing to local marketing managers a whopping 7% responded and few became brand new clients.

So if you’re thinking of creating a special report, white paper, video tutorial or some other information piece to offer potential clients on your website or in your marketing campaigns, think long and hard about the topic.

The topic must, must, must be of HIGH interest to your prospects. It’s got to be relevant, compelling and useful to them.

If it is, your special report stands a good chance of helping you generate more leads and attract more clients.

If it isn’t, your special report may sit on the home page of your website and look pretty. But it won’t do much for your business.