Ever wonder how all those industry experts and business leaders find time to write? When they’re so committed to running successful businesses, how do they manage to compose thought-provoking articles that build their personal brand and show their companies as cutting edge pioneers in their respective industries?
The answer is they probably didn’t — a ghostwriter did it for them.
So, as a content marketing manager tasked with getting your own CEO’s name or your brand out there, you ask yourself: should I hire a ghostwriter to help us build out that part of our content strategy? You already know how challenging it is to get some simple blog posts up. And you know those are unlikely to separate your brand from the pack and have an impact unless you can start infusing them with some real thought leadership.
And you know that your company’s leadership and other individual experts in your organization hold a lot of valuable insights in their heads, but you’ll never get them to sit down and write a “big idea” piece.
You want to tout your firm’s expertise to a wider audience — whether in blog posts on your company’s website or articles in industry journals and online publications. Writing thought leadership pieces ranks as an integral part of your company’s content marketing strategy. Done correctly, these thought leadership articles attract new leads to your company and grow your company’s stature in the industry.
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But you’re hesitant to do thought leadership writing for several reasons: Writing isn’t your CEO’s forte (as it isn’t for many executives and entrepreneurs), and the process would take precious time away from his or her real job of building and growing the business. Fortunately, working with a ghostwriter provides the perfect answer to those challenges.
What is a ghostwriter?
First, a couple words of clarification about what we’re talking about. The term ghostwriting lately has been used a little more widely than is really helpful or truly captures what ghostwriting actually is. We need a clearer ghostwriting definition.
Oftentimes, marketing directors say they are looking for ghostwriting when what they really mean is writing services for uncredited or unbylined material. These are typically articles for a company blog that are “in the company voice” and presenting the company’s point of view on a subject. The hired hand’s byline i left off, but so is anyone else’s.
That isn’t what we would define as ghostwriting. That is really a form of copywriting in the content marketing mode. If you hired someone to write a brochure for your company, you wouldn’t expect them to put their signature on it. And, in leaving the signature off, you wouldn’t call it ghostwriting. It’s just unbylined copy.
Real ghostwriting is when the writer is trying to capture an individual’s ideas and voice and to craft something that can appear under that individual’s signature or byline. It’s that definition of ghostwriting that we’ll be talking about here.
Why a byline is important
You may consider submitting a ghostwritten piece without your byline. But that defeats the purpose of a creating a great thought leadership piece. Readers want to know who the ideas come from and if that person is an expert and worthy of attention.
An un-bylined piece may be perceived as promotional marketing copy. While copywriting and thought leadership articles share some similarities, a bylined piece gives the thought leadership piece more credibility.
For the same reason, a professional ghostwriter is preferable to a copywriter. Marketing pitches bombard your target audience daily. To stand out in a cluttered content marketing world, you must present the CEO or high level executive as an expert who has something original to say to help readers succeed in business. You’re selling your company’s expertise, which is more powerful than selling a product.
Where your marketing department can be useful is in providing SEO strategies and keywords that bring the piece to the top of a Google search. And if you think Google is unimportant in content marketing, think again.
And your marketing department can make sure that, however your story and expertise are expressed, it is ultimately in alignment with your overall marketing strategy. Authentic doesn’t mean rogue. Even very personal opinion pieces need to fit in with your content plan.
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As professional ghostwriter Douglas E. Rice stated on his blog, “Increasingly, people in a professional environment are not looking to white papers or trade magazines to have their questions answered. They’re looking to Google. If you don’t have a presence on the Internet, for all intents and purposes, you don’t exist.”
Hiring a ghostwriter
Finding and hiring a ghostwriter takes time and research. You can either hire an individual ghostwriter directly or work with a content marketing firm with ghostwriters who can work with you. McGuire Editorial falls in the latter category. We have a stable of professional writers skilled in content marketing writing and ghostwriting.
When choosing a ghostwriter, you may prefer to find one that has experience in writing about your particular industry. But don’t get too hung up on that. There’s also an advantage to their lack of familiarity on the subject, particularly if they have experience as a journalist and know how to catch up quick and to ask the questions they anticipate readers will have.
In fact, we often say, tongue-in-cheek of course, that content marketers in general should be good at “asking the obnoxious question.” That’s even more so with ghostwriting. Experienced interviewers know how to spar with their subjects a little to help bring out original ideas.
Requesting writing samples from the ghostwriter can be tricky. Due to confidentially concerns (such as the piece being written under someone else’s name), the ghostwriter may be unable to show you their ghostwritten clips. But that shouldn’t deter you since most ghostwriters have written other articles under their own byline, which you can read to get an idea of their writing style and the quality of their prose.
We recommend that you especially look at their original reporting — magazine-style feature articles that involve interviewing experts and weaving in their quotes to create a compelling read. Do the quotes seem kind of blah and obvious, or are they provocative and make you look again? The quality of the quotes is due in part to how effective an interviewer the author is.
Whose is it anyway?
One overlooked element of ghostwriting is the question of who gets the credit after it is published under your byline. This is potentially an important part of their resume, and the ghostwriter prefers to be able to claim credit for it in their clip file or to mention it on their resume.
If your main interest is attracting qualified leads, then this won’t be an issue for you. However, if your CEO or other internal experts aim to be presented as a writer, then you may prefer a white label arrangement where the ghostwriter refrains from ever mentioning their involvement.
Our advice here is to go with whatever makes you most comfortable, but not to worry about this too much. Ghostwriting doesn’t have the stigma it did in the past. You probably aren’t developing the article to make your CEO famous as a writer. You’re developing it to get his or her ideas out there and to attract the attention of partners and customers.
So ghostwritten content becomes an asset you can share around to prompt further conversation and nurture new relationships. If the agreement allows the ghostwriter to have a line on their LinkedIn or portfolio page saying that the article is something they worked on isn’t going to do any harm.
After all, probably the most famous business biography of all time has the ghostwriter’s name loud and proud on the cover.
If Lee Iacocca didn’t need to keep his ghostwriter under wraps, why do you?
Alternatives to crediting ghostwriters
The easiest thing is to have the material under your byline where it’s published and to not worry about credit otherwise.
The next simplest thing is to keep the relationship entirely white label. You own it, and they never breathe a word of it. If that’s what you need, then you would put that in your Master Services Agreement or the Scope of Work, and most experienced writers or content agencies know the drill.
But if you’re willing to go a little further beyond that white label arrangement to let the writer get some record of their work, here are a few ideas:
- Write them a recommendation on LinkedIn with as many specifics about the project as you’re comfortable with. (e.g. “She helped us with our brand building . . .”)
- Allow them to use the piece in their clip file after a period of time has passed.
- Allow them to discuss the work they did for you via phone and email but not to put it on a resume or on the web anywhere else.
- Let them know that you’ll gladly respond to emails from prospective clients looking for a personal recommendation and at that time judge how much detail you want to reveal.
Experienced ghostwriters won’t be phased by any of this. The main thing is to discuss this issue at the onset rather than to insist on something more restrictive after the process has started.
Assure your execs: This really is you
You — or the person being considered as author — may wonder if the ghostwritten piece will be “authentic.” In other words, will it truly capture your CEO’s passion for and knowledge of the topic?
Yes, it will. A great ghostwriter elicits expertise and enthusiasm during the interview, then hones it through research to create a thoughtful, well-organized thought leadership piece that others will want to read. A ghostwriter helps to “pull out” your CEO’s big ideas and point of view.
Once the first draft is ready, the piece goes through a lengthy and detailed editing process. During that stage, your CEO can refine it to further reflect his or her own voice. No ghostwritten piece is published without approval, so the final published piece is infused with authenticity.
Publishing great thought leadership pieces has proven to be a powerful content marketing tool. Such pieces position your company leaders as experts and organically bring leads to your business. A packed schedule shouldn’t prevent your leadership from taking advantage of this option; if they don’t have the time to craft a stellar article personally, hire a ghostwriter.
An experienced B2B journalist, Maria Wood splits her time between content marketing writing and business reporting. Her expertise spans from commercial real estate and the lodging industry to annuities and financial planning. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching baseball and jogging.